Sunday, December 8, 2013

US Dept of Interior Espies Nuke Lab Mess

Cleanup of the mess of radioactive and toxic chemical wastes at the United States Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration's nuclear weapons factories and laboratories has been underway for more than a decade. At Los Alamos National Laboratory this process has passed a number of important milestones, one of which was the negotiation and signing of the Consent Order Decree of 2005 between DOE, LANL, and the State of New Mexico.

The Consent Order Decree described the steps that DOE pledged to take in order to clean up the mess made at LANL by the nuclear weapons program, and a timeline for completing each of these steps. Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons program continues at LANL, as it does at many of the DOE/NNSA nuclear weapons sites. Hence, new radioactive and toxic chemical wastes are being generated and added to the mess that already exists.

Compounding this difficulty is the fact that the financial cost of the cleanup is very large. At LANL, the cost to the DOE of its cleanup activities is ~$150 million, each year. Moreover, at DOE's Hanford, WA nuclear facility the annual cost is ten times as much; i.e., more than $ 1 billion. Not surprisingly then, each year, there is an competition between the nuclear weapons factories and laboratories for cleanup dollars.

Under this circumstance, it appears that DOE often judges LANL's cleanup problems to be less serious than those of its sister factories and laboratories. As a result, LANL is falling behind schedule in many, if not most, of its pledged cleanup activities.

The State of New Mexico, as well as many local citizens' groups are not happy with this situation.

But, fortuitously perhaps, another US government executive branch agency has moved into the breech.

The Department of the Interior, one of whose Congressionally mandated activities is to act as trustee for public lands and for native american lands, is undertaking an independent investigation of the type and degree of radiological and chemical contamination of lands on and surrounding the LANL site. The purpose of this investigation is to: 1) decide on the amount and type of damage caused to these lands by the nuclear weapons industry; 2) attribute a monetary value to the damage that has been suffered; 3) decide on the the cost of remediation. The DOI expects that the cost of remediation will be borne entirely by the DOE.

This DOI managed process has been underway for several years, the first phase having been completed in January 2010 with the publication of a Pre-Assessment Screen. In that report, it was shown that a full damage assessment and remediation plan for LANL was feasible and should be undertaken immediately.

Now, almost four years later, the Draft Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan for LANL has been completed, and has been issued for public inspection and comment. Whether any of the noble sentiments reflected in the Draft Plan will lead to actual remediation of the mess created by the nuclear weapons industry remains to be seen. In any case, it will be the US taxpayer who pays the bill.

In the following, I've excerpted parts of this document, available in its entirety at



Prepared by The Los Alamos National Laboratory Natural Resource Trustee Council
(for the United States Department of the Interior)

November 2013

Period for public comment extended to COB Jan 13 2014; send comments to

Public lands, waters, air, and living resources are held in trust for the benefit of all people and future generations. Since the 1970s, the U.S. Congress has enacted a number of statutes to protect and manage the natural resources that belong to all Americans. Several of these statutes designate natural resource trustees to serve as stewards of natural resources on behalf of the public.1 In particular, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (42 U.S.C. §§ 9601 to 9675) includes provisions to conduct a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) -- a process for replacement, restoration, rehabilitation, or acquisition of equivalent resources injured by the release of
hazardous substances. This process is codified in the Department of the Interior regulations (43 C.F.R. Part 11). The Trustees for natural resources in and around LANL, as well as the NRDA process, are discussed in greater detail below.

Since 1943, activities on the LANL site in north-central New Mexico have resulted in the release of radiological and other hazardous contaminants into the environment. Cleanup of the site and decommissioning began as early as the 1970s, and will likely continue for several more years. While cleanup efforts continue, Trustees of natural resources in and around LANL are conducting a NRDA.

This Plan describes the LANL Trustees’ current understanding of the assessment work necessary to complete the NRDA. Inclusion of an assessment activity in this Plan does not guarantee it will be undertaken, and implementation of initial studies may result in the addition of studies to the current list or may deprioritize others.


Designated Federal, state, and Tribal governments are authorized to act as trustees of natural resources on behalf of the public. In this role, trustees may assess and recover damages for natural resource injuries resulting from the release of hazardous substances or oil to the environment. The Los Alamos National Laboratory Natural Resource Trustee Council (LANLTC) includes representatives from the following organizations:

> DOE.
> The U.S. Department of Agriculture, acting through the Forest Service.
> Pueblo of Jemez.
> Pueblo de San Ildefonso.
> Santa Clara Pueblo.
> The State of New Mexico, acting through the Natural Resources Trustee of the Office of Natural Resources Trustee.

