Los Alamos – Plutonium Center of Negligence

An October 27 press release from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)
Defense Board Catches Los Alamos Trying to Dodge Plutonium Safety Vulnerability” revolves around a new Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) revelation of public safety vulnerability and seismic issues at TA-55 (The Lab’s plutonium Technical Area).

The DNFSB has been very patient on the safety issues at TA-55. In a September 23, 2005 weekly report, they stated that LANL needed to try to justify a passive confinement strategy, continue plans to reduce radioactive materials, and to seismically upgrade the glove-box supports that have not already been upgraded. These issues are still unaddressed as of the latest DNFSB report.

Seismic issues run deep at Los Alamos. NNSA currently has plans to construct and operate the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement–Nuclear Facility (CMRR–NF) to support plutonium operations as a replacement for portions of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility, a 1950’s structure that faces significant safety and seismic challenges. In 1999, a fault was discovered under the old CMR building, which has been neglected, contaminated, and has several abandoned wings. This fault was the major reason given to build a new facility 1.2 miles away at TA-55.

The Lab has big plans for plutonium. In December 2008, NNSA released a Record of Decision for its Complex Transformation Environmental Impact Statement that keeps manufacturing and research and development involving plutonium at Los Alamos and blesses the building of the CMRR-NF. This decision was a combination of two alternatives – a Distributed Centers of Excellence and a Capability-Based alternative. But to compensate for the nearby fault lines, the CMRR-NF is now being designed with 10-foot thick concrete floors and there are plans being designed to pump grout into a layer of fragile volcanic ash under the proposed facility. Current construction estimates for this facility are $2 billion.

The Lab has been negligent in taking care of its plutonium flagship, TA-55. It has not been a good steward of plutonium missions. Los Alamos is the wrong location, seismically. Congress must seriously consider ending this unnecessary plutonium work.


  1. Cathie SullivanOctober 29, 2009

    Is considertion still being given other sites for major Pu activities?

  2. BigDawgNovember 3, 2009

    No, not for production activities. There is still an unfinished EIS out there to move the Pu-238 clad production of the radioisotopic thermal generator program to Idaho National Lab, but that hasn’t happened and LANL still plans to do that work in TA-55.

    SRS will probably end up being the permanent site for pit disassembly and now the plan is to convert that Pu to MOX. We believe the MOX program is a dangerous, expensive, waste of time and that the pit Pu should be vitrified.

  3. EdwasNovember 17, 2009

    Hi, Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

  4. BigDawgNovember 24, 2009

    I appreciate the encouragement.

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