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.
A new report illustrates why planned expanded plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos Lab has a high probability of failure.
Posted By Scott Kovac
Santa Fe, NM – Today the Trump Administration released more budget details for the Department of Energy and its semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons programs for fiscal year 2020. This same fiscal year will also mark the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Global Nuclear Weapons Threats Are Rising
More than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, all eight established nuclear weapons powers are “modernizing” their stockpiles. Talks have broken down with North Korea, the new nuclear weapons power. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan narrowly averted war last month. Russian President Vladmir Putin made new nuclear threats in response to Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This could lead to hair-trigger missile emplacements in the heart of Europe and block extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia. If so, the world will be without any nuclear arms control at all for the first time since 1972.
Posted by Scott Kovac – Sandia National Laboratories, has one of the Department Of Energy’s (DOE’s) largest annual budgets and the fiscal year 2020 (FY20) Congressional Budget Request shows continued military priorities for the Lab. There are two components of Sandia’s annual budget – work for DOE (with a $2.4 billion request for FY20) and ‘Work For Others’ (with an annual request of $1.2 billion). Sandia’s work for DOE centers around nuclear weapons engineering. ‘Work for Others’ (WFO) is work done for federal agencies other than the DOE and for non-federal entities. An annual total budget of $3.6 billion puts Sandia’s budget second only behind Washington Headquarters among DOE sites.
By Scott Kovac Los Alamos National Laboratory is first and foremost a nuclear weapons laboratory. The Department of Energy’s annual Congressional Budget Request for fiscal year 2020 shows that 71% of the Lab’s budget will go to nuclear weapons work if Mr. Trump has his way. While cleanup of Cold War wastes would be 7%. And electrical transmission research along with renewable energy and energy efficiency research were slashed to a mere 0.36% of the request for the Lab. As the country goes deeper in debt, we must let go of the old Cold War mentality and invest in our future.
BY SOPHIA STROUD | – NukeWatch NM Web Designer
Monday 3/18 Ploughshares Fund hosted an in-depth discussion about the momentum building for a new, saner nuclear policy and how California can lead the way to a safer, more secure world.
“The more that I dug into the history of nuclear weapons and the legacy that system has today, the more I realized that all the issues I cared about, from gender-based violence, to environmental justice, to climate change, to human rights, to money in politics, is so influenced by the nuclear system. I realized that taking up this mantle now…not only would I be working on issues I’m passionate about and clearing those hurdles that the nuclear system have put up across the board for socialized institutions we care about, but also working on preventing nuclear Armageddon.”
– Yasmeen Silva, Lead organizer for Beyond the Bomb’s #NoFirstUse and other campaigns
By Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director
The White House released the top line numbers of its fiscal year 2020 Congressional budget request and, although there are some increases heading to New Mexico, they are not the increases that we’d like to see. It’s called – A Budget For a Better America, Promises Kept. Taxpayers First. but only Defense and Department of Energy (DOE) weapons contractors are going to think that anything is better. Meanwhile the rest of us taxpayers will, first and foremost, be looking at cuts to programs that affect us daily.
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.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the landmark environmental law which requires executive agencies to give the public the opportunity to formally review and comment on major federal proposals. These talking points outline the history of the Department of Energy’s NEPA compliance on its various proposals concerning the production of plutonium pits (the fissile cores of nuclear weapons). The conclusion is that DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is legally required to prepare a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) on its current plan to expand plutonium pit production.
There are at least three reasons why NNSA must complete a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement for expanded plutonium pit production:
1) Implementing regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act stipulate that “DOE shall prepare a supplemental EIS if there are substantial changes to the proposal or significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns…” 10. C.F.R. § 1021.314
2) As precedence, since 1996 there have been five programmatic environmental impact statements related to pit production and its expansion. It is legally unlikely that NNSA could implement its current plan to expand plutonium pit production without a new supplemental PEIS.
3) Now that NNSA is planning to produce more than 50 pits per year (or more than 80 pits under multiple shift operations), it is obliged by the 1998 court order to prepare a new PEIS.
