This is OUR Neighborhood: Expanding the Capacity of New Mexico’s Nuclear Waste Repository Affects Communities across the Country.

This is OUR Neighborhood: Expanding the Capacity of New Mexico’s Nuclear Waste Repository Affects Communities across the Country.

The original mission of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico had two specific stipulations: it was to be the FIRST and only operating underground nuclear waste repository in U.S; and it is ONLY authorized to take a certain kind of nuclear weapons waste – legacy transuranic (TRU) waste. In December of last year, the U.S. Department of Energy published a notice of intent to expand WIPP. The notice details expansion of the plant in two ways: capacities and types of waste permissible, as well as extended storage/operation timelines. The federal government’s plans would expand the size of the nuclear weapons dump to more than twice its current size and more than is allowed: Federal law and legal agreements with New Mexico clearly limit the amount of waste at WIPP, but the expansion would allow more than that capacity (as described in the April 2020 National Academy of Sciences Report “Review of the Department of Energy’s Plans for Disposal of Surplus Plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.”) This means an increased volume of waste, as well as an increased number of shipments travelling to WIPP over the entire rest of the century.

The original complete set of legal permits, contracts and laws governing WIPP includes the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which 1) gives the New Mexico Environment Department regulation over the permit for DOE operation of WIPP and 2) limits amount of waste and how long WIPP operates (2024);

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South Carolina Environmental Law Project and Nuclear Watchdogs Virtual Press Conference

Nuclear Watch New Mexico, along with other watchdog groups, has announced a lawsuit against the Biden administration over its expanded production of plutonium cores for the U.S. nuclear weapons “modernization” plans. There has been inadequate environmental review by federal agencies, who have failed to detail potential impacts of the projects around communities in New Mexico and South Carolina.

The lawsuit was filed against the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration demanding the federal agency that oversees U.S. nuclear research and bombmaking must “take a legally required ‘hard look’ at impacts on local communities and possible alternatives before expanding manufacturing of the plutonium cores used to trigger nuclear weapons.”

The push from U.S. officials to “modernize” the country’s nuclear arsenal cites only general global security concerns that do not justify the science and brand new, untested technology that will be necessary to the task. citing global security concerns. Although “most of the plutonium cores currently in the stockpile date back to the 1970s and 1980s,” scientific experts estimate that plutonium pits will last 100 years or more., and on warhead type, the best estimate of minimum pit life is 85–100 years.minimum.

Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina face enormous (and, frankly, unrealistic) deadlines to produce a massive number of plutonium cores in coming years – 50 or more cores at South Carolina and 30 or more at Los Alamos National Lab. The Savannah River Site location now has estimated costs up to $11.1 billion, with a completion date ranging from 2032 to 2035. The U.S. doesn’t need the new plutonium cores with the taxpayer bearing the burden for the expense of lagging deadlines and bloated budgets.

“The watchdog groups said Tuesday that the agency took a piecemeal approach to decide on locating the production at Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site, where nearby communities are already underrepresented and underserved.”

Tom Clements of Savannah River Site Watch said the South Carolina location was picked for political reasons following the failure of a facility designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel. As the Savannah River Site has never served as a storage or production site for the pits in its history, establishing pit construction there would be “a daunting technical challenge that has not been properly reviewed,” Clements said.

With very real, current threats the U.S. is facing right now, we don’t need another Rocky Flats situation in New Mexico or South Carolina where a $7 billion, yearslong cleanup is required after the facilities fail due to leaks, fires and environmental violations, doing irreparable damage to the earth and placing communities there in unequivocal peril.

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.

Notice of Impending Lawsuit to DOE & NNSA Over Nuclear Bomb Core Plans from Environmental Groups

Nuclear Watch New Mexico, as part of a larger coalition of environmental groups, has threatened the federal government with a lawsuit over cross-country plans to produce plutonium pits, the cores at the heart of modern nuclear weapons.

A more comprehensive review should have been done on the plans to produce plutonium cores at Los Alamos and at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. This lack of review violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and would saddle already-burdened communities nearby the two DOE sites with significant quantities of toxic and radioactive waste, contravening President Biden’s executive order of making environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency. Here in New Mexico, we are well aware of how much our local community has already have been burdened with legacy contamination from previous defense work. While the budget continues to be cut and slashed for cleanup funding, the astronomical cost of modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal continues to balloon out of proportion without NNSA or DOE batting an eyelash. The federal government’s plans are unnecessary and provocative – more plutonium pit production will result in more waste and help to fuel a new arms race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watchdog Groups Claim Nuclear Agency is Moving Forward to Manufacture New Plutonium Bomb Cores in Violation of National Environmental Law and an Existing Court Order

Natural Resources Defense Council
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Savannah River Site Watch
Tri-Valley CAREs
The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has formally announced that it is proceeding with aggressive plans to expand the production of plutonium pits without required nation-wide “programmatic” public review. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley CAREs assert this is in direct violation of the legal requirements of both the National Environmental Policy Act and a 1998 court order that stipulates that DOE must prepare a “programmatic environmental impact statement” (PEIS) when it plans to produce more than 80 pits per year. Plutonium pits are the radioactive cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons.

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