Plutonium Pit Production

Updates

Trump’s 2020 Nuclear Weapons Budget Escalates New Arms Race

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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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Plutonium Pit Production NEPA Talking Points

LANL Molten Plutonium for Pit
Molten plutonium in a crucible. 

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.
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POGO: Congress Pushes Back on Nuke Agency’s Unnecessary Plutonium Buildup

“In a letter to the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee last month, the Project On Government Oversight was joined by Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Savannah River Site Watch in requesting justification for this expanded capacity. NNSA has over 14,000 plutonium cores already constructed and in storage, many of them specifically designated for potential reuse in new nuclear weapons as part of a ‘strategic reserve.’

If the interoperable warhead is not needed or wanted by the Defense Department, then new pit production is not needed, and the MOX facility can be terminated once and for all. If it is, Congress should ensure that any path forward will be appropriately sized and scoped to meet that mission need. Either way, if all of these interlocking parts are not matched up as part of an overall strategy then there’s only going to be more waste, fraud, and abuse and it is the average American taxpayer who will pay the price.”

-Lydia Dennett, POGO investigator See her full report at POGO)

New Contractors Selected For Expanded Nuclear Weapons Production at Los Alamos

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.”

Groups Release Key DOE Documents on Expanded Plutonium Pit Production, DOE Nuclear Weapons Plan Not Supported by Recent Congressional Actions

“Santa Fe, NM & Columbia, SC. Two key U.S. Department of Energy documents on future production of plutonium “pits” for nuclear weapons, not previously released to the public, fail to justify new and upgraded production facilities at both the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.”

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What’s Not in NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Decision

 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.[1]

•  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.[2] 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.”

# # #

[1]     See 2012 Navy memo demonstrating its lack of support for the Interoperable Warhead at https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.

[2]     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/

 

What’s Not in NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Decision

Excerpts

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 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 an immense inventory of already existing plutonium pits. (In 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century. Plutonium pits in the existing stockpile now average around 40 years old.)

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.

Read More…

Recent Posts

Trump Budget Would Continue Nuclear Weapons Buildup and Bring More Nuclear Waste to NM

Otherwords national-security-cartoon1
Otherwords – A missile in every pot

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.

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NV Governor and AG speak against DOE plutonium shipment

kolotv.com | RENO January 30th, 2019

See video of news conference by governor & attorney general of Nevada, angry about DOE’s secret shipment of plutonium from SRS to NV, with SRS Watch comments: https://www.kolotv.com/content/news/505096611.html

Filings by State of Nevada in Nevada district court, in plutonium shipment docket (3:18-cv-00569), January 31, 2019:
PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY
RESTRAINING ORDER
(REQUEST FOR RULING BY JANUARY 31, 2019)

PLAINTIFF’S STATUS REPORT

PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR A STATUS HEARING

energy.gov | WASHINGTON D.C. – The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) is committed to protecting the health, safety, and security of the public at all of our sites as we conduct our important national security missions.  The recent plutonium shipments to the Nevada National Security Site were undertaken to comply with an order issued by the U.S. District Court in South Carolina.

It is inaccurate to state that the Members of the Nevada delegation were not informed of this movement. The Department of Energy was as transparent as operational security would permit. Efforts were made to ensure that Members of Congress representing the states involved were notified of the planned movement ahead of time, as early as August 2018 when NNSA publicly released the plan in a Supplement Analysis. Since then, NNSA confirmed that it was “actively engaged” in removing one metric ton of plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada, Texas, and New Mexico.**

It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as “waste”. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.

###

**Aiken Standard, “NNSA: Weapons-grade plutonium will be moved out of SC this year, next year” www.aikenstandard.com

Plutonium Pit Production NEPA Talking Points

LANL Molten Plutonium for Pit
Molten plutonium in a crucible. 

