ACTION ALERT: Stop Radioactive Releases at Los Alamos National Laboratory
In March 2020, Nuclear Watch New Mexico publicized the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) plans to intentionally release up to 114,000 curies of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen gas, beginning in April 2020. Public reaction was swift and outspoken – including this petition signed by more than 3,000 people — prompting the Lab to postpone the releases at the start of the COVID pandemic.
However, a recent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report indicates that LANL is getting ready to restart these releases, perhaps as soon as this September.
Tritium is used to boost the nuclear detonation of plutonium “pit” bomb cores. As part of the new nuclear arms race LANL is rushing to expand plutonium pit production, which is slated for a half billion dollar increase in the next federal fiscal year alone. As an emitter of low energy beta radiation, tritium is not dangerous externally. However, because tritium is an isotope of hydrogen it easily bonds with oxygen to form radioactive (or “tritiated”) water that living organisms (including fetuses) can uptake. Thus, it can be a dangerous radiation hazard when inhaled as gaseous tritium or ingested in food or water or absorbed through the skin as tritiated water. Most atmospherically released tritium gas rapidly converts into tritiated water vapor and thus can readily enter the biosphere. (Source: Nuclear Watch New Mexico press release)
SEPT 9 UPDATE:
The EPA has granted approval for the tritium release process to start as soon as September 11, 2020.
What You Can Do:
1) Call the NMED and urge them to withhold approval of the temporary authorization for the tritium release. This is an emergency, therefore this is their emergency number: (505) 827-9329. You can also call the office of the Secretary of NMED, James Kenney: (505) 827-2855.
2) Contact Representatives to express your objection to LANL’s plan.
- Contact member of the NM Hazardous Waste committee. You can find their names and contact info here.
- For Tribal members and residents: Contact Pueblo governors — contact info here.
- Contact municipal leaders in Española, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe
- Contact Congressional representatives:
- + Senator Tom Udall: (202) 224-6621, contact by email
+ Senator Martin Heinrich: (202) 224-5521, contact by email
+ Representative Debra Haaland: (202) 225-6316, contact by email
+ Representative Ben Lujan: (202) 225-6190, contact by email
+ Representative Xochitl Torres Small: (202) 225-2365, contact by email
Suggested message for all of the above: “I am calling to ask [name of representative] to work to put an immediate halt and suspension to the planned September tritium releases as well as the increase in plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory. There must be an informed public process that prioritizes protecting those most vulnerable. At the very least, venting of these radioactive materials needs to be in enclosed structure in addition to filtration capture.”
3) Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Use this Nuclear Watch New Mexico press release for talking points.
4) LANL workers could strike and shut down operations
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Nuclear Watch New Mexico has notified the Environmental Protection Agency that its rubber stamping of plans by the Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to vent up to 114,000 curies of radioactive gaseous tritium is unacceptable.
The two organizations stated:
“We believe that EPA and DOE, as federal agencies mandated to serve and protect the public, need to entirely reconsider their decision to allow this tritium venting project to move forward. The venting project has been poorly thought out; it would put an inestimable number of individuals needlessly at risk; it would disproportionately affect communities of color; it would exacerbate the distrust that many people in the surrounding communities have for the Laboratory; and it would most likely violate the law. The agencies need to compel [LANL contractor] Triad to develop an alternative means to dispose of the radioactive tritium without expelling it into the ambient air.”
Virginia Necochea, Executive Director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, commented, “Now more than ever we must demand long overdue environmental justice for all communities impacted by environmental pollution and toxins, especially frontline communities that continue to bear the brunt of environmental racism. The Law Center is committed to working alongside communities in ensuring their fundamental right to clean air and a healthy environment.”
DOE’s radioactive air emissions are regulated by the EPA under the federal Clean Air Act. That agency had rubber stamped LANL’s plans for these massive tritium releases a mere three days after receiving them. This is despite the fact that in the late 1980’s LANL had violated the Clean Air Act’s legal standard of limiting the public’s annual radioactive air dose to 10 millirem, which EPA had done nothing to enforce.
LANL’s past Clean Air Act violations were discovered and disclosed by a citizens’ group based on a whistleblower’s labor grievance, and not by EPA. The Lab had been using an unapproved dose reduction factor to stay under the Clean Air Act’s legal limit, which once disallowed put the Lab in violation. Similarly, with these currently planned tritium releases, the Lab is again using an unapproved dose reduction factor which EPA has not questioned. If this unapproved dose reduction factor is disallowed LANL’s potential air emissions dose would be double the Clean Air Act’s standard of 10 millirem per year, hence blatantly illegal.
Tritium is used to boost the nuclear detonation of plutonium “pit” bomb cores. As part of the new nuclear arms race LANL is rushing to expand plutonium pit production, which is slated for a half billion dollar increase in the next federal fiscal year alone. As an emitter of low energy beta radiation, tritium is not dangerous externally. However, because tritium is an isotope of hydrogen it easily bonds with oxygen to form radioactive (or “tritiated”) water that living organisms (including fetuses) can uptake. Thus, it can be a dangerous radiation hazard when inhaled as gaseous tritium or ingested in food or water or absorbed through the skin as tritiated water. Most atmospherically released tritium gas rapidly converts into tritiated water vapor and thus can readily enter the biosphere.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico added, “These planned massive radioactive air releases document that the Lab prioritizes expanded nuclear weapons production and more contamination and radioactive wastes above public safety and welfare. Citizens may need to act again. The planned tritium releases, and the Lab’s past history, show that Lab officials do not take their Clean Air Act obligations seriously, and that EPA has been all too lax and accommodating in its oversight and enforcement responsibilities.”
Graphics below courtesy of Pueblo Action Alliance