The party responsible for discharges and releases of oil or hazardous substances at this site (i.e., the “responsible party”) is DOE. DOE is also responsible for site remediation. In addition, as noted above, DOE is a Trustee. The LANLTC has agreed to follow a cooperative assessment process, as recommended by the Department of the Interior (DOI) NRDA regulations, meaning that DOE and the other Trustees are jointly and collaboratively conducting the assessment.


The ultimate goal of the assessment is to replace, restore, rehabilitate or acquire the equivalent of injured natural resources and resource services lost due to the release of hazardous substances. To achieve this goal, trustees will complete a number of interim steps, which are outlined within the DOI NRDA regulations promulgated pursuant to the principal NRDA statutes, including CERCLA, and which can generally be divided into three sequential phases. These phases are described below.

In the Preassessment Phase, a review of readily available information is conducted that allows the trustees to make an early decision as to whether a NRDA can and should be performed. During this phase, the trustees determine whether an injury has occurred and if a pathway of exposure exists. The preassessment phase is a pre-requisite to conducting a formal assessment. The LANLTC has completed this process and released a Preassessment Screen (PAS) in January 2010 (LANLTC 2010). The PAS confirmed that a formal assessment of injuries to resources is warranted.

Development of the present Plan, is the first step within the Assessment Phase of a NRDA. There are two primary components of the Assessment Phase: planning and implementation. First, the trustees must write a plan to ensure that the assessment is performed in a systematic manner, and that the methodologies selected can be conducted at a reasonable cost. Second, the Plan is implemented. After completing injury determination, injury quantification, and damages determination, the trustees enter the Post-Assessment Phase. As part of this phase, the LANLTC will prepare: (1) a Report of Assessment detailing the results of the Assessment Phase; and (2) a Restoration Plan that describes how natural resources and the services they provide will be restored.


Ecosystems and resources in and around LANL provide a wide-range of services, including both ecological and human services. The DOI NRDA regulations define services as the “physical and biological functions performed by the resource including the human uses of those functions” (43 C.F.R. § 11.14(nn)). Natural resource services are “a metric for measuring resource conditions and resource restoration” (73 Fed. Reg. 57,259) and, as such, they are compensable if they are reduced as a result of a release of hazardous substances. In addition, natural resource services can provide the metric by which natural resource injuries and the benefits of natural resource restoration may be quantified.
Ecological services are those services provided by natural resources that benefit wildlife and ecosystems. Human services include the services natural resources provide to humans. The latter generally fall into two categories at LANL, recreational uses and Pueblo community use services. Pueblo members may utilize natural resources to an extent and in ways that are different from the general population, and natural resources also may play a different role in Pueblo communities than they do in other sub-populations in and around LANL.

Examples of ecological and human services provided by LANL natural resources include:

> Surface water and sediment resources: habitat for invertebrates and other aquatic organisms; recreational services including fishing, swimming, and boating; Pueblo services such as provision of clay and subsistence fishing;

> Soil resources: nutritive substrate for the growth of plants, shelter for burrowing animals, and cleansing of
groundwater as it passes through soils;

> Groundwater resources: clean groundwater discharging to surface waters, human use services such as drinking water;

> Biota: nutrient cycling services, pollination, as food sources for other animals and humans, nonuse existence values.


The LANLTC is currently in the assessment phase of the NRDA. The assessment involves a number of steps, described in more detail in later parts of this Plan, including assessment planning, pathway determination, injury determination, injury quantification, damage determination, and restoration.


As noted above, this Plan represents the LANLTC’s current understanding of the activities that may be necessary to identify and quantify injury to natural resources and their services in and around LANL, and to determine the appropriate scale and scope of restoration. Inclusion of an activity within this Plan does not guarantee that it will be undertaken, and efforts and analyses not included within the Plan may be deemed necessary at a later date. As such, this Plan is not intended to limit the extent and nature of studies that may be undertaken in the course of the assessment, but to provide a framework within which the LANLTC will begin to prioritize efforts and implement the NRDA. The identified activities fall generally within four categories:

1. Use of existing data to identify potential injury to site resources.

2. Collection of new data and analysis of existing information on groundwater and human use services.

3. Field collection of additional ecological data to determine injury to site resources and changes in resource

4. Quantification and damages studies to identify and scale restoration.


LANL is a DOE facility situated on approximately 27,500 acres (approximately 40 square miles) in north-central New Mexico, approximately 60 miles north of Albuquerque and 25 miles northwest of Santa Fe. Scientific research began at LANL in March of 1943 with the inception of Project Y of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government’s effort to develop and test nuclear weapons. In recent decades, operations at LANL have broadened beyond nuclear weapons development to include missions pertaining to “national security, energy resources, environmental quality, and science.”