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.
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Permit Changes at WIPP Face Challenges

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico wants Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new administration to take a fresh look at a state decision to change how the volume of radioactive waste stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is measured. (Courtesy of Judiciary.Senate.Gov)

By Mark Oswald | Journal Staff Writer

abqjournal.com | Sunday, January 13th, 2019 at 12:01am

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is encouraging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new administration to reconsider a state government decision made just before she took office Jan. 1 that changes how radioactive waste volume is measured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in effect allowing more waste to placed in the underground repository near Carlsbad.

Udall said last week that limits on how much waste WIPP can hold were critical to federal-state negotiations that led to WIPP’s creation “and were a major reason New Mexico agreed to this mission in the first place.”

“I am encouraging the new administration to take a hard look at this action, and hopeful that it will pause and reconsider this last-minute change that has major ramifications for our state,” the senator said in an email statement.

The controversial state permit modification for WIPP, approved by then-New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate on Dec. 21, changes the way waste volume is calculated to exclude empty space inside waste packaging. With the alteration, WIPP becomes only about a third full instead of 50 percent full.
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An inspector monitors radiations around containers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2003 prior to shipping nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. New Mexican file photo; Drums of transuranic waste are stored inside a salt cavern at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad in 2006. Los Angeles Times file photo

By Rebecca Moss rmoss@sfnewmexican.com

santafenewmexican.com | Jan 5, 2019 Updated Jan 6, 2019

In the final days of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration, the state Environment Department approved a controversial change to how federal officials measure the amount of nuclear waste buried some 2,000 feet underground in Southern New Mexico salt beds.

Proponents of the change say it merely clarifies that the storage site will measure the actual volume of transuranic waste deposited there rather than the volume of the massive exterior waste drums, called overpack containers — and the air inside. But critics say the result will be an increase in the quantity of material stored at the U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

Several nuclear watchdog groups, which say they intend to appeal the decision, also fear the change in WIPP's hazardous waste permit from the state could open the door to allowing high-level nuclear waste to be brought into New Mexico.

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New Contractors Selected For Expanded Nuclear Weapons Production at Los Alamos

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.”

What’s Not in NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Decision

 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.[1]

•  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.[2] 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.”

# # #

[1]     See 2012 Navy memo demonstrating its lack of support for the Interoperable Warhead at https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.

[2]     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/

 

Draft Nuclear Posture Review Degrades National Security

Yesterday evening the Huffington Post posted a leaked draft of the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). This review is the federal government’s highest unclassified nuclear weapons policy document, and the first since the Obama Administration’s April 2010 NPR.

This Review begins with “[m]any hoped conditions had been set for deep reductions in global nuclear arsenals, and, perhaps, for their elimination. These aspirations have not been realized. America’s strategic competitors have not followed our example. The world is more dangerous, not less.” The NPR then points to Russia and China’s ongoing nuclear weapons modernization programs and North Korea’s “nuclear provocations.” It concludes, “We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it be.”

If the United States government were to really “look reality in the eye and see the world as it is”, it would recognize that it is failing miserably to lead the world toward the abolition of the only class of weapons that is a true existential threat to our country. As an obvious historic matter, the U.S. is the first and only country to use nuclear weapons. Since WWII the U.S. has threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Korean and Viet Nam wars, and on many other occasions.

Further, it is hypocritical to point to Russia and China’s “modernization” programs as if they are taking place in a vacuum. The U.S. has been upgrading its nuclear arsenal all along. In the last few years our country has embarked on a $1.7 trillion modernization program to completely rebuild its nuclear weapons production complex and all three legs of its nuclear triad.

Moreover, Russia and China’s modernization programs are driven in large part by their perceived need to preserve strategic stability and deterrence by having the ability to overwhelm the U.S.’ growing ballistic missile defenses. Ronald Reagan’s pursuit of “Star Wars” (fed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s false promises of success) blocked a nuclear weapons abolition agreement in 1988 with the soon-to-collapse Soviet Union. In 2002 George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which has been a source of constant friction with the Russian government ever since.

