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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Letter With >120 Group & Individual Sign-Ons Asks Udall and Heinrich to Extend Public Comment Period on Los Alamos Lab Plutonium Bomb Core Production

Letter With >120 Group & Individual Sign-Ons Asks Udall and Heinrich to Extend Public Comment Period on Los Alamos Lab Plutonium Bomb Core Production

Today, on behalf of more than 120 groups and individuals, Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent a letter to New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. It asks them to act upon their own words and demand that the public comment period be extended for plutonium “pit” bomb core production that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is fast tracking during the coronavirus epidemic. As sitting members of the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees, Udall and Heinrich are in strong positions to make that demand of NNSA.

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DOE Ignores COVID-19 Threat, Diverts Resources to Planning for Nuclear War by Releasing Draft Environmental Study on SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant

Today, in the middle of the growing coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Department of Energy ignored the real national crisis and irresponsibly shifted its focus to planning for nuclear war, revealing plans to construct a Plutonium Bomb Plant (PBP) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.

DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today formally released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Plutonium Pit Production at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, whose proposed action is to establish the production of plutonium “pits” (nuclear warhead cores) at SRS at a rate of up to 125 pits per year, with at least 50 pits per year by 2030 as the stated objective for now.

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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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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)

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Trump’s FY 2021 DOE Nuclear Weapons Budget Sets Post-Cold War High – New Nuclear Warhead Is Planned

Donald Trump Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by CUTWORLD/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Jack Hill—WPA Pool/Getty Images.

Today the Trump Administration released topline budget numbers for fiscal year 2021 for the Department of Energy (DOE). This includes DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), whose nuclear weapons programs are slated to receive the highest amount of taxpayer dollars since the Cold War ended nearly 30 years ago.

This year 2020 marks the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the 50th anniversary of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is commonly regarded as the cornerstone of international nuclear weapons nonproliferation. The NPT required the established nuclear powers to enter into serious negotiations leading to global nuclear disarmament, which they ignored. 2020 also marks the third anniversary of a nuclear weapons ban treaty that needs only 16 more nations to ratify before it goes into effect. The U.S. and other nuclear weapons powers vigorously oppose that ban treaty even as their “modernization” programs are fueling a new nuclear arms race and international arms control is collapsing.

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Pope Frances Calls for Nuclear Weapons Abolition – – Santa Fe Catholic Archdiocese Likely Has Largest Presence of Nuclear Weapons in the World

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, November 24, 2019

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Pope Francis called for the global abolition of nuclear weapons while paying homage to the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two cities were both destroyed by atomic weapons designed and produced by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, located in northern New Mexico’s Santa Fe Catholic Archdiocese.

The Holy Father declared:

“With deep conviction I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral, as I already said two years ago. We will be judged on this. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act to bring it about among the peoples of the earth.  How can we speak of peace even as we build terrifying new weapons of war?”

Two of the U.S.’ three nuclear weapons laboratories, the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, are located within the Santa Fe Catholic Archdiocese. Together the two labs spend $4 billion per year on core nuclear weapons design, testing and production programs. In addition, up to 2,500 nuclear weapons are estimated to be held in strategic reserve at the Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex, less than two miles south of the Albuquerque International Airport. That complex is probably the largest repository of intact nuclear weapons in the country and perhaps the world.Continue reading

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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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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Lack Of Safety And Health Priorities Continue To Plague Los Alamos Beryllium Program

A new assessment finds that Department of Energy (DOE) is not conducting effective oversight of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) beryllium program, or of safety and health programs in general. In addition, DOE is not maintaining sufficient technical capability and knowledge of site and contractor activities to make informed decisions about hazards and risks. DOE indicated the lack of sufficient safety and health resources has presented a challenge to achieving effective oversight in this area.

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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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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.

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Trump’s 2020 Nuclear Weapons Budget Escalates New Arms Race

DOE logo
DOE logo

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.
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