More radioactive material has been found on a former Los Alamos National Laboratory site where low-income housing is being built.
Debris containing two forms of uranium was discovered last month in Los Alamos County, just south of where a utility crew found enough low-level radioactive waste in February to fill three drums.
Crews removed another three drums of contaminated debris, including glass shards, wood and metal objects, from the second site, according to state and federal officials. Other unearthed material remains isolated at the site until it can be analyzed and properly disposed of.
The site comprises two parcels the U.S. Energy Department transferred to the county, one in 2007 and the other in 2018.
Ohio-based Bethel Development aims to build 72 units of low-income housing and 60 units of senior affordable housing on the land off DP Road.
An agency technician found the contaminants May 18 on the site where crews were excavating to install sewer lines for the housing project, said Toni Chiri, spokeswoman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a U.S. Energy Department branch.
“Work was stopped upon discovery of the material,” Chiri said. “The site is secure and the public is protected. Air monitoring is ongoing and no airborne contamination has been detected to date.”
The Energy Department will continue to monitor the site and other areas of potential contamination on the surrounding property, Chiri said.
Technicians collecting samples at the construction site were part of stepped-up monitoring requested by the state Environment Department.
Kevin Pierard, head of the agency’s Hazardous Waste Bureau, scolded federal officials in February for transferring contaminated land to the county. In a strongly worded letter, he described being “extremely concerned” about “the potential threat to human health and the environment.”
Land deeds require federal agencies to clean up and dispose of all waste on the properties they transfer to the county.
Pierard ordered the Energy Department to investigate the site further to determine how the waste got there, ensure no more exists and craft detailed plans on how to avoid future incidents.
In the late 1990s, then-U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici drafted legislation that enabled the federal government to transfer properties — including lab sites — at no cost to the county so it would have more land to develop on the mesa.
Two years ago, the county received the 70 acres now being developed.
The Energy Department also has transferred 100 acres of more severely contaminated land in Technical Area 21, where plutonium was processed in the 1950s.
Cleanup is scheduled to last until 2026 on the former plutonium site, which then will be given to the county.
Plans call for developing that land at the end of DP Road for industrial and commercial use.
A watchdog group expressed concern about more waste being discovered at a construction site that state and federal agencies initially deemed clean.
“This demonstrates yet again the need for genuine comprehensive cleanup at LANL,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Cleanup has to be done right the first time so that our environment and water resources are protected for all time.”