More recently, at Israel’s request, the U.S. blocked the 2015 NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations from agreeing to an international conference on a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East (Israel, an undeclared nuclear weapons power, has never signed the NPT). As an overarching matter, the U.S. and other nuclear-armed NPT signatories have never honored the Treaty’s Article VI mandate “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…”, in effect since 1970. As a consequence, last year more than 120 countries at the UN passed a nuclear weapons ban treaty which the U.S. vehemently denounced, despite the fact that there have long been ban treaties on chemical and biological weapons which the U.S. has not only supported but also sought to enforce.[1]

With respect to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, that repressive regime is clearly seeking deterrence against the U.S. (North Korea’s infrastructure was nearly completely destroyed during the Korean War, and it witnessed the destruction of the Iraqi regime that did not have nuclear weapons). The bombastic statements of “fire and fury” and who has the bigger “nuclear button” from two unpredictable heads of state (Trump and Kim Jong Un) have put the entire world on edge, given the highest chance of nuclear war since the mid-1980’s.

Finally, the Nuclear Posture Review purports to be all about “deterrence” against hostile threats. However, the U.S’ true nuclear posture has never been just deterrence, but rather the ability to wage nuclear war, including possible preemptive first strikes. This is the reason why the U.S. (and Russia) keep thousands of nuclear weapons instead of the few hundred needed for just deterrence.[2] And keeping and improving the ability to wage a nuclear war is the underlying reason for the $1.7 trillion “modernization” program that is giving nuclear weapons new military capabilities, instead of prudently maintaining a few hundred existing nuclear weapons.

In addition to fully preserving and improving the enormous land, sea and air-based Triad, the new NPR calls for:

1)   Near-term development of a low-yield nuclear warhead for existing Trident missiles launched from new strategic submarines.

2)   New sub-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

3)   Keeping the 1.2 megaton B83-1 nuclear gravity bomb “until a suitable replacement is identified.”

4)   “Provid[ing] the enduring capability and capacity to produce plutonium pits at a rate of no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030.”

5) “Advancing the W78 warhead replacement to FY19… and investigating the feasibility of fielding the nuclear explosives package in a Navy flight vehicle.”

Obvious problems are:

1)         An adversary won’t know whether a Trident sub-launched nuclear warhead is a new low-yield or an existing high-yield warhead. In any event, any belief in a “limited’ nuclear war is a fallacy that shouldn’t be tested – – once the nuclear threshold is crossed at any level, it is crossed, and lower-yield nuclear weapons are all the more dangerous for being potentially more usable.

2)         Sub-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles are inherently destabilizing as the proverbial “bolt out of the blue,” and can be the perfect weapon for a nuclear first-strike. Moreover, this is redundant to nuclear-armed cruise missiles that are already being developed for heavy bombers.

3)         The National Nuclear Security Administration largely justified the ongoing program to create the B61-12 (the world’s first “smart” nuclear gravity bomb) by being a replacement for the 1.2 megaton B83-1 bomb. Does this indicate doubts in the ~$13 billion B61-12 program? And will it lead to a bump up in the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S.’ arsenal?

4)         To date, the talk has been up to 80 pits per year, not “no fewer than.” Also, the 2015 Defense Authorization Act required that the capability to produce up to 80 pits per year be demonstrated by 2027. The NPR’s later date of 2030 could be indicative of longstanding plutonium pit production problems at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. That delay and hints of higher than 80 pits per year could also point to the pit production mission being relocated to the Savannah River Site, which is under active consideration. In any event, future plutonium pit production pit production is not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but is instead for future new-design nuclear weapons.

5)         “W78 warhead replacement… in a Navy flight vehicle” is code for so-called Interoperable Warheads, whose planned three versions together could cost around $50 billion. These are arguably huge make work projects for the nuclear weapons labs (particularly Livermore), which ironically the Navy doesn’t even want.[3] It is also the driving reason for unnecessary future production of more than 80 pits per year.

