Thursday, August 18, 2011

Open Detonation of Explosives Waste at LANL

This week, on 16 Aug. between 5:30 - 7:30 PM, at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos, LANL held a public meeting to describe their request of NMED for a Permit to detonate explosives waste at TA-36 and TA-39, in the open air.

Similar to last week's meeting regarding a new TRU waste treatment facility, there were ~35 people in attendance at Fuller Lodge; of these, ~25 were from LANL, 1 was from NMED, and ~10 were from the general public. Among the members of the general public were Joanie Arends (Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety), Scott and Susan Kovacs (Nuclear Watch of New Mexico), and myself. The meeting was facilitated by Bruce MacAllister, and there were two LANL presenters: Dave Funk (LANL explosives div. head), and Luciana Vigil-Holterman (ENV-RCRA specialist).

This newest request seeks a Permit from NMED to detonate up to 15,000 lbs of explosives waste in the open air, per year, at each of the two adjacent sites (TA-36 and TA-39). According to D. Funk, this is actually >10 times the weight of explosives waste currently being detonated in the open. He says that LANL is requesting a Permit to detonate so much more than is now necessary, "because future national security interests might require LANL to detonate a whole lot more explosives waste."

According to Mr. Funk, explosives waste is now being generated by LANL primarily from its work on nuclear weapons, both the R&D of nuclear weapons and the recertifying of stockpiled nuclear weapons; other explosives waste is the product of LANL's advanced explosives R&D, as well as its R&D being conducted on improvised explosives. Both Mr. Funk and Ms. Vigil-Holterman adamantly maintain that there is no off-site contamination now being produced by the open detonation of explosives waste at LANL.

Mr. Funk further opined that detonating explosives waste in specially constructive enclosures was much too expensive; i.e., as compared to detonations in the open air. Ms. Vigil-Holterman also pointed out that LANL has been detonating explosives waste in the open air continuously, since the 1950's, but without ever having had a formal Permit.

From the audience, LANL manager D. Hjeresen read a letter written to NMED by Rio Arriba County Commission Chair Felipe Martinez, saying that the RAC Commission was in favor of LANL recieving  a permit for open detonation of explosives waste, since "We believe that detonations in the Laboratory's remote and secure areas are a better alternative to transporting these unstable, explosive wastes on the public roads through our communities. We further believe that a denial of open detonation capability would harm our
country's nation security without an appreciable benefit to the environment." During a later telephone conversation (on 8/22/11), Chairman Martinez told me that a continuation of the economic benefits being brought to the citizens of northern New Mexico, by DOE/LANL, were a matter of special concern to him. 

In the past, it's been difficult for NMED to resist DOE/LANL's demands for additional permissions for hazardous activities not already covered under the Hazardous Waste Facility Permit (RCRA Permit). On 23 December, 2010 NMED outgoing Sec. Curry acceded to a LANL demand for an Open Burn Permit (of explosives residues) for TA-16. The OB Permit had only just been denied by NMED on 30 Nov, 2010, after weeks of public hearings presided over by Judge Joseph Alarid, who then issued his recommendation (evidently negative) to NMED. But, subsequently, NMED was bombarded by letters from local public officials attesting to the many benefits that open burning of explosives residues would have for the national interest; e.g., the mayor of Española who said that an OB Permit was "essential in order to protect our military and our nation's welfare."

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