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TA-21 Cleanup Project

As of November 2011, 36,500 cubic yards of waste from the Lab’s Recovery Act projects were transported to licensed disposal facilities.
August 1, 2012
Objects excavated at MDA-B

A variety of objects were unearthed during the excavation of a Manhattan Project-era landfill, including the remains of a 1940s military truck.


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More than 500 tons of metal was recycled from buildings demolished at TA-21.

Cleanup projects at TA-21 complete

The Laboratory received $212 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for three environmental cleanup projects:

  • decontaminate and demolish 24 buildings at Technical Area 21 (TA-21)
  • install 16 groundwater monitoring wells
  • excavate Material Disposal Area B, the Lab's oldest waste disposal site, used from 1944–1948

By early 2011, the first two projects listed above were complete. The third project was completed on September 14, 2011.

By the time the projects were completed in 2011, about 200,000 square feet of buildings were demolished, more than 45,000 cubic yards of soil were excavated, and 16 wells with an average depth of 1,000 feet were drilled. An estimated 444 jobs were created or saved at the height of the Recovery Act work.

Decontamination and demolition at TA-21 finished ahead of schedule

Technical Area 21 (TA-21) was one of the early sites of Manhattan Project and Cold War-era work at the Laboratory. The location of the world’s first plutonium processing facility and groundbreaking tritium research, the buildings at TA-21 dated as far back as the 1940s. Many of them were contaminated with plutonium, tritium, and other chemicals, and many of them contained asbestos.

Before demolition, the equipment and fixtures were removed from the buildings. When possible, the equipment was salvaged and reused and clean metal (i.e., metal that was not contaminated) was recycled. More than 500 tons of metal were recycled from buildings demolished at TA-21.

Efficient contracting and waste removal allowed the Laboratory to demolish 24 buildings instead of the originally planned 21 buildings. The project also was completed ahead of schedule.

Material Disposal Area B safely excavated

Material Disposal Area B (MDA-B) was the Laboratory’s oldest waste disposal site. Used from 1944–1948, MDA-B consisted of trenches that were dug to dispose of equipment, clothing, and other waste.

To safely excavate a 63-year-old waste dump contaminated with plutonium, the project team performed the excavation inside sturdy metal structures that resembled airplane hangars. The structures contained a number of safeguards, including dust and fire suppression systems and high efficiency particulate air filtering. The excavation was monitored by closed-circuit television cameras.

In addition to run-of-the-mill office trash, such as paper and cardboard, items excavated from MDA-B include two 1940s-era pickup trucks, 29 inert artillery shells, a radiation protection suit, a 1946 calendar, and glass soda bottles.

The excavation of MDA-B was completed on September 14, 2011. The total amount of soil and debris excavated from the six-acre site totaled more than 45,000 cubic yards. The excavated areas were backfilled with clean soil and the site was placed in a safe shutdown condition until funding is identified to remove the excavation structures and complete the stabilization and grading of the site.

Installation of groundwater wells monitor the regional aquifer

Because water is a precious resource in the high desert, the Recovery Act funded the installation of 16 groundwater monitoring wells. The purpose of the wells is to monitor the regional aquifer for contamination.

Drilling wells in Northern New Mexico costs about $2 million per well, with the expense due mainly to the depth of the well. The 16 wells installed by the Recovery Act ranged in depth from 850 feet to 1,450 feet, with an average depth of 1,000 feet.

As part of the project, 6 old wells that dated as far back as the 1950s were plugged and abandoned. The wells portion of the Recovery Act work at the Laboratory was completed in October 2010.

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