U.S. Water News Online
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -- A report released by two watchdog
groups renews the warning that the aquifer beneath the Idaho National
Engineering and Environmental Laboratory could be contaminated by
nuclear waste percolating into the ground.
The report is based on federal documents and sporadic ``hits'' of
plutonium and americium isotopes showing up in the aquifer. It urges
immediate action to remove buried radioactive waste and to clean the
earth down to the water table.
``Urgent action is needed in order to protect the Snake River
Plain aquifer from long-term irreversible action,'' the report says.
Kathleen Hain, director of the Department of Energy-Idaho's
Environmental Restoration Program, said it is not clear that the
sporadic hits of plutonium and americium are indeed coming from the
buried waste. Other possibilities include contaminated dust blowing
into the water samples, laboratory errors, or pollution from other
parts of the site.
The aquifer supplies drinking and irrigation water for much of
eastern and southern-central Idaho. It covers 9,600 square miles and
flows southwest from eastern Idaho to Hagerman, where it drains into
the Snake River at Thousand Springs.
Arjun Makhijani, author of a report released by the Institute for
Energy and Environmental Research and the Snake River Alliance, said
the contamination is spreading fast.
``The current estimate is that it would take a few decades to
migrate to the water table,'' Makhijani said. ``We're telling you
that the government isn't telling you. For a quarter of a century,
the government has allowed this problem to fester, and it should not
However, there is scientific disagreement about whether or how
fast various contaminants will spread. Hain said government models
show that there will be no spread at all.
Joe Rousseau, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's INEEL project
office, said Makhijani drew from information that has been in the
public domain for many years.
``My only concern is that the numbers may be misinterpreted to
elevate their significance,'' Rousseau said.
The stat is continuously monitoring groundwater through wells on
and around the INEEL, where radioactive and other hazardous waste was
dumped during the 1950s and 1960s.
Six years ago, the state negotiated an unprecedented,
court-enforceable agreement requiring that all waste be removed from
the INEEL by 2036. Skeptics of that deal contend it does not cover
all of the 2 million cubic feet of plutonium-contaminated material
that was buried on the site over the course of two decades.
Hain said there are dozens of different cleanup programs already
under way to address the concerns outlined in the report. She said
the government will continue to gauge how sound its cleanup strategy
is with any new information or research that arises.
``You make the decision, take an action, and keep verifying the
action is sufficient. That's how you handle the uncertainty,'' Hain
said. ``You make a decision with the information you do have. That's
the only way I know to handle this.''
Return to the
U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.