Notice of Impending Lawsuit to DOE & NNSA Over Nuclear Bomb Core Plans from Environmental Groups

Nuclear Watch New Mexico, as part of a larger coalition of environmental groups, has threatened the federal government with a lawsuit over cross-country plans to produce plutonium pits, the cores at the heart of modern nuclear weapons.

A more comprehensive review should have been done on the plans to produce plutonium cores at Los Alamos and at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. This lack of review violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and would saddle already-burdened communities nearby the two DOE sites with significant quantities of toxic and radioactive waste, contravening President Biden’s executive order of making environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency. Here in New Mexico, we are well aware of how much our local community has already have been burdened with legacy contamination from previous defense work. While the budget continues to be cut and slashed for cleanup funding, the astronomical cost of modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal continues to balloon out of proportion without NNSA or DOE batting an eyelash. The federal government’s plans are unnecessary and provocative – more plutonium pit production will result in more waste and help to fuel a new arms race.

Background: Plutonium Pits (Nuclear Bomb Cores)

The U.S. government plans to more than quadruple the production of plutonium pits at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site. To date, the Department of Energy has refused to fully examine the environmental and safety impacts of this cross-country plan, which would create massive quantities of dangerous and radioactive material, put hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on the line, risk a new nuclear arms race and violate the nation’s foundational environmental law.

The last place that plutonium cores were made at scale was at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, and this operation was sunk following an environmental investigation and raid. Pit production at Los Alamos, where the mission of producing the plutonium cores was relocated in the late 1990s after the Rocky Flats failure, has happened in “fits and starts over the years.” It’s been shut down at times, and only a handful of prototypes were made in fiscal year 2019. Los Alamos Lab is already plagued by capacity and capability problems for current pit production requirements, as well as by the already mentioned legacy waste cleanup failures. There must be a more comprehensive environmental review process to ensure that the proposed factories at Savannah River and Los Alamos Sites do NOT end up resembling the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado, with its long history of leaks, fires, environmental violations and a $7 billion cleanup that took years to finish and is still not completely decontaminated.

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