State denies extension for Los Alamos cleanup

AP News
Posted: Jun 27, 2014 6:50 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state is cracking down on Los Alamos National Laboratory's attempts to extend deadlines for cleaning up toxic waste across its northern New Mexico campus.

The New Mexico Environment Department sent the lab 22 letters this month denying requests for more time to meet the terms of a 2005 consent order. In refusing further delays, the state said past extensions were granted while the lab diverted resources to expedite the shipment of thousands of barrels of already-processed waste to the government's underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico.

But the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been shuttered indefinitely by a mysterious radiation leak, meaning Los Alamos' plans to remove the last of those barrels are on hold.

Because Los Alamos told the state it won't be able to meet the June 30 deadline for getting those barrels to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the state said, it was denying the other requests seeking more time to clean up contaminated areas, build monitoring wells and submit reports for other cleanup of Cold War-legacy waste, some of which is buried in unlined trenches.

Watchdog groups applauded the action, saying the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant may put other cleanup efforts back on track.

"After granting more than 100 extension requests to delay cleanup, we salute the New Mexico Environment Department for denying further requests," said Joy Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. "We encourage NMED to enforce what is already has, and make LANL (the Los Alamos National Laboratory) comply with its legally mandated cleanup order."

Los Alamos officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the environment department said the letters speak for themselves.