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Nuclear Equipment Storage Site to Close

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ben ray lujan november 2018

After repeated requests by Ben Ray Lujan for information related to a nuclear equipment storage facility in Santa Fe, it came to light that the facility is set to close.

Seven months after Rep. Ben Ray Lujan sent two letters inquiring about a property in Santa Fe where radioactive detection equipment was made and radioactive material was stored, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has released a response that includes information about decommissioning the site.

Concerns about the property were first sent to the Commission in 2017 by Connecticut resident Paul Blanch.

The story was first reported in 2017 by the Santa Fe Reporter.

Radioactive detection equipment was made at the Eberline Instruments facility on Santa Fe’s south side since the 1950s until it was closed about 10 years ago. The company was sold to Thermo Electron Corporation, which then merged with Fisher Scientific in 2006. The property is now owned by Massachusetts-based company Thermo Fisher Scientific, LLC.

The Reporter article states there were multiple safety issues at the warehouse, and workers routinely touched radioactive materials with their bare hands. There were also concerns about the site because of its proximity to an elementary school.

Blanch submitted two concerns: The first dealt with a shipment of Americium-241, a carcinogen, in February 2016.

“In particular, (Blanch) was concerned whether proper safety and security controls were in place during the transportation of the Americium, or whether New Mexico ‘took any short cuts’ during shipment,” a Commission document states. The material was moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In its response, the Commission wrote that its members spoke to Santiago Rodriguez, the New Mexico Radiation Control Program director and Radiation Control Bureau chief, and determined that the removal of the materials was done “appropriately and in accordance with applicable state and federal regulations pertaining to transportation of radioactive materials.”

The second concern was related to the decommissioning status of the site.

Blanch asked if the site had been remediated, if radioactive material was still at the site and how the state enforces its regulations regarding nuclear storage and protection.

More than a year after the story appeared in the Reporter, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan sent two letters, one to the New Mexico Environment Department Radiation Control Bureau and the other to the Environmental Protection Agency, inquiring about the warehouse.

Both letters are dated Oct. 29, 2018.

The first letter requests a briefing from the Radiation Control Bureau on the timeline to decommission the warehouse.

“(Thermo Fisher) submitted their proposal to decommission the site nearly two years ago, but I understand that they have not yet received feedback from the (Bureau),” Lujan wrote. “Since this initial review by the (Bureau) is just the first step in the lengthy process to safely and securely dispose of the site’s radiological materials, I am concerned with the length of time it is taking your bureau to complete this review.”

In his letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Lujan requested that it provide his office the results of the investigation into the warehouse.

“It is vital to my constituents that the radiological material stored at this site is safe, secure and that it poses no risk to their health or the environment,” he wrote.

The Bureau replied to Lujan in a letter dated Oct. 30, 2018.

“The (Bureau) expected they would receive the decommissioning plan in March 2019, and upon (Bureau) approval of the plan, Thermo Fisher, LLC would have 24 months to decommission the site in accordance with New Mexico radiation protection regulations,” the response to Lujan states.

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