Report Reveals That Little is Known About Lab’s Future Plutonium Needs
Except LANL Contractor Needs Money
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals how the future of expanded nuclear weapon component production at Los Alamos is unknown. The public has had enough of half-baked billion-dollar plans for nuclear facilities that do nothing but line contractors’ pockets. Congress must put away the check book and realize that the Lab’s plutonium future is unknown because it is unneeded.
Let’s get some details out of the way –
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) houses most of the nation’s capabilities for plutonium research and development in support of the nuclear weapons mission. In addition, LANL’s scientists and technicians also perform research on plutonium to support other missions, such as conducting research on recycling plutonium for use as fuel in commercial nuclear reactors (MOX).
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), is responsible for the management of the nation’s nuclear weapons.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of modern nuclear weapons (fissile means capable of sustaining a nuclear reaction). When a nuclear weapon is detonated the pit is explosively compressed into a critical mass that rapidly begins atomic fission. In modern two-stage weapons the plutonium pit acts as the primary (or “trigger”) that initiates fusion in the thermonuclear secondary. Each pit is an atomic bomb in its own right, similar to the Trinity and Nagasaki bombs, both of which were plutonium bombs. In thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs the plutonium pit serves as the trigger that detonates the far more powerful fusion explosion characteristic of hydrogen bombs.
(The need for any more nuclear weapons production ever is actually zero.)
NNSA claims that the need is unknown –
Because of public participation, lack of need, and budget concerns, construction of the Lab’s $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) nuclear facility was deferred for at least five years starting in 2012. The CMRR would have enabled a production capacity of 50-80 pits per year. Theoretically, the Lab is currently capable of producing 10-20 pits per year, maybe. But it produced zero this year.
It is now unclear when or if the CMRR nuclear facility will be built, which the Lab claims may lead to insufficient capabilities to meet LANL’s plutonium research requirements. But no one really can say what these requirements are.
The report states the uncertainty–
The Nuclear Weapons Council is still evaluating specifications for nuclear weapons and their corresponding life extension program schedules, and it may take another year or two before final decisions are made, according to NNSA officials. Since the schedule has not been finalized, the number of pits that will be needed is uncertain as well. (Pg. 10)
Officials have announced that they are seeking alternatives to the CMRR that would provide the capabilities planned for the CMRR nuclear facility using existing facilities. This would be replacing deferred unneeded capabilities with unneeded capabilities. Instead of trying to replace the lacking capabilities of the CMRR, NNSA should first describe the actual pit needs, which are none.
Meanwhile, “NNSA has estimated that it needs to be able to ramp up its capabilities to manufacture about 30 pits each year by 2021” to meet expected life extension program requirements. (Life extension programs are intended to lengthen the lives of existing nuclear weapons by 20 to 30 years by repairing or replacing nuclear weapons components as needed.)
But the 30 number is just a guess “for planning purposes”.
For planning purposes, NNSA is studying the possibility of manufacturing about 30 pits per year… (Pg.10)
“Studying the possibility” is not a need.
NNSA now believes that LANL can support the manufacture of 30 pits per year just by upgrading its radiological laboratory and by repurposing available space in its existing plutonium facility. (Pg. 12)
Costs are unknown –
The cost estimates were characterized as “high-level and a rough order of magnitude and noted that the estimates should be viewed as preliminary and preconceptual that would not be useful for program definition or scoping.” (pg.15)
Staffing is unknown.
NNSA and LANL officials told us that recruiting additional staff for plutonium-related research necessarily takes years of advance planning, but that the uncertainty of where the new capabilities will be located or what the level of capacity is needed has complicated planning efforts. (Pg. 17)
What is know is the public is a problem –
Plans for transporting plutonium or other radioactive materials from LANL to facilities at other sites could also spur public opposition that may cause schedule delays or create other impediments…
Like speaking up?
