Baseless Claims?

Baseless Claims?

In the January 20th, 2016 Albuquerque Journal article, Nuclear Watch to sue over LANL cleanup problems, by Mark Oswald, there is an interesting quote from New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary, Ryan Flynn, in response to our notice of intent to sue DOE/LANL.

“Flynn said Wednesday, “These are nothing more than baseless claims being peddled by a radical group that insists on wasting everybody’s time with empty threats and manufactured disputes, which helps them grab headlines and juices their fundraising efforts.””

The main point in Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Notice of Intent to sue is based on the calendar. In particular, the mandatory final compliance report that was to be submitted under the 2005 Consent Order Compliance Schedule was to be submitted by December 6, 2015.

The report was not submitted by December 6, 2015.

It is now January 25, 2016, which is after December 6, 2015.

The final report is late – see calendar.

The federal law that was incorporated into the 2005 Consent Order, and the Consent Order itself, specify certain actions that must be taken when a deliverable does not meet its due date. For instance, DOE/LANL must request an extension. In the case of extending this final scheduled compliance deadline, there are “Class 3” permit modification requirements, like the opportunity for a public hearing, that are required.

Interestingly, because NukeWatch believes that the ball is DOE/LANL’s court to request an extension of time for the December 6, 2015 report, NMED is not named in our notice of intent to sue.

 

Nuclear Watch NM Gives Notice of Intent to Sue Over Lack of Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab

Nuclear Watch NM Gives Notice of Intent to Sue

Over Lack of Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab

Nuclear Watch New Mexico has notified the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that it will file a lawsuit over their failure to meet cleanup milestones under a “Consent Order” governed by the New Mexico Environment Department. Formal notice is required before a lawsuit can actually be filed, which NukeWatch intends to do within 60 days or less. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce cleanup at LANL.

Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. We are putting the weaponeers on notice that they have to cleanup their radioactive and toxic mess first before making another one for a nuclear weapons stockpile that is already bloated far beyond what we need. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs.”

Last week Nuclear Watch NM broke a story  on how LANL and DOE have formally given the green light for new underground facilities to expand the production of plutonium pits (the fissile triggers of modern H-bombs) from the currently approved level of 20 pits per year to 80. In all, upgrades to existing plutonium facilities at LANL and the construction of two underground “modules” that can be added to later for yet more production will cost at least $4 billion. The environmental impact statement for a previously proposed Walmart-sized plutonium facility (canceled because of costs that exploded up to $6.5 billion dollars) documented that not a single new Lab job would be created because it would simply relocate existing jobs. Full cleanup, on the other hand, would be labor intensive and create hundreds of high paying jobs for several decades.

Every year the estimated cost of nation-wide “environmental liabilities” from past nuclear weapons research and production, currently $298 billion, outpaces the annual levels of environmental restoration funding actually spent, even though those estimated liabilities don’t include full cleanup to begin with. At the same time, one multi-billion dollar DOE cleanup project after the other fails, for example the $13.5 billion Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation, the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico (closed because of a ruptured radioactive waste barrel from LANL), and the estimated $2.6 billion spent to date for incomplete cleanup at LANL. As an example of local impacts, during major stormwater events the City of Santa Fe has to close water diversion on the Rio Grande that can supply up to 15 million gallons per day of drinking water because of plutonium contamination in Los Alamos Canyon. Meanwhile, nation-wide, thousands of sick Cold War workers and downwinders from nuclear weapons tests await long delayed health benefits and compensation.

LANL is key to the trillion dollar rebuilding of nuclear forces as the premier nuclear weapons design lab and the nation’s sole production site for plutonium pit triggers, the most critical nuclear weapons components. Funding for DOE nuclear weapons programs is nearly double historic Cold War averages, with around $1.5 billion spent annually at LANL alone. In contrast, funding for Lab cleanup remains flat at around $185 million per year, with only approximately a third going to actual cleanup (one-third goes to pensions and another third to safeguarding improperly prepared radioactive waste barrels destined for the now-closed WIPP). New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) officials have publicly stated that around $250 million per year is needed for effective cleanup at LANL.

