October 27, 2003
For immediate release

Norm Buske, TRAC, (360) 275-1351, search@igc.org
Joni Arends, CCNS, (505) 986-1973, jarends@nuclearactive.org


Radioactivity leaking into Rio Grande is above "background."

A new scientific study has found low levels of radioactive cesium-137 leaking into the Rio Grande. That study confirms a recent Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) report of cesium-137 leaking from the nuclear weapons facility into the river. Two public interest groups, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) and The RadioActivist Campaign (TRAC) released the new findings at a LANL groundwater meeting today.

In September 2000, LANL collected water samples from Spring 4A that tested positive for cesium-137 at 9 picocuries/kilogram. Spring 4A feeds Pajarito Stream, which flows into the Rio Grande. LANL did not confirm that result and attributed the cesium-137 to "background" levels remaining from worldwide fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 2002 and 2003, CCNS organized scientific studies of the Rio Grande shoreline to see if toxic or radioactive pollution from LANL is already seeping through groundwater pathways from LANL into the Rio Grande. TRAC focused on Spring 4A because of its high flow rate, which may indicate a short travel time from LANL.

In May 2003, TRAC collected large water samples from Spring 4A and analyzed them in a detector for measuring low levels of radioactivity. TRAC sampled five different media to rule out worldwide fallout as the source of the positive cesium-137 results. TRAC found cesium-137 at 2.4 to 5.8 picocuries/kilogram in aquatic moss collected from Spring 4A and Pajarito Stream. The cesium-137 values in Spring 4A and Pajarito Stream waters were much lower: 0.01 picocurie/kilogram.

Using a natural, radioactive tracer, TRAC estimated the travel time for contaminated groundwater from LANL to Spring 4A at about one year.

TRAC's Director Norm Buske, a physicist and oceanographer, says: "Our confirmed data are consistent with LANL's hit-and-miss reports of cesium-137 at Spring 4A, if the travel time from LANL is a few years or less." Buske says that TRAC has carefully eliminated background radioactivity around LANL as a source of the cesium-137 in Spring 4A water. Buske says LANL has failed to set its detection levels low enough to consistently report its cesium-137 leaking into the Rio Grande.

Joni Arends, Executive Director of CCNS, told LANL at the meeting in Santa Fe today, "Leakage of cesium-137 from LANL into the Rio Grande warns the public of what is on the way. If travel times are only a few years, then it's essential that the public provide meaningful oversight of LANL's wastes now, before we're drinking them."

The Environmental Protection Agency has set a goal of zero exposure to ionizing radionuclides like cesium-137. The maximum limit on cesium-137 in drinking water is 200 picocuries/kilogram.

TRAC's report, "Early Warning: A Radioactive Rio Grande" is available at www.radioactivist.org/new.html or at www.nuclearactive.org/docs/RGWIindex.html.


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