Los Alamos National Laboratory Fact Sheet

The mission of NCSL’s Nuclear Legislative Workgroup (NLWG) is to provide legislative members with the opportunity to learn about the cleanup of federal nuclear weapons production and research facilities, the transportation and storage of radioactive wastes, and nuclear energy issues that affect our nation and states. This fact sheet is part of this effort.

Overview

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Northern New Mexico was established during the Manhattan Project as the site that would design and assemble the first atomic bomb. Located 25 miles from Santa Fe, N.M., the 36-square-mile site operates today as a multidisciplinary research facility ensuring the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and New Mexico’s Environment Department (NMED) oversees cleanup activities at LANL. 

State:  NM
Size: 36 square miles
Original Purpose: Nuclear Weapons Production
Estimated Cleanup Completion: 2015

Scale of Contamination

More than 21 million cubic feet of toxic waste has been buried at LANL since 1943.

  • Approximately 2,100 cleanup sites were originally identified for remediation, including 26 Material Disposal Sites consisting of unlined pits, shafts, and trenches.
  • Radioactive liquid wastes were disposed of in canyons surrounding the site and even after former cleanup activities, residual contaminants still remain.
  • Hazardous chemicals, mainly tritium, have been found in surface waters and aquifers beneath LANL. Due to groundwater contamination, surface water runoff and erosion threatens off-site environments.
  • Approximately 10,600 cubic meters of TRU wastes were stored and buried at LANL. TRU wastes consist of protective gear, tools, residue, debris, and other items from nuclear production and research activities.

DOE’s Environmental Management Activities

Framework Agreement
Following a large forest fire that almost reached waste storage sites at LANL, the DOE and state of New Mexico negotiated a non-binding framework agreement to step up shipments of TRU wastes from LANL. The Framework Agreement set a deadline for over 3,700 cubic meters of TRU wastes to be removed by June 2014, and a deadline of December 2014 for the removal of all newly generated TRU waste. TRU waste from LANL is being sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
 
Upper Los Alamos (LA) Canyon Project
The Upper Los Alamos Canyon Project involves evaluating 115 sites at LANL for residual contamination. This project involves soil and rock sampling, groundwater monitoring, and gathering data for future remedial activities.
 
Technical Area 54 Cleanup
Technical Area 54 (TA-54) has over 100 contaminated sites (many old waste storage sites) that are undergoing decontamination and decommissioning. This work includes the cleanup and removal of domes, pads, buildings, and foundations that are contaminated with radioactive wastes. Completing decontamination and decommission of TA-54 will be one of the final milestones of DOE-EM’s environmental cleanup activities at LANL.

Timeline for Clean Up Completion

According to the 2005 Consent Order, all major cleanup operations at LANL must be completed by December 2015. About half of the cleanup sites have been completed as of 2012 and 90% of the remaining sites have completed the investigation process. Because of the new priority deadlines set by the 2012 Framework Agreement, the DOE/LANL suggests that the initial Consent Order deadline of 2015 be extended or renegotiated. Cleanup at LANL began in 1989.  

Other Activities

National Nuclear Security Administration
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) manages the Los Alamos National Weapons Design Laboratory.  The agency is working to transform the site by making its facilities smaller, safer, and more secure.  The NNSA is working to replace old structures with smaller buildings that have modern technology, functions, and capabilities.
 
Supercomputers
Since the 1940’s, LANL has been at the forefront of advanced computing systems. The LANL supercomputer “RoadRunner” was the first supercomputer to reach a performance of 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second. The computers are used for weapons science simulation, national security challenges, and advance research for innovative science. After the complex transformation, LANL will be a “Platform Host Site for Supercomputing.”
 
Energy Security
LANL is developing new energy sources that enhance national energy security while limiting environmental impacts. The laboratory is actively researching alternative energy sources such as biofuels, fuel cells, and geothermal energy generation. Additionally they are looking into changes that can make existing infrastructure more sustainable, and researching novel energy topics such as superconductivity and hydrogen fuels.