CBO is out with its every two year update on the cost of nuclear weapons over the next 10 years: https://www.cbo.gov/
[Credit: Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association]
New CBO report: Nuclear weapons to cost half a trillion over the next decade
CBO projects $494 billion (in then-year dollars) in spending to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces between FY 2019 – FY 2028 ($559 billion if you attribute 100% of the costs of strategic bombers to the nuclear mission). This is a major increase of $94 billion (or about 23%) above the projection of $400 billion in the last ten-year report covering FY 2017 and FY 2026.
The report also includes an estimate of the projected cost of some of the additions in the Trump NPR (the LYD5, a new SLCM, and increased pit production), which CBO puts at $17 billion through FY 2028.
The increase from the 2017 to the 2019 reports is due to several factors, including the report captures two additional years in the late-2020s when modernization is in full swing, the costs of some of the additions from the Trump NPR, and increases in the projected costs of some programs.
Overall the report highlights the growing cost of nuclear weapons, even relative to earlier projections, and reinforces the message that the Trump plans are unnecessary and unsustainable and that less expensive alternatives are available to sustain a credible arsenal.
View Reif’s Twitter thread on the report here: https://twitter.com/KingstonAReif/
NNSA Has Taken Steps to Prepare to Restart a Program to Replace the W78 Warhead Capability
GAO-19-84: Published: Nov 30, 2018. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2018.
The National Nuclear Security Administration is preparing to restart a program to replace the W78 nuclear warhead, which is used in Air Force intercontinental ballistic missiles. The goal is to produce the first W78 replacement warhead in fiscal year 2030. Pending further study, this replacement warhead may also be used in Navy submarine launched ballistic missiles.
Santa Fe, NM – Today the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced its choice for the new management and operating contract for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
The new contractor, Triad National Security, LLC, is a limited liability company consisting of the Battelle Memorial Institute, the University of California and Texas A&M University. All three are non-profits, and it is unclear how this will affect New Mexico gross receipts taxes.
Battelle claims to be the world’s largest non-profit technology research and development organization, and manages a number of labs including the Lawrence Livermore and Idaho National Laboratories. Texas A&M was founded in 1876 as the state’s first public institution of higher learning and has the largest nuclear engineering program in the country. DOE Secretary Rick Perry is an avid A&M alumnus.
The new contract includes a five-year base time with five one-year options, for a total of 10 years if all options are exercised. The estimated value of the contract is $2.5 billion annually.
The University of California (UC) ran the Lab from its beginning in 1943 until June 2006, when Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), composed of the University of California (UC), Bechtel, AECOM and BWX Technologies, Inc., took over. That contract had a ten-year base period with ten one-year options, for a total of 20 years if all options were exercised. But LANS was terminated with nine years left of possible options. This was primarily due to LANS improperly preparing a barrel of radioactive wastes that ruptured, closing the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for nearly three years. NNSA did not clarify why it is now issuing a shorter contract.
This change in contract follows a May 10, 2018 announcement by NNSA that production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons, will be expanded to at least 30 pits per year at LANL, and an additional 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site. The Los Alamos Lab is the birthplace of nuclear weapons, and it is tying its future to increased nuclear weapons production, with the active support of the New Mexico congressional delegation. The Lab proposed, but failed to convince NNSA, to produce all 80 plutonium pits per year. LANL’s core research, testing and production programs for nuclear weapons now comprise 70% of its ~$2.5 billion annual budget, while much of the Lab’s remaining budget indirectly supports those programs.
Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, the new NNSA Administrator, testified during her confirmation hearing that expanded plutonium pit production is her number one priority. However, expanded production is NOT needed to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, no pit production for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile has been scheduled since 2011, and none is scheduled for the future. Up to 15,000 “excess” pits and another 5,000 in “strategic reserve” are already stored at DOE’s Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX. In 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century (they currently average 40 years old). A 2012 follow-on study by the Livermore Lab found that the “graceful aging of plutonium also reduces the immediate need for a modern high-capacity manufacturing facility to replace pits in the stockpile.”
