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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                       

Date: August 15, 2008

Contact Citizen Action: (505) 262-1862     

Dave McCoy


Citizen Group Requests

Investigation for Dirty Bomb Materials

Disposed of in Yardholes at Sandia Labs

Citizen Action, a public interest organization, filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General asking for investigation into radioactive and hazardous wastes scattered about Sandia National Laboratories in carelessly constructed and monitored “Yardholes.”

A 1993 Department of Energy (DOE) investigative report stated concerns that the wastes in the Yardholes could become “critical” causing the release of radiation similar to an explosion from a nuclear weapon. 

A 2008 federal court decision issued in a Freedom of Information Act case brought by Citizen Actioni said the Yardholes could provide materials for a “radioactive dispersal device,” commonly called a “dirty bomb.” The Court, citing DOE documents stated, “Depending on wind direction and the initial location of the device, the spread of radioactivity could potentially cover areas of high population density resulting in numerous casualties.” 

Dave McCoy, Director of Citizen Action said, “If the wastes become critical there is the possibility of radioactive deaths in Albuquerque’s streets. Sandia Labs should stop lying about what’s in the Yardholes and clean them up. Also, many of the Yardholes are unlined. The dangerous wastes are another unmonitored threat to Albuquerque’s drinking water along with the Mixed Waste Landfill, Kirtland’s jet fuel plume and dozens of other radioactive and hazardous dumps at Sandia and Kirtland Air Force Base.”

Citizen Action filed the EPA complaint because on July 31, 2008, NMED approved Sandia’s filing of a federal facilities compliance document called Revision 12 without requiring that SNL divulge the hazardous contents of the Yardholes. The NMED response to Citizen Action comments agreed with Citizen Action that the mixed waste in the yardholes “may become subject” to the Federal Facility Compliance Act.  Citizen Action argues that the wastes in the yardholes are subject to federal disclosure requirements at the present time.

The Citizen Action complaint also asks why the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) is not pursuing investigation of the Yardholes’ contents and cleanup of the illegal disposal of the hazardous wastes.

NMED says that it “is investigating the materials stored” in the Yardholes but “has not made any final determination.” Dave McCoy, Director for Citizen Action states, “The proper course of action for NMED, if it were reasonably conducting an investigation, would have been to withhold approval of Sandia’s federal facility compliance document.”

Citizen Action’s complaint states that in addition to not enforcing the federal facility compliance law requirements, NMED is not conducting any ongoing, active investigation of the Yardholes. Dave McCoy said further, “Although Sandia Labs stalled the investigation, NMED gave Sandia a green light for continuing the illegal storage/disposal of hazardous waste materials in the Yardholes.”

For decades, Sandia Labs kept the Yardhole wastes secret from the NMED and the public. Citizen Action obtained Freedom of Information documents about the Yardholes in 2004. Citizen Action then informed the NMED about the existence of the Yardholes.  Although the NMED requested that Sandia Labs reveal the hazardous wastes in the Yardholes, Sandia Labs refused to do so. NMED did not continue its investigation into the Yardholes after 2006. Along with nuclear wastes, the Yardholes contain hazardous wastes that under federal lawiv must be disclosed and properly disposed of.

The NMED did not demand that Sandia list the Yardhole wastes to bring itself into compliance with a law known as the Federal Facilities Compliance Act. In 2008, Citizen Action sent a notice to Sandia that it should list the hazardous wastes in the Yardholes.  Sandia did not reply.

 In March 2006, NMED began an inquiry into the yardholes at Sandia National Laboratories.  NMED letter to Sandia Labs lists “Metals that include cadmium, lithium, silver and sodium; other potentially reactive materials in storage in the below grade storage facilities were also documented.” Sandia then replied in June 9, 2006 that the contents stored in Technical Area V and the Manzano Bunkers were not hazardous waste. However, numerous earlier DOE documents identified the wastes as being radioactive, hazardous and as possibly lacking appropriate pathways for disposal.vi NMED’s investigation apparently halted after Sandia’s reply.

 According to a document provided by Sandia to NMED the materials at the sites also include over 30 tons of uranium-235 enriched to varying degrees - including some uranium-235 enriched to greater than 90% - more than 50 grams of plutonium, fission products, mixed plutonium-uranium oxides, spent fuels, and other hazardous materials. Some of the materials are stored in water to avoid going critical. The DOE investigative report identified the existence of the Yardholes at the location of the Sandia Pulse Reactors (19 yardholes) and the Hot Cell Facility (13 yardholes under the HCF Monorail) associated with the Annular Core Research Reactor (ACCR).  

i (CIV 06-0726 BR/WDS, Citizen Action v. US DOE, NNSA, Memorandum Opinion and Order, p.4-5)


iv 42 U.S.C. 6921 et seq.vi A Material Management and Disposition Plan for Excess Materials at Sandia National Laboratories, (SAND 2002-1785P, July 2002)