A Los Alamos National Laboratory fact sheet touts the Lab as a plutonium “center of excellence”. However, the Laboratory Director paused operations in the Plutonium Facility on June 27, 2013. (The Plutonium Facility, called PF-4, is located at Technical Area 55 at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). PF-4 is home for the Lab’s plutonium work, including nuclear weapons component production.) The pause was based on issues identified during safety reviews and findings from recent assessments. For one, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) performed a review of the Criticality Safety Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in May 2013. (The Board is an independent organization within the executive branch chartered with the responsibility of providing recommendations and advice to the President and the Secretary of Energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy (DOE) defense nuclear facilities.) This review identified significant non-compliances with DOE requirements and industry standards in the Lab’s Criticality Safety Program (CSP). In addition, this review identified criticality safety concerns around operations at the Plutonium Facility. The Board noted that some of these deficiencies are long standing and indicated flaws in federal oversight and contractor assurance. Much plutonium work, especially work with a high potential for criticality, will be stopped through the rest of 2013.
Nuclear criticality safety is defined as “protection against the consequences of an inadvertent nuclear chain reaction, preferably by prevention of the reaction.” The most potentially dangerous aspect of a criticality accident is the release of nuclear radiation if it maintains a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
To date, the only thing self-sustaining is the Lab’s inability to address its criticality issues and yet still convince Congress to keep funding plutonium work there. To prevent bad things from happening, DOE’s regulations and directives require contractors to evaluate potential accident conditions and put in place appropriate controls and safety measures. History shows that the Los Alamos Laboratory just cannot do this, even though much of the work is performed on plutonium pits, the primaries of nuclear weapons. Even though actual need for this work has not been proven, the Lab has entrenched itself as the only place in the country where plutonium pits can be made, developed, and tested.
For fiscal year 2014, the budget request for nuclear ‘weapons activities’ at LANL was $1.4 billion. The exact amount that is spent on plutonium operations in PF-4 is unknown to us, but the budget request for 2014 for Directed Stockpile Work, which is where major parts of the plutonium operations are located, was $460 million. This is a 23% increase over last year’s budget. The funding pours into the Lab regardless of whether the Lab is actually doing any work, which is frequently stopped.
Here’s history of criticality problems and work stoppages at Los Alamos Laboratory:
In 2005, an assessment determined that LANL’s expert-based Criticality Safety Program (CSP) was not compliant with applicable DOE requirements and industry standards.
In 2006, LANS developed a Nuclear Criticality Safety Program Improvement Plan.
In 2007, in response to concerns raised by the Board’s staff, LANL determined that the authorized loading of vault storage rooms in PF-4 could lead to a critical configuration.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office reported concerns about nuclear safety at LANL are long-standing. Problems included 19 occasions since 2003 where criticality safety requirements were violated, such as storing materials in quantities higher than safety limits allow, 17 of 19 of the site’s nuclear facilities operating without proper safety documentation, reported inadequacies in safety systems, radiological releases, and four enforcement actions for significant violations of nuclear safety rules.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending April 3, 2009
LANL management placed the facility in stand-by mode until roughly 125 safety evaluations could be re-evaluated.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending October 2, 2009
The Plutonium Facility was placed in standby mode because management declared the fire suppression system inoperable based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system was not able to achieve the water coverage required. LANL had performed a system adequacy analysis in 2008. The hydraulic calculation completed for the system identified that 13 of approximately 100 hydraulic areas did not meet the requirement.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending October 16, 2009
A general evacuation alarm was caused by a Criticality Alarm System signal because of a loss of all facility ventilation and failure of the Facility Control System at the Plutonium Facility. The facility was in standby mode during this event due to previously identified issues with the fire suppression system and, therefore, limited personnel were in the facility.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending September 10, 2010
Operations in Plutonium Facility were suspended because potentially explosive ammonium nitrate was discovered in two filter ducts.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 3, 2010
It was revealed that greater than 1000 items, or about 20%, of the total vault holdings are items packaged in potentially vulnerable containers with taped slip-top lids rather than in robust safety-significant containers that include a HEPA-filtered vent. The presence of these slip-top containers requires respirator use whenever operators access the vault. In FY10, LANL made meaningful progress in addressing these legacy materials.
In 2011, an event occurred at PF-4 in which fissile material handlers violated procedural requirements and criticality safety controls while moving and photographing plutonium rods.
