Rather than excavating a Cold War-era landfill just outside Albuquerque, Sandia National Laboratories wants to leave the nuclear waste in the ground and "monitor" it indefinitely — and the state of New Mexico has agreed that’s a good idea.
From 1959 until 1988, Sandia used the site, now
known as the Mixed Waste Landfill, to dispose of radioactive wastes
such as cobalt 60 and depleted uranium, and hazardous wastes such
After studying the site for more than a decade
under a federal law that requires the lab to take stock of
contaminated sites, Sandia decided that excavating, inspecting, and
moving the landfill would be too dangerous. "It’s dry waste,
in a dry, functioning landfill," says John Gould, a physical
scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the lab.
"It’s not going anywhere."
Dick Fate, deputy
project manager for Sandia’s environmental restoration
project, says that neutron probes installed underneath the landfill
will monitor changes, and that Sandia will excavate the site if it
But the Albuquerque-based nonprofit
Citizen Action has petitioned the New Mexico Environment Department
to clean up the site after the short-lived radionuclides have
decayed. "This isn’t a landfill; landfills are planned," says
Citizen Action’s Sue Dayton. "This is a dump." She wants the
waste excavated and placed in monitored storage. In August,
however, the state issued an "initial approval" of the long-term
stewardship plan, stipulating the addition of a 3-foot dirt cover
and an animal-intrusion barrier.
The New Mexico
Environment Department is currently accepting comment, and a public
hearing will be held in Albuquerque on Dec. 2, 2004.