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Watchdog Sues Feds Over Los Alamos Nuke Waste Removal

Nuclear Watch New Mexico has sued the operators of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for failing to meet deadlines under a court order to clean up nuclear waste. (Dept. of Energy)
Nuclear Watch New Mexico has sued the operators of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for failing to meet deadlines under a court order to clean up nuclear waste. (Dept. of Energy)
May 31, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. - A nuclear energy watchdog group has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Energy and a federal contractor for failing to clean up nuclear and toxic waste at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The suit claims waste stored at a lab site known as "Area G" hasn't been removed despite a 2005 consent order to do so.

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, says the DOE and its contractor, Los Alamos National Security or LANS, has done little more than kick the can down the road.

"We are alleging 12 counts, and it's pretty much indisputable, where they have missed compliance milestone deadlines," says Coghlan. "So, that's what our lawsuit's about, to try and compel the lab to meet those deadlines, which have passed."

Coghlan says the New Mexico Environment Department is revising its 2005 consent order to extend the deadline beyond 2018 to clean up the dumpsite.

But he says there is a loophole, for it to be enforceable Congress would have to OK enough funds to complete the project.

Today is the last day for public comment on the revisions.

Coghlan says under the original consent order, DOE and LANS a partnership that includes Bechtel Corporation and the University of California have racked up and not yet paid more than $300 million in fines for missing deadlines.

He thinks they should be forced to pay and to complete the work they've already been paid billions to perform.

"There is an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of mixed waste, both radioactive and hazardous," says Coghlan. "The lab's idea (of) cleaning up is capping and covering them, and leaving them permanently buried."

The DOE says it will not renew the LANS contract when it expires in 2017, but has issued a Request For Proposals for a new contract for waste cleanup at the lab.

The value of the new contract will be about $1.7 billion over a 10-year period.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM