DOE Headquarters Launches an Investigation Into the WIPP Release

DOE Headquarters Launches an Investigation Into the WIPP Release

On June 16, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) DC Office of Independent Enterprise Assessments notified Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the operating contractor for DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, of its intent to conduct an investigation.  The investigation will look into potential nuclear safety, worker safety, and health programmatic deficiencies associated with the two events in February.

WIPP has been shut down since February 5, 2014, when a salt-hauling truck caught fire, forcing evacuation of 86 workers from underground, 13 of whom were treated for smoke inhalation. Nine days later, an air monitor detected radiation underground where waste had recently been emplaced. The emergency filtration started, but radioactive particles were released to the environment. That resulted in contamination of all 13 people working above ground.

The DOE headquarters’ investigation may be a good start (hopefully), but Nuclear Watch NM, and many other groups, wants a truly independent, public investigation. This investigation should determine the cause of the WIPP radiation release, the extent of underground and surface contamination, the medical and compensation requirements for contaminated workers, and options for cleaning up underground and surface contamination.

In the meantime, TRU must be stored safely and securely at other DOE sites, regardless of how long WIPP is closed.  Unnecessary waste shipments should not occur while WIPP is closed. Additional newly-generated TRU waste from nuclear weapons production, which exacerbates existing problems, should not be produced.

Los Alamos Budget is 65% Nuclear Weapons

Los Alamos Budget is 65% Nuclear Weapons

LANL Lab Table Chart FY 2015
Percentages of the Los Alamos annual budget for 2015

There are people who don’t realize that there still are nuclear weapons in the world. There are those who don’t realize that Los Alamos is still in the nuclear weapons business. I’ve created a chart that illustrates that nuclear weapons activities are 65% of the Lab’s annual $2.1 billion dollar budget. The actual Laboratory table from the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) budget is included.

First, please remember to add three zeroes to all the numbers in the table because all “Dollars in Thousands”.  And remember that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Request numbers are just the President’s request, which Congress then slices and dices to arrive at the final appropriation during the congressional budget process.

Notice the largest FY 2015 Request budget by far is “Total Weapons Activities” at $1,417,502,(000). That’s $1.4 billion. “Total Defense Environmental Cleanup”, which is the remediation of radioactive and hazardous waste, is $222,262,(000). That’s $222 million.

The full budget categories are described in Volume 1 of the DOE budget here.

This page also has the Laboratory Tables on it. In addition, there is a “FY 2015 State Table” that shows all of New Mexico receives a total of $4.6 billion from DOE annually including $3.4 billion for nuclear weapons. Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque has a $1.5 billion request for nuclear weapons for FY 2015.

What is not on the Laboratory Tables is “Work For Others”, which is work that Los Alamos performs for government agencies other than DOE. This number is estimated at $250 million for FY 2015.

Let me know if you have any questions.

After a Failed Campaign, the State Must Return to Enforceable Cleanup At LANL

After a Failed Campaign, the State Must Return to Enforceable Cleanup At LANL

The June 30 deadline of the “3706 Campaign” to remove 3706 cubic meters of transuranic waste stored on the surface on Los Alamos Lab will be missed due to the radiation release and shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The campaign was part of a non-binding agreement with the NM Environment Department so there are no penalties associated with lack of performance. The problem is that much other cleanup at the Lab was delayed while the 3706 Campaign was prioritized.

The Lab missed the low bar of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste while the cleanup of over 1,000,000 cubic meters of all types of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated backfill buried across the Lab were put on the back burner. These vast amounts of buried wastes, dating back to the Lab’s early days, are covered under a 2005 Consent Order for the “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy waste. The Consent Order is enforceable with stipulated penalties of up to $3000/day for missed deliverables. But NMED has been hesitant to impose fines, because of DOE claims that the fines come out of the cleanup budget. The deadline for the last cleanup under the Consent Order is currently December 2015, which everyone agrees is impossible. But that end date could be extended, and should be extended, especially if the Lab was actually working on the legacy cleanup

NMED, to date, has granted over 95 extensions for Consent Order deliverables in favor of the 3706 Campaign. These extensions allow the Lab to not drill monitoring wells and to not perform cleanup investigations and work plans for sites across the Lab. The Lab claims that there is not enough money to address all the Consent Order deliverables, but the idea behind the Consent Order was that fines and the threat of fines would shake cleanup funding from DOE headquarters in DC. Cleanup without the big stick of possible fines just takes us back to the time when the small budget received annually just gets sprinkled around to where the cleanup “priorities” are perceived to be. Urgency and comprehensiveness go out the window.

The Cold War has been over for twenty years now and we in Northern New Mexico have been patient in removing LANL’s legacy waste.

But now Northern New Mexico has neither a 3706 Campaign that is complete, nor a Consent Order that will be complete by its deadline. NMED officials have stated, upon the successful completion of the 3706 Campaign, that they would consider renegotiating the Consent Order. We are waiting to see how NMED deals with the 3706 failure and we urge NMED to make the Consent Order the priority again. The Campaign approach has now been proven not to work.

In the meantime, we also have contaminated WIPP workers.

We have 707 possibly explosive drums probably created by Los Alamos spread across New Mexico and West Texas.

We have a damaged WIPP, which is shut down for up to three years and missing its deadlines for disposing waste.

We have other impacted DOE sites across the country, which will be missing deadlines for radioactive waste disposal.

We the taxpayers are no doubt going to spend hundreds of millions on this fiasco while the contractors continue to put money in their pockets.

The New Mexico Environment Department is the regulator here. Relying on LANL’s promises and plans to make things better must end. Time to return to the 2005 Consent Order and actually use the enforceable provisions in it.

WIPP Continues to Show Signs, Town Hall Webcast Tonight, LANL TRU to WCS, More Information

WIPP Continues to Show Signs, Town Hall Webcast tonight, LANL TRU to WCS, More Information

WIPP Underground Continues to Show Signs of Radiological Activity

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials stated that there was another radiological release on March 11.  This was outside of the WIPP site exhaust shaft filter. An air sample from the outside of the ventilation exhaust recorded 61 disintegrations per minute of americium on a sample collected the evening of March 11. WIPP stated that, “This is expected given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the February 14 radiation release event. Engineers believe the contamination was from previous deposits on the inner surface of the exhaust ductwork.” The engineers did not state why they expected this and did not mention the LARGE amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system filters. The engineers also did not state why they believed this and not that more contamination was being produced in the underground.

Air sampling results before and after the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters at WIPP are available here. Station A samples air before the filters and Station B samples air after passing through the filters. These samples were analyzed following the detection of airborne radioactivity on February 14, 2014. They are not environmental samples, and are not representative of the public or worker breathing zone air samples.

The 3/11/14 4:19PM increase after the filters is shown here. There were other small releases on 03/02/2014 08:50 AM (38 dpm) and 03/05/2014 08:10 AM (60 dpm, although WIPP claims that the filter was “cross contaminated”)

There was a larger event, before the filters, that occurred 03/13/2014 08:30 AM (368 dpm) that has not been mentioned. All this shows that the underground could still be brewing radiological activity. Perhaps this will be explained better tonight at the Town hall.

 

Weekly Town Hall Meetings in Carlsbad?

Thursdays at 5:30 – Carlsbad City Council Chambers, City Hall, 101 N. Halagueno St.

Co-hosted by City of Carlsbad and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office

Discuss recovery efforts following WIPP’s fire and radiological events in February.

Meetings available live online

 

The Show Goes On

The Department of Energy (DOE), is proposing to ship transuranic waste currently located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists (WCS), located in western Andrews County, Texas. LANL has another ~546 cubic meters remaining out of the original 3706 cubic meters that was agreed to be moved to WIPP by June 2014.

Let’s be clear, there is no technical reason to store the waste temporarily at WSC.  DOE and LANL just want to show that they can meet a deadline. The extra cost of this operation has not been released. And don’t get me wrong, no one wants the waste – all the waste  – removed from LANL more than me.  Let’s hope that DOE and LANL show the same amount of interest and resources when it comes to removing the rest of the waste at Los Alamos, such as the hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried at Area G.

 

Official Websites

New Mexico Environment Department WIPP website

DOE/WIPP website

 

WIPP Informational Meeting in Santa Fe

A WIPP informational meeting will take place in Santa Fe on Monday, March 31st from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Santa Fe Main Library, located at 145 Washington, in downtown Santa Fe.  Please note the new location.  Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and Sasha Pyle, longtime activist, will give presentations. Opportunities for public involvement will be discussed.

Mine Games – WIPP Update March 10, 2014

Mine Games

In a March 9th press release, the Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the management and operations contractor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), stated their plans to reenter the ailing salt mine/nuclear waste repository after a radiological release shut down operations over three weeks ago.

The press release tells us that, on March 7 and 8, radiological and air quality instruments were lowered down the Salt Handling and the Air Intake Shafts. The preliminary findings indicated that no “detectable radioactive contamination” in the air or on the equipment. The press release claims that these results were expected because the shafts that were sampled were not in the air flow path coming from the area where the radiation release originated.

But, there are 4 shafts to underground – the Salt Handling, the Air Intake, the Waste Handling, and the Exhaust Shafts. After the detection on a radiologic release, filters move into the Exhaust Shaft and air is drawn to the outside by fans blowing to the outside here. The other three shafts, mainly the Air Intake Shaft because it has no elevator in it, provide intake for the air flow path to the Exhaust Shaft. Strangely missing from the press release is any mention of the Waste Handling Shaft, which contains an elevator to take the waste down into the mine and should also have been out of the air flow path. DOE and NWP must explain why the Waste Handling Shaft was not sampled and, if it was, what are the results. The Waste Handling Shaft provides the normal entry to the underground, so why use the Salt Shaft? Also, the press release did not mention that any “soil” samples were taken from the walls of any of the shafts. Is the Waste Handling Shaft contaminated or presumed contaminated?

As far as the air flow path goes, it’s an elaborate game to get the air to flow where it is needed in the underground of WIPP. Getting the desired path requires blocking off numerous openings in the underground. Bob Martin from KRQE gave a hint of what is involved in his recent report. We have not been given the diagram for the air flow path at the time of the release or even if the path was in place. We don’t have the location of all the monitors in the underground and if they were working. What was the presumed path of the contaminated air to the Exhaust Shaft? Why are so many details left out out of the information released to the public?

Unfortunately, the press release also mentioned that four more WIPP workers had been contaminated. But it was not stated where or when these employees received the dose. Was it Friday night or Saturday? Why was this important information not in the press release?

We also have some new sample findings released. Some of the interesting information here is that the WIPP Laboratory Analyses are so much lower than the Screening Analyses. I will get back to you on that. But don’t forget that it is unlikely that the main release actually hit any of the air monitors dead-on. Also, notice the lack of samplers to the northeast.

We will have to wait for soil samples to come in before we can begin to estimate the main path of the release.

WIPP is not a secret facility. (They even let me down there last year.) Press releases that raise more questions than they answer must stop now.

WIPP Video Story and Congressional Delegation Statements from KRQE

KRQE TV 13 aired a news story last night that included statements from the five members of the NM Congressional Delegation:

On the recent radiation leak: “From my perspective on the (U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources) committee, the first priority is making sure that the personnel who actually work at WIPP are safe and that the community and environment around WIPP is safe.”

On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “WIPP was never designed as a high level facility, and I don’t think we should retrofit it to be a high level facility. There has been talk of moving other transuranic waste there that was generated in different ways than the transuranic waste that’s coming from Los Alamos, for example. That’s something we can have the conversation about, but it should never be a high level facility.”

On any future change in WIPP’s mission: “We have a very long standing and robust conversation in my office with the community in Carlsbad all the time. The input from the community is always critical.” “There is nothing more important than making sure that that community feels like we are doing everything possible to make sure that WIPP is a success, and that the people who work there in the surrounding community and their well-being is our first priority.”

~ U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico

 

“It’s too early to say whether the leak factors into my thoughts about the future of WIPP because we don’t know what happened. I’m taking the leak very seriously, and our focus right now is on the immediate safety of the community and WIPP personnel and the recovery work. It would be premature to draw any conclusions. This is a very technical issue, and the science is extremely important. My position on expansion now is the same as it has always been. When it comes to proposals that would significantly change WIPP’s mission, I support the provision in the current law that bans high-level waste at WIPP. WIPP was not fully studied for high-level waste, and it does not meet permit requirements for high-level waste. Additionally, New Mexico’s people and state government are the ones who have the power to decide what waste our state will accept and under what terms. Any attempt to alter WIPP’s mission would take many years of study, permitting, and require the state of New Mexico’s full support.”

~ U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico

 

On the radiation leak: “Congressman Pearce has introduced legislation to protect New Mexico jobs at WIPP, which has safely disposed of TRU waste for over a decade. Right now, Congressman Pearce is focused on monitoring the present situation closely, ensuring DOE and WIPP continue to make public safety the top priority. To date, all information shared with our office indicates there is no risk or danger to the community. At the appropriate time, the Congressman fully expects and will insist that the Department of Energy conduct a thorough investigation and answer all the public’s questions.”

On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “Now is not the time to speculate about proposals that are not even on the table. Taking high level waste at WIPP is not on the table. Congressman Pearce’s number one priority right now is public safety, and there are many questions that need to be answered before any changes in WIPP’s mission are discussed.”

~ Eric Layer, Spokesman for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM 2nd District

 

“Right now, the number one priority is the health and safety of the WIPP employees who were affected by the leak as well as the residents of the surrounding community. As the response effort continues, there must be nothing short of full transparency and accountability to ensure the public that they are safe. This incident further proves that any expansion of WIPP’s mission warrants close scrutiny that’s rooted in science and that includes extensive outreach to and input from all stakeholders and local communities.”

~ U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-NM 1st District

 

“I am very concerned about the recent detection of radiation near WIPP and the health and safety of those exposed to radiation. It will be important that answers are provided detailing the causes of the elevated levels and how this will be prevented in the future. The safety and security of the community must be the top priority.

As far as the larger discussion about changes at WIPP, one aspect that cannot be forgotten or overlooked – especially given the recent incident – is the reality of exposure and what will happen when workers or members of the community are exposed to harmful levels of radiation. Sadly in New Mexico, we are all too familiar with the story of those who worked in uranium mines and other government facilities and suffered exposure to radiation. They contributed to our national security, yet paid a steep cost as many individuals became sick and some paid with their life. I am still fighting in Congress to see that many of these workers are compensated for the health problems they developed as a result of their work. While we hope we never have to face a similar situation in the future, it is important we have these discussions now rather than when it’s too late, especially given the recent reports that 13 workers tested positive for radiation exposure.”

~ U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM 3rd District

WIPP Update Feb 27 2014 – 13 Employees Contaminated

WIPP Update Feb 27 2014 – 13 Employees Contaminated

I’ll remind us all that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site is NOT a National Security site. It is a fancy landfill. There are really no secret programs there to protect. Maybe there are some secret parts buried there, but they have long-since been crushed. There is no reason to withhold news. The waste streams are well known and exactly where they are emplaced in WIPP is also well known. When the public gets news from WIPP officials, we deserve to have our questions answered clearly with all the important facts included.

Our best wishes go out to the employees.

Here’s the February 26, 2014 letter from the U.S. Department of Energy – Carlsbad Field Office, which provides oversight of the private contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, that currently manages and operates WIPP. Unfortunately, this letter raises many questions. Below are each of the paragraphs of the letter, followed by my questions and comments.

First Paragraph –

This morning (February 26), the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination. Employees were notified within about 12 hours of the receipt of preliminary sample results.

Ok, “the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14,” sounds like there were only 13 employees at WIPP on Feb 14. But the February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release states, “All non-essential employees were off-site by 5:30 PM MST.” The February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release also states, “No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” I guess we are to read this as, “No contamination has been found ON any personnel.”

Questions raised –

How many employees were onsite when?

Were the 13 contaminated employees essential or non-essential?

Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed?

How does an employee inhale rads and not have any on them?

 

Second Paragraph –

At the time of the event, these employees were performing above ground operations, and federal oversight duties at the WIPP facility. Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the site contractor, requested that all workers on site the night of the event submit follow-up bioassay samples as they were considered more likely to have indications of potential exposure. Additional samples will be collected from these employees in the weeks ahead in order to perform complete analyses.

Questions raised –

When did Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC request the bioassay samples from the night workers?

What made them “more-likely” to be exposed? What exactly were they doing?

Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed? When was this request made?

 

Third Paragraph –

It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed. However, on-site sampling and surveys and environmental monitoring, to date, continue to support National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling, which indicates that airborne contamination was likely at very low levels.

Questions raised –

Where is the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling? The public must be allowed to read any and all reference documents. And by the way, NARAC is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is a Department of Energy site. 

 

Fourth Paragraph –

The material for this release event is transuranic radionuclides. The release material was predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.

Questions raised –

Really? Smoke detectors? Here’s from the EPA

As long as the radiation source stays in the detector, exposures would be negligible (less than about 1/100 of a millirem per year), since alpha particles cannot travel very far or penetrate even a single sheet of paper, and the gamma rays emitted by americium are relatively weak. If the source were removed, it would be very easy for a small child to swallow, but even then exposures would be very low because the source would pass through the body fairly rapidly (by contrast, the same amount of americium in a loose powdered form would give a significant dose if swallowed or inhaled). Still, its not a good idea to separate the source from the detector apparatus.

All the americium at WIPP is the byproduct of Cold War nuclear weapons production. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) explains the health effects of americium.

The radiation from americium is the primary cause of adverse health effects from absorbed americium. Upon entering the body by any route of exposure, americium moves relatively rapidly through the body and is deposited on the surfaces of the bones where it remains for a long time. As americium undergoes radioactive decay in the bone, alpha particles collide with nearby cell matter and give all of their energy to this cell matter. The gamma rays released by decaying americium can travel much farther before hitting cellular material, and many of these gamma rays leave the body without hitting or damaging any cell matter. The dose from this alpha and gamma radiation can cause changes in the genetic material of these cells that could result in health effects such as bone cancers.

 

Fifth Paragraph – Here it states that inhalation did employees did occur.

Determining employee dose typically involves multiple sample analyses to determine employee’s radionuclide excretion rate over time. This allows the lab to estimate the employee’s accumulated internal dose. The time this process takes depends largely on the solubility of the inhaled particulate, with less water-soluble radioactive materials requiring more samples and time to accurately estimate the dose. Follow-up urine samples may require about three or more weeks to accurately predict dose.

 

Sixth Paragraph –

We are now focusing our sampling program on employees with work assignments that may have placed them at greater risk, including those on shift February 15. We are still reviewing staff assignments to determine if additional employees will need to be tested. However, employees who feel they were assigned positions or functions that placed them at risk will be included in follow-up bioassay monitoring at their request.

Questions raised –

How many employees were working on the 15th? Were they wearing safety protection?

What is the criterion “to determine if additional employees will need to be tested”?

 

Seventh Paragraph –

There is no risk to family or friends of these employees. As we learn more information, we will continue to share. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact 1-800-336-9477. Thank you.

Questions raised –

What is the current status at the site?

Are employees working there now?

Are they wearing protective gear?

 

There apparently is a Press Conference today (Feb27 2014) at 3pm MST.

WIPP update Feb 26 2014

The New York Times ran a WIPP story today, NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY SET TO REOPEN AFTER LEAK, New York Times — February 26, 2014, By Matthew L. Wald

This is a good example of what is known, what is being said, and what is not being said.

1. One shaft has a filter with a monitor and three don’t. The article, and many others, quotes a WIPP press release,

But late on Feb. 14, at an hour when no one was in the mine, an air monitor indicated the presence of radioactive contamination. An automated system cut off most of the ventilation and routed the exhaust through filters that are supposed to capture 99.97 percent of all contamination, turning off fans and changing the air flow, in less than one minute. 

At WIPP, there are 4 ways for air to get to the surface – the Exhaust Shaft, the Salt Shaft, the Air Intake Shaft, and the Waste Handling Shaft. When radioactive contamination is detected, airflow is directed to the Exhaust Shaft as its filter is put into place. This shaft has the only filter and monitors on any of the shafts. WIPP officials claim that it was a monitor in Panel 7 that detected radiation and set into action the sending of all the air to the Exhaust Shaft. The Panel 7 monitor is around 2000 feet from the shafts. This means that the WIPP officials were relying on any contamination to set off the monitor before any contamination went up a shaft. We need a layout of the monitors, and if they were working, in the underground.

