A Santa Fe-based watchdog group is asking a federal court to declare invalid a new consent order governing cleanup of Cold War-era waste at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, saying regulators have failed to meet their public participation requirements.
At issue is a settlement agreement between the lab, the federal government and the state to clean up hazardous waste, the legacy of decades of nuclear weapons and chemical research.
In June, the New Mexico Environment Department released a revised version of the 10-year-old consent order, which officials said would expedite cleanup and increase funding for the program.
But in a statement Tuesday, Nuclear Watch New Mexico said the new consent order is not enforceable because it creates a “giant loophole” that would allow the U.S. Department of Energy and LANL to avoid cleanup by claiming it is “either too expensive or impractical.”
The group also says that the consent order absolves the Energy Department and Los Alamos Nuclear Security LLC, the consortium that operates the lab, of past violations.
The original 2005 consent order included specific guidelines on how and when the waste had to be removed from the lab. But last November, Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said existing cleanup goals were unrealistic, in part due to the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, which has not accepted new waste since radiation leaked from a improperly packaged drum in February 2014.
As a result, Nuclear Watch New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the lab and the federal government in May for failing to meet the deadlines set in the consent order. It said the state could have collected more than $300 million in penalties if the government had been held accountable for those missed deadlines.
Nuke Watch says the parties initially agreed to “rigorous public participation requirements and a detailed cleanup schedule” in the 2005 consent order, and these requirements should still be enforced.
“We will continue to push for the public to have a true voice in these important matters,” Scott Kovac, research director of the group, said in a statement.