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch commented,

“This Nuclear Posture Review does not even begin to meet our long-term need to eliminate the one class of weapons of mass destruction that can truly destroy our country. It will instead set back nonproliferation and arms control efforts across the globe, and further hollow out our country by diverting yet more huge sums of money to the usual fat defense contractors at the expense of public education, environmental protection, natural disaster recovery, etc. Under the Trump Administration, expect medicare and social security to be attacked to help pay for a false sense of military security, and this Nuclear Posture Review is part and parcel of that.”

# #

[1]     Since then the U.S. has reportedly used strong arm tactics to discourage individual countries from ratifying the nuclear weapons ban treaty. See http://www.businessinsider.com/mattis-threatened-sweden-over-a-nuclear-weapons-ban-treaty-2017-9

[2]     This was explicitly stated in a Department of Defense follow-on to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). It states: “The new guidance requires the United States to maintain significant counterforce capabilities against potential adversaries. The new guidance does not rely on a “counter-value’ or “minimum deterrence” strategy.”

Report on Nuclear Implementation Strategy of the United States Specified in Section 491 of 10. U.S.C., Department of Defense, June 2013, page 4 (quotation marks in the original), http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/dod/us-nuclear-employment-strategy.pdf

[3]     See https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.pdf

Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at LANL Will Not Result in Significant Positive Effect On Job Creation and the Regional Economy

Abstract: Expanded production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of modern thermonuclear weapons, is cynically being justified as a source of job creation. Precise data on employment in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the number of additional jobs if expanded is not publicly available to our knowledge. However, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s own documents quoted below explicitly state that expanded pit production would not have any significant positive effect on job creation and the regional economy of northern New Mexico. Further, Nuclear Watch argues that expanded plutonium pit production could actually have negative effect if expanded pit production blocks other economic alternatives such as comprehensive cleanup, which could be the real job producer. Moreover, given LANL’s poor safety and environmental record, expanded plutonium pit production could have a seriously negative economic effect on northern New Mexico in the event of any major accidents or additional contamination.

Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Nuclear Facility Portion of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico

https://energy.gov/nepa/eis-0350-s1-supplemental-environmental-impact-statement-nuclear-facility-portion-chemistry-and

Bolded emphasis added

Note: The CMRR-Nuclear Facility was the up to $6.5 billion dollar plutonium facility NNSA proposed to build at LANL in direct support of expanded plutonium pit production. The Obama Administration cancelled it in 2012 after costs rose so high. Nevertheless, the 2011 CMRR-Nuclear Facility supplemental environmental impact statement remains the most relevant source of publically available socioeconomic information concerning expanded plutonium pit production that we know of.

Volume 1, p. 2-43, Socioeconomics

Under the Modified CMRR-NF Alternative, an increase in construction-related jobs and businesses in the region surrounding LANL is also expected. Construction employment would be needed over the course of a 9-year construction period under either the Deep or Shallow Excavation Option. Construction employment under either option is projected to peak at about 790 workers, which is expected to generate about 450 indirect jobs in the region. Operation of the Modified CMRR-NF and RLUOB would involve about 550 workers at LANL, with additional workers using the facility on a part-time basis. The personnel working in the Modified CMRR-NF and RLUOB, when fully operational, would relocate from other buildings at LANL, including the existing CMR Building, so an increase in the overall number of workers at LANL is not expected.

Note: The first phase of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project, the Radiological Laboratory Utility and Office Building (RLUOB), is already built. It is now being retrofitted to handle up to 400 grams of plutonium-239 equivalent instead of the original 8.4 grams. This will greatly increase its special nuclear materials analytical chemistry and materials characterization capabilities in direct support of expanded plutonium pit production.

Under the Continued Use of CMR Building Alternative, about 210 employees would continue to work in the CMR Building until safety concerns force additional reductions in facility operations. In addition, about 140 employees would be employed at RLUOB. A total of about 350 personnel would have their offices relocated to RLUOB. The personnel working in the CMR Building and RLUOB, when fully operational, would not result in an increase in the overall number of workers at LANL.

Pg. 4-12

4.2.9 Socioeconomics

Construction Impacts—Construction of new buildings at TA-55 to house CMR activities would require a peak construction employment level of 300 workers. This level of employment would generate about 852 indirect jobs in the region around LANL. The potential total employment increase of 1,152 direct and indirect jobs represents an approximate 1.3 percent increase in the workforce and would occur over the proposed construction period. This small increase would have little or no noticeable impact on the socioeconomic conditions of the region of influence (ROI).

 Operations Impacts—CMRR Facility operations would require a workforce of approximately 550 workers. As evaluated in the CMRR EIS, this would be an increase of about 340 workers over currently restricted CMR Building operational requirements. Nevertheless, the increase in the number of workers in support of expanded CMRR Facility operations would have little or no noticeable impact on socioeconomic conditions in the LANL ROI (region of influence). New LANL employees hired to support the CMRR Facility would compose a small fraction of the LANL workforce and an even smaller fraction of the regional workforce.

4.3.9 Socioeconomics

Construction Impacts – Deep Excavation Option—Construction of the Modified CMRR-NF under the Deep Excavation Option would require a peak construction employment level of about 790 workers (LANL 2011a:Data Call Tables, 002). This level of employment would generate about 450 indirect jobs in the region around LANL. The potential total peak employment of 1,240 direct and indirect jobs represents an increase in the ROI workforce of approximately 0.8 percent. Direct construction employment would average 420 workers annually over this time, approximately half of the estimated peak employment. The average direct construction employment would result in about 240 indirect jobs in the region around LANL. This total of 660 direct and indirect jobs represents an approximate 0.4 percent increase in the ROI workforce. These small increases would have little or no noticeable impact on the socioeconomic conditions of the ROI.

Pg. 4-54

Chapter 4 – Environmental Consequences

Construction Impacts – Shallow Excavation Option—The impacts under the Shallow Excavation Option from construction of the Modified CMRR-NF would be similar to the Deep Excavation Option. The peak employment number of about 790 construction workers would be the same as under the Deep Excavation Option, and the annual average would be 410 workers over the life of the project. The average direct construction employment would result in about 240 indirect jobs in the region around LANL. This total of 650 direct and indirect jobs represents an approximate 0.4 percent increase in the ROI workforce. Therefore, there would be little or no noticeable impact on the socioeconomic conditions of the ROI.

Operations Impacts—Operations at the Modified CMRR-NF and RLUOB would require a workforce of approximately 550 workers, including workers that would come from other locations at LANL to use the Modified CMRR-NF laboratory capabilities. The number of workers in support of Modified CMRR-NF operations would cause no change to socioeconomic conditions in the LANL four-county ROI (region of influence). Workers assigned to the Modified CMRR-NF and RLUOB would be drawn from existing LANL facilities, including the CMR Building. The number of LANL employees supporting the Modified CMRR-NF and RLUOB operations would represent only a small fraction of the LANL workforce (approximately 13,500 in 2010) and an even smaller fraction of the regional workforce (approximately 165,000 in 2010).

Volume 2, p. 2-13: As discussed in this CMRR-NF SEIS, operation of the new CMRR-NF, if built, is not expected to result in any increase in LANL employment. The people expected to work in the new facility would be transferred from other facilities at LANL where CMR-related activities are currently being accomplished (such as the CMR Building).

– End of NNSA quotes –

Note: The CMRR-Nuclear Facility was expected to cost up to $6.5 billion. It’s pathetic that the largest construction project ever in New Mexico (with the exception of the interstate highways) was going to create no new Lab jobs.

 Comprehensive cleanup at LANL would be a win-win for northern New Mexicans, permanently protecting the environment while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.