The 2005 Consent Order required DOE and LANL to investigate, characterize, and clean up hazardous and mixed radioactive contaminants from 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production. It also stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet. Ironically, the last milestone, due December 6, 2015, required a report from LANL on how it successfully cleaned up Area G, its largest waste dump. However, real cleanup remains decades away, if ever. The Lab plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, four miles uphill from the Rio Grande.

In the past the New Mexico Environment Department had repeatedly stated that it would release a revised Consent Order with new compliance dates before the end of 2015. Last November NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn said that a draft revised Consent Order would not be released until settlements were finalized over LANL violations of waste handling procedures that led to the closure of WIPP. Those settlement negotiations are still ongoing, leaving the Consent Order governing cleanup at the Lab in legal limbo.

Under typical hazardous waste handling permits, federal regulations require that an extension of a final compliance date include “an opportunity for a public hearing at which all interested persons shall be given a reasonable chance to submit data, views or arguments orally or in writing and to examine witnesses testifying at the hearing.” While the 2005 Consent Order is not a permit per se, it nevertheless explicitly incorporated the public process requirements of a federal hazardous waste permit. Therefore, Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes that any revised Consent Order requires an opportunity for meaningful public participation during its negotiation, leading to a public hearing should there be any unresolved issues, a position which so far NMED has opposed.

Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch NM Research Director, said, “DOE, LANL and NMED have had four years to involve the public in revising Consent Order cleanup decisions and comnpliance dates at the Lab, but yet they seem to have ignored the final deadline. Northern New Mexicans want meaningful input into cleanup decisions at LANL. NukeWatch believes that a rigorous cleanup schedule must be stipulated from the beginning in any revised Consent Order, and that the Lab must be held accountable every step along the way for getting the necessary funding and doing the work on time. We insist upon meaningful public participation and dates certain for compliance milestones. Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab cannot be open-ended or it will never be accomplished.”

# # #

Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Notice of Intent to Sue is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/NukeWatch-NM-NOI-to-DOE-and-LANS-20160120.pdf

Budget data are from the Department of Energy’s annual Congressional Budget Requests.

The current estimate of $298 billion to cleanup past nuclear weapons research and production comes from the DOE Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014. Even that figure does not come anywhere close to full and complete cleanup, but instead often involves “cap and cover” and leaving nuclear wastes permanently in place.

The quote concerning the need for a public hearing was incorporated into New Mexico state law NMSA 1978, §74-4-4.2(H) (2006).

National Nuclear Security Administration Gives Green Light For Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at Los Alamos

 For immediate release January 15, 2016

Contacts:       Jay Coghlan, NWNM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org

National Nuclear Security Administration Gives Green Light

For Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at Los Alamos

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the chokepoint preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.

Coghlan further commented, “The real irony is that this Interoperable Warhead has been delayed for at least five years, if not forever, because of its enormous estimated expense and Navy skepticism. Yet this doesn’t keep LANL and the NNSA from spending billions of taxpayer dollars to upgrade existing and build new production facilities for unnecessary and provocative expanded plutonium pit production.”

Specifically, NNSA and LANL seek to raise the administrative limit on plutonium in the existing Radiological Lab (“RLUOB” in the Safety Board report below) from an original 8.4 grams to 400 grams, and proceed with the “Plutonium Modular Approach project.” In 2012, in the face of exploding costs and rising citizen opposition, NNSA dropped its proposal to build a $6.5 billion Walmart-sized “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project-Nuclear Facility” for expanded plutonium pit production of up to 80 pits per year. There was no technical justification for this expanded production, other than unspecified “Department of Defense requirements.”

These new moves by NNSA and LANL, which will cost around $4 billion before the usual cost overruns, are just another way to achieve their goal of raising plutonium pit production to up to 80 plutonium pits per year. Raising the amount of plutonium in the Radiological Lab will enable LANL to conduct all needed analytical chemistry quality control samples of new pits, as the Safety Board memo says to “primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates.” The Plutonium Modular Approach project will be newly constructed underground facilities for hot operations such as a plutonium foundry, likely beginning with two modules at a billion dollars each. It should be noted that proposed major federal actions require the opportunity for public review and comment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which has not been done for what NNSA calls this alternative plutonium strategy. Nevertheless, increased funding for LANL’s plutonium infrastructure will be likely included in the pending federal budget for FY 2017, scheduled to be released Monday February 9.

