Category: Nuclear Waste
THE FUTURE OF WIPP: PLUTONIUM BOMB WASTE
NNSA’s mission is plutonium pit production…for the next 30 years and beyond.
NNSA HAS STATED CLEARLY: “WIPP IS ESSENTIAL FOR PIT PRODUCTION UNTIL 2080.”
As you can see clearly in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s chart above, NNSA is getting ready to dump radioactive wastes from plutonium pit production at WIPP for the next 30 years.
Waste from expanded pit production will soon far outweigh cleanup wastes.
Despite being located in New Mexico, out-of-state sites have been given priority over radioactive wastes from Los Alamos Lab.
ALL FUTURE PIT PRODUCTION is for speculative new designs that can’t be tested because of the international testing moratorium, thereby perhaps eroding confifidence in the stockpile. Or, alternatively, these new designs could push the U.S. into resuming testing, which would have severe proliferation consequences.
Pit production will add an estimated 57,550 cubic meters of radioactive plutonium wastes over 50 years, more than half of WIPP’s projected future capacity. The National Academy of Sciences has already concluded that WIPP doesn’t have sufficient capacity for all of DOE’s planned radioactive wastes.
“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).
LANL Plans to Address Possibly Exploding Drums Shipped to Texas in 2014
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.
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.
Cleanup Funding Request at Los Alamos Would Be Needed Increase
DOE Environmental Management released the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Congressional Budget Request and asked for a $107.5 million increase over last year for legacy cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The FY22 EM funding request for cleanup at LANL totaled $333.5 million, which was a record request for cleanup at the Lab.
The Budget Request gives lifecycle costs. LANL has spent $3.8 billion on cleanup from 1997 to 2020. The high estimate is $4.6 billion for FY21 to FY90. This gives a total lifecycle cost of $8.4 billion from 1997 through 2090. The assumption included with these estimates is that most of the waste will remain buried at LANL. This is the first time DOE has mentioned legacy cleanup lasting until 2090. Last year the completion date was given as 2036.
Is legacy cleanup completion being pushed back to prioritize pit production? If DOE starts spending more on cleanup like this year in the future, shouldn’t cleanup take less time? The numbers work out to DOE only spending an average of $50 million between now and 2090, so DOE must not have plans to spend $330 million annually through 2090.
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.
Virtual Advocacy for “Safety, Security, and Savings” at ANA DC Days:
May 26, 2021
Nuclear Watch New Mexico virtually visited Washington, DC this month to participate in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s “DC Days,” an annual event where organizations from across the nation, whose members are directly affected by nuclear weapons production and the incidental health and environmental consequences, make their voice heard to federal policy makers.
Nuclear Watch NM was focused on opposing new plutonium pit production at Savannah River Site and Los Alamos, pushing for safe and secure toxic cleanup and prioritizing public health while saving billions by terminating ill-conceived new nuclear weapons programs. View more information on these issues in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s new report, “Safety, Security, and Savings,” which describes in detail the foundation of our 2021 advocacy. The report includes a series of fact sheets and recommendations covering new warheads, bomb plants, nuclear waste, cleanup, and more.
Leave Nuclear to the Sun: Solar Energy & Renewables are the Source of the Future
The nuclear energy industry has had a fraught year. Well…I mean, haven’t we all…But still, it’s pleasantly surprising to see such a looming giant begin to wither and fall. The nuclear power industry is failing, as evidenced not only by the alarming reports of fraud, corruption, and other fiascos that occurred at multiple nuclear facilities over the course of 2020, but also by the numbers that prove renewables are simply better for ALL of our futures – not just the nuclear business moguls our taxpayer dollars so generously continue to bail out.
Solar to be No. 1 in US for new 2021 electricity generating capacity
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.
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
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.
LANL Budget Increased by Nearly $1 Billion to Accelerate Work As Production Site for Nuclear Weapons Designs by Livermore Lab Cleanup Cut by 46%
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.
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.
Los Alamos Lab Cleanup Cut By 46%, Nuclear Weapons “Production Modernization” Jumps 57%
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 12, 2020
Contact: Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, jay[at]nukewatch.org
Santa Fe, NM – The Trump Administration has released more budget information for fiscal year 2021 for the Department of Energy (DOE). * It states that proposed cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab is “Consistent with the priorities established with the New Mexico Environment Department in the 2016 Consent Order…” It then goes on to cut LANL cleanup by $100 million from $220 million in FY 2020 to $120 million requested for FY 2021. (Pages 52 and 55)
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.
Help Stop The New Strategic Plan That Would Double WIPP’s Lifespan
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.
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.
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).
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.
The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup Backgrounder
The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup
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
Faulty Radioactive Liquid Waste Valves Raise Crucial Plutonium Pit Production and Safety Board Issues
There should be no expanded pit production until nuclear safety is fully assured by an independent, unrestricted Safety Board, and our congressional delegation should be the first to demand that.
Forum on June 14 in Aiken, SC on Expanded Production of Plutonium “Pits” for Nuclear Weapons
Forum on June 14 in Aiken, SC on Expanded Production of Plutonium “Pits” – for Nuclear Weapons – to Give Voice to Concerns in Face of DOE’s Failure to Engage and Inform the Public about the Risky Proposal
Columbia, SC– The controversial proposal by the U.S. Department of Energy to expand production of plutonium “pits”- the core of all nuclear weapons – will be the subject of a public forum in Aiken, South Carolina on Friday, June 14, 2019. The event is free and open to all members of the public.
In response to DOE’s lack of public engagement about the proposal and its potential environmental and health impacts, three public interest groups that work on DOE and nuclear weapons issues have taken the initiative on the matter. The questionable proposal by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is to expand pit production at the Savannah River Site into the shuttered MOX plant – a totally new and unproven mission for SRS – and at the Los Alamos National Lab to 80 or more pits per year. Such pit production for new and “refurbished” nuclear weapons may help stimulate a new nuclear arms race. The vague proposal is far from finalized and is unauthorized and unfunded by Congress.
Federal nuclear regulatory panel rejects all objections to proposed New Mexico nuclear dump
The Holtec U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) nuclear regulatory panel has spoken. None of the contentions by any of the intervenors was admitted. Not even a pretense of allowing public participation. No one — Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, Fasken, AFES, transportation intervenors — was allowed any contentions.
A Tale of Two Consent Orders and What Is Needed
On March 1, 2005, after arduous negotiations and threats of litigation, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Department of Energy (DOE), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) entered into a Consent Order specifying the schedule for investigation and cleanup of the Lab’s hundreds of contaminated sites. This Consent Order (CO) was LANL’s agreement to fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy wastes, which NMED began to enforce.
GAO – Environmental Liability Continues to Grow, and Significant Management Challenges Remain for Cleanup Efforts
DOE Environmental Management’s (EM’s) environmental liability grew by $214 billion in fiscal years 2011 through 2018, even though EM spent over $48 billion on cleanup.
GAO found that this liability may continue to grow for several reasons:
•EM’s environmental liability does not include the costs of all future cleanup responsibilities. For example, as of April 2018, DOE and its contractor had not negotiated a cost for completing a large waste treatment facility, called the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, at the Hanford site.