 

2. “Safe levels” of radioactivity? The article quotes a WIPP monitor,

“For someone living in town, I would say the dose was probably zero,” Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an independent monitoring organization that is part of New Mexico State University, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said that the event would not add to background levels of radiation — including bomb fallout — any more than an eyedropper full of water would contribute to the rise in the level of the Pacific Ocean.

Seriously, an eyedropper in the Pacific? I had to look it up

There are over 70 cubic million miles in the Pacific Ocean. Meaning there are 188,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons in the pacific ocean. That is 187 quintillion gallons.

No problem, unless you eat the fish that drank that drop. Anyway, I don’t believe anyone knows how much radiation was released. The preliminary results are based on a ridiculously small number of air samples. The official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely.

 

3. Then, it was explained how to get dosed –

Even in the desert, the danger to humans was small, the mine’s operators said. The highest reading from the monitors indicated that a person could have inhaled radioactive material that would emit a dose, over the person’s lifetime, of 3.4 millirem, an amount roughly equal to three days of natural background radiation. But to get the dose, the person would have had to stand for hours in the desert, on the downwind side of the plant.

Again, the official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely. We await the many soil samples that will shed light on the actual amounts.

 

 

Nukes Will Cost One Trillion over 30 Years; Cleanup, Job Creation Imperiled

Nuclear Weapons “Modernization” Will Cost One Trillion Dollars Over Thirty Years;

Locally, Los Alamos Lab Cleanup and Job Creation Are Imperiled

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released its study Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that estimated costs for maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will total $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.

As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars.

Approximately two-thirds of the modernization costs will be for new submarines, bombers and missiles that could be operational for the rest of this century, contrary to the Obama Administration’s rhetoric of a future world free of nuclear weapons. The remaining third will be for the Department of Energy’s research and production complex, which includes the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia nuclear weapons labs.

While the American public at large is experiencing growing income inequality and limited economic opportunity, nuclear weapons contractors are experiencing increasing profits and decreasing federal oversight. The for-profit corporations running the labs, comprised of Lockheed Martin (the world’s biggest defense contractor), Bechtel, and the University of California, plan a never-ending cycle of exorbitantly expensive “Life Extension Programs.” These programs will not only extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons for decades, but also give them new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. international policy. Ironically, the contractors’ drive for profits may undermine national security, as confidence in our nuclear weapons could be eroded by planned massive changes to an extensively tested stockpile that has been proven to be reliable.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had planned to “modernize” with a new facility to support expanded production of plutonium pit cores (or “primaries”) for nuclear weapons. Because of budget constraints, the Obama Administration decided to defer it in favor of the Uranium Processing Facility near Oak Ridge, TN, for production of nuclear weapons “secondaries.” The LANL plutonium project, known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR)-Nuclear Facility, had grown from an original estimate of $600 million to around $6 billion, for which it would not have created a single new permanent job (it would have merely relocating existing Lab jobs). But the Uranium Processing Facility has now grown from a similarly estimated $600 million to an astounding worse case $19 billion, in part due to a simple design error that cost a half-billion dollars just to correct on paper.

So-called nuclear weapons modernization at these costs is clearly not sustainable, especially when they create few if any new permanent jobs. Moreover, they exist for a product that must never be used (i.e. nuclear weapons). Therefore, they are of little economic benefit to society outside of the privileged enclaves that benefit from nuclear weapons research and production (for example, Los Alamos County is the second richest county out of 3,077 counties in the USA).

Funding for nuclear weapons modernization programs will rob taxpayers’ dollars for programs that local citizens really need. For example, the Los Alamos Lab plans to “cap and cover” its largest waste dump (called “Area G”), leaving up to one million cubic meters of poorly characterized radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill permanently buried in unlined pits and shafts. This will create a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump above the Rio Grande, and most importantly above a sole source groundwater aquifer that supplies 270,000 people in the arid Southwest.

The Cities of Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, oppose LANL’s plans to create a permanent nuclear waste dump, passing resolutions demanding full characterization of the wastes and offsite disposal. The resolutions note that, “full cleanup of Area G would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our precious groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating 100’s of high paying jobs for twenty years or more.” The costs for full cleanup of Area G would be about the same as four to five years’ worth of the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM Director, commented, “We simply can’t afford to squander precious taxpayers’ money on programs that enrich contractors while introducing radical changes to fully tested nuclear weapons. This may harm national security by undermining confidence in stockpile reliability. Instead, New Mexicans should demand that their elected officials invest taxpayers’ money in programs that create real security for citizens, such as creating jobs that protect diminishing water resources, rather than their habitual support for unneeded, mismanaged and exorbitantly expensive nuclear weapons programs.”

# # #

 The Congressional Budget Office report Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023 is available at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf

The Santa Fe City press release announcing passage of its resolution opposing “cap and cover’ of Los Alamos Lab’s largest radioactive and toxic waste dump is available at http://www.santafenm.gov/news/detail/santa_fe_city_council_unanimously_passed_resolution

For a comparative estimate of cleaning up LANL’s Area G radioactive and toxic waste dump see http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Area_G_Comparison_Costs-11-14-12.pdf

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

Mayor’s Resolution Makes Sense

Mayor’s Resolution Makes Sense

The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…

The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.

The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.

The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.

Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither  “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”

I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.

Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos

Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos

Santa Fe, NM – Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds the demand by the Mayor of Santa Fe that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) not rule out alternatives to their so-called “cleanup” plan for Area G, the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump. LANL plans to “cap and cover” and permanently leave one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried forever.

Mayor David Coss will ask the Santa Fe City Council to approve his resolution to seek real cleanup alternatives at their December 11th meeting. Mayor Coss is also chairman of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that lobbies Congress for increased Lab funding. Yesterday he introduced his resolution to the Regional Coalition as well.

LANL is relying on their own outrageous estimate of $29 billion for removal of the waste at Area G as a rationale to leave the waste in place. Nuclear Watch has performed a cost comparison that compares the Lab’s estimate on a recent cleanup actually performed by the Lab and also to another Laboratory estimate. Our cost comparison shows that removal of the waste could actually cost less than $6 billion. The Lab’s preference is to cap and cover and leave the waste in place at Area G.

Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit playing games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.”

# # #

Read the Santa Fe Mayor’s press release
Read the Santa Fe City Resolution
Read Nuclear Watch’s cost comparison here and Area G fact sheet

LANL Finds a Way to Very Efficiently Waste $400,000

LANL Finds a Way to Very Efficiently Waste $400,000

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released an Audit Report on “The Department’s Fleet Vehicle Sustainability Initiatives at Selected Locations”. One of the locations investigated was Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The report states that LANL leased 522 flex-fuel vehicles that were routinely fueled with regular gasoline instead of alternative fuels such as E-85. Sadly, DOE paid a premium of about $427,900 to acquire these flex-fuel vehicles rather than purchasing conventionally-fueled vehicles. (The report stated that $700,000 was spent for 854 flex-fuel vehicles, which was for 522 at LANL and 332 at Bonneville. I had use a simple ratio to arrive at the $427,900 average split for LANL because the DOE IG would not give the actual breakouts.)

