LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) recently took on new work to ship hundreds of containers of purged well water and other materials left at sites across Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) at the time of the cleanup contract transition.

N3B is the prime contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office charged with cleaning up hazardous and radiological waste generated at LANL during the Manhattan Project and Cold War eras.

Since September 2020, N3B has shipped more than 211,000 gallons of purged well water and drilling fluids, along with nearly 100 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil and run-of-the-mill industrial materials linked to past LANL operations. Industrial materials include residual drill cuttings and PVC pipes that remained after well installation.

The purged well water is stagnant water removed from monitoring wells before sampling — a process that ensures samples are representative of actual aquifer conditions, including any potential contamination. About 260,000 gallons of this water was left in tanks across LANL sites when N3B began work on the cleanup contract in April 2018.

Crews soon noticed that the lack of available holding tanks would impact cleanup operations, especially where N3B operates a treatment system for chromium-contaminated groundwater beneath LANL.

Shipment of the water began with about 32,000 gallons, or eight truckloads, leaving Mortandad Canyon each week.

Other so-called transition materials being dispositioned include hazardous preservatives once used and since expired to safeguard storm water samples during transport to analytical labs, in addition to low-level radiological waste, such as pit liners used during well installation to contain drill cuttings with trace levels of man-made radionuclides.

“Along with operations being impeded if we didn’t remove these materials, their disposition was critical to upholding our environmental stewardship mission,” said Erik Loechell, N3B’s program manager for the transition materials project. “We don’t want that waste getting into the environment.”

As part of the process to disposition transition materials, crews research and follow historical leads to successfully locate credible analytical data as needed. That data is then correlated with information on the containers to confirm their contents.

“That confirmation process is critical, as we don’t ever want to incorrectly ship something,” said Loechell.

All transition materials are slated for shipment by August 2021 — including an additional 170 cubic yards of solid waste and about 30,000 gallons of water.

Before shipping, the materials are safely stored, with solid waste primarily kept in lined and sealed containers and water stored in tanks that are monitored monthly for structural integrity.

Crews empty purged well water into a truck for offsite disposal. The water comes from monitoring wells that support the treatment system to shrink the size and control migration of a groundwater plume contaminated with hexavalent chromium.