Author: Sophia Meryn
Biden Releases Record NNSA Nuclear Weapons Budget
President Biden has released his proposed FY 2024 budget for the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The budget for NNSA’s “Total Weapons Activities” for nuclear weapons research and production programs is slated to increase by 10% to $18.8 billion.
Of that $18.8 billion requested for FY 2024, over $3 billion is devoted to “Life Extension Programs” or “Alterations” that extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons by decades while giving them new military capabilities. It also includes two new-design nuclear weapons, the W87-1 ICBM warhead (increased 50% to $1 billion) and the sub-launched W93 warhead (increased 62% to $390 million). Meanwhile, funding for dismantlements that provide a good nonproliferation example and save taxpayers’ money by eliminating long-term security costs is decreased by 4% to $53.7 million. That is a small fraction of one percent of NNSA’s Total Weapons Activities.
Two bright spots, yet still small relative to the U.S.’ planned $2 trillion nuclear weapons “modernization” program, are the zeroing out of funding for the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) warhead and stronger language on the retirement of the 1.2 megaton B83 bomb. Trump proposed to bring back nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles, which were retired by President George H. Bush after the end of the Cold War. Biden’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review canceled the SLCM, but Congress insisted on funding it, which will only grow stronger with Republican control the House.
In Response to Lawsuit, NNSA Releases FY 2022 Performance Evaluation Reports as “Frequently Requested Documents” as Required by FOIA; Reveals Pit Production Schedule is Likely Increasingly Delayed
Today, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) finally posted its FY 2022 Performance Evaluation Reports to its electronic “FOIA Reading Room.” These reports are “Frequently Requested Documents” as defined by the Freedom of Information Act (meaning three or more requests) and are therefore required to be posted under the law. The catalyst for this was a lawsuit filed by Nuclear Watch New Mexico in September 2022.
NNSA’s Performance Evaluation Reports for its eight nuclear weapons research and production sites grade annual contractor performance and award performance fees accordingly. Approximately 57,000 people are employed by the NNSA nuclear weapons complex, 95% of them contractor personnel. The Department of Energy and NNSA (or its predecessor DOE Defense Programs) have been on the independent Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk List” for project mismanagement and waste of taxpayers’ dollars since 1992.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Follow-up to News about the Chromium Plume: Santa Fe New Mexican article, “San Ildefonso governor says halt of plume cleanup will lead to spread onto pueblo”
“Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes that it is past time that this dangerous contaminant is cleaned up at the source.
Extracted treated groundwater should be pumped or trucked uphill to flush out the remaining 90% of the chromium so that it can be decisively dealt with instead of with only marginally effective “pump and treat” for a few centuries…”
By Jay Coghlan
The real shame is how ineffective Lab cleanup of the hexavalent chromium plume is. First, even after 18 years, LANL and DOE still don’t know the boundaries of the plume, all the while claiming it’s not on San Ildefonso Pueblo Land (maybe LANL should deprioritize expanded nuclear weapons production and focus on that). Second, this is our common “sole source” (EPA special designation) aquifer that is one of the primary sources of drinking water for the cities of Santa Fe, Española, and Los Alamos, eleven Pueblos and all of the Española Basin’s rural areas. Third, hex chromium is the carcinogen made notorious in the popular movie Erin Brockovich. Fourth, it is estimated that 160,000 pounds of chromium were released up until 1972, but only 10% (i.e. ~16,000 pounds) has been recovered through extraction and treatment. When the head of DOE Environmental Management Los Alamos Office was asked where’s the rest of the chromium, Michael Mikolanis demurred and said that he would have to get back on that question.
San Ildefonso governor says halt of plume cleanup will lead to spread onto pueblo
THE FUTURE OF WIPP: PLUTONIUM BOMB WASTE
NNSA’s mission is plutonium pit production…for the next 30 years and beyond.
NNSA HAS STATED CLEARLY: “WIPP IS ESSENTIAL FOR PIT PRODUCTION UNTIL 2080.”
As you can see clearly in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s chart above, NNSA is getting ready to dump radioactive wastes from plutonium pit production at WIPP for the next 30 years.
Waste from expanded pit production will soon far outweigh cleanup wastes.
