GAO report: NNSA Does Not Have a Comprehensive Schedule or Cost Estimate for Pit Production Capability, January 12, 2023, gao.gov/products/gao-23-104661
- “NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Scope of Work Includes Dozens of Programs, Projects, and Other Activities Managed by Multiple NNSA Offices at Multiple Sites.” p. 19
- “NNSA Does Not Have a Comprehensive Schedule or Cost Estimate for Establishing its Pit Production Capability.” p. 40
- They [NNSA officials] said they did not want to introduce uncertainty about dates and wanted to avoid releasing preliminary or unpalatable information that was subject to change.” pp. 40-41
- “NNSA will have spent billions of dollars without having an overall idea of total program costs, or when program objectives, to include the capability to produce 80 pits per year, will be reached.” pp. 55-56
BY JAY COGHLAN
Good article indeed. Kudos to Scott Wyland.
But to add to it:
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) cannot do, or rather will not do, good governance 101 for its largest program ever (i.e., expanded plutonium pit production), which is credible cost estimates and schedules. Why won’t NNSA do that? Because of PR and political concerns when their flaky cost estimates (such as they are) get blown up by inevitable escalating costs. NNSA knows that if it gave accurate projected costs Congress and the public would balk. Thus, the agency goes in lowballing costs, which always inevitably rise. I could rattle off a dozen NNSA projects over the last 15 years in which costs have exploded, wasting tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars.
But get this, future pit production is also unnecessary and may actually degrade national security. To begin with, independent experts have found that pits have serviceable lifetimes of at least a century (their average age is now around 40). And we already have at least 15,000 existing pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX.
Santa Fe, NM– Today, the Biden Administration has released its long awaited unclassified Nuclear Posture Review. It headlines a “Comprehensive, balanced approach to defending vital national security interests and reducing nuclear dangers.” It also declares that “deterrence alone will not reduce nuclear dangers.”
“Deterrence” against others has always been the publicly sold rationale for the United States’ nuclear weapons stockpile. First, there is the inconvenient fact that the U.S. was the first and only to use nuclear weapons in war. But secondly, the United States and the USSR (now Russia) never possessed their huge stockpiles for the sole purpose of deterrence anyway. Instead, their nuclear weapons policies have always been a hybrid of deterrence and nuclear war fighting, which threatens global annihilation to this very day.
“Coghlan said an example of why the full assessment is necessary is a note on last year’s report for the Los Alamos lab saying it had struggled with some production activities and experienced several challenges carrying out the plutonium mission, and “mission execution was impacted by lapses in safety performance.”
A New Mexico watchdog group is suing the federal agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons programs for issuing only summaries of its yearly report cards on national laboratories and withholding what the group contends is vital information on deficiencies.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the National Nuclear Security Administration to post in its public reading room the complete report cards for the eight national laboratories involved in nuclear weapons — ones it has withheld in the past and all future assessments.
Allowing the public to see, in particular, the full report on Los Alamos National Laboratory’s shortcomings is increasingly important as the lab gears up to make 30 plutonium bomb cores a year with an escalating federal budget, Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a statement.
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s yearly report cards assess the performances of contracted lab operators and award bonuses to the organizations based on their grades in a process that is not classified, Coghlan argued.
“Scoping” means determining the issues that should be included in public analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of proposed major actions by the federal government. According to the Department of Energy ‘s own NEPA implementation regulations, DOE must prepare a new or supplemental site-wide environmental impact statement (SWEIS) for its major sites when there are “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns.” The last site-wide EIS for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was completed in 2008 and is badly outdated. Moreover, since 2018 the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DOE’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, has been aggressively expanding the production of plutonium “pit” bomb cores for nuclear weapons at the Lab.
On August 19, 2022, NNSA finally announced its intent to prepare a new LANL SWEIS, but apparently the agency will not address expanded plutonium pit production.1 NNSA’s dubious argument is that it performed the legally required NEPA analysis for expanded plutonium pit production in a 2008 Complex Transformation Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the 2008 LANL SWEIS and a woefully inadequate “Supplement Analysis” in 2020 that concluded a new SWEIS was not needed. 2 3
Issues That Must Be Addressed in a New LANL SWEIS
This is meant to be a guide to (or list of) the issues that must be addressed in a new draft LANL SWEIS. It is not completely exhaustive, nor is it a comprehensive fact sheet on the substance of the issues. Nuclear Watch New Mexico will offer suggested scoping comments for interested citizens and submit its own comprehensive formal comments before the October 3 deadline or extended deadline (see “Timing” below).
“This is too little too late, a sham process designed to circumvent citizen enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “The key sentence in NNSA’s announcement is that absent any new decisions in the site-wide environmental impact statement, the agency will continue to implement decisions it previously made behind closed doors.”
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. government is planning to review the environmental effects of operations at one of the nation’s prominent nuclear weapons laboratories, but its notice issued Friday leaves out federal goals to ramp up production of plutonium cores used in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
The National Nuclear Security Administration said the review — being done to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act — will look at the potential environmental effects of alternatives for operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the next 15 years.
That work includes preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons worldwide and other projects related to national security and global stability, the notice said.
Watchdog groups contend that regardless of the review, the NNSA will march ahead with its production plans for plutonium cores at Los Alamos.
“This is in direct contradiction to the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement that federal agencies take a ‘hard look’ at proposed actions before implementation,” Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a statement.
So much happened after 2008 that called for a new, thorough impact study years ago, including the plutonium facility’s “checkered nuclear safety history” that led to its major operations shutting down for more than three years, Coghlan said.
A new sitewide analysis now, Coghlan said, will merely “rubber stamp the billions of taxpayers’ dollars being sunk into a predetermined decision to expand plutonium pit production at LANL.”