Beginning in 2012, LANS experienced an 18-month exodus of criticality safety professionals from its criticality safety group. LANS currently employs 2 full-time and 2 part-time qualified criticality safety analysts, in addition to 3 part-time subcontractors—far fewer than the 17 criticality safety analysts it has determined to be necessary to support operations, meet mission goals, and maintain the CSP.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending April 20, 2012
Plutonium Facility personnel use a software program called MAR Tracker to track plutonium that is used in the facility. A system engineer discovered an error in
MAR Tracker that caused only a small subset of applicable facility containers (roughly 1700 out of 13000 containers) to be checked during the required annual MAR surveillance. The Plutonium Facility was placed in Standby Mode.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending June 15, 2012
LANL identified a number of fuel rods in TA-35 Building 27 that were not consistent with the criticality safety evaluation for the facility. Operations at this building had previously been suspended in late-May due to the discovery of three fuel rods that were not in the facility or institutional tracking systems.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 14, 2012
LANL identified that the Criticality Safety Evaluations (CSEs) for two rooms did not adequately address the potential for interaction effects between storage locations. Plutonium Facility management suspended operations in these two vault rooms.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending February 15, 2013
LANL began a focused training program (“boot camp”) to provide an intensive learning environment for new criticality safety staff. The program consisted of nine modules including: nuclear theory; criticality safety calculation methods; ANSI/ANS, DOE and LANL criticality safety standards and requirements; criticality safety evaluations; and criticality alarm and detection systems. This program along with on-the-job training and performance demonstrations was to provide a mechanism for achieving full qualification as a LANL criticality safety analyst. Conduct of the boot camp was part of the LANL corrective action plan for improving the nuclear criticality safety program.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending May 3, 2013
The laboratory completed criticality safety assessments at LANL nuclear facilities. The review teams identified 3, 4, and 6 findings for TA-55, CMR, and Area G, respectively. In all cases, the assessments concluded adequate implementation of the Criticality Safety Program with the exception of identified findings. Notably, one of the findings at Area G identified that supervisors and operations center personnel did not have an adequate understanding of criticality safety requirements. Area G management paused operations based on this finding and conducted appropriate training to resolve this issue.
In May 2013, the staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) performed a review of the Criticality Safety Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory. This review identified significant non-compliances with applicable Department of Energy requirements and industry standards in the implementation of the Criticality Safety Program. The Board’s staff identified the following non-compliances during its review:
• Most criticality safety controls are not incorporated into operating procedures.
• Operators typically do not utilize written procedures when performing work.
• Fissile material labels do not list parameters relevant to criticality safety (e.g., mass).
• Some fissile material operations lack Criticality Safety Evaluations (CSEs).
• Some CSEs do not analyze all credible abnormal conditions.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending June 28, 2013
The Laboratory Director paused programmatic activities at the Plutonium Facility. The pause was directed based on issues identified during procedural and criticality safety reviews and findings from recent assessments. Reviews at PF-4 have identified a number of procedural issues and the need for clarification and improvement of criticality safety controls.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending July 26, 2013
Plutonium Facility personnel identified several criticality safety issues associated with recent construction activity. Even though plutonium work was paused, the Laboratory Director and the Facility Operations Director (FOD) approved construction activities that had the potential to affect nuclear materials.
For more information, please read the LAMonitor article By John Severance
Safety board visits LANL
Yesterday all three House members of the New Mexican congressional delegation voted against an amendment that would cut money added to a wasteful nuclear weapons program. In April the Obama Administration asked for $537 million in fiscal year 2014 for a “Life Extension Program” for the B61 Cold War nuclear bomb, 45% above the 2013 level. The House Appropriations Committee added $23.7 million to that bloated request, which the amendment would have cut. Overall, the B61 Life Extension Program has exploded in estimated costs to where each warhead will cost twice their weight in gold just to “refurbish” (which does not include original production and ongoing maintenance costs).