By acquiring flex-fuel vehicles but continuing to fuel these vehicles with petroleum at LANL and Bonneville, the Department is not maximizing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. DOE  paid at least $427,900 for flex-fuel vehicles at LANL; however, failed to obtain the environmental benefits or further Departmental goals of increasing alternative fuel use and reducing petroleum use.

As of September 2012, LANL’s overall fleet had decreased by 9 vehicles, while the number of flex-fuel vehicles had grown to 587. According to LANL officials, LANL used a tanker truck to bring fuel to LANL to fill approximately 65 security vehicles with ethanol fuel. The tanker truck operated approximately 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, and the weekly labor costs to operate the truck were $1,200. Additionally, LANL spent $3,760 on maintenance and repair of the truck in calendar year 2012. The total cost of maintaining and operating the truck, excluding fuel costs, was approximately $66,000 for calendar year 2012. But this tanker truck, or one like it was never used for the regular flex-fuel vehicles.

In addition, the Lab had trouble letting go of unneeded vehicles. LANL retained about 25 percent of their fleets (269) and other mobile equipment even though they did not meet minimum utilization standards. Despite retaining underutilized vehicles, LANL actually increased its inventory of other motorized equipment (small motorized equipment not suitable for use on public roadways).

To be considered fully utilized at LANL, a vehicle must travel an average of 205 miles per month or make 6 trips per working day. According to documents provided by LANL officials, a utilization rate of less than 93 percent, meaning that less than 93 percent of fleet vehicles meet these utilization standards, is considered “unsatisfactory.” During FYs 2009 through 2011, LANL’s utilization rate was between 75 and 77 percent. For example, in FY 2011, LANL had a utilization rate of 76 percent meaning that 269 of 1,115 vehicles, or approximately 24 percent, were retained even though those vehicles did not meet the local utilization objectives.

LANL submitted written justification for retaining only 35 of the 269 underutilized vehicles. However, some of the justifications were very vague and did not sufficiently explain why the user needed to retain the vehicles instead of downsizing their fleet. One justification for retaining two underutilized vehicles stated, “because of the amount of employees and locations of employees, they would like to keep both vehicles. The plan is to switch them every 6 months to make sure we put enough mileage on both vehicles.” When addressing underutilized vehicles, the DOE IG noted the emphasis was often on increasing utilization as opposed to downsizing the fleet and, therefore, reducing costs. In regard to eight other underutilized vehicles, the justification stated, “all managers have devised a plan to increase the utilization of their vehicles and do not plan to turn any in at this time.”

Managing a fleet of vehicles is not rocket science. Hopefully this wasted money will be reimbursed by the operating contractor.

 

The Lab’s New, $400 million, Plutonium Laboratory Springs Its First Leak

The Lab’s New, $400 million, Plutonium Laboratory Springs Its First Leak

On January 22, 2013 representatives of the Los Alamos National Laboratory discovered the presence of a diesel spill from an above ground storage tank system at the LANL Technical Area 55. The spill was from the new Radiological Laboratory Utilities Office Building’s (RLUOB’s) 12,000-gallon emergency generator diesel storage tank. The RLUOB is the recently completed first phase of the CMRR project. The main phase of the project, the CMRR Nuclear Facility (estimated at #6 billion), has been deferred for at least 5 years and will probably next be proposed next as a smaller project, if at all.

From the reports, it is unclear how long the sump pump union had been leaking before the spill was noticed. A leak detector alarm first went off in November. The Lab estimates that 350 gallons overflowed out a sump and spilled onto the ground, and workers have removed 5 cubic yards of contaminated soil. LANL and the State Environment Department Petroleum Storage TOppie greenank Bureau are working to figure out if more soil needs to be removed.

Read the report there.

GOVERNMENT MEMO SLAMS BECHTEL FOR MALFEASANCE, SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE

This is from our friends at Hanford Challenge (www.hanfordchallenge.org). Bechtel is the major operator of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Press Release
Immediate Release
For more information contact: Tom Carpenter, 206-419-5829 tomc@hanfordchallenge.org
August 28, 2012

GOVERNMENT MEMO SLAMS BECHTEL FOR MALFEASANCE, SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE

Memo Urges DOE to Remove Bechtel as the Design Authority, Warning Bechtel “is not competent to complete their role”

Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge today released a high-ranking Director’s memorandum that urges termination of the key duties of government contractor, Bechtel National, Inc. (“Bechtel”; “BNI”). A litany of charges question whether Bechtel should continue its role at the Hanford nuclear site, including a long history of incompetence, misleading the government, overcharging, and unsafe designs.

The memo states, “[t]he number and significance of these issues indicate that Bechtel National Inc. is not competent to complete their role as the Design Authority for the WTP [Waste Treatment Plant], and it is questionable that BNI can provide a contract-compliant design as Design Agent.”

The memo continues, noting that “[t]he behavior and performance of Bechtel Engineering places unnecessarily high risk that the WTP design will not be effectively completed. . .”

The August 23, 2012 memo was prepared by the Department of Energy’s WTP Engineering Division Director who oversees the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. It is titled “Summary of Actions and Design Outcomes that Erode Confidence in the ability of Bechtel National Inc. to complete their assigned role as Design Authority for the WTP,” it includes a 19- page attachment, and it is addressed to the Hanford Site Manager. The memo begins:
“This memorandum documents 34 instances and technical issues in which Bechtel National Inc., acting as Design Authority for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) has provided design solutions and technical advice to the Department of Energy which either:
• was determined to be factually incorrect,
• provided a design solution that was not technically defensible, technically viable, or was technically flawed considering identified requirements,
• provided a design solution that was not safe for the WTP operators, or designs that did not comply with the safety basis,
• provided a design solution that represented higher River Protection Project life cycle operating costs compared to other alternatives,
• provided a design solution that was difficult and costly to verify considering other alternatives. thereby increasing WTP completion costs and extending the WTP completion schedule,
• provided a design that was new and unique and does not clearly provide benefits compared to existing technologies and which required special qualification testing,
• provided an installed equipment system that did not meet safety requirements or was not adequately inspected following installation even when defects became known, or
• did not represent best value to the Government in terms of design costs, operating costs or completion schedule.”
The Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is one of the world’s largest and most expensive environmental remediation projects. The current plant is the fourth attempt to build a treatment facility to convert radioactive waste into glass at Hanford, it is a decade behind schedule and with a price tag of approximately at $13 billion, it is at least 250% over budget. The Department of Energy (“DOE”) recently suspended much of the project’s design and construction activities, pending resolution of outstanding safety and technical concerns.
The memo further states, “DOE Engineering Staff have uncovered findings at a nearly constant rate since 2008. The rate of identification is constant, indicating systemic problems in the WTP design process and in BNI’s role as Design Authority. The number and rate of problems identified is indicative that issues are not being resolved.”
Hanford Challenge Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, posits: “the leaked memo puts the Waste Treatment Plant’s woes into sharp relief. This memo details exhaustive and disturbing evidence of why Bechtel should be terminated from this project and subject to an independent investigation. We already knew of Bechtel’s record of suppressing its own engineers’ concerns and retaliating against whistleblowers, and now we see evidence that exhibits a shocking and inexcusable lack of attention to safety for both workers and the public.”
The Engineering Director’s memo recommends, “the role of the WTP Design Authority should be immediately removed from BNI. The DOE should evaluate and select a preferred option to establish an Independent Design Authority for the WTP that will represent the interests of the DOE and the DOE operator.”
+++++++++++++++++++
DOE Memo can be found at www.hanfordchallenge.org

Two Upcoming Events

Two upcoming events

Sunday Mornings @ The Travel Bug
April 22, Sunday, 11 am
839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director Of Nuclear Watch New Mexico
in Conversation with Michelle Victoria – NukeFreeNow on the work Jay has
done over the last 22 years on nuclear safety and what Michelle is planning
for the NukeFreeNow.
http://www.journeysantafe.com/travelbug.php
Travel Bug is an independent travel specialty store in Santa Fe, NM,
839 Paseo de Peralta 505-474-1457

And

CMRR Public Meeting
Wednesday, April 25 from 6:30 – 8:30
Fuller Lodge, Los Alamos

The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMMR) Project is the
Lab’s $6 billion dream facility that would enable expanded production
capabilities for plutonium nuclear weapons components. The Obama
Administration has recently proposed deferring the project for 5 years,
which will likely lead to its termination.

This will be the 13th semi-annual public meeting required as part of a 2005
settlement between DOE/LANL and an network of community groups:
• Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
• Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group
• Loretto Community
• New Mexico Environmental Law Center
• Nuclear Watch New Mexico
• Peace Action New Mexico
• Tewa Women United

You are invited to come and be inspired as LANL CMRR project personnel give
updates on the project while our network of community groups give updates of
our concerns.

Love and Loss in the Jemez

We’re lucky in that it appears Los Alamos Lab has dodged the bullet with respect to the Las Conchas Fire, but I do want to say something about 100,000 acres of some of the most beautiful land in New Mexico burning up in the Jemez Mountains. I know it fairly well.

Back in the early 1980’s I would take my kids out on a full moon night in the winter after it snowed on Highway 4 near the Valle Grande and pull them on an upside down car hood chained to my pickup (not recommended, but they loved it). I use to rock climb a lot at the Las Conchas Canyon on the east fork of the Jemez River (near where the fire broke out), and down at the southern end of the fire at Cochiti Mesa and Eagle Canyon (the erosion in Eagle Canyon after the 1996 Dome Fire was shocking, a harbinger of what is to come with this fire). I remember taking my kids to the beautiful Santa Clara Canyon to the north, which the fire is now devastating (my heartfelt condolences to the Pueblo). My parents took photos of me and my two brothers when we were small in the late 1950’s sitting in a Bandelier National Monument “cavate” (a hole in the canyon volcanic tuff further carved out by the Anasazi to live in), posing as the three little monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

As an adult I’ve been back country many times in Bandelier (now half burned), where on a map it looks like you walk say 5 miles but it will actually be eight by the time you climb up and down canyons. I know of a ponderosa pine in the Jemez where a buddy bigger than me (and I’m six feet) and I could not touch our fingers together while hugging its girth. I’m a tree hugger, but I also had chain saw thinning contracts all over the Jemez, including one on the south rim of the Frijoles Canyon above Bandelier (where thinning is sorely needed). I would occasionally run across unexcavated Anasazi pueblos and walls.

I’ve seen acres of trees in the Jemez covered with monarch butterflies during their migration to Mexico.

All this burned area is beautiful, beautiful country – beautiful forests, hoodoo rocks, clear streams, elk, bear, deer, eagles, hawks, peregrine falcons, ponderosa, pinon, alligator juniper in the south, blue spruce up high, New Mexico turquoise skies, deep snows in winter (in a good year) and hot springs.  These beautiful Jemez Mountains (not really peaks, but the more you know this land the more it grows on you). Are typically wetter than most of New Mexico, but this year so dry, and burning.

I pray that the trees, animals and the rains come back. But we humans must do our part, in the near term taking preventative measures against what could be devastating erosion now that the trees and grasses are gone. We need better forest management practices that allow fire to periodically sweep the forests (ponderosa pine evolved to adapt to and benefit from these low intensity fires), instead of suppressing them to the point where catastrophic crown fires break out. Longer term we need to begin to grapple effectively with global climate change, otherwise we may never get our Jemez forests back.

And we should comprehensively clean up Los Alamos Lab, because while it dodged the bullet this time, it may not the next time.

Beautiful, beautiful Jemez land, much of it gone – I love it and now I’m deeply missing it.

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico

 

Still Time to Comment on LANL’s Burning Desire for Expanded Weapons Production

Ironically today (June 28) is the deadline for public comment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for concerned citizens to comment on a proposed ~$5 billion facility at the Los Alamos Lab ponderously called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project- Nuclear Facility. In short, it is a huge new plutonium facility that will provide materials characterization and analytical chemistry in direct support of production of the atomic cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons, commonly called the plutonium pits. The Nuclear Facility will be the keystone to an expanded complex at LANL’s Technical Area-55 that will quadruple production capacity from 20 to 80 pits per year.

I say ironically because of the fire that is now threatening the Lab. We need to begin questioning whether expanded nuclear weapons production at Los Alamos is feasible in a possibly long-term drought and climate warming punctuated with catastrophic forest fires. More broadly, as we face increasing budget and resource constraints, we need to decide whether our money and water go into expanded nuclear weapons production, or do they go into repairing schools and infrastructure for the common good of society?

 

The Risk to Waste Stored at Area G

We pride ourselves here at Nuclear Watch New Mexico on trying to stick to the facts as we best we know them and not being alarmist. That said, the Las Conchas Fire that has now crossed the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) southwestern boundary is a real threat. For starters is the mind-blowing fact that in just 30 hours this fire has grown bigger than the notorious 2000 Cerro Grande Fire which burned ~48,000 acres (~5,000 acres within Lab boundaries), and traveled in a beeline 12 miles to get to the Lab. With forecasted days of strong winds and gusts and high temperatures it’s hard to say where this fire might go and what it might do. Pray for rain.

We are not so concerned about the hardened facilities at the Lab constructed of concrete and cleared of combustible materials (i.e., trees and brush) around their perimeters. We doubt that there would be any breech to their containment that would let contaminants escape (with one caveat below). But we do have concerns. One is the fact that over 6 decades the Lab has blown up a lot of uranium and depleted uranium in dynamic high explosives experiments in the general area in front of the fire. We don’t know to what extent the shrapnel or debris has been cleaned up and could possibly be aerosolized.

Another concern, given both the velocity and ferocity of the Las Conchas Fire, is whether any Lab facilities loose their power and back up generators failed to work for whatever reason. In that case containment systems could fail with unknown safety implications.

LANL TA-54 Material Disposal Area G
Domes at LANL's TA-54 Material Disposal Area G

But our biggest concern is whether the fire could reach the fabric buildings (essentially very large tents) at Technical Area-54’s Area G that store some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-contaminated wastes from nuclear weapons research and production. We recommend that the public use satellite-based fire detection data and fire intelligence information published by the US Forest Service to monitor the situation (see related post for instructions on how use it). From that we can “see” that the leading edge of the fire is a little more than three miles from Area G.

The good news is that the fire should slow down if and when it heads toward Area G because it will have to leave the mostly ponderosa forest into pinon and juniper country (which doesn’t crown fire like ponderosa). Also, the Lab has cleared trees and vegetation around Area G, and the fire would have to jump some major canyons just to get there.

So here’s hoping the fire doesn’t get anywhere close to Area G. But watch out if it does. The public should be concerned and really pay close attention. It might be a good time to take a road trip somewhere away from being downwind. This is one fire that cannot be underestimated.

 

The Corporate Folly of Nuclear Power

Meltdowns at the reactors are not the biggest threat, as horrific as they are. Instead the biggest threat is the spent fuel rod pools if they lose circulating water.

The reactors at Fukushima were designed by US General Electric, whose corporate slogan is “bringing good things to life.” The Fukushima reactors had their back up diesel generators at ground level, hence a few feet above sea level, and their spent fuel pools on the “top deck” of the reactor buildings, the equivalent of 3-4 stories up. When the earthquake knocked out the electric power required to circulate absolutely essential liquid coolant the diesel generators kicked in as designed. So far so good.

But then the diesel generators were wiped out 55 minutes later by the tsunami (duh!, the Fukushima nuclear power complex is right on the coast – didn’t the “experts” think of that?). The resulting lack of circulating water has precipitated this crisis that is now on the verge of being an unprecedented catastrophe. A spent fuel rod fire can release far more radioactivity than Chernobyl (see below).

The pathetic irony is that to prevent this catastrophe Tokyo Electric MUST get circulating water UP to the spent fuel rod pools because the diesel generators were swamped DOWN below. The placement of the generators and the waste pools relative to each other was exactly and tragically back *sswards. Do not trust “EXPERTS!,” meaning that citizen activism is always required. IT IS A MUST!

I shun hysteria, but this situation is way serious, it could really get out of control. Pray for the Japanese people, already the victims of history’s only two (so far) atomic attacks. If the fuel rods go count this as the 3rd attack, albeit self-inflicted. Nuclear operations require perfect human operation 24/7/eternity (i.e., as long as we run them). Humans are fallible, and nature can shrug us off like flies.

Get rid of nukes, period (except medicine). It takes only once on the balance sheet to wipe out any potential benefits, and indebt seven future generations environmentally, economically, politically and genetically all at the same time. It’s NOT worth it.

To end on a cheery note (not!): “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” Shakespeare’s King Lear, 4. 1. The gods may do what they want, but don’t let international corporate nuclear power interests kill us. Fight back!

Mother Earth Gives Nuclear Renaissance a Black Eye

Our hearts and prayers go out go out to the people of Japan.

As Japan is faced with the possibility of nuclear meltdowns in five earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors, the U.S. and other countries are re-considering nuclear plans. While it is unlikely that radiation that has leaked or will leak from the Japanese reactor accidents will reach the United States.  This could change if there is an explosion and/or fire affecting one or more of the reactor cores or spent fuel pools. The accident at Chernobyl (25th anniversary is April 26th) affected the entire Northern Hemisphere because of a massive explosion in the core, and an out-of-control fire that burned for days.  This same scenario is unlikely in Japan. But reactors have been damaged beyond repair and old questions are being raised again.

In the U.S., Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts have made statements – “But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put, the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line,” Lieberman stated. “Any plant that is being considered for a seismically vulnerable area in the United States should be reconsidered right now,” Markey said, adding that the Japanese earthquake registering 8.9 in magnitude was “a hundred times greater in intensity” than the level that U.S. plants are built to withstand.

Countries in Europe are pausing to re-consider, also. Japan’s nuclear emergency Monday prompted Germany and Switzerland to halt nuclear programmes as anxious Europe scrambled to review cross-border safety while safeguarding the powerful industry. More

Why were the Fukushima reactors at sea level? Japan’s nuclear accident exposes the dilemma of whether to build power plants on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are unreliable, a problem likely to be aggravated by climate change, experts say. (More from Reuters)

What happened at the Fukushima plant? “Three of its six reactors were in operation when the earthquake hit. The reactors — which went into service between 1970 and 1979 — are designed to shut down automatically when a quake strikes, and emergency diesel generators began the task of pumping water around the reactors to cool them down. However, these stopped about an hour later. The failure of the back-up generators has been blamed on tsunami flooding by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).” More –

This event shows how Mother Earth can have her way with the best-made plans. The power company said that that 7.9 was the highest magnitude for which they tested the safety for their No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants in Fukushima. The original magnitude was estimated to be 8.9, which would have been 10 ten times the magnitude 7.9 that the structures were tested for. The Japan Meteorological Agency up-rated Friday’s earthquake to 9.0 on the Richter scale, meaning that it was twice as powerful as initially thought. More

Here at home, we have no commercial reactors in New Mexico, but there are national nuclear weapons facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, which currently has plans for a $5 billion addition to the Lab’s plutonium weapons production complex. This addition, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) is being designed to survive a 7.0 magnitude earthquake without releasing plutonium.  Much of the estimated cost is to seismically qualify the CMRR-NF to be built on the fault-ridden Pajarito Plateau. The plans call for a storage vault with the capacity of six metric tons of radioactive materials, such as plutonium.

Now would be a good time to re-consider any plans that make us feel invincible.

 

LANL Gestures to Gas Shortage

In response to statewide natural gas outages across New Mexico, LANL closed February 4th. The gesture may reflect that LANL gas use is roughly the equivalent[1] of 22,310 people, nearly the same as the 25,000 people that media reports are without recent service.

Although shutting down LANL would almost make up for the shortage in gas affecting northern New Mexico, it is not quite that equitable. LANL and the Los Alamos town site have their own dedicated gas pipeline coming from the NW San Juan Basin, in New Mexico. Whereas Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Espanola, Taos etc are fed natural gas from the Permian Basin gas fields in Texas. Therefore it is questionable that curtailing operations (which cost taxpayers ~$6 million/per day) at LANL helps to relieve gas supplies in northern New Mexican communities.

It also begs the question of why aren’t Northern New Mexico gas supplies coming from the plentiful San Juan basin, one of the largest reserves in the nation, which is geographically closer? Espanola and Taos are reportedly suffering in recent subzero temperatures because they are at the “end of the line” of gas coming from Texas. But the privileged Lab and Los Alamos town site would not be subject to the same short supply.


[1] According to the 2006 LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement the Lab uses an average of 37.4 million cubic meters of natural gas annually, or 1.32 billion cubic feet (1 cubic meter = 35.31 cubic feet). Wikipedia says Americans use 18.4 trillion cubic feet per year. U.S. population is around 311 million people, hence per person use = 59,164 cubic ft/yr. Population of Espanola = ~10,000, hence uses ~ 591,640,000 cubic ft/yr. Population of Taos = 5,550, hence uses ~ 328,360,200 cubic ft/yr. Therefore, LANL uses twice as natural gas as Espanola, 4 times as much as Taos. TA-55 (site of plutonium pit production) alone uses 45 million cubic ft per year.

NNSA Will Not be “Burdened” by Costs for Clean-Up at New KCP

I found what I think is an interesting quote concerning the new KCP  in NNSA’s FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (which is the plan that NNSA showboats to Congress).

“Finally, because the new facility [KCP] will be leased, there will be no capital investment and NNSA will not be burdened by costs for legacy disposition should the mission ever be discontinued.”   NNSA FY11 SSMP Annex D, p. 44,

This sounds to me like the federal government is walking away from any future obligation to clean up any contamination at the new Kansas City Plant. I think that interesting given how there is no real federal commitment to clean up the old plant which is badly contaminated.

The rest of NNSA’s FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (summary and Annex A) can be viewed.
Annex B and C are classified.

If NNSA won’t be burdened for clean-up, who will?

Once Again – It’ll Cost More and Take Longer

Decades of nuclear materials production at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site in South Carolina have left 37 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste in 49 underground storage tanks. This is just a small part of DOE’s Cold War cleanup legacy that currently has an estimate of $360+ billion to remediate across the country. This estimate keeps going up.

The United States Government Accountability Office released a September 2010 report about persistent concerns with efforts to cleanup these underground radioactive waste tanks. Like so many GAO reports before, the findings are that it will cost more and take longer:

Emptying, cleaning, and permanently closing the 22 underground liquid radioactive waste tanks at the Savannah River Site is likely to cost significantly more and take longer than estimated in the December 2008 contract between DOE and Savannah River Remediation, LLC (SRR). Originally estimated to cost $3.2 billion, SRR notified DOE in June 2010 that the total cost to close the 22 tanks had increased by more than $1.4 billion or 44 percent. Much of this increase is because DOE’s cost estimate in the September 2007 request for proposals that formed the basis of the December 2008 contract between DOE and SRR was not accurate or comprehensive.

Legacy cleanup at Los Alamos is currently estimated by the Lab to be around $2-3 billion.  This is required to be complete by 2015 by a consent Order agreement with the State of NM.  This estimate includes the Lab’s version of cleanup, which is leaving most the waste in the ground perched above our aquifer. Actually removing the waste is estimated at $20 billion. The final decision on what type of cleanup will be made by the State, which would like to have you the public’s input.

Cleanup at Los Alamos is one project that needs to cost more.

A Tale of Two Cross-Sections

At the recent LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearings, the public was presented with two cross-sections of the current understanding of the geology under the Lab’s largest nuclear waste disposal area, Tech Area 54. These cross sections are important because the NM Environment Department, with public input, will soon have to decide the final disposition of the over 800,000 cubic yards of radioactive and hazardous waste buried there. The options range from leaving the waste in place with some sort of cover to exhuming the waste.

The geology under the site is very complicated and includes layers of lava flows, ash falls, and old stream beds. The waste is buried in unlined pits, shafts and trenches and is perched 800 – 1000 feet above our sole-source aquifer. Some of the more soluble contaminants, such as tritium, perchlorate, explosives, and chromium have already made their way to the aquifer from other parts of the Lab. The cross-sections are needed to understand the contaminant pathways from the dumps to the aquifer.

First, the Lab’s version – (click on image for larger picture)

The Lab's TA-54 Cross-Section Version

The MDAs, or Material Disposal Areas or dumps, are across the top. MDA G is the largest by far. The PM-#s are wells where drinking water is drawn. The R-#s are characterization and contaminant sampling wells. The elevation is on each side. The top of the regional aquifer is the horizontal blue line near 5800′. There are some perched aquifers shown, too.  The one question is a new structure that the Lab is calling a “dike” discovered by well R-22.

The NM Environment Department’s Version – (click on image for larger picture)

NMED's TA-54 Cross-Section

The Environment Department’s version gives a different interpretation of the fractures that could be pathways to the aquifer. It has many question marks, including the “vent” and the perched aquifers.

We appreciate the two versions. With so many unknowns, with so much waste, and with such a potential negative impact to our aquifer, the most protective course would be to remove the waste.

TIME TO TAKE SENATOR BINGAMAN TO TASK!

When Jeff Bingaman replaced Pete Domenici as New Mexico’s senior Senator, environmentalists were pleased. But is Bingaman the new Domenici? Is he stepping into Pete’s radioactive shoes as chief procurer of pork for nuclear contractors, the environment be damned?
Consider this: Bingaman’s so-called “Clean Energy” legislation sticks taxpayers with a huge financial burden to cover unlimited loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants– yet another bailout for fat-cats who’ve already bankrupted us, just like the banks, insurance execs and military contractors. No nuclear plant has ever been built on schedule or within budget. And with no remotely viable solution to the nasty spent-fuel-rod problem, all eyes will be on NM’s sadly flawed WIPP repository as a place to stick the waste out of sight and out of mind. New Mexicans were promised that power-plant waste would never come to WIPP, but with Yucca Mountain in Nevada getting the red light, how long can we trust in that long-ago promise?
Now how about the weapons side of the nuclear equation? Talking out of both sides of his mouth like a true US Senator, Bingaman has weakly endorsed mission diversification at the national weapons Labs, then backed the fat increases for bomb facilities and new designs in Obama’s ghastly proposed federal budget for 2011. Bingaman lamely says this tragic misuse of tax dollars is “good for our state.” Hey, Jeff! If something is bad for the nation and bad for the world, it is not good for our state. And those new radioactive and chemical wastes from cranking out H-bombs will all become a permanent feature here in New Mexico. Thanks for drowning us in nuclear waste from all sides, Senator!!! You’re dooming us to an abusive relationship with a couple of dead-end industries whose profits end up elsewhere, when we could be creating a much brighter and cleaner future for our lovely state. Nuclear waste is permanent. The handful of jobs we get out of it are temporary–the way a Senate seat should be.
Friends, if this makes you as mad as it makes me, give Bingaman a trip to the woodshed. His toll-free NM # is 800-443-8658 and his DC office is 202-224-5521.

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