By The Associated Press
Article Launched: 06/26/2007 11:56:59 AM MDT
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — Cleaning up plutonium-contaminated waste buried decades ago in shallow pits and trenches at Los Alamos National Laboratory could cost more than the current $114 million estimate, congressional investigators say.
The U.S. Department of Energy assumed for long-range planning purposes that the old waste could be safely left where it is, with a cap over it to prevent waste from either washing away or seeping into groundwater.
That solution would cost $114 million, according to a report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office, which is Congress' investigating arm.
However, the GAO said the cost could rise dramatically if an ongoing study concludes that the waste must be dug up and sent to a safer disposal site.
The state Environment Department expects that at least some of the old waste will have to be dug up, said James Bearzi of the department's Hazardous Waste Bureau.
A lab spokesman, James Rickman, said local DOE managers and lab officials were reviewing an analysis of the risk the waste poses. He said it's premature to say what type of cleanup might be needed.
The waste dates from the birth of the lab in 1943 through the early 1970s. Since then, plutonium waste from nuclear weapons work has been packaged and stored in drums for eventual disposal in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a DOE repository east of Carlsbad.