By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Energy
Radioactive waste is seeping from mountain burial sites in the canyons of northern New Mexico and moving toward the area's springs and streams, but officials insist it's not a health risk.
The area is home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a major tech lab central to research on outer space, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology, and supercomputing. But it's also one of two places where the U.S. conducts nuclear weapons testing, and was one of several sites used by the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons, including the bombs responsible for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during the second World War.
The nuclear waste from the production of those weapons was buried deep within mountains in the area. But the L.A. Times reports that the mountains haven't contained the waste, some of which has trickled down to the Rio Grande, a vital water resource for the Southwest.
Unsafe concentrations of organic compounds -- such as perchlorate, used to make rocket propellent, and radioactive byproducts of nuclear fission -- have been found in runoff in canyons that drain into the river, according to the report.
But contamination levels of the Rio Grande have not yet been high enough to raise health concerns, and lab officials say the waste doesn't jeopardize people's health because storm water that stirs up contaminated sediment is trapped in canyon bottoms (where it can be hauled away) or too diluted to pose as a health risk.
But the worry is that the surface contamination will move into groundwater, where it could affect drinking-water wells and the Rio Grande.
Here's a frightening quote from the story:
"When you see a child's footprints and Tonka toys in canyons where there is plutonium, there is reason to believe that a lot more work needs to be done to make the environment safe," said Ron Curry, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department.
In 2002, the department issued a cleanup order for the sites, but lab officials resisted the order for years before agreeing to a revised plan to clean about 2,000 contaminated sites by 2015.
Since then, roughly monitoring wells and gauges have been installed, contaminated soil is being removed from canyon bottoms and wetlands and small dams have been built to stop the flow of polluted storm water The most hazardous of the radioactive waste has been placed in sealed containers for storage in a federal underground storage facility in Carlsbad, N.M.
But that all concerns surface water, and doesn't address the water moving through the rock beneath the surface. And it's unclear just how much there is -- worsened by a CDC report that the lab under-reported the area's exposure to radioactive elements.
More evidence has been found. The L.A. Times report notes that unsafe levels of DEHP, an organic compound used in plastics and explosives, were found in an aquifer and high concenetrations of plutonium were found after an area water main stirred up sediment.
A $200-million water capture project in Santa Fe intends to treat contaminated water, but it won't go online for another two years.
The concern in the meantime: that stirring up radioactive sediment for removal will pose an immediate health risk for area residents, many of whom use the canyons for recreational activities.
Nov 3, 2009
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How Much Radioactive stuff is there? No figures of the degree of the these materials,just that they are there. Until someone gives the rate rate/quantity of radiation you cannot know what the risks are. As usual in these stories , the term radioactive is used to scare the pants of the masses. Green Peace is mentioned above. They are a bunch of extremists who resort to terrorism when they don't like something. Truth is not something that they believe in. I agree with wizardjr, people who live in houses built of Granite like Scotland get quite high doses of Radon . No worries there as it is natural.
In many parts of the country the native amount of radioactive elements in the ground is many times higher than what has happened there. I live in Minnesota and the Radon gas concentrations in basements is an order of magnitude more dangerous that this stuff. Having said that, I agree with BassRiverBill but add that plasma ovens convert all organic stuff and heterogeneous mixtures of diluted radioactive products. In the case of the diluted radioactive materials it glassifies them into a substance you can walk up to and lick it, it is so safe. It is so hard that eroding it is a millineal time issue. You also encase it in a skin to increase imperviousness. It's not being done due to the constant roadblocks set up by the Chicken Little Society of American and its affilated chapters in Green Peace, WWF, etc. This is only an issue because they want it that way as fund raisers. The fuel rods can be recycled and about 75% to 90% reused except that Jimmy "What me worry?" Carter signed away our ability to do so. This would reduce the radioactive waste stream to nearly nothing in combination with the above. Science fact is preferred over science fiction.
Currently available UVPCO (ultra violet photocatalytic oxidation)technology could easily, unabtrusivly and cheaply oxidize these organic contaminates. While it is a relatively unknown technology NASA, FHWA and numerous universities are both studying and using the technology. A million square feet of surface is currently being installed in LA. Check out www.csggrp.com and PURETi TiO2 nano technology solutions.
Seen any three eyed fish? This is just further proof that nuclear power is not an option and existing stations should be decommissioned now, we need more alternative energy sources.
Blast a bomb 2,000 feet below the ground and meet the ban on above ground testing treaty...but the fallout stays underground. finally gets into the water supply....sure is reasonable. Wonder if someone said this 40 years ago...moving fallout from the air to the water supply. Problem not solved.
The article refers to perchlorate as "organic:" "Unsafe concentrations of organic compounds ? such as perchlorate,..." Organic, in the chemical sense, which should apply here in a discussion of chemical compounds, means compounds containing carbon. This definition has been used by chemists ever since Woehler, around 1840, showed that chemical compounds that had been called "organic" because they were believed to require a life-force to be created, were carbon compounds, with no requirement for life-force for their creation. Thus, referring to perchlorates as organic is not consistent with modern chemistry. Maybe the author intended "inorganic" (meaning not organic), which would have been correct. The word "organic,," referring to food produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, does not seem to apply here either. Taking out the reference to perchlorate in the above quotation, "Unsafe concentrations of organic compounds ..." is a statement that seems entirely likely. Organic compounds like benzene, toluene, acetone, and chlorinated organic compounds like carbon tetrachloride and tetrachloroethylene were used as solvents, and most likely some of these ended up in the buried waste.
If a more pre-active role was taken by the residents with careful inclusion of broadcast businesses, internet exposure of photo's perhaps the DOE will step up to the plate and move more quickly to clean up the mess. However, it still has to GO somewhere. Idealy, it would be put into no corroding contianers, iron cylilnders covered with copper jackets and buried wa-a-ay down in the Carslbad Caverns. 1944 was a different world and I'm sure they knew about the prpblems and dangers but they really didn;t have the capabioity to store the waste the way they do now. It does serve to illustrate that Nuclear trash is a problem for then and now. Gov-Nuclear pllans include waste recycling on a large basis, but will it be enough? Remains to be seen, no pun intended. boino