The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., testified during floor debate:
At a time when we are slashing funds for disease research at the NIH [National Institute of Health], failing to fund our crumbling infrastructure, and underinvesting in our children¹s education, we are increasing funding to keep hundreds of nuclear bombs in operation that we will never use. The Cold War is over.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.,
…supported the full $551 million for the B61 Life Extension Program because it is a national security priority. “This funding is important for Los Alamos and Sandia labs’ effort to ensure the safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile, and cuts to that funding impact the ability to keep it secure,” Luján said.
Rather just ensuring safety and security the program will radically improve the bomb, giving it new military capabilities by turning it into a precisely targeted smart bomb and mating it to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery. Currently the main mission of B61 bombs is as tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War. Improved B61’s fly in the face of Obama’s newly declared goal of reducing the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, even as he proposes to negotiate with the Russians for further arms reductions. Moreover, if security is really the issue, the sure solution that saves taxpayers money and encourages nonproliferation is to withdraw the nuclear bombs from forward deployment in Europe, where a few years ago protesting peace activists were able to infiltrate within a few hundred yards of them.
Ironically, the B61 Life Extension Program may actually undermine our own national security by introducing major changes to existing bombs. Our stockpile has been extensively full-scale tested, and repeated studies have found our nuclear weapons to be even more reliable than previously believed. The Los Alamos and Sandia Labs propose to create a “frankenbomb” by mixing and matching four variants of the B61 bomb into a single new modification. Common sense dictates that the last thing we should do while seeking to maintain confidence in our reliable nuclear weapons stockpile is to introduce major changes that can’t be tested.
Our New Mexican congressional delegation represents a state that was just ranked as the worst of all fifty for the well-being of its children, where more than 25% live in poverty. In stark contrast, Los Alamos County, dominated by the lab, is the second richest county in the entire USA. Nuclear weapons programs are a poor producer of jobs, where for example according to the government’s own documents a new $6 billion plutonium facility was not going to produce a single new permanent job at Los Alamos Lab.
Contrary to the claimed economic benefits of the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, New Mexico as a whole continues to fall from 37th in per capita personal income in 1959 to 44th in 2011. Nevertheless, the Labs have always had inordinate influence over New Mexican politicians. One extreme example is the recent starling revelation that in between unsuccessful Senate campaigns former Rep. Heather Wilson was paid more than $450,000 by the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs for “consulting” contracts that had no written work requirements.
The nuclear weapons labs have voracious appetites for federal funding, with their directors simultaneously acting as the presidents of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs (those private LLCs pay 2/3’s of the directors’ annual compensation of around one million dollars). Business will boom with never-ending Life Extension Programs, and Sandia and Los Alamos are not satisfied with just one Life Extension Program for the B61. They already plan yet another one 20 years from now that initial figures indicate would be even more expensive. In fact, the labs plan a never-ending cycle of Life Extension Programs that intentionally seek to implement major design changes for all existing types of nuclear weapons in our stockpile, costing at least $60 billion (while the doubling of costs has so far been the rule).
Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Congressman Ben Ray Luján should ask himself the question what good does a Cold War nuclear bomb that the for-profit labs want to endlessly tinker with do for New Mexican children? Pork for the labs should not drive nuclear weapons policies, especially when it’s of little if any tangible benefit to average New Mexicans. Luján should, instead, dedicate himself to boosting funding for programs that would really help our children but are facing painful sequester cuts, such as education, medical care and food assistance. Those investments would really brighten their future, and help raise New Mexico from its shameful position as the worst state for kids.”
# # #
See House rejects effort to trim $23.7M in funding for B61, Michael Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, July 11, 2013.
For New Mexico’s ranking as the worst state for kids see Kids Count Data Center http://datacenter.kidscount.org/updates/show/20-2013-data-book-rankings
For the scope and schedule of perpetual Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons see NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan
Obama Calls For Further Nuclear Weapons Reductions
While Increased Production and New Facilities at Los Alamos Are Still On the Table
On June 19, in Berlin, President Barack Obama declared that, in concert with Russia, he plans to seek to cut the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third. He also said he will pursue significant bilateral cuts in tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. In contrast, Obama’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently released plans for unneeded upgrades and dangerous improvements to existing nuclear weapons, which could force expanded nuclear component production and construction of new facilities at Los Alamos.
