"Journal Bamboozled by Sandia Plan for Waste Dump"
By Sue Dayton
In response to the Journal's recent editorial, "Sandia Landfill Plan Best Option Available".....
Unless someone at Sandia has somehow slipped more waste into the Mixed Waste Landfill over the last week, the "plutonium-contaminated matter from nuclear weapons tests, isotopes of uranium, lead, various hazardous chemicals and other matter" identified by the Journal is not why Sandia says the Mixed Waste Landfill is too dangerous to clean up.
Sandia has consistently maintained that cobalt-60, a highly radioactive material buried in the landfill, is the reason it is too dangerous for workers to clean it up. However, the cobalt will decay to background levels in fifty-six years, and much of it has already decayed away considerably to safer levels. Additionally, the cobalt was encased in lead, steel and 24 truckloads of concrete so that workers could safely bury it in the landfill. This measure of precaution will make retrieval safer as well.
Clean up costs too much? What's the going price of clean water in New Mexico's largest metropolitan area with an aquifer in crisis? The Journal states that Sandia and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) say the "risk of leakage in that area is low." The Chemical Waste Landfill, located a bit over a mile from the Mixed Waste Landfill, has already contaminated the aquifer with trichloroethelene (TCE), a solvent that was also disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill. When Sandia excavated the Chemical Waste Landfill a few years ago the discovery and excavation of 2,000 intact containers of solvents, acids and chemicals prevented further contamination to the aquifer.
Too dangerous to move it? There are many examples of landfills located at federal facilities with similar inventories of waste that have been safely and successfully cleaned up. If Sandia feels it would rather wait to clean up the Mixed Waste Landfill after the cobalt has decayed entirely away then the time is now to start making plans for clean up of the waste site.
Clean up would result in another WIPP? There is no need to create another nuclear waste dump in New Mexico to take waste from the Mixed Waste Landfill. Licensed repositories exist in Nevada, Utah and Carlsbad that will take the majority of the various waste materials in the landfill. However, we are not necessarily advocating for transport of the waste to an off-site repository.
One option examined by Sandia was complete excavation of the landfill with above-ground retrievable storage. While this option, according to Sandia, presents the greatest risk of exposure to workers it eliminates the potential for contamination to our water supply, eliminates the potential for transport of contaminants back into the environment by plants, animals, air and water, and eliminates the potential for human exposure from future activities such as building a road through the area someday.
Sandia says that complete excavation of the landfill with above-ground retrievable storage would result in a "significant exposure risk" to workers. But the strongest recommendation from a panel of five DOE experts is the inclusion of an alternative that consists of a temporary cover with future excavation of the landfill. According to Sandia, future excavation of the landfill would "pose little exposure risk to site workers, the public and wildlife."
However, Sandia did not examine a "temporary cover with future excavation" option for the landfill. The best solution for the Mixed Waste Landfill does not burden future generations of New Mexicans with the uncertainties of waste that will remain essentially hazardous forever. The best solution is excavation and clean up with above ground storage at an on-site facility or in a properly engineered landfill now or at a designated and enforceable date in the future.
What could be "more savory" than the creation of jobs, a guarantee that our ground water will be protected over the long-term, increased land values, a secure future for development, and protection of the health of nearby communities that will be built in the area adjacent to the landfill. Claims by Sandia that the government will "monitor the landfill forever" are based on policy, not science or reality. If Sandia National Labs and the U.S. Department of Energy were actually committed to cleaning up this mess they would - and could - do it.