Operations conducted at LANL have resulted in the release of hazardous substances to the environment. Under Federal law, Federal, state, and Tribal governments are authorized to act as trustees of natural resources on behalf of the public (e.g., CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601 to 9675; see also 43 C.F.R. Part 11). In this role, it is the responsibility of the trustees to plan and implement actions to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of natural resources and resource services injured as a result of the release of hazardous substances to the environment. Trustees may assess and recover damages from the parties responsible for the release, and use those damages to implement restoration actions. Damages may include the cost of restoring the injured resources and the services provided by those resources to their baseline
condition (i.e., the condition that would have existed but for the release) (primary restoration), as well as
compensation for interim losses pending restoration through compensatory restoration (73 Fed. Reg. 57,260). All damages recovered as a result of this damage assessment will be used to undertake actions to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of the resources that were injured and the services those resources would have provided.


The purpose of this Plan is to outline the approach the LANLTC will take to assess damages for injuries to natural resources stemming from releases of hazardous substances, ensuring that the NRDA is conducted in a planned and systematic manner and at a reasonable cost. It is the intent of the LANLTC that this Plan will serve as a living document, and is therefore subject to change and amendment as the NRDA progresses.


The primary party responsible for discharges and releases of oil or hazardous substances at LANL is DOE. As noted above, DOE is also a Trustee. Other parties may be considered potentially responsible parties as additional information is obtained during the assessment.


Scientific research began at the site in March of 1943 with the inception of Project Y of the Manhattan Project, which was the U.S. government’s effort to develop and test nuclear weapons. Pueblo people inhabited the Pajarito Plateau and were living in accordance with their traditional beliefs and practices in and around LANL during this time. The Federal government limited access to lands and natural resources of the Pueblos during the Manhattan Project. Over the years, scientific investigations expanded into a variety of related fields, and geographically onto adjacent mesa tops. More recently, increased but still limited access has been allowed on site.

LANL is divided administratively into a number of smaller areas called Technical Areas (TAs), which were and are centers for different operations. Operations conducted over the years at LANL have resulted in the release of hazardous substances into the environment. For example, in the 1940s, radioactive liquid wastes were discharged directly into Acid Canyon, a tributary to Pueblo Canyon, as a result of operations associated with the Manhattan Project. Untreated discharges continued until 1951, when a wastewater treatment plant was constructed to manage liquid wastes for TA 51. Discharges continued, though radiological contamination was somewhat reduced due to the treatment process (LANL 1996).
In addition to liquid waste disposal, radioactive and hazardous wastes were commonly buried on-site, sometimes in secret locations, because the wastes being disposed of were classified (e.g., Material Disposal Site F in TA 6 (DOE 2008 Appendix I; U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration 1977, LA-6848-MS).

Remedial activities and decommissioning began at LANL as early as the 1970s. Beginning in 1989, DOE began remedial activities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (42 U.S.C. §§ 6901 to 6992k). As part of these remedial efforts, “Potential Release Sites” (PRSs) were identified and investigated. These PRSs include Solid Waste Management Units (SWMUs), Areas of Concern (AOCs), and Materials Disposal Areas (MDAs). In 2005, DOE, the University of California, and the State of New Mexico entered into a Compliance Order on Consent (Consent Order) to undertake remedial actions at LANL, with the intent of investigating and implementing any needed corrective measures by the end of 2015. The Consent Order expressly outlined the approach for conducting three broad categories of hazardous waste remedial investigations: facility-wide investigations, canyon investigations, and Aggregated Technical Area investigations. It required LANL to group PRSs into larger aggregate areas, but also included provisions for the discovery of new sub-sites within LANL. Finally, it detailed both general and specific technical approaches to site-wide remediation.