In the just released “FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” (SSMP), NNSA proposes perpetual Life Extension Programs for nuclear warheads that will result in three types of ballistic missile warheads and two types of nuclear air bombs. Although it’s still vague, the three so-called interoperable warheads would replace four types of existing warheads, which make little sense given the staggering estimated costs. These radical upgrades, if implemented, could not be full-scale tested, which would undermine confidence in their reliability. Our existing nuclear weapons designs have been extensively tested and subsequent studies have found them to be even more reliable and long-lived than originally thought.
The President’s speech is also incongruous with the SSMP in the area of plutonium pit production, and states “Preliminary plans call for pit production of potentially up to 80 pits per year starting as early as FY 2030.” (SSMP Pg. 62) With Obama’s further proposed arsenal reductions, any planned increase in weapons production is only a concession the nuclear weapons contractors profits. The alleged need for more plutonium pits cascades into a misplaced call for more production facilities. NNSA is “…evaluating the feasibility of constructing small laboratory modules connected to existing nuclear facilities…” (SSMP Pg. 8) to meet future claimed plutonium-manufacturing requirements. The SSMP states that Los Alamos can produce up to 30 pits per year without new facilities.
The need for increased pit production has never been explained adequately to the public, but the claim likely is centered on one of the interoperable warhead plans – the W78/88. In a May 7, 2013 testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Dr. Penrose C. Albright, Director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claimed that the W78/88 would require increased pit production at Los Alamos. He goes on to try to scare the Committee by saying that without construction funding for new pit facilities now, the W78/88 warhead upgrade could cost even more. He stated, “without going into the detail, the most likely option for the primary on the 78/88 does require the stand-up and operation of plutonium pit production capabilities at Los Alamos. And so any delay by the Government—any delay in funding to get that stood up—and that really has to start now—is going to add significant schedule risks to the program.” (Hearing Pg. 17)
The President should adopt the more fiscally prudent and technically sound alternative of replacing limited life components while he actually works to eliminate nukes altogether. This unending cycle of proposed Life Extension Program will waste huge sums of taxpayers money and is in direct conflict with the President’s own long-term goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.
The full text of President’s Obama’s speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/19/remarks-president-obam
NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf
Hearing To Receive Testimony On National Nuclear Security Administration Management Of Its National Security Laboratories In Review Of The Defense Authorization Request For Fiscal Year 2014 And The Future Years Defense Program, Tuesday, May 7, 2013, U.S. Senate Subcommittee On Strategic Forces, Committee On Armed Services, Washington, DC.
Lab lacks ability to estimate emergency response as it also underestimates risk
There has been much in the recent news about Los Alamos National Laboratory underestimating how much radiation could leak from the nuclear weapons production plutonium lab after a major earthquake and fire. Read the POGO article here.
Among other problems, LANL computer models credited sheetrock walls with surviving an earthquake.
In a recently released May report, the Department of Energy’s very own oversight Department finished a separate review titled, “Independent Oversight Review of Site Preparedness for Severe Natural Phenomena Events at the Los Alamos National Laboratory”, that also questions the Lab’s safety procedures.
The Health Safety and Security Office (HSS) of Safety and Emergency Management Evaluations performed this independent review to evaluate emergency response capabilities at the Lab and how the Lab maintained them in a state of readiness in case of a severe natural phenomena event. The review showed that LANL would have trouble responding quickly with the appropriate emergency response in the case of a serious natural event.
As one of the conclusions states – “LANL does not have an adequate means for determining quickly whether an event occurring at the CMR facility, a criticality event at TA-55 PF-4 facility, or a severe natural phenomena event at either facility involves a significant quantity of HAZMAT and requires implementation of corresponding onsite protective actions or issuance of appropriate offsite protective action recommendations.” (Pg. 38)
For example, the Emergency Action Levels currently in the Lab’s Emergency Plan Procedure:
• Do not reflect the CMR Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment isolation and downwind protective action distances for the majority of the events
• Do not provide Emergency Action Levels for two severe natural phenomena events (earthquake and wildland fire) in the CMR Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment
• Use a criticality alarm system as an Emergency Action Level entry indicator for a criticality event at CMR, even though CMR is not equipped with a criticality alarm system
• Do not use the PF-4 criticality alarm system as an Emergency Action Level entry indicator for the criticality event analyzed in the TA-55 Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment.