Despite being located in New Mexico, out-of-state sites have been given priority over radioactive wastes from Los Alamos Lab.
ALL FUTURE PIT PRODUCTION is for speculative new designs that can’t be tested because of the international testing moratorium, thereby perhaps eroding confifidence in the stockpile. Or, alternatively, these new designs could push the U.S. into resuming testing, which would have severe proliferation consequences.
Pit production will add an estimated 57,550 cubic meters of radioactive plutonium wastes over 50 years, more than half of WIPP’s projected future capacity. The National Academy of Sciences has already concluded that WIPP doesn’t have sufficient capacity for all of DOE’s planned radioactive wastes.
State Environment Department Begins to Rein in Work On LANL’s Chromium Plume Given Major Differences With DOE
At a February 9, 2023 public community forum hosted by the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Office, there were strong indications that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) is convinced that DOE’s plans to remediate the chromium groundwater contamination plume under Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is not working. Kimberly Lebak, program manager for N3B, the LANL cleanup contractor, described how it is finalizing the 2023 milestones under the Consent Order that governs cleanup, despite the fact that the NMED Groundwater Bureau has requested that DOE stop injecting treated water by April 1, 2023. DOE and NMED are not seeing eye-to-eye concerning the “Interim Measure” that N3B is using to contain the chromium plume.
The two agencies disagree on the Interim Measure, originally designed to prevent chromium from migrating across the San Ildefonso Pueblo border while DOE tries to figure out a final remedy.
Top Environment Official Takes Inside Info to Nuclear Weapons Agency, Gets Puny Slap-on-Wrist for Ethical Violation; Governor Should Enforce State Code of Conduct
Santa Fe, NM – The Department of Energy (DOE) will spend $9.4 billion dollars in New Mexico during this fiscal year 2023, 10% more than the State’s entire operating budget of $8.5 billion. To help enable its agenda of expanding nuclear weapons production that will cause more radioactive wastes and contamination, the DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) or its contractors often go head hunting for top State officials.
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has sued DOE over the slow pace of cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Stephanie Stringer, former Deputy Cabinet Director (the number two position at NMED), applied to work for NNSA in August 2022, and resigned to take that job in November. During that time, she was privy to NMED litigation strategy against DOE and chaired the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission that denied a citizens’ motion against one of LANL’s most crucial facilities for expanding plutonium pit production, the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility. As a result, the New Mexico Ethics commission fined Stringer a paltry $250. Assuming that Stringer is earning at least $100,000 base salary in her new position, that fine would have cost her approximately five hours of her time.
Independent Government Accountability Office Releases Scathing Report on Expanding Plutonium Pit Production; Pressure Mounts on Los Alamos Lab to Increase Production
Santa Fe, NM – Today, the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a scathing report entitled NNSA Does Not Have a Comprehensive Schedule or Cost Estimate for Pit Production Capability. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its parent Department of Energy have been on the GAO’s High Risk List for project mismanagement since 1991.
Plutonium pits are the essential radioactive cores of nuclear weapons. There has been only limited production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) since 1989 when a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes abruptly shut down production at the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. NNSA now plans to spend $2.9 billion in FY 2023 alone to establish production of at least 30 pits per year at LANL and 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.
The two main findings of GAO’s report are:
- NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Scope of Work Includes Dozens of Programs, Projects, and Other Activities Managed by Multiple NNSA Offices at Multiple Sites (p 19)
RE: The Santa Fe New Mexican “GAO: Cost, time estimates for making nuclear bomb cores flawed” – Underneath it All is the Nuclear Elephant in the Room: Future Pit Production is Actually Unnecessary.
BY JAY COGHLAN
Good article indeed. Kudos to Scott Wyland.
But to add to it:
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) cannot do, or rather will not do, good governance 101 for its largest program ever (i.e., expanded plutonium pit production), which is credible cost estimates and schedules. Why won’t NNSA do that? Because of PR and political concerns when their flaky cost estimates (such as they are) get blown up by inevitable escalating costs. NNSA knows that if it gave accurate projected costs Congress and the public would balk. Thus, the agency goes in lowballing costs, which always inevitably rise. I could rattle off a dozen NNSA projects over the last 15 years in which costs have exploded, wasting tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars.
But get this, future pit production is also unnecessary and may actually degrade national security. To begin with, independent experts have found that pits have serviceable lifetimes of at least a century (their average age is now around 40). And we already have at least 15,000 existing pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX.
New Mexico’s Revolving Nuclear Door: Top Environment Officials Sell Out to Nuclear Weapons Labs
As part of a long, ingrained history, senior officials at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have repeatedly resigned to go to work for the nuclear weapons labs, the Department of Energy, or DOE contractors. In a number of cases that is where they came from to begin with.
The hierarchy of leadership at NMED starts with the Secretary, Deputy Secretaries and then Division Directors. The position of Resource Protection Division Director is particularly critical because it oversees the two NMED bureaus most directly involved with DOE facilities in New Mexico, the Hazardous Waste Bureau and the DOE Oversight Bureau.
FULL PRESS RELEASE [PDF]
Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review Fuels the New Nuclear Arms Race
Santa Fe, NM– Today, the Biden Administration has released its long awaited unclassified Nuclear Posture Review. It headlines a “Comprehensive, balanced approach to defending vital national security interests and reducing nuclear dangers.” It also declares that “deterrence alone will not reduce nuclear dangers.”
“Deterrence” against others has always been the publicly sold rationale for the United States’ nuclear weapons stockpile. First, there is the inconvenient fact that the U.S. was the first and only to use nuclear weapons in war. But secondly, the United States and the USSR (now Russia) never possessed their huge stockpiles for the sole purpose of deterrence anyway. Instead, their nuclear weapons policies have always been a hybrid of deterrence and nuclear war fighting, which threatens global annihilation to this very day.
FULL PRESS RELEASE [PDF]
Watchdogs File Suit for NNSA’s Performance Evaluation Reports
Santa Fe, NM – Today, Nuclear Watch New Mexico has once again filed a lawsuit to pry loose the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) full and complete Performance Evaluation Reports that evaluate contractor performance at its eight nuclear weapons sites. Approximately 57,000 people are employed by NNSA’s nuclear weapons production complex, 95% of them contractor personnel. NNSA and its parent Department of Energy have been on the independent Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk List” for project mismanagement and waste of taxpayers’ dollars since 1992.
NNSA’s Performance Evaluation Reports grade contractor performance, award performance fees and contain no classified information. Nevertheless, NNSA seeks to hide how taxpayers’ money is spent from the public, issuing only terse three page summaries instead of the full and complete Reports. Nuclear Watch sued in 2012 to obtain the full and complete Performance Evaluation Reports, after which NNSA started releasing them within three working days. But NNSA has again been releasing only summaries since 2019, despite a Freedom of Information Act request by Nuclear Watch that the agency never responded to.
To illustrate the importance of these Performance Evaluation Reports, in its FY 2021 Los Alamos Lab summary NNSA noted that the contractor “[s]ucessfully made advances in pit production processes…” Plutonium “pits” are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons whose expanded production the Pentagon has identified as the number one issue in the United States’ $2 trillion nuclear weapons “modernization” program. NNSA has directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to begin producing at least 30 pits per year by 2026 and the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina to begin producing at least 50 pits per year by 2030.
A Guide to “Scoping” the New LANL SWEIS
“Scoping” means determining the issues that should be included in public analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of proposed major actions by the federal government. According to the Department of Energy ‘s own NEPA implementation regulations, DOE must prepare a new or supplemental site-wide environmental impact statement (SWEIS) for its major sites when there are “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns.” The last site-wide EIS for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was completed in 2008 and is badly outdated. Moreover, since 2018 the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DOE’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, has been aggressively expanding the production of plutonium “pit” bomb cores for nuclear weapons at the Lab.
On August 19, 2022, NNSA finally announced its intent to prepare a new LANL SWEIS, but apparently the agency will not address expanded plutonium pit production.1 NNSA’s dubious argument is that it performed the legally required NEPA analysis for expanded plutonium pit production in a 2008 Complex Transformation Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the 2008 LANL SWEIS and a woefully inadequate “Supplement Analysis” in 2020 that concluded a new SWEIS was not needed. 2 3
Issues That Must Be Addressed in a New LANL SWEIS
This is meant to be a guide to (or list of) the issues that must be addressed in a new draft LANL SWEIS. It is not completely exhaustive, nor is it a comprehensive fact sheet on the substance of the issues. Nuclear Watch New Mexico will offer suggested scoping comments for interested citizens and submit its own comprehensive formal comments before the October 3 deadline or extended deadline (see “Timing” below).
The Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament is the Treaty PROHIBITING Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
The Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament is in Danger is the Treaty PROHIBITING Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
A “Council of Councils” Global Memo titled, “The Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Is in Danger” highlights the analysis of five experts on analyze the “failure after a month of negotiations of the tenth review conference (RevCon) of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluding on August 26 without a consensus final document, raising concerns about weakening efforts to promote nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons recently published an article along the same lines titled, “NPT Review Conference fails to address current security environment.” The final draft outcome document had already been significantly weakened throughout the negotiations, however Russia still refused to accept the final version and the conference ended without an agreement. ICAN: “Although the NPT Review Conference failed, there was a success this year in June. At the First Meeting of States Parties, TPNW states parties committed to the Vienna Action Plan, 50 concrete steps to advance disarmament, help victims of nuclear use and testing, commit to inclusion and progressive steps on gender and disarmament.”
Robin Lloyd of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom asks the leading questions, “How can the US consider signing the draft preamble while the House and Senate are finalizing the National Defense Authorization Act which calls for the modernization of our nuclear arsenal? How can our government even take part in this Conference while it is seeking funding for a renewed nuclear edifice of destruction including Modernized Strategic Delivery Systems and Refurbished Nuclear Warheads? Over the next decade, the United States plans to spend $494 billion on its nuclear forces, or about $50 billion a year, according to a 2019 Congressional Budget Office report. Trillions of dollars for submarines and bombers and buried nuclear missiles. Things they are committing to not use. Please, does this make sense?”
Faced with an unacceptable dangerous global situation, the TPNW will do what the NPT failed to: adopt a credible plan to advance disarmament, help victims of nuclear use and testing, and condemn any and all threats to use nuclear weapons.
The NPT is in crisis, but the TPNW is already starting to carry out its role of implementing the nuclear disarmament obligations of the NPT. All other NPT states parties that have failed to make progress during the NPT Review Conference should join this work too.
[Separate from Mass & Healing Ceremony] Watch Recording of Nagasaki Anniversary: Panel Discussion on Nuclear Disarmament from Local Interfaith Leaders
Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester’s Nagasaki Homily
“Each Day Begins with the Sun Rising” – 77 Years Later, 4 Artists from Hiroshima Reflect
Today marks the 77 years since the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan during World War II. Three days ago, August 6, marks the same anniversary for the bombing of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. In both cities the blast completely annihilated everything within a 1-mile radius from the center of explosion. The bombs not only decimated the current population, destroyed property, and scorched the land; the entirety of the ways of life of these communities was ripped away in a terrorizing flash.
"The atomic explosion almost completely destroyed Hiroshima's identity as a city. Over a fourth of the population was killed in one stroke and an additional fourth seriously injured, so that even if there had been no damage to structures and installations the normal city life would still have been completely shattered." - The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (atomicarchive.com)
The total effects of the only two nuclear weapons ever detonated in warfare are not fully known, despite 77 years of people (scientists, military experts, civilians, Japan, etc.) trying to estimate the number of the dead and injured. "The most credible estimates cluster around a “low” of 110,000 mortalities and a “high” of 210,000, an enormous gap (the estimates for each city have a range of ±10,000)." - Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
The events of August 6 and 9, 1945, forever changed the world. But today, besides continuing to attempt to know the extent of the cost of life of these bombings, how are we moving forward in reflection and in growth? How, as a global community, can we explore and prioritize processing the deep, deep pain of these events? The city of Nagasaki has been rebuilt since World War II and is today an important tourist site, serving as a significant spiritual center for movements to ban nuclear weapons. Aging survivors, known in Japan as hibakusha, continue to push for a nuclear ban and hope to convince younger generations to join the movement.
“LAZY format”: A Failed WIPP Community Engagement Meeting in Santa Fe
The U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Environmental Management held a Presentation and “Community Forum” for Santa Fe on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), formatted as a hybrid in-person and Zoom meeting on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Nuclear Watch New Mexico is extremely unsatisfied with the outcome of this meeting, and is not alone in criticizing both the substance of the meeting and the format.
We have recorded this public forum with the chat included because there was an overwhelming amount of participation within the chat, and we feel the chat is a valuable resource in and of itself, as well as a testament to the large amount of community concern present around the subject of WIPP. View that recording HERE (and below).
77th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki, Japan – Interfaith Discussion
SAVE THE DATE: 77th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki, Japan
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
5:15 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Followed by Panel Discussion with Interfaith Leaders at 6:15 p.m.
ALBUQUERQUE – Friday, July 1, 2022 – Join Most Rev. John C. Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe, for 5:15 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, NM. His homily will be centered on his pastoral letter on nuclear disarmament, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” released on January 11, 2022. Following Mass, at approximately 6:15 p.m., a panel discussion with prominent interfaith leaders on today’s need for nuclear disarmament will be held with a question and answer session. All are welcomed to either event.
In his pastoral letter, Archbishop Wester reflects upon his trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the history of Catholic social teaching on nuclear weapons, the history of the development and production of nuclear weapons in New Mexico, and Jesus’ example of nonviolence. He encourages all to read the pastoral letter and use the reflection questions and suggestions for action.
Archbishop’s pastoral letter can be found here.
For more information, contact the Office of Social Justice & Respect Life (505) 831-8205.
Why Funding for the SLCM Nuclear Warhead Should Be Deleted
Introduction: In 1991, in response to the ongoing collapse of the Soviet Union, President George H. Bush ordered the withdrawal of all nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) from U.S. surface ships and submarines. In 2018 President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review proposed to redeploy SLCMs on Virginia-class attack submarines, saying they would provide the United States with “a needed non-strategic regional presence” that would address “the increasing need for flexible and low-yield options.”1 Congress subsequently approved $15.2 million in FY 2022 funding for the Navy’s new cruise missile and nuclear warhead.
In March 2022 President Biden transmitted a new classified Nuclear Posture Review to Congress that reportedly canceled the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile. In parallel, his proposed FY 2023 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has no funding for the SLCM nuclear warhead. This has prompted some congressional pushback, with one suggested compromise being continuing modest research funding. But as a Congressional Research Service analysis put it: “The Navy indicated that the program was “cost prohibitive and the acquisition schedule would have delivered capability late to need.”
The Twisted Myth that Nuclear Weapons Make Us Safer
“Mutually Assured Destruction” has been the MO of the world’s nuclear powers for decades. If Russia points a giant nuclear warhead toward the U.S., we would gear up to point an even more massive missile their way, and then, in theory, Russia shrugs its shoulders and says, “Eh, not worth it.” They would be completely “deterred” from advancing a nuclear attack based on the reality that doing this would mean the entire country, continent, and, ultimately the entire world, would become obliterated as we know it; the cost and the risk greatly outweigh any benefit. Supposedly. According to this thesis, the existence of nuclear weapons makes the cost of war seem frighteningly high and thus “discourage[s] states from starting any wars that might lead to the use of such weapons” (Kenneth Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better,”) The idea that nuclear weapons make conventional war safer is widely used as framing for why we need nukes at all, with one specific reason being spread wide and far that nuclear weapons can still be the equalizer against an adversary’s superior conventional forces.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability DC Days 2022: NukeWatch (Virtually) Visits Washington DC
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability held its annual DC Days conference virtually again this year beginning May 16, 2022. Nuclear Watch New Mexico was proud to participate in this week-long event, where we discussed issues related to nuclear waste and nuclear weapons modernization under the Biden Administration, especially regarding expanded plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Lab and at the Savannah River Site, and the generational problem of nuclear waste storage in the United States.
The W93 Warhead and Other Future New-Design Nuclear Weapons: Funding and Schedules
The W93 warhead is a proposed new-design submarine-launched nuclear weapon for the Navy. Its need is not clear given that the Navy’s W76 warhead recently completed a major “Life Extension Program” that extended its service life by at least 30 years and increased its accuracy through a new arming, fuzing and firing set. The Navy’s other sublaunched warhead, the W88, is entering a major “Alteration” which will refresh its conventional high explosives and give it a new arming, fuzing and firing set (presumably increasing its accuracy as well).