Sunday, December 31, 2006
Testing Positive for Chromium, Neptunium
Santa Fe New Mexican 12/31/2006, Page F02
Bingaman must bring LANL shirkers up short
Los Alamos National Laboratory was the hastily built product of wartime — and things on “the Hill” were hardly less hectic when nearly half a century of “Cold War” followed in the hot one’s wake.
This was an installation dedicated to the nuclear supremacy our nation’s leaders deemed indispensable; niceties to nature — including the humankind involved in building ever-better nuclear bombs — didn’t get the consideration that even those environmentally backward times could offer.
Today, science is aware of at least some of the damage done by the stuff strewn in the wake of weapons development. The wizards of LANL should be converting that awareness to clean-up and keep-clean projects remedying the environmental wrongs the lab has done.
So why aren’t they?
At Material Disposal Area C, a quarter of a century’s worth of radioactive and otherwise hazardous waste was poured into seven pits and more than 100 shafts before lab leaders wised up to the damage they might be doing. Now traces of the stuff are leaking out.
And at Technical Area 3, lab workers dumped anywhere fro m 50,000 to 230,000 pounds of chromium into Sandia Canyon — by the lab’s admission. But LANL bosses won’t admit that chromium showing up in drinking water wells is any but the naturally occurring kind.
At 414 parts per billion, it’s four times higher than the federal standard — and eight times the state standard.
When it’s taken in above-safe amounts, the stuff can damage the liver, the kidneys or the nervous system.
So folks are naturally nervous. The Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety would like to know at least which direction the chromium is spreading. And the group would also like to know more about a radionuclide called neptunium, which has been found in wells supplying Los Alamos and Santa Fe.
Lab spokesfolks say efforts are being made to punch “sentry wells” near the drinking water wells to keep closer watch on the chromium.
And the neptunium? It, too, is at higher-than-safe levels, the inquiring citizens contend — whatever effect it might have on the human body. No, it isn’t, says the lab.
Who ya gonna believe? Don’t answer that.
Back to all that nuclear waste: For all the lab’s claims that it’s fulfilling a legal agreement with the state on the handling of that aging refuse, New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry says it still hasn’t got around to drilling four holes to pinpoint the extent of pollution in the unlined pits where it lies.
So to hold LANL to its word, Curry proposes a $1,000-a-day fine until the drilling is done — and safely.
Will that get the lab’s attention — or will the people in charge just chalk it up as a cost of doing the public’s business, with the public’s money?
The years of LANL arrogance — or maybe just blinder-wearing dedication to fending off foes real and imagined — should, by now, be far in the past. And with both New Mexico’s members in charge of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the one that does the decisionmaking on our national laboratories, you’d think that there’d be lots of budgeting for environmental repairs and preventative measures.
For good measure, one of those senators, Pete Domenici, also serves on the appropriations committee.
And Northern New Mexico’s representative, Tom Udall, is about to join the House Appropriations Committee.
These are guys the lab must go to for the money that keeps it going.
The committee leadership is about to be handed off — from Domenici to Jeff Bingaman. Bingaman, in his gentlemanly fashion, should serve notice, as if any were needed, that the bad ol’ days of lab “attitude” are at an end. Lip-service about being good environmental citizens no longer will cut it; action — verifiable action — must be taken.
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Copyright 2006 Santa Fe New Mexican 12/31/2006
P.S. Here's the kind of quality response we can expect from the average LANL employee:
"don't know how to get this posted - does anyone know if we have the january 2 holiday declared by the president? I've tried calling the regular 667-6622 number for updates - guess what - the recording says that the Laboratory is on a regular schedule - during the shutdown!
...OK. (Eyeroll.) -Pat
The people of New Mexico haven't seen anything yet. Just wait until LANS revs up to full speed. Plutonium foundries, RIFS, environmental non-compliance, drug and polygraph testing, reduced benefits, salary cuts, manager bonuses. It will make pre-2005 LANL look like the good old days.
Oh, and regarding the quality comment that Pat, The Dog received: "Do we get Tuesday off?"
Typical. All we need now is to have some more complaints about the cafeteria, or how people drive. Way to go, LANL staff. You've risen to the occasion one more time. Save it for the NewsBulletin.
You take the paycheck...
...you drink the KoolAid.
Don't like it? Show 'em you mean business and take your talents elsewhere. There are lots of places that need scientific expertise. And just think of all the cool gadgets the old people play with in the country just to the south of your new home.
-Pat, the Designer