Future pit production is for speculative future new designs being pushed by the nuclear weapons labs, so-called Interoperable Warheads for both land- and sub-launched missiles that the Navy does not want. Moreover, future pits will NOT be exact replicas of existing pits. This could have serious potential consequences because heavily modified plutonium pits cannot be full-scale tested, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to return to nuclear weapons testing, which would have severe international proliferation consequences.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Regardless of who runs the Lab, LANL will decrease mission diversification and increase nuclear weapons production, while holding cleanup flat at a tenth of its weapons budget. New Mexico been a nuclear weapons colony since WWII, and adding Battelle, Texas A&M, and the University of California is just more of the same. There will be little if any added benefit for New Mexico’s citizens.”
Today the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced:
To achieve DoD’s [the Defense Department] 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This two-prong approach – with at least 50 pits per year produced at Savannah River and at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos – is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking.
First, in Nuclear Watch’s view, this decision is in large part a political decision, designed to keep the congressional delegations of both New Mexico and South Carolina happy. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are adamantly against relocating plutonium pit production to South Carolina. On the other hand, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was keeping the boondoggle Mixed Oxide (MOX) program on life support, and this pit production decision may help to mollify him. This could also perhaps help assuage the State of South Carolina, which is suing the Department of Energy for failing to remove plutonium from the Savannah River Site as promised.
But as important is what is NOT in NNSA’s plutonium pit production decision:
• There is no explanation why the Department of Defense requires at least 80 pits per year, and no justification to the American taxpayer why the enormous expense of expanded production is necessary.
• NNSA avoided pointing out that expanded plutonium pit production is NOT needed to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, no production of plutonium pits for the existing stockpile has been scheduled since 2011, and none is scheduled for the future.
• NNSA did not mention that in 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century. Plutonium pits in the existing stockpile now average around 40 years old. The independent expert study did not find any end date for reliable pit lifetimes, indicating that plutonium pits could last far beyond just a century.
• NNSA did not mention that up to 15,000 “excess” pits are already stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX, with up to another 5,000 in “strategic reserve.” The agency did not explain why new production is needed given that immense inventory of already existing plutonium pits.
• Related, NNSA did not explain how to dispose of all of that plutonium, given that the MOX program is an abysmal failure. Nor is it made clear where future plutonium wastes from expanded pit production will go since operations at the troubled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are already constrained from a ruptured radioactive waste barrel, and its capacity is already overcommitted to existing radioactive wastes.
• NNSA did not make clear that expanded plutonium pit production is for a series of speculative future “Interoperable Warheads.” The first IW is meant to replace nuclear warheads for both the Air Force’s land-based and the Navy’s sub-launched ballistic missiles. The Obama Administration delayed “IW-1” because the Navy does not support it. However, the Trump Administration is restarting it, with annual funding ballooning to $448 million by 2023, and “IW-2” starting in that same year. Altogether the three planned Interoperable Warheads will cost at least $40 billion, despite the fact that the Navy doesn’t support them.
• NNSA’s expanded plutonium pit production decision did not mention that exact replicas of existing pits will NOT be produced. The agency has selected the W87 pit for the Interoperable Warhead, but its FY 2019 budget request repeatedly states that the pits will actually be “W87-like.” This could have serious potential consequences because any major modifications to plutonium pits cannot be full-scale tested, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to return to nuclear weapons testing, which would have severe international proliferation consequences.
• The State of South Carolina is already suing the Department of Energy for its failure to begin removing the many tons of plutonium at the Savannah River Site (SRS). NNSA’s pit production decision will not solve that problem, even as it will likely bring more plutonium to SRS.
• The independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has expressed strong concerns about the safety of plutonium operations at both the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) LANL and SRS, particularly regarding potential nuclear criticality incidents. NNSA did not address those safety concerns in its plutonium pit production decision.
• Politicians in both New Mexico and South Carolina trumpet how many jobs expanded plutonium pit production will create. Yet NNSA’s expanded plutonium pit production decision does not have any solid data on jobs produced. One indicator that job creation will be limited is that the environmental impact statement for a canceled $6 billion plutonium facility at LANL stated that it would not produce a single new Lab job because it would merely relocate existing jobs. Concerning SRS, it is doubtful that pit production could fully replace the jobs lost as the MOX program dies a slow death. In any event, there certainly won’t be any data on the greater job creation that cleanup and renewable energy programs would create. Funding for those programs is being cut or held flat, in part to help pay for nuclear weapons programs.
• Finally, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that major federal proposals be subject to public review and comment before a formal decision is made. NNSA’s decision does not mention its NEPA obligations at all. In 1996 plutonium pit production was capped at 20 pits per year in a nation-wide Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). NNSA failed to raise that production limit in any subsequent NEPA process, despite repeated attempts. Arguably a decision to produce 80 pits or more per year requires a new or supplemental nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement to raise the production limit, which the new dual-site decision would strongly augment. This then should be followed by whatever site-specific NEPA documents might be necessary.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “NNSA has already tried four times to expand plutonium pit production, only to be defeated by citizen opposition and its own cost overruns and incompetence. But we realize that this fifth attempt is the most serious. However, we remain confident it too will fall apart, because of its enormous financial and environmental costs and the fact that expanded plutonium pit production is simply not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production decision is really all about.”
# # #
 See 2012 Navy memo demonstrating its lack of support for the Interoperable Warhead at https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.
 For example, see Safety concerns plague key sites proposed for nuclear bomb production, Patrick Malone, Center for Public Integrity, May 2, 2108, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/05/02/safety-concerns-nuclear-bomb-manufacture-sites/572697002/
See the National Nuclear Security Administration’s brief press release below on a new facility for its Albuquerque Complex.
Nuclear weapons spending for NNSA’s Albuquerque Complex nearly doubled from $312 million in FY 2018 to $604.4 million in FY 2019. Within that, Directed Stockpile Work nearly tripled from $133.4 million in FY 2018 to $338.9 million in FY 2019. Directed Stockpile Work is the hands-on nuclear weapons work, the biggest single element of which is “Life Extension Programs” that extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons by up to 60 years, while also endowing them with new military capabilities.
The NNSA’s FY 2019 budget request justifies the new 333,000 square feet, $202 million Albuquerque Complex Project as follows:
The NNSA Albuquerque Complex provides vital services to the agency. The Albuquerque Complex houses multiple organizations that fulfill unique and essential roles within the nuclear weapons enterprise by providing programmatic, technical support, legal, security, procurement, human resources, business and administrative functions that directly support the NNSA national security mission. The proximity of the Albuquerque Complex to two NNSA national laboratories and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center on Kirtland Air Force Base makes it an ideal location for an NNSA field installation. The Albuquerque Complex has supported the DOE/NNSA from this location for over 50 years, and there are no plans to eliminate or reduce the size or function of this office in the near future. NNSA has a long-term commitment at this installation, and it will remain the primary field support office for NNSA.
In the old days the DOE Albuquerque Office pretty much ran the DOE nuclear weapons complex, until it screwed up the Rocky Flats Plant so bad that DOE HQ in Washington, DC pulled most of its power away. DOE Albuquerque Office officials were likely one of the targets of the Rocky Flats grand jury, but in 1992 those indictments were quashed and sealed by the federal judge in Colorado.
It looks like power is flowing back to NNSA’s Albuquerque Complex. As the FY 2019 budget justification states, it is ideally located near two of the nation’s three nuclear weapons labs (Los Alamos and Sandia) and next door to the Air Force’s Nuclear Weapons Center (which, for example, handles many billions of dollars in contracts for the Air Force’s new nuclear weapons-related acquisitions, such as the Long Range Standoff cruise missile and future ICBMs).
* * *
National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S Department of Energy
For Immediate Release
April 24, 2018
Contact: NNSA Public Affairs, (202) 586-7371
Albuquerque Complex Project authorized to begin construction
WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) authorized the start of construction of the Albuquerque Complex Project on April 20.
The project will provide a modern, safe, and reliable workspace for approximately 1,200 employees in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who support NNSA’s vital national security missions.
“Our dedicated employees at sites across the country deserve high-quality workspace,” said Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator. “The Albuquerque Complex Project demonstrates NNSA’s commitment to achieving this goal and modernizing our infrastructure.”
Roughly 98 percent of NNSA’s combined federal and contractor workforce is located outside of the Washington, D.C. area.
The project will allow disposition of the current Albuquerque Complex, reducing NNSA’s total deferred maintenance by approximately $40 million. It will also replace the existing complex of 25 buildings with a single, state-of-the-art facility.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.energy.gov/nnsa for more information.