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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COURT VACATES LEGAL AUTHORITY FOR NUCLEAR BOMB PLANT CONSTRUCTION IN OAK RIDGE, TENNESSEE

Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Knoxville, TN – Judge Pamela Reeves, Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, declared the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration in violation of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) and vacated key decisions regarding NNSA’s enriched uranium operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

“With this ruling,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, “the NNSA no longer has any legal authority to continue construction of the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant.”

Reeves’ 104-page ruling declares “the 2016 Supplement Analysis, the 2016 Amended Record of Decision, the 2018 Supplement Analysis…are vacated.” The 2016 Amended Record of Decision was prepared by the NNSA to “reflect its decision to implement a revised approach for meeting enriched uranium requirements by upgrading existing EU processing buildings and constructing a new Uranium Processing Facility.”

The 2016 A-ROD was the first formal statement of NNSA’s plan to separate its single-structure “big box” UPF design into multiple buildings and to continue using two out-of-compliance facilities for enriched uranium operations for at least twenty more years.

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Watchdogs Issue Second Demand for Nation-Wide Environmental Review of Expanded Plutonium Pit Production

Today, lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment sent a second letter to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry and Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the head of the semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The letter demands a nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement for the agencies’ proposed expanded production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons. Invoking the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the letter concludes:

“…we advise the agencies that timely compliance with NEPA is the best means for the agencies to keep these [expanded plutonium pit production] projects on track, as a failure to rigorously comply with NEPA may necessitate litigation, including if necessary motions for injunctive relief, all of which would likely increase the expense of DOE’s and NNSA’s proposed actions and extend their timelines further. Accordingly, we strongly encourage DOE and NNSA to come into compliance with NEPA by preparing a new or supplemental PEIS for its proposals regarding plutonium pit production, and to do so immediately. If the agencies continue on their current trajectory, we will have no choice but to evaluate all our options to enforce compliance with federal environmental laws.”

As background, on May 10, 2018, the Departments of Defense and Energy jointly announced that plutonium pit production would be expanded from the currently sanctioned level of 20 pits per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico to at least 30 pits per year, plus redundant production of at least 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, which would be a completely new mission there.

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The U.S. should carefully and prudently maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile

Defense News reports that “Nuclear gravity bomb and warhead upgrades face new delays” because of new components used in so-called Life Extension Programs (LEPs) to prolong the service lives of existing nuclear weapons. These programs also give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities. For example, see How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze

The point of this blog is to raise the question of whether these Life Extension Programs really enhance U.S. national security while maintaining the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, perhaps the crux issue is prudent and conservative maintenance of the stockpile versus increasingly aggressive LEPs.

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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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NNSA’s pet ‘Interoperable Warhead’ is DEAD

W78 warheads
U.S. W78 warheads inside MK12A re-entry vehicles on a LGM-30 Minuteman III bus next to the shroud.

The study in question came about because Marylia Kelley, of Tri-Valley CARES, and NukeWatch’s Director, Jay Coghlan, suggested to congressional staff that it be done. But they wanted to ask independent scientists (the JASONs) to do it – instead just NNSA did it. And NNSA dodged the central congressional requirement to compare the benefits and costs of the Interoperable Warhead  vs a “conventional” life extension program for the Air Force’s W78 ICBM warhead. NNSA simply said a conventional life extension program would not meet military requirements and therefore summarily dismissed it (no further explanation). Marylia and Jay had the opportunity to discuss this with the relevant congressional staffer who said this ain’t over.

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