Albuquerque Journal
Saturday, January 8, 2005

LANL Impact Under DOE Review

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer

The Department of Energy is reviewing the impact of operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory to update a site-wide environmental document from 1999.

But laboratory watchdog groups want to see an entirely new analysis done because they say recent information and environmental changes that have developed over the intervening years make an update insufficient.

The review is a necessary five-year analysis required by DOE to ensure that laboratory operations and environmental impacts are within the scope of what was envisioned when the original analysis was drafted.

If operations or conditions have changed significantly, the National Nuclear Security Administration is supposed to update the site-wide environmental analysis with a supplemental analysis amending the disclosures, which is what the agency plans to do. Environmental groups say that doesn't go far enough.

"There are a lot of reasons why NNSA should just be working on a new site-wide Environmental Impact Statement and not waste time doing a supplement, because there have been so many changes," said Joni Arends, director of Santa Fe-based Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.

For example, she said, since the 1999 analysis, laboratory and oversight officials have learned about ground water contamination that may be reaching the Rio Grande, and the state Environment Department will soon enforce a consent order on a "fence-to-fence cleanup" that wasn't considered at the time.

But DOE's environmental compliance officer at LANL, Elizabeth Withers, said the new information and changes at LANL just aren't enough to warrant doing an entirely new site-wide Environmental Impact Statement.

"You would only do a brand-new (Environmental Impact Statement) for a site if you have a completely new set of decisions to make," she said.

"In this case, we have only been implementing these decisions for about four years; it is really not long enough for us to consider having a new direction."

She said the changes— including the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire, the transfer of some lab property to neighboring pueblos and Los Alamos County, and some facility operation changes— are significant, which is why NNSA decided to forego an evaluation of whether a supplemental analysis was even necessary.

But, said Withers, "people are going to see that these kinds of changes didn't really result in much of a difference in LANL's projects," so an entirely new analysis isn't necessary.

Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said DOE and NNSA should do an entirely new analysis because of changes to LANL facilities and operations, but also because the one done in 1999 was deficient.

"They should have done the job right the first time," he said.

Coghlan said he is not surprised about DOE's reluctance to tackle a new site-wide analysis, but said groups do have a backup option.

"They could, in effect, have a new (site-wide analysis) through the supplemental, all depending on how broad the scope is," he said, adding that he expects DOE to keep the scope as narrow as possible.

Coghlan said his group plans to pressure DOE to keep the scope of the supplemental analysis as broad as possible.

The public will have a chance to contribute to the review process.

DOE is seeking comment on the scope of the supplemental analysis. A meeting is scheduled for Jan. 19 at the Pablo Roybal Elementary School in Pojoaque from 6-8 p.m. Comments on the scope of the supplemental analysis are due to DOE by Feb. 27.

DOE expects a draft version of the supplemental analysis to be released sometime early this fall, followed by a 45-day public comment period. A final supplemental analysis is expected to be released in early 2006.

Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal