“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).

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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).

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Current U.S. Nuclear Weapons Issues: New Year’s Update — January 15, 2022

U.S. nuclear weapons issues:

  • In anticipation of the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that was to start January 4 the P-5 (original nuclear weapons powers U.S., Russia, China, France and U.K.) came out with an unbelievable collective statement on how they are in compliance with the NPT Article VI mandate to disarm. Then the Review Conference was indefinitely postponed because of omicron.
  • Biden signed the FY 2022 Defense Authorization Act (DAA). Congress gave the Pentagon $24 billion more than Biden asked for. So much for ending endless wars. The DAA fully authorizes what the Biden Administration asked for National Nuclear Security Administration nuclear weapons programs, which increased Trump’s FY 2021 budget which saw a 25% from his FY 2002 budget. LANL is to get a cool billion in FY 2022 for expanded plutonium pit production alone.
  • Still no appropriations. Second Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out in February.
  • First anniversary of Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons January 22

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Current U.S. Nuclear Weapons Issues: Monthly Update — December 15, 2021

FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act: The Bad News.

As Politico put it:

PROGRESSIVES’ PENTAGON POUNDING: … progressives barely put their stamp on Pentagon policy this go-round. Bipartisan provisions requiring women to register for the draft, cracking down on Saudi Arabia and imposing sanctions on Russia were nixed; legislation repealing outdated Iraq war authorizations fell by the wayside; reforms to the military justice system and efforts to combat extremism in the ranks were pared back; and a proposal to give Washington, D.C., control of its National Guard was dropped,” they wrote. Democrats hold power in the House, Senate and White House for the first time in more than a decade, yet the high-profile defense bill got more GOP votes than from Biden’s own party. As progressive lawmakers made their dissatisfaction with the bill’s high price tag clear, centrist Democrats knew they needed Republican support to pass the House and Senate.”

Progressives truly felt they had a historic chance to turn their priorities into policy, but the realities of a 50-50 Senate with no filibuster made that near impossible. And with midterms next year, it’s likely they missed their best chance.

Nuclear weapons: Congress added $500 million to Biden’s request for NNSA Total Weapons Activities, which was essentially Trump’s request to begin with. Trump’s Sea-Launched Cruise Missile and B83 (1.2 megatons) service life program were kept. $1.72 billion request for “Plutonium Modernization” authorized.

  • However, the NDAA is authorization, not appropriations. The 2nd Continuing Resolution runs until February after which the appropriators will have to come up with something. There’s a chance that the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile and B83 sustainment program could be shot down. While those would be notable victories, they really only amount to damage control (i.e., rolling back two of Trump’s pet projects) as the $1.7 trillion modernization beast lumbers on.

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LANL Plans to Address Possibly Exploding Drums Shipped to Texas in 2014

Waste Control Specialists near Andrews TX
Aerial View of Waste Control Specialists (WCS) on the TX/NM state line

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has given itself a Categorical Exclusion (CX) under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the removal, relocation, and examination of transuranic (TRU) waste drums at Waste Control Specialists (WCS). These drums are similar to the ones that forced WIPP to close in 2014. LANL officials decided that formal environmental assessments, with public input, of the movement of the possibly exploding waste drums are not needed.

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An Environmental & Nuclear Disaster in LA’s Backyard: How Much Contamination Really Fell on Top of Communities from Thousand Oaks to Simi Valley from the Woolsey Fire?

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is a 3,000 acre site sitting on top of the San Fernando and Simi Valleys in California, located less than 30 miles from Malibu. In 1947 the site was developed as a central location for U.S. rocket engine testing and space exploration, and in the 1950’s SSFL began experimenting with constructing nuclear reactors.

Ten nuclear reactors were built in total, and tens of thousands of rocket, energy, and weapons tests took place there from when the laboratory went into operation in 1947 until it’s closure in 2006. The rocket engine tests specifically produced numerous toxic spills and releases. The nuclear reactors built include a “Hot Lab” to “cut up irradiated reactor fuel from around the country,” “plutonium and uranium-carbide fuel fabrication facilities,” and a “sodium burn pit in which open-air burning of contaminated reactor components took place.” One of the reactors, the Sodium Reactor Experiment, experienced a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959, and two other reactors experienced accidents with fuel damage as well.

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MEDIA ADVISORY: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY’S FY 2022  NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND CLEANUP BUDGET REQUEST

For use with DOE’s scheduled budget release on Friday May 28, 2021
For more information, key contacts are listed below.

The White House is releasing its detailed Fiscal Year 2022 budget on Friday, May 28. A so-called “skinny budget” was released on April 9 that increased Department of Energy (DOE) funding to $46.1 billion, which reportedly includes major new investments in clean energy and climate change abatement. That said, historically roughly 60% of DOE’s funding has been earmarked for nuclear weapons production and cleanup of Cold War wastes and contamination. The pending budget release will finally provide details on those programs.

Because the budget release is so late Congress has already announced that it can’t consider the annual Defense Authorization Act until September. Related appropriations bills will no doubt be delayed too. This means that the government will probably have to run on a Continuing Resolution(s) for much of FY 2022 (which begins October 1, 2021).

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability strongly opposed the massive 25% FY 2021 increase that the Trump Administration gave to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) nuclear weapons programs and proposed cuts to Department of Energy cleanup. In addition, DOE’s nuclear weapons and environmental management programs have been on the Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk List” for project mismanagement and waste of taxpayers’ dollars for 28 consecutive years. Related, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released a report that projects a 28% increase in costs for so-called “modernization” of U.S. nuclear forces that between the Defense Department and DOE is expected to cost around $1.7 trillion over 30 years.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a 34-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear weapons sites, will be analyzing the following critical issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Advisory.

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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.

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Wildland Fire Prevention Still Lagging at LANL

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has had two major wildland fires — the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 and the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. Each fire burned partially on Lab property within miles of several nuclear facilities. LANL’s wildfire prevention should be 100% in place and constantly updated. But a February 1, 2021, report by the DOE Inspector General found that activities designed to reduce the impact from wildland fire had not been fully implemented at LANL. The DOE-IG found that while the contractor, Triad, had identified fire risks, it had not completely implemented all measures to prevent serious fires.

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Second Public Meeting for Controversial Tritium Releases at the Los Alamos Lab

Because of overwhelming public demand and technical problems with the first virtual public meeting, the National Nuclear Security Administration is holding a second meeting on the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) controversial plan to vent up to 100,000 curies of tritium gas. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, used to boost the explosive power of nuclear weapons. Most vented tritium will condense into water vapor which can then be readily ingested by living organisms, including humans. Fetuses are particularly at risk.

LANL’s nuclear weapons budget has doubled over the last decade to $2.9 billion in fiscal year 2021. But funding for so-called cleanup has remained flat at around $220 million, or 8% that of nuclear weapons. In fact, LANL plans to “cap and cover” some 200,000 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic wastes, leaving them permanently buried in unlined pits above our groundwater, some three miles uphill from the Rio Grande, and call it cleaned up. To add to this, the Lab now plans to dose the public by venting excess tritium.

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DOE Repeatedly Asks Safety Board for Time Extensions, Los Alamos Lab Asked for >150 Cleanup Milestone Extensions, But During Pandemic NNSA Rejects NM Senators’ Request for Extension of Public Comment on Plutonium Bomb Core Production

DOE Repeatedly Asks Safety Board for Time Extensions
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), has rejected a request by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to extend the public comment period on expanded plutonium “pit” bomb core production because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, even in normal times NNSA and its parent Department of Energy routinely ask other government agencies for major time extensions when it comes to cleanup and independent oversight.

The two Senators requested a 45 day comment period extension on behalf of more than 120 organizations and individuals. Before that, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were among 24 Senators who asked the Office of Management and Budget to extend all federal public comment periods during the coronavirus national emergency.

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DOE Ignores COVID-19 Threat, Diverts Resources to Planning for Nuclear War by Releasing Draft Environmental Study on SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant

Today, in the middle of the growing coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Department of Energy ignored the real national crisis and irresponsibly shifted its focus to planning for nuclear war, revealing plans to construct a Plutonium Bomb Plant (PBP) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.

DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today formally released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Plutonium Pit Production at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, whose proposed action is to establish the production of plutonium “pits” (nuclear warhead cores) at SRS at a rate of up to 125 pits per year, with at least 50 pits per year by 2030 as the stated objective for now.

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Energy Dept. Nearly Triples Funding for Plutonium Pit Production, Cuts Cleanup in Half – But Refuses to Complete New Env. Impact Statement for Los Alamos Lab

The 2011 Las Conchas fire threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory. CREDIT: Brian Klieson.

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), announced that it will not complete a new site-wide environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The last site-wide environmental impact statement was in 2008.

Since that time a catastrophic wildfire burned to the western boundary of the Lab (likely to occur more frequently with climate change); an exploding radioactive waste drum improperly prepared by LANL shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for three years, costing taxpayers ~$3 billion to reopen; the full extent and depth of a hexavalent chromium plume contaminating the regional groundwater is still not fully determined; and LANL’s long track record of chronic nuclear safety incidences remain unresolved.

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LANL Budget Increased by Nearly $1 Billion to Accelerate Work As Production Site for Nuclear Weapons Designs by Livermore Lab Cleanup Cut by 46%

LANL Budget Increased by Nearly $1 Billion to Accelerate Work As Production Site for Nuclear Weapons Designs by Livermore Lab Cleanup Cut by 46%
Soil and groundwater contamination was discovered at the LLNL Livermore Site and Site 300 in the 1980s. This contamination resulted from early research activities

Santa Fe, NM – The Trump Administration has released more budget details for its proposed Fiscal Year 2021 federal budget for the Department of Energy and its semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is slated to receive nearly a one billion dollar increase for its nuclear weapons programs (up 48%), overwhelmingly for new production. At the same time cleanup, whose need is caused by nuclear weapons production, is cut by 46%.

Significantly, LANL’s FY 2021 budget for design work of nuclear weapons stayed flat after falling by 28% from FY 2018 to FY 2019. Meanwhile, funding for nuclear weapons design work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory more than doubled from FY 2019 to FY 2021.

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As the NonProliferation Treaty’s 50th Anniversary Approaches U.S. to Soon Fund New Nuclear Warhead at $1 Billion Per Year

As the NonProliferation Treaty’s 50th Anniversary Approaches U.S. to Soon Fund New Nuclear Warhead at $1 Billion Per Year

Santa Fe, NM – This March 5, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the NonProliferation Treaty, whose central bargain was that non-nuclear weapons states forswore acquiring them in exchange for which nuclear weapons states promised to enter into serious negotiations leading to their elimination. Those negotiations have never happened.

The Trump Administration has marked the occasion by finally releasing the detailed fiscal year 2021 Congressional Budget Request for the Department of Energy’s semi- autonomous nuclear weapons agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA’s program for new and upgraded nuclear weapons gets a 3 billion dollar-plus mark up to $15.6 billion, slated to jump to $17 billion annually by 2025. This includes a new nuclear warhead, the submarine launched W93, initially funded at $53 million in FY 2021, but slated to climb to $1.1 billion annually by 2025. New warhead design and production typically take around 15 years or more.

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Trump’s FY 2021 DOE Nuclear Weapons Budget Sets Post-Cold War High – New Nuclear Warhead Is Planned

Donald Trump Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by CUTWORLD/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Jack Hill—WPA Pool/Getty Images.

Today the Trump Administration released topline budget numbers for fiscal year 2021 for the Department of Energy (DOE). This includes DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), whose nuclear weapons programs are slated to receive the highest amount of taxpayer dollars since the Cold War ended nearly 30 years ago.

This year 2020 marks the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the 50th anniversary of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is commonly regarded as the cornerstone of international nuclear weapons nonproliferation. The NPT required the established nuclear powers to enter into serious negotiations leading to global nuclear disarmament, which they ignored. 2020 also marks the third anniversary of a nuclear weapons ban treaty that needs only 16 more nations to ratify before it goes into effect. The U.S. and other nuclear weapons powers vigorously oppose that ban treaty even as their “modernization” programs are fueling a new nuclear arms race and international arms control is collapsing.

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LANL Busted For Losing Control of Controlled Substances

In a recent report, the Department Of Energy’s Office of Inspector General (IG) found issues with the way Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) keeps track of controlled substances such as cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. The IG found that LANL staff had not managed controlled substances in accordance with applicable Federal laws and regulations.

The IG also found that LANL staff had mislabeled procurement records of these drugs, kept inaccurate inventories, and retained controlled substances well beyond the conclusion of experiments. The IG determined that Los Alamos did not have appropriate “processes, procedures, or controls in place to monitor, track, account for, and dispose of controlled substances.”

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Help Stop Plans to “Modernize” WIPP

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located outside Carlsbad, NM. is the nation’s only geologic repository for defense-generated transuranic waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) is accepting comments on its 2019-2024 “Strategic Plan”, which should be focused on closing WIPP. But the Plan focuses on extending WIPP’s lifetime to 2050 and beyond. WIPP’s disposal phase was extended until 2024 (in 2010), and the last expected year of final closure of the WIPP facility (i.e., date of final closure certification) was to be 2034. There was always a 10-year period for final closure after the disposal operations ceased.

But, instead, the WIPP Strategic Plan is stocked full of new projects that will extend WIPP’s life another 25 years at least. Yet, WIPP officials don’t mention how or when they plan to modify the State Permit with the new proposed date. DOE’s own waste-handling inefficiencies and mistakes have caused this delay that the people of New Mexico are now paying for by having WIPP open longer than planned. We are asking everyone to oppose DOE’s “WIPP Forever” plans by sending in comments. See below.

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Help Stop The New Strategic Plan That Would Double WIPP’s Lifespan

Proposed Shaft #5 at WIPP
Proposed Shaft #5 at WIPP

DOE Moves Forward With Unneeded New Shaft at WIPP

Originally billed as a replacement exhaust shaft to help WIPP recover from the 2014 exploding drum event that shut down WIPP for three years, a proposed new shaft is now designed to increase WIPP’s capacity. WIPP officials have repeatedly stated that after a new filter building is complete, WIPP will have returned to its pre-2014 capacity without the new shaft. The $75 million new fifth shaft would increase the mining and waste handling capacity by 25% at any given time.

One would think that increasing the annual ability to emplace waste at WIPP would help keep the repository  on track to stop receiving waste by its original date of 2024. But along with the annual increased mining and disposal capacity, DOE has also released a Strategic Plan to extend WIPP’s waste disposal deadline to 2052.

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Proposed New Exhaust at WIPP Designed to Release Radiation

19 seconds – the amount of time airborne radiological contamination could be released before the safety dampers close. This assumes that all other components work perfectly.

A recent report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) explains the DNFSB’s calculations on the proposed new (estimated at nearly $300 million) safety significant confinement ventilation system (SSCVS).

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Los Alamos Lab Cleanup to Stay Far Behind Funding for Nuclear Weapons Research and Production

Over the last decade funding for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) nuclear weapons programs has increased 20%. However, funding for needed cleanup has remained flat at one-tenth of the almost $2 billion requested for nuclear weapons programs in FY 2020. Nuclear weapons funding is slated to keep climbing under the $1.7 trillion 30-year nuclear weapons “modernization” program begun under Obama. Trump is adding yet more money, and is accelerating the new arms race with Russia by adding two new types of nuclear weapons. Cleanup funding, on the other hand, is doomed to stay flat for the next two decades because the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) under Gov. Martinez gutted a 2005 “Consent Order” that would have forced the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL to get more money for cleanup.

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The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup Backgrounder

The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup

Summary

Funding for nuclear weapons is still the priority at the Lab

  • $1.7 trillion 30-year “modernization” program total current estimate across the nation
  • LANL receives $2 billion annually for nuclear weapons work

Legacy Cleanup Program at LANL is getting started with new contractor

  • Current cleanup estimate is $4.1 billion remaining to finish by 2036
  • LANL cleanup has been receiving $195 to $220 million per year

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THE U.S. RAISES RED FLAGS ON RUSSIA’S PLUTONIUM EXPERIMENTS — WHILE RAMPING UP ITS OWN

NNSS Subcritical Experiment Preparation
Workers at the Nevada National Security Site prepare for an experiment to assess how plutonium responds to chemical high explosives.

Read the June 18, 2019 Center for Public Integrity article by Patrick Malone

Experiments at Russian and US underground sites are used by both nations to help ensure their nuclear arsenals remain viable but are conducted under a blanket of secrecy. And so they’ve given rise to suspicions, and accusations, that they violate a 1996 global treaty designed to stymie nuclear weapons innovations by barring any nuclear explosions.

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Nuclear Weapons Explosives Program Lacks Adequate Future Planning to Address Dwindling Supply

Key Explosive-Containing Components in a Generic Nuclear Weapon

Five National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) contractor-operated sites conduct activities to design and produce explosive materials. NNSA officials and contractor representatives identified several challenges related to explosives activities, such as the agency’s dwindling supply of explosive materials, aging and deteriorating infrastructure, and difficulty recruiting and training qualified staff. NNSA issued a plan to address these challenges. But it didn’t follow strategic planning practices that ensure accountability over progress. For example, it generally didn’t include measurable performance goals that identify timeframes and responsible parties.

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