  • When DOE wants to do something, it lowballs the cost. When DOE doesn’t want to do something, it highballs the cost. LANL has estimated that comprehensive cleanup of Area G would cost $29 billion. Using actual costs of cleaning up smaller dumps, Nuclear Watch has extrapolated that cleanup of Area G would cost $7 to 8 billion. See https://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Area_G_Comparison_Costs-11-14-12.pdf
  • But of that $29 billion, DOE estimated that labor costs would be $13 billion. Applying that 45% proportion to Nuclear Watch’s estimate, that would be around $3.5 billion in jobs, jobs that northern New Mexico sorely needs.
  • Comprehensive cleanup could be the real job producer. It has the additional advantage of being more conducive to regional economic development in that more locally based contractors could possibly do the cleanup work, instead nuclear weapons work such as expanded plutonium pit production conducted by huge out-of-state defense contractors such as Bechtel and Lockheed Martin.

NMED claims revised Consent Order is a stronger enforcement tool. Not so!

Rebecca Moss at the New Mexican has another hard charging article on safety lapses at the Los Alamos Lab.  See “Lab might have known dangerous waste was unmarked” at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/lab-might-have-known-dangerous-waste-was-unmarked/article_19d37b31-219a-5620-954c-a62fa9620d2a.html

If the New Mexico Environment Department is claiming, as this article reports, that its revised Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a stronger enforcement tool than the original 2005 Consent Order, then it is being highly disingenuous (to put it politely).

Interested citizens should judge for themselves. The 2016 revised Consent Order is available at http://www.lanl.gov/environment/protection/compliance/order-on-consent.php

The revised Consent Order was a giveaway by NMED to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. It is clearly the opposite of the old Consent Order, whose underlying intent was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup.

The new Consent Order allows LANL and DOE to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up. Not long after the revised Consent Order went into effect, DOE took advantage by estimating a lifetime budget that projected a top range of $3.8 billion to clean up the Lab by 2040. That works out to only around $150 million per year, when NMED is already on record that $250 million per year is needed. Most egregious of all, DOE claimed that only 5,000 cubic meters of wastes needed to be cleaned up, purposively misleading the public and politicians by willfully ignoring the ~200,000 cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes known to be buried in LANL’s biggest dump alone.

Some of the highlights (or perhaps better put as lowlights) of the revised Consent Order are:

  • “The Parties agree that DOE’s project’s plans and tools will be used to identify proposed milestones and targets.” P. 28. “DOE shall define the use of screening levels and cleanup levels at a site…” P. 32. This puts the Department of Energy in the driver’s seat, not the New Mexico Environment Department
  • “DOE shall update the milestones and targets in Appendix B on an annual basis, accounting for such factors as… changes in anticipated funding levels.” P. 29. Therefore the new Consent Order is held hostage to DOE’s budget.“… [DOE and NMED] shall meet to discuss the appropriation and any necessary revision to the forecast, e.g. DOE did not receive adequate appropriations from Congress…” P. 30. Again, the new Consent Order and therefore cleanup at LANL will be held hostage to DOE funding, when DOE’s own track record makes clear that its priority is expanded nuclear weapons production paid for in part by cutting cleanup and nonproliferation programs.
  • “If attainment of established cleanup objectives is demonstrated to be technically infeasible, DOE may perform risk-based alternative cleanup objectives…” P. 34. DOE can opt out because of “impracticability” or cost of cleanup. P. 35. This creates giant loopholes that threaten comprehensive cleanup at LANL.

Given all this, how can NMED claim with a straight face that the 2016 revised Consent Order is a stronger enforcement tool? This is just more of the Martinez administration coddling the nuclear weapons industry in New Mexico. Indeed, NMED had the gall to give LANL more than 150 extensions to the original Consent Order, and then turned around and claimed the Consent Order was not working and replaced it with a toothless tiger. Furthermore, and this is telling, the main Consent Order negotiator for NMED left shortly after it was signed to go work for a DOE contractor!

New Mexicans should demand comprehensive, enforceable cleanup at the Lab, which would be a real win-win, permanently protecting our precious water resources while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.