The federal agency that oversees nuclear weapons will conduct a sitewide environmental review at Los Alamos National Laboratory, breaking from its past resistance to performing fresh analysis of potential impacts as the lab gears up to make 30 nuclear warhead triggers a year.
The National Nuclear Security Administration announced in the Federal Register on Friday it would do a sitewide analysis of the lab under the National Environmental Protection Act and would take public comment until Oct. 3.
It’s the first time the agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, has done a new sitewide environmental impact statement in 14 years.
“Multiple properties could be needed to meet LANL needs…Items that would be warehoused or stored include items that are needed for LANL operations,”
The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos Field Office (DOE/NNSA) has issued a Categorical Exclusion to lease properties to provide warehouse and storage space for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) equipment within a 150-mile radius of LANL, which could include properties in several locations of northern New Mexico and southern portions of Colorado.
June 16, 2022 | FACT SHEETS
Summary: The United States is aggressively expanding the production of plutonium “pit” bomb cores to at least 80 pits per year, which the Pentagon has called the number one issue in its $1.7 trillion plan to “modernize” nuclear forces. The average age of plutonium pits is around 40 years. Los Alamos Lab Director Thom Mason has said that “The best way to deal with this dilemma [of uncertainty about aging effects] is to take it off the table. We do that by making new pits, immediately.” Thus, he justifies spending tens of billions of dollars, creating additional occupational and public risks, generating more radioactive wastes with uncertain disposal pathways, fundamentally transforming the Lab into a nuclear weapons production site and fueling the increasingly dangerous new nuclear arms race.
But does independent review of pit aging data support this need to immediately produce new pits? The answer is no given that independent experts concluded in 2006 that pits last at least a century with no determined end date. Further, no future pit production is scheduled to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile – it is all for speculative new designs which could raise reliability issues or even prompt the U.S. to resume testing.
NukeWatch Past Work Product
March 10, 2020 Press Release
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.
April 3, 2020 Press Release
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.
April 21, 2020 Press Release
Santa Fe, NM – 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.
May 6, 2020 Press Release
Santa Fe, NM – 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.
June 24, 2020 Press Release
Today, legal counsel for the public interest groups Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, Savannah River Site Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council took a significant step toward a potential legal challenge to the U.S. Department of Energy’s plans for expanded production of plutonium cores, or “pits,” for new-design nuclear weapons.
September 1, 2020 Press Release
Santa Fe, NM – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced today that it will not prepare a new site-wide environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
With this decision NNSA is slamming the door shut on public accountability while it rams through expanded plutonium “pit” bomb core production at the Lab. NNSA is relying upon outdated studies from 2008 to justify pit production. Since that time the agency has wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars, another catastrophic wildfire threatened the Lab, serious deep groundwater contamination was discovered and LANL has had chronic nuclear safety incidences with plutonium that it can’t seem to fix.
November 5, 2020 Press Release
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today issued a formal decision that it will pursue a massive Plutonium Bomb Plant (PBP) at the DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, in order to produce plutonium “pits,” or cores, for nuclear warheads. The provocative decision, which adds fuel to concerns about a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China, drew immediate opposition from public interest groups near DOE sites in South Carolina, New Mexico and California.
June 10, 2019 Press Release
In a victory for transparency and legal compliance by the government, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today published a “Notice of Intent” in the Federal Register to complete environmental reviews on its controversial proposal to expand plutonium “pit” production for new and refurbished nuclear weapons.
June 4, 2019 Press Release
On behalf of three public interest organizations - Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment and Savannah River Site Watch – attorneys for the law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks and the Natural Resources Defense Council recently sent a 16-page letter to Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The detailed letter warns the nuclear agency to not proceed with aggressive plans to expand plutonium pit production without first meeting its legal requirements for timely public review and comment under the National Environmental Policy Act.
May 31, 2019 Press Release
Last Wednesday, facility operations personnel entered a service room and noticed a leak emanating from a valve on the radioactive liquid waste (RLW) system. Upon subsequent visual inspection by a radiological control technician, RLUOB engineers believe that this valve, and 6 similar valves, may be constructed of carbon steel. The RLW system handles radioactive liquid waste streams from chemistry operations that include nitric and hydrochloric acids—carbon steel valves would be incompatible with these solutions. The suspect valves are also in contact with stainless steel piping, which would create another corrosion mechanism. RLUOB management plans to drain the affected piping sections and develop a work package to replace all of the suspect valves. They will also confirm the valve materials and if shown to be incorrect, investigate the cause of this failure in the design, procurement, and installation processes. The valves were installed in 2013 as part of a modification to add straining and sampling capabilities that were not in the included in the original design. [Please note that DNFSB reports are posted a few weeks later than dated.]
This immediately raises two crucial issues: 1) the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) plans for expanded plutonium pit production; and 2) the current attempt by the Department of Energy to restrict Safety Board access to its nuclear weapons facilities.
November 16, 2018 Fact Sheet
Plutonium pits are the radioactive cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons. Their production has always been a chokepoint of resumed industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. In 1997 the mission of plutonium pit production was officially transferred to its birthplace, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico, but officially capped at not more than 20 pits per year. However, in 2015 Congress required expanded pit production by 2030 whether or not the existing nuclear weapons stockpile actually needs it. This will support new military capabilities for nuclear weapons and their potential use.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch, and Tri-Valley CAREs sent a letter of demand to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to inform the government that its plan to quadruple the production rate of plutonium bomb cores is out of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
NNSA’s premature plan to quadruple the production rate of plutonium bomb cores (“pits”), the heart of all US nuclear weapons, is out of compliance with requisite environmental law, the groups argue, as NNSA has failed to undertake a legally-mandated programmatic review and hold required public hearings.