As noted earlier in this Chapter, LANL and its environs are part of the ancestral territories of the Pueblo de San Ildefonso, Santa Clara Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo, and other Federally recognized Pueblos. As such, the study area holds significant cultural, environmental, and religious significance for members of the modern-day Pueblo communities

As is clear from the area’s history, Jemez, San Ildefonso, and Santa Clara Pueblos' management, use, and occupation of their ancestral homelands in the Jemez Mountains and Pajarito Plateau began well before European presence, and continues to this day, despite three changes of sovereigns -- Spain, Mexico, and then in 1848, the United States -- governing New Mexico. Each Pueblo’s village has been at its present location for centuries. The Pueblos are among the oldest occupied settlements in the United States, and Pueblo people have lived since time immemorial at their ancestral homes on or near the Pajarito Plateau. Although some Pueblo members gained limited access to LANL via employment at the site, after the U.S. government’s activities began in 1943, little or no access was granted to Pueblo people for many years. In recent years, some Federally owned parcels have been returned to Pueblo and Los Alamos County ownership. However, despite the transfer of lands back to the Pueblos, the current boundaries of each Pueblo do not encompass all of each Pueblo's ancestral territory. Each Pueblo’s current landholdings include an area recognized as an original Spanish land grant that was confirmed by a U.S. patent. In addition, the United States since then has recognized additional lands for exclusive use of each Pueblo, holding lands in trust and protecting them from loss or taking. Throughout its history, each Pueblo has consistently and relentlessly sought to protect and maintain its inherent rights to its ancestral territory, both within and beyond its current landholdings. More recently, increased, but still limited, access has been allowed on the LANL site itself. Where allowed, Pueblo members continue to utilize LANL lands and resources for a variety of activities, including cultural and religious rituals; and, lands surrounding LANL are widely used by Pueblos
for traditional activities.

The Pueblos of Jemez, San Ildefonso, and Santa Clara, as well as other Pueblos in the region, continue to actively use and rely upon the plant, animal, and water resources of the study area for a variety of purposes, including food, medicinal, traditional practices, production of crafts, and ceremonial purposes. For example, Pueblo people continue to use clays for pottery, use natural pigments as body paint, and use traditional plants and animals for consumption, medicines, and ceremonial purposes. Each Pueblo's identity, history, and sense of being are directly linked to its traditions, which are in turn firmly rooted in the natural world. The Pueblo people share a world-view that ties them to the earth and water, believing that they are one, bound together to bring the riches of the earth for the people of the Pueblo. This concept has given the Pueblo people the foresight to understand the uses and capabilities of what could be produced and sustained both in the present and for the generations to come. Pueblo customs and practices govern every aspect of life at each Pueblo, including the management and use of natural resources. Each Pueblo considers threats to the natural resources in and around LANL as threats to their very existence. It is therefore critical to understand that, in the Pueblo belief system, the relative health of the natural environment of the Pueblos circling LANL is intrinsically related to the physical, emotional and communal health and welfare of these Pueblo communities.

Pueblo de San Ildefonso

As noted above, operations at LANL have resulted in the release of contaminants to the environment including to Pueblo lands and areas used by Pueblo members. In particular, these releases have resulted in contamination of the groundwater and soils and waters of the canyon systems on which LANL was built, many of which flow directly onto Pueblo lands. It is the Pueblo’s belief that activities at LANL have impacted not only the natural environment, but also the traditional/religious uses of those natural resources within the Ancestral Domain that are still recognized as “sacred” by the people of the Pueblo.

Santa Clara Pueblo

Santa Clara Pueblo is concerned in particular with potential impacts of air deposition and contaminant transport via particulates from historic and on-going LANL activities. The Pueblo is downwind of LANL and wind rose and monitoring data by both the Pueblo and LANL show that the prevailing winds come from the southwest (from LANL towards Santa Clara Pueblo). Santa Clara Pueblo also is concerned about whether the fault system underlying LANL, which connects to the Santa Clara Pueblo landbase, provides a means of transport for groundwater contamination since the termination of various south-north trending concealed active faults, such as the Sawyer Canyon Fault, is not fully understood.

Jemez Pueblo

Unlike the other three Accord Pueblos, the Pueblo of Jemez is located on the western side of the Pajarito Ridge. The main potential contaminant pathway from LANL is air emissions that drift over the Ridge into the Valles Caldera, primarily during winter months. The headwaters of the Jemez River form in the expansive Valles Grande within the Caldera. A concern of Pueblo members is that the river serves as a pathway for contaminants from LANL deposited in the Caldera to the Pueblo proper. The river water is used for irrigating crops which are staples of the Jemez diet, and shallow wells drilled in the river alluvium are the sole source of drinking water at the Pueblo and another potential contamination pathway.

The proximity of LANL to hundreds of Jemez archeological and cultural resources, particularly in the Valles Caldera, is of great concern to the Jemez people. Shrines, plant and animal collection sites, holy trails, and artifacts of the Jemez’ presence in the mountains named for them are central to the daily lives of the Jemez people. Pilgrimages to Redondo Peak and other peaks within the Caldera on sacred trails used by the Jemez for centuries are a frequent activity for most Jemez tribal members.