There is no need for expanded plutonium pit production to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but it is vital for future new-designs that the nuclear weaponeers want. In fact, the U.S. government is planning to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to “modernize” and completely rebuild its nuclear forces, despite its pledge in the 1970 NonProliferation Treaty to enter into serious negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.

Background

In 1996 the plutonium pit production mission was formally relocated to LANL, with an approved upper limit of 20 pits per year. NNSA has tried four times since then to expand plutonium pit production. This started with a proposed “Modern Pit Facility” capable of producing up to 450 pits per year, with no justification of why that Cold War-like level of production was needed. In all four cases, in response to successful citizen activism, Congress either rejected or NNSA dropped efforts to expand production, in large part because of a pit life study that New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman required at Nuclear Watch’s request. That 2006 study by independent experts found that plutonium pits last at least 100 years (with no proscribed end date), more than double NNSA’s previous estimates of 45 years.

Nevertheless, NNSA now seeks for the fifth time to expand plutonium pit production beyond the currently approved level of 20 pits per year at LANL. After having produced 30 pits for the W88 sub-launched warhead (which was in production when the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down), there are no current requirements for plutonium pit production to maintain stockpile safety and reliability.

In the meanwhile, funding for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab is being cut, while nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with are thriving. As a final irony, these plans to expand plutonium pit production are now being implemented, despite the fact that 1) major operations at LANL’s main plutonium facility have been suspended since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns; and 2) the Los Alamos Lab has no place to send its radioactive plutonium pit production wastes ever since it sent a drum that ruptured and closed down the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is confident that this latest attempt to expand plutonium pit production will fall apart as well, but only as a result of continuing strong citizen activism.

# # #

•           Relevant excerpt from Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Weekly LANL Report:

http://www.dnfsb.gov/sites/default/files/Board%20Activities/Reports/Site%20Rep%20Weekly%20Reports/Los%20Alamos%20National%20Laboratory/2015/wr_20151218_65.pdf
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 18, 2015

MEMORANDUM FOR: S.A. Stokes, Technical Director FROM: R.K. Verhaagen and J.W. Plaue

DNFSB Staff Activity: R. L. Jackson was onsite to plan oversight activities associated with Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy. Accordingly, he met with key project staff and walked down the Plutonium Facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, and the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB).

Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy: Late last month, the Deputy Secretary of Energy approved a restructuring of the subprojects covered under the CMR Replacement project. There are now four subprojects: (1) RLUOB Equipment Installation, Phase 2; (2) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 1; (3) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 2; and (4) Re- categorizing the RLUOB to Hazard Category 3 with a material-at-risk limit of 400 g plutonium- 239 equivalent. The first two subprojects enable LANL to cease programmatic activities in the CMR by 2019, while the latter two subprojects primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates. The memo requests an updated project execution plan within 90 days and indicates approval authority will remain with the DOE Deputy Secretary for subprojects 2–4 and with the NNSA Administrator for subproject 1.

In a separate action, the DOE Deputy Secretary also approved the mission need Critical Decision (CD)-0 for the Plutonium Modular Approach project. This project addresses life extension needs for the existing Plutonium Facility in support of Department of Defense requirements and Congressional Direction. The CD-0 schedule range for project completion is December 2025 to December 2027.

 

•           For an extensive history of successful citizen activism against plutonium pit production see http://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Pit-Production-History.pdf

LANL In No Hurry With Emergency Response Plans

LANL In No Hurry With Emergency Response Plans

In the recent letter, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board told DOE that they were concerned with the pace and completeness of the emergency preparedness and response efforts at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  The Board is an independent organization that provides recommendations and advice regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy (DOE) defense nuclear facilities.

After LANL recently confessed “[a] sustainable, comprehensive, and coordinated training and drills program has not been fully implemented as required” per DOE requirement Comprehensive Emergency Management System,  the Board staff made some preliminary observations indicating weaknesses in emergency preparedness and response at LANL. And the Safety Board plans to perform a comprehensive review of emergency preparedness and response programs at LANL in early 2016.

