At least 26 sites at Sandia National Laboratories where radioactive materials have been stored or disposed of from experiments simulating nuclear meltdowns are not currently regulated by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). The sites were discovered as a result of information in historical documents released to Citizen Action, a public interest group, through a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2004.
The NMED says it was unaware of the presence of the materials at Sandia disposed of in concrete-lined holes Sandia calls "yard holes" in the ground near nuclear reactors at the lab, and in vaults and bunkers at the Manzano Storage Facility. According to a document provided by Sandia to NMED the materials at the sites 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 documents released by Sandia in response to NMED's inquiries provide information that suggests the nuclear materials include hazardous materials and hazardous waste constituents that may fall under the regulatory authority of the NMED. But Sandia and Department of Energy (SNL/DOE) officials have refused, to date, to identify the volume of radioactive and hazardous materials in each of the 26 disposition and storage sites as requested by NMED, and assert that the materials at the sites are exempt from the state's regulatory jurisdiction.
Susan Dayton, Director for Citizen Action, said DOE's assessment of the materials is highly questionable. "Sandia's own internal documents state that the majority of these materials are not re-useable and slated for disposal at other facilities."
Citizen Action has filed an appeal with the DOE/NNSA for the release of two additional documents the DOE is withholding on the grounds that the disclosure of the information "could have a significant adverse effect on the health and safety of the public."
In a related matter Citizen Action has filed a lawsuit against the NMED for approving Sandia's plan to cover the Mixed Waste Landfill, a Cold War waste site, with dirt instead of proper excavation and clean up. Citizen Action's lawsuit maintains that federal law prohibits the shallow burial of transuranic (TRU) waste buried at the Mixed Waste Landfill. Additionally, the lawsuit maintains that a portion of the nuclear materials discovered in the yard holes at Sandia was illegally disposed of as "greater than Class C" waste in the landfill.