Wildfires are an important influence on the New Mexico landscape, including ecosystems in the LANL area. Since the 20th century, large wildfires have swept through the Jemez Mountains in roughly twenty year cycles. In 1954, the Water Canyon Fire burned large portions of the Water Canyon watershed and consumed nearly 3,000 acres. In 1977, the La Mesa Fire burned 15,444 acres of pine forests in the Jemez Mountains, including portions of Ancho and Water Canyon watersheds. In 1996, the Dome Fire burned more than 16,000 acres of forestland in the Jemez Mountains (University of Arizona 2012); and in 1998, the Oso Fire burned approximately 5,185 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest.

More recently, extended drought has caused the region surrounding LANL to be susceptible to fires. The Thompson Ridge Fire impacted the Valles Caldera in the summer of 2013. In 2000, approximately 43,000 acres of forest in and around LANL burned during the Cerro Grande fire. Approximately 7,684 acres, or 28 percent of the vegetation at LANL, was burned to varying degrees by the fire (LANL 2007). Furthermore, significant portions of the watersheds that cross LANL were affected, including Guaje, Rendija, Pueblo, Los Alamos, Pajarito, and Water Canyon watersheds. In 2011, the Las Conchas fire burned approximately 156,600 acres in the Jemez Mountains, including portions of the Los Alamos, Pajarito and Water Canyon watersheds and over 16,000 acres of forested lands in the Santa Clara Creek watershed of Santa Clara Pueblo. Except for a one-acre spot fire in TA-49, no LANL property was burned (LANL 2011b).While many of these fires are naturally-occurring and can help reset ecological communities, all fires have the potential to affect natural resources and the human use of those resources, as well as the fate and transport of hazardous contaminants released to the environment. For example, in an analysis of a suite of contaminants in storm water immediately after the Cerro Grande fire, global fallout-associated radionuclides (cesium-137 and strontium-90) and metals (copper, lead, manganese, selenium, strontium, uranium, and zinc) were elevated above pre-fire levels in Los Alamos Canyon. These contaminants appeared to be associated with mobilized sediment (Johansen et al. 2001). Such mobilization has the potential to move released hazardous substances away from their origin of release, down canyons, and into lower drainages and ultimately the Rio Grande. In addition, it has the potential to make more bioavailable contaminants that might otherwise be bound to soils. As such, historical fires and the potential for future wildfires to affect baseline conditions and
the movement of contaminants will be taken into consideration by the LANLTC in the damage assessment process, as necessary within each of the assessment activities to be discussed in this Plan.

To date, as noted above, the LANLTC has completed the Preassessment Phase, and released the Preassessment Screen in January 2010. The LANLTC is now undergoing the Assessment Plan Phase. The Assessment Phase, which includes drafting this Plan and conducting the NRDA, includes the following six steps:

> Assessment planning,
> Pathway determination,
> Injury determination,
> Injury quantification,
> Damage determination, and
> Restoration.


The geographic scope of the assessment area includes all locations where contaminants have come to be located. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

> LANL property and vicinity (i.e., Los Alamos County lands);

> Natural resources within areas “…belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the United States… any State or local government, any foreign government, any Indian tribe…” (43 C.F.R. § 11.14(z));

> The Rio Grande River extending from those areas adjacent to the LANL property downstream to, and including, Cochiti Reservoir;

> The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP);

> The geographic dimensions of contaminated groundwater plumes from releases from LANL operations.


Department of the Interior (DOI) / The Department of the Interior manages public lands and minerals, national parks, and wildlife refuges and upholds Federal trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and Native Alaskans. Additionally, Interior is responsible for endangered species conservation and other environmental conservation efforts.

DOI Agencies:

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) / The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission is to enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) / The Bureau of Land Management manages outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production on public lands.

Bureau of Reclamation / The Bureau of Reclamation is a provider of wholesale water, and hydroelectric power in the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service / The Fish and Wildlife Service works to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats.

National Park Service (NPS) / The National Park Service cares for the more than 400 national parks in the U.S. The National Park Service also partners with local communities to assist in historic preservaton and the creation and maintenance of recreational spaces.

Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement / The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement works to protect populations and the environment during surface coal mining operations. The Office also works to clean and put to good use abandoned mine sites. These missions are accomplished primarily through regulation and oversight of state programs.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) / The U.S. Geological Survey is the nation's largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency. It collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding of natural resource conditions, issues, and problems.


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