Half Life

A Local Group Claims Our Groundwater Is At Risk For Radioactive Contamination

Jessica Cassyle Carr
3 min read
(Scott Rickson)
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A touchy subject remains touchy as plans are made to deal with a local radioactive waste site.

Last month, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) held a public dialogue agenda meeting to discuss Sandia National Laboratory’s Corrective Measure Implementation Plan for the Lab’s Mixed Waste Landfill. In layman’s terms, the lab has devised a plan for dealing with their landfill. The NMED, which oversees environmental concerns at the lab and across the state, hosted a public meeting to discuss the plan. The Mixed Waste Landfill, which operated from 1959 to 1988 and covers 2.6 acres, contains low-level radioactive and hazardous waste, including trace amounts of plutonium and depleted uranium (this is in the form of contaminated gloves, lab coats, mops and the like, not tanks of radioactive sludge). The plan, which is now under litigation in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, would allow Sandia to cover the landfill with a biointrusion barrier and three feet of clay, and would require long-term monitoring and maintenance.

The group Citizen Action New Mexico, which has filed numerous lawsuits against NMED pertaining to the landfill, brought an appeal to the plan which concerns the wells Sandia uses to measure contamination in groundwater. In a recent press release, the group claims the monitoring wells do not provide representative samples of water in the aquifer and are therefore not in compliance with federal and state regulations.

Citizen Action is drawing on claims made by Robert H. Gilkenson, a geologist formerly employed by Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), who says records show the wells don’t produce a continuous flow of water, because they were installed in non-permeable strata. “They aren’t reliable. The wells do not provide the needed knowledge of presence or absence of contamination in the groundwater.”

NMED strongly refutes this claim. Adam Rankin, communications director at NMED, says Gilkenson is referring to problems seen at LANL and making parallel conclusions about Sandia. “Our opinion is those wells were completed properly and that there is no interference in their ability to accurately sample groundwater.”

Citizen Action is calling for new wells and a more comprehensive sampling program. But Rankin says the excavation process of installing new wells poses a threat to workers, adding that if groundwater contamination is ever detected at the landfill, a new set of considerations will be put into play. For now, Rankin says old landfills and septic tanks around town are more of a threat to Albuquerque’s groundwater than Sandia’s Mixed Waste Landfill.

NMED is looking at public comments on the landfill and will have a review completed in July or August.

Newscity Nuclear Reading

To find out more about the Mixed Waste Landfill, read these past stories.

“Reaching Water,” March 16-22, 2006

“Covering Our Tracks,” Oct. 20-26, 2005

“Coming of Age,” Sept. 23-29, 2004

“Your Home for Nuclear Waste,” April 29-May 5, 2004

Call 346-0660 ext. 247 or e-mail christie@alibi.com with news tips. E-mail your guest editorial or letter to letters@alibi.com.

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