In addition, the Lab’s generic natural disaster Emergency Action Levels do not provide sufficient information to accurately categorize and/or classify a severe natural phenomena event.
And LANL’s planning for onsite protective actions and offsite protective action recommendations provided in the Emergency Action Levels did not fully consider facility or site conditions for the analyzed events.
The report continues. The Independent Oversight observed outdated and incorrect information in the current set of CMR and TA-55 PF-4 Emergency Action Levels. Further, the generic Emergency Action Levels for severe natural phenomena events were not based on the potential for or an actual uncontrolled release of HAZMAT and are not linked to protective actions or protective action recommendations.
Additionally, the pre-planned protective actions for a TA-55 PF-4 seismic event are limited to shelter-in-place when there could be high radiation levels, and no effective shelters are available.
So, we have two different government agencies questioning safety after the Lab received a record $83 million in award bonuses.
These reports are another example of why the Lab must shut down plutonium operations now.
LANL loses track of nuclear materials
Plutonium operations placed in standby mode
In an April 20, 2012 report, the Safety Board charged with oversight of defense nuclear facilities reported that the system used to track nuclear materials in the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory was operating erroneously. The system apparently only kept track of 1,700 out of 13,000 containers of nuclear “materials at risk” (MAR). This omission caused the facility to exceed its limits for MAR located in individual containers and outside of gloveboxes at least 15 times.
If one is operating a facility with large quantities of fissionable nuclear materials it is very important to know where the materials are at all times because stacking too much plutonium in one place can cause a criticality event or worse. After the error was noticed, the Lab manually started to verify container MAR amounts manually. “To date, fifteen containers, all housed in the facility’s vault, have been identified with contents that exceed the MAR limit of 7500 g WG-Pu [Weapons Grade Plutonium] equivalent.” That’s a lot to lose track of because these limits help the facility to comply with the seismic requirements of operations in the Lab’s earthquake fault zone.
Normal operations have been terminated in the 150,000 square foot Plutonium Facility and the facility has been placed in “Standby Mode.” How much does a shutdown cost taxpayers?
How long has the Lab violated these limits? The report states that the tracking error was introduced during software development, apparently due to a “miscommunication” between the software developers and the security personnel. The MAR tracker program performs other required MAR limit surveillances in the facility. Are these other surveillances reliable? This incident also calls into question other Lab software, such as programs that model contaminant transport.
The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board Report is here.
While being narrowly correct, LANL PR man Kevin Roark is misleading when he claims [in a June 25, Letter to the Editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper] that plutonium pit production will not take place in the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR). What he fails to disclose is that the Lab is not building just one facility, but instead is creating an integrated manufacturing complex for expanded production for which the CMRR is absolutely key. This complex will consist of LANL’s existing production facility “PF-4” with ~$300 million in upgrades; CMRR’s already completed first phase, the $400 million “Rad Lab”; and the future $4 billion CMRR “Nuclear Facility,” now being debated.
The Nuclear Facility will be literally next door to PF-4 and linked to it via underground tunnel. While pits are physically manufactured in PF-4’s glovebox lines, the Nuclear Facility’s central missions of “materials characterization” and “analytical chemistry” are essential operations that ensure “weapons-grade” plutonium and pit production quality control. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s own documents show that the Nuclear Facility is being specifically sized to support expanded production of up to 80 pits per year, quadruple LANL’s currently approved rate. It is also planned to have a vault for up to six metric tons of “special nuclear materials,” capable of storing around 1,000 pits.
