In the summer of 2010, an excavator lifted a 1940s-era radiation protection suit from a pit in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technical Area 21. With it came two pickup trucks of the same vintage—one of which may have been involved in the famous Trinity nuclear test near White Sands—and a 30-foot-tall chemical mixing tank.
The successful excavation of Material Disposal Area B, the lab’s oldest waste site, disproved a commonly held belief: that comprehensive cleanup of radioactive waste at the lab was cost-prohibitive, if not impossible. The project cleared a 200,000 square foot area and removed 750,000 cubic feet of toxic waste that had lain dormant since World War II. It cost $110 million—a modest sum for a facility with an approximately $2 billion budget.