Monday, May 3, 2010

Open Burning at TA-16: What's Up With That?

The Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing, underway for the last two weeks in venues all around northern New Mexico, was held on Friday, April 23, 2010, in Los Alamos on the campus of UNM-LA. To date, the Hearing has featured several issues of compelling interest to: 1) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), its owner, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and its present management contractor, Los Alamos National Security - Limited Liability Company (LANS); 2) the Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB), an arm of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED); 3) a coalition of citizens’ activist groups led by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS).

One such issue has been the question of whether or not HWB/NMED would grant a permit to NNSA/LANS to continue the Open Burning (OB) of explosives residues at TA-16. Evidently, the OB of explosives residues has been a common practice at LANL, dating back to the 1940’s.

The citizens’ groups have contended that OB, as practiced at TA-16, is unsafe to human health and to the environment. It appears to this observer that some evidence of this has been presented at the Hearing, during the last two weeks, albeit small. Also, NMED has seemed to me to be impressed by this evidence, although just barely. Nevertheless, NMED had proposed, prior to the Hearing, to deny the OB permit for TA-16. This had been, they said, principally because of the volume of citizens’ protests they had received about this matter.

NNSA/LANS has been fighting back. Prior to the Hearing they induced both the EspaƱola City Council and the Rio Arriba Board of County Commissioners to write letters about OB operations at TA-16. These letters, available for perusal on NMED’s public website, are supportive of NNSA/LANS operations, generally, and of Open Burning at TA-16, in particular. Interestingly, in both of these letters, patriotic themes are struck with much vigor.

Indeed, patriotic themes were also struck resoundingly at the Hearing on Friday by LANS managers and by private citizens making public statements supportive of NNSA/LANS and its OB practices at TA-16.

It is often fruitless to speculate about motivations. Nevertheless, one is inclined to wonder about what is driving this campaign of NNSA/LANS to “have its way” at TA-16. Could it be that there is more going on at TA-16 than meets the eye? Why have LANS managers maintained so doggedly that there are no materials contaminated by dioxins and furans being burned at TA-16? No one from either NMED or the citizens’ groups has claimed otherwise. And why have NNSA bosses stated so emphatically that there are no materials contaminated by radioactive substances being burned at TA-16? None of the other parties at this Hearing has even hinted that this was so. No one, that is, but Joni Arends of CCNS who, on Friday, when queried by LANS staff if she would like to go on a guided tour of TA-16 asked, “can I bring my radiation detector?”

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