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FOIA document yields new discoveries

N   E   W   S       R   E   L  E  A  S  E
Date: April 15, 2004  Contact: Susan Dayton, Director
Citizen Action New Mexico: (505) 262-1862

Numerous "yard holes" at Sandia National Labs contain nuclear reactor waste

A 1993 document released to the public interest group Citizen Action under the Freedom of Information Act has yielded some startling discoveries: waste from numerous experiments with nuclear reactor fuels was disposed of in various areas at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) described as "yard holes." The finding is especially startling as key state regulators contacted about the waste said they were unaware of the existence of the yard holes.

The release of the document was in response to a lawsuit filed by Citizen Action in February, 2004, against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the release of information pertaining to high level waste from nuclear reactor experiments that may have been disposed of in a Cold War waste dump known as the Mixed Waste Landfill at SNL. SNL/DOE is proposing to cover the landfill over with dirt instead of establishing a trust bond for monitoring of the site and a properly engineered landfill for containment of the estimated 100,000 cubic ft. of radioactive and hazardous waste that will remain hazardous forever.

The "yard holes" cited in the 1993 document comprise at least 30 primitive holes dug in the ground - some lined, some not - at various locations at SNL where waste generated as a result of nuclear reactor experiments was disposed of. One hole containing spent fuel elements from the Savannah River Site, a DOE facility in South Carolina, was reportedly buried in a water-filled hole under the Hot Cell Facility monorail at SNL.

Sue Dayton of Citizen Action said the description of the waste in the document is consistent with the definition of high level spent nuclear waste from nuclear reactors that must be kept in water-filled pools as a means to keep the waste "cool" or "under control."

"We are unsure if the waste is still buried out there in yard holes or if it has been transported off-site to another location. We're concerned not only because of the potential long-term risk to human health and the environment from the waste, but it could also be a potential target for terrorist activities," Dayton added.

The 1993 document released to Citizen Action states that some of the radioactive waste contains hazardous materials which the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has regulatory authority over.

"To discover there are more waste sites at SNL than previously disclosed to both the public and the state is highly disconcerting. We have asked the NMED to investigate these sites as a part of the clean up order for SNL," Dayton said.

"We've yet to receive any information from our original request under the FOIA concerning records of HLW that may be buried in the MWL, but this finding raises additional questions: what else is buried out there that we don't know about?"

For more information contact Citizen Action New Mexico: (505) 262-1862 or visit the Citizen Action website at www.radfreenm.org.