 

Some of the preliminary observations were –

  • The emergency response plans that involve the inappropriately remediated nitrate salt drums, like the one that exploded and shut down WIPP, have not been updated to reflect the current understanding of the release hazards. Consequently, pre-planned evacuation zones may be not be large enough for members of the public in the event of an accident.
  • Planning and conduct of emergency drills and exercises do not ensure that scenarios are sufficiently challenging and minimize artificiality and simulation and do not represent the full spectrum of credible accident types.
  • Exercises show the inability to effectively shelter laboratory workers in place during a release of hazardous materials.
  • Radios don’t work much of the time.

 

These types of problems should not consistently be showing up where safety is a priority. It will be interesting to see how much of a factor these emergency preparedness issues played in LANS, the current Lab for-profit management contractor, losing its job.

We hope the new LANL contractor can keep safety first.

 

 

Federal Nuclear Safety Oversight at LANL Remains Drastically Understaffed

Federal Nuclear Safety Oversight at LANL Remains Drastically Understaffed

A recently released report, Office of Enterprise Assessments Targeted Review of Work Planning and Control and Biological Safety at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), December 2015, explains nuclear safety oversight staffing shortages.

The Office of Enterprise Assessments (EA) is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) organization responsible for assessments of nuclear and industrial safety, and cyber and physical security. DOE has regulatory authority over the radiologic facilities, operations, and wastes of the nuclear weapons complex. (Whereas the State of New Mexico has regulatory authority over non-radiological, hazardous operations and wastes.)

LANL is managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC with oversight by DOE’s Los Alamos Field Office (NA-LA). On a good day, NA-LA, with around 100 total on staff, would have their hands full providing oversight for LANS’ 13,000 employees and contractors scattered over nearly 40 square miles.

Lack of Safety Oversight Staff, with No Help in Sight

But the recent report (which was investigated in June and July, 2015) explains that NA-LA has funding for only 6 out of the 12 (at the least) required Facility Representative (FR) positions. An FR is defined as an individual assigned responsibility by the local field office for monitoring the safe and efficient performance of a facility and its operations. This individual is the primary point of contact with the contractor for operational and safety oversight.

DOE has a process to determine adequate Facility Representative staffing. The NA-LA FR staffing analysis for 2015 indicated that 17 FRs are needed to cover 13 Hazard Category 2 nuclear facilities, 4 Hazard Category 3 nuclear facilities, 11 High Hazard facilities, 12 moderate hazard facilities, and 7 low hazard facilities. NA-LA figured that only 12 FRs were needed and that 10 were on board. However the current NA-LA organization chart shows 7 FRs, one of whom has been on detail as the acting chief of staff for over a year and has not maintained his FR qualifications. There are no current plans to fill the vacancies. Due to staffing shortages, FR oversight is limited to the nuclear facilities. The bottom line is that the current NA-LA staffing level is 6 FRs fewer than the requirement of 12 stated in the Work Force Analysis and Staffing Plan Report. (Pg. 25)

This staff shortage is exacerbated by the fact that NA-LA has not approved LANS’ contractor assurance system (CAS), which is required by DOE orders. DOE’s version of Contractor Assurance is a contractor-designed and utilized system to manage performance consistent with contract requirements. The system provides transparency between the contractor and DOE to accomplish mission needs, and for DOE to determine the necessary level of Federal oversight.

A rigorous and credible assessment program is the cornerstone of effective, efficient management of programs such as environment, safety, and health; safeguards and security; cyber security; and emergency management.

The NA-LA oversight processes include an evaluation of the CAS primarily through staff assessments. Also, NA-LA annually approves the annual performance evaluation plan, which is an element of the CAS system.

It is NA-LA’s oversight of the 2015 Performance Evaluation Report (which has not yet been publically released) that lead to DOE ending LANS’ contract at LANL in 2017. We give a tip of the hat to NA-LA for being so diligent about poor LANL performance while being so short-handed. It makes me wonder what other problems may be as yet undiscovered. Would the LANL waste drum packing mistake, which shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), have been caught if NA-LA was fully staffed? The estimated cost of reopening WIPP is $.5 billion and climbing.

It is irresponsible for DOE not to provide its Los Alamos Field Office with its required staffing and resources. The lack of oversight is not only dangerous. It can be expensive.

NukeWatch insists that Federal safety oversight of DOE nuclear and hazardous activities be the first priority. Fully staffed oversight is essential for worker and public safety. This will be especially important as the new contractor takes over operations of LANL in 2017.

Taxpayers con not afford to have any less in place.

 

 

Scroll to top