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Thursday, June 21, 2007  
Explosives test range Site 300 questioned over cleanup plan

By: Bob Browne
Published In: San Joaquin News Service

Reresentatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say they've made substantial progress in 25 years of cleanup efforts at Site 300, but lab critics said the overall cleanup plan does not go far enough.

"I'm surprised you would consider a cleanup plan without considering the pollution from further activities at the site," said local businessman Bob Sarvey, one of about a dozen speakers Wednesday as the DOE and the lab collected public comments for its cleanup plan.

"As part of your cleanup, you must stop polluting the site," Sarvey said.

Leslie Ferry, of the lab's environmental restoration division, said most of the contamination addressed in the plan is the result of past practices at the high explosives test range, including disposal of radioactive uranium and tritium into unlined landfills.

"The experiments at the site are now designed with a much better understanding of environmental protection," she said.

By next year, the lab and DOE expect to have a "record of decision" on the site-wide cleanup plan, which will define where the rest of pollution is and what it will take to clean it up.

Ferry outlined cleanup efforts that started in 1982 when the lab started to remove toxins from soil and groundwater around the 7,000-acre high explosives test range southwest of Tracy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the site a top national priority in 1990, which accelerated efforts to remove solvents and radioactive contaminants from soil and water. Ferry said the lab and DOE have treated about 250 million gallons of groundwater and removed about 12,000 pounds of contaminants.

She also described how a mile-long plume of groundwater contaminated with trichloroethelyne along Corral Hollow Creek has been removed, and how groundwater pollution from radioactive tritium has been curtailed at one explosives firing table in the northwest corner of the site.

The lab plans to cap trenches filled with uranium and tritium-tainted material and install drains around them, but does not plan to excavate the radioactive debris. While the lab has no plan to remove tritium from groundwater, it does expect that its radioactive half-live of 12_ years will cause the radioactivity to deteriorate before the groundwater migrates off-site.

Kathy Setian, Site 300 project manager for the EPA, said one particular landfill at the northwest corner of the site, another source of radioactive tritium and uranium pollution, appears to be contained now that the landfill has been capped.

"If this remedy works, there will be no further releases of tritium from Pit 7 into the groundwater," Setian said.

But critics of the lab, such as Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, pointed out that the lab and DOE have performed no analysis of how continued explosions at the site will contaminate soil and groundwater.

"It's surreal for me to listen to this presentation about how this cleanup is foolproof," said Loulena Miles, staff attorney for the group. She was one of many to point out that continued tests using depleted uranium are proposed for the site.

At the same time, the University of California hopes to put a biological research site, specializing in animal diseases, on the site.

"A robust cleanup is important for a number of reasons," she added. "Cleanup must take into account a wide variety of future uses," she said.

Contact reporter Bob Brownne at

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