Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor Vol. 24 No. 39
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Nuclear Security & Deterrence
Article 6 of 6
October 09, 2020

NM Congressionals Want Virtual Meeting About Proposed Los Alamos Tritium Venting

By Dan Leone

The National Nuclear Security Administration should hold a COVID-19-safe virtual meeting to brief New Mexico residents about a planned venting of tritium from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, members of the state’s congressional delegation said Tuesday in a letter to the lab’s local fed.

“[W]e strongly urge you to hold an open public information meeting for the local communities and Pueblos in Northern New Mexico before moving forward with any venting of the flanged tritium waste containers,” New Mexico’s U.S. Senators and the congressman whose district includes the lab wrote in a letter to Michael Weis, manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Los Alamos Field Office.

Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) both signed the letter, as did Rep. Ben Ray-Lujan (D-N.M.), who is running for the Senate seat Udall is vacating.

The lawmakers said the NNSA should ensure that people living in remote communities near Los Alamos have phone access to the proposed virtual meeting because of “difficulty accessing the internet and lack of broadband in many communities in New Mexico.”

The NNSA wants to vent headspace gas in four 50-gallon containers of tritium-contaminated waste now held in Building 1028 in the lab’s Technical Area 54, Area G. The NNSA says it has to vent the gas so that it can remediate and eventually dispose of the other waste in the containers. The agency said it will probably move the containers to another building for venting, and that the proposed operation complies with federal rules about emissions from Department of Energy facilities.

Environmental groups in the state have complained to the New Mexico Environment Department that the NNSA has not seriously considered alternatives to venting the tritium. These people say the agency could instead partially remediate the containers as they are, negating the need to vent the headspace.

The lab estimated that off-site does from venting the containers might range from fewer than 6 millirem per year to as many as 20.2 millirem a year. The high-end figure is a worst-case scenario that the NNSA calculated to show what would happen if the entire “tritium contents” of the containers was released into the open air in one shot, without the use of air filters. The lower end of the range takes into account “emission control systems and more realistic release scenarios.”

The NNSA said that while the 6 millirem off-site dose “is higher than the annual dose reported in recent years, the benefit of removing this risk offsets the short-term increase in off-site dose.”

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