Roark must think that New Mexicans are naïve enough to accept the Lab’s claims that the CMRR is all about “science” even as LANL becomes more and more a production site. Sadly, this is only part and parcel of the substantial rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex, which will also include a new $3.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee and a new privately financed Kansas City Plant for production of the 1,000’s of nonnuclear components that go into a nuclear weapon.
Many New Mexicans hoped for serious mission diversification at Los Alamos, which some $5 billion sunk into its plutonium infrastructure will almost certainly shut the door on. Schools in Santa Fe and all across the country are being closed due to lack of funding. Nevertheless, our government is preparing to spend some $10 billion to build new production plants even as we are purportedly working toward the declared long-term national security goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. To get there, citizens need to push the politicians to meet the needs of everyday people, not those of the vested nuclear weaponeers.
In response to a question by Senator Jeff Bingaman at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 14, 2010, NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino stated “We will not make pits in the CMR replacement facility. We’ll make them in the existing older facility.”
That is narrowly true, but highly misleading. In fact, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project is all about expanding plutonium pit production capabilities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from the presently sanctioned level of 20 per year to up to 80. [Plutonium pits are the fissile “triggers” that initiate fusion in today’s modern thermonuclear weapons.] Yes, PF-4, LANL’s existing plutonium facility, performs the actual physical manufacturing of pits. However, that production cannot take place without “analytical chemistry” (AC) and “materials characterization” (MC) before production to make sure that the plutonium is weapons-grade, and extensive AC and MC sampling during production for stringent “war reserve” quality control.
It’s a mistake to get hung up on different facilities, when an integrated plutonium complex for expanded pit production capability is being created through proposed construction of the CMRR’s “Nuclear Facility” and upgrades to PF-4. It’s silly to think of them as separate facilities just because they’ll be under two different roofs. PF-4 and the Nuclear Facility will be next door to each other, linked by underground tunnel, with highly integrated operations and much exchange of special nuclear materials between them (especially given the Nuclear Facility’s planned vault for up to six metric tons of “special nuclear materials”).
The CMRR Nuclear Facility is being specifically sized to support pit production capability of 50 – 80 pits per year. An internal NNSA study of planned alternatives advocated for a “baseline version (22,500 ft2 of Pu lab space) of the CMRR-NF…, resulting in a production capacity of 50-80 ppy” [pits per year]. Independent Business Case Analysis of Consolidation Options for the Defense Programs SNM and Weapons Programs, TechSource, Inc, December 2007, p. 5-3, parentheses in the original. This “Business Case” is one of NNSA’s hundreds of reference documents for its 2008 Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. [To conveniently find it, use “TechSource 2007a.”]
That 22,500 ft2 of Pu lab space is exactly what is being designed for the Nuclear Facility now. “CMRR Project Nuclear Facility… Baseline under development …. 22,500 Net Square Feet Lab Space.” CMRR Project Update, LANL, Public Meeting, Los Alamos, New Mexico March 3, 2010, 7th viewgraph.
Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the for-profit corporation that runs Los Alamos, has already been paid for installing additional equipment in PF-4 that in conjunction with the future CMRR-Nuclear Facility will expand plutonium pit production capability to up to 80 pits per year. “Build Six New W88 Pits & Install Equipment in FY 2008 to Increase Pit Capacity to 80 Pits Per Year by the Operational Date of a CMRR-Nuclear Facility – Available Fee $1,079,915 – Awarded Fee $1,079,915.” FY 2008 Performance Evaluation Report for the Los Alamos National Security, LLC’s Management and Operation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, NNSA, p. 9.
NNSA echoes this in its FY 2010 Supplemental Stockpile Stewardship Plan. Under Key Recent Accomplishments the agency boasts of “New equipment installed as scheduled for gradual capacity increases to 80 pits per year potential by scheduled operational date for Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Nuclear Facility.” Table 1-1, NNSA/Office of Defense Programs, FY 2010 – 2014 Supplement to the Stockpile Stewardship Plan, p. 14.
In sum, suggestions or representations by NNSA and LANL that the $4.5 billion CMRR Project is not about pit production are at best half-truths. Its massive proposed “Nuclear Facility” is, in fact, all about expanded pit production capability.
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.