Reading Room

My Tour of Site 300 and the LLNL Main Site

Friday, December 17, 2015
Posted by Joseph Rodgers

As mentioned elsewhere on our site, Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) contains four buildings on the National Nuclear Security Agency’s top ten structures most at risk for spreading contamination.

On November 17 and 18 the LLNL held a tour for Tri-Valley CAREs. Members of the community met with the technical experts leading the Superfund cleanup of LLNL’s main site in Livermore and an explosive test facility in Tracy named Site 300.

The tours allowed scientists to discuss the risks posed by onsite contamination and to showcase innovative developments in environmental clean up technology.

Members of the cleanup crew enthusiastically discussed novel cleanup strategies such as the placement of zero-valent iron to filter out contaminants, the use of microorganisms to break down pollutants such as perchlorate and TCE, and the use of pneumatic fracking to release contaminants locked in soil. The cleanup crew is also using more traditional cleanup methods, such as granular activated carbon filters.

Some of these cleanup methods break down contaminants while other methods consolidate contaminants by storing them in a filter. Tri-Valley CAREs has been advocating for cleanup technologies that break down contaminants because consolidated contaminants stored on filters end up being shipped out to be disposed of in other people’s communities.

The environmental scientists working hard at the LLNL main site and Site 300 stressed that they were making substantial headway with the cleanup. Nevertheless, I was reminded multiple times that this cleanup will take in excess of 50-70 years. Additionally, Site 300 still has the legal right to do outdoor explosive testing, which could create new contaminants. Also, the lab is still producing a lot of contamination, some of which has a half-life of many thousands of years.

The environmental cleanup at LLNL is making progress. But the progress that has been made has been won. It is the result of government regulations and action from community groups who seek to hold scientists accountable.

Site 300 and the LLNL main site are two of the most contaminated sites in the entire country. They got this way because scientists were not held accountable for environmental damages. I do not believe that the scientists did not know better. After all, they were leaking chemicals that they knew were on the ground and going into water sources.

Citizens of Livermore and Tracy should monitor the cleanup efforts of the LLNL closely and should demand safeguards to prevent new contamination. Some of these safeguards could include banning outdoor explosives testing at Site 300 and eliminating nuclear warhead development at the LLNL main site. This research brings incredibly toxic fissile material into a city of 85,000 people.