Santa Fe, NM
The Washington Post has published the first in a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab. Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that when imploded initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons.
By the way, did you know? Plutonium facilities at LANL are, in principle, designed to withstand a serious earthquake of a degree expected to occur only once every 10,000 years. The last serious earthquake near the Lab is believed to have occurred 11,500 years ago.
Santa Fe, NM.
The proposed level of funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA)’s Total Weapons Activities is $10.2 billion, a full billion above what was requested for FY 2017. In March, Trump’s “skinny budget” stated NNSA’s funding priorities as ‘moving toward a responsive nuclear infrastructure’, and ‘advancing the existing warhead life extension programs’.
Concerning Life Extension Programs, rather than merely maintaining and extending the lives of existing nuclear weapons as advertised, they are being given new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government. A current example is the B61-12 Life Extension Program, which is transforming a “dumb” nuclear bomb into the world’s first highly accurate “smart” nuclear bomb.
With respect to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), “responsive infrastructure” no doubt means accelerating upgrades to existing plutonium facilities and likely building two or three new underground “modules”, all for the purpose of quadrupling plutonium pit production from 20 to 80 pits per year. (Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons.)
Plutonium pit production is a chokepoint of resumed U.S. nuclear weapons production. Citizens have defeated four past government attempts to expand pit production. Now Trump promises to increase military spending, and Congress has already required expanded pit production at the Los Alamos Lab regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. This will enable the continuing evolution of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile with new military capabilities. Trump’s pending federal budget will likely fund new and upgraded plutonium facilities expected to be operational for at least the next half-century. Continue reading
Santa Fe, NM
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has publicly released its fiscal year 2016 Performance Evaluation Report (PER) for Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), the for-profit contractor that runs the Los Alamos Lab. The Performance Evaluation Report is NNSA’s annual report card on contractor performance, and overall the agency awarded LANS $59 million in profit out of a possible $65 million. The grade was 85% for the incentive part of the award. In 2012 Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued NNSA to ensure that the Performance Evaluation Reports detailing taxpayers funds paid to nuclear weapons contractors are publicly available. In 2016 the NNSA decided to put the LANL management contract out for competitive bid, but granted LANS a contract extension until the end of September 2018.
Despite the passing grade that NNSA gave LANS, there is still ample reason for public concern. First, it bears repeating that in February 2014 a radioactive waste drum improperly prepared by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) burst underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), contaminating 21 workers and closing that multi-billion dollar facility (a limited restart of operations at WIPP may occur this month).
Less widely known is the fact that LANL’s main plutonium facility that produces WIPP wastes has only recently restarted operations after being shut down since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns…
Santa Fe, NM
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency within the Department of Energy, which has the singular distinction of being the only federal department on the GAO’s High Risk List for wasting taxpayer dollars for 25 consecutive years. LANL is NNSA’s so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence” and the nation’s only site for pit production, but major operations at PF-4, its main plutonium facility, have been stopped since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns. In addition, there is no place for LANL to send its radioactive transuranic wastes from plutonium pit production since one of its waste drums ruptured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February 2014 and indefinitely closed that multi-billion facility.
Despite all this, funding for NNSA’s nuclear weapons research and production programs is being increased to nearly double the Cold War’s historic average, while nonproliferation, warhead dismantlement and cleanup programs are being cut or held flat…
This is the unsung story of successful citizen activism against repeated government attempts to expand the production of plutonium pit cores, which has always been the choke point of resumed U.S. nuclear weapons production. This history is a critical part of the march toward a future world free of nuclear weapons.
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads:
Treat All Los Alamos Lab Radioactive Wastes Consistently
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s role and responsibility includes gathering information regarding the hazards to the public and workers posed by the management of transuranic (TRU) wastes at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), as well as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) plans to address those hazards. The Board will examine DOE’s actions taken or inadequacies addressed in the current safety policies of the various facilities that manage or store TRU wastes at LANL. The Board is also interested in understanding actions taken to improve TRU waste management at LANL after the improper handling and treatment of TRU wastes that resulted in a ruptured barrel that shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
Santa Fe, NM.
Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the choke point preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented,
“Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.
View/Download Full PDF HERE
GAO Seeks Broader Analysis For Proposed Liquid Waste Facility at LANL
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) was mandated to review the “analysis of alternatives” (AOA) process applied by NNSA. The process entails identifying, analyzing, and selecting a preferred alternative to best meet the mission need by comparing the operational effectiveness, costs, and risks of potential alternatives. GAO developed a set of practices by reviewing AOA policies and guidance used by seven public and private-sector entities with experience in the AOA process. GAO’s review of DOE’s requirements for AOAs found that they conform to only 1 of the 24 best practices: the practice of defining functional requirements based on mission need.
DOE and NNSA officials acknowledge that unreliable AOAs are a risk factor for major cost increases and schedule delays for NNSA projects. As GAO has previously reported, NNSA has spent billions of dollars designing and partially constructing projects with an estimated cost of $750 million or more, only to later reassess alternatives. NNSA may continue on this path and continue to have limited assurance that it is selecting alternatives that best meet its mission needs and will not result in major cost increases and schedule delays in the future.
Overall, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) analysis of alternatives (AOA) conducted for the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF) project only partially met best AOA practices. The mission need for this project—to replace the current, aging facility—was approved in October 2004. NNSA approved an initial AOA for this project in 2006, and after substantial cost increases, conducted a second AOA (analyzed here) in 2013. NNSA currently estimates the project will cost between $168 million and $220 million.
The GAO compared the AOA conducted at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility at LANL with AOA best practices in 24 areas.
For instance in best practices, the team or the decision maker defines selection criteria based on the mission need. What LANL actually did only partially met best practices because the Lab included in the project documentation brief summaries of the selection criteria used but did not describe how these were based on the mission need. LANL included only one of these selection criteria—the scope—in the mission need statement.
In another case, the team or the decision maker is supposed to weigh the selection criteria to reflect the relative importance of each criterion. Here best practices were not met because LANL did not include weighting selection criteria in project documentation.
The ailing facility is still operating.
During 2013, all treated water from the RLWTF was fed to the effluent evaporator. The evaporator was operated 3654 hours on 201 days during 2013, in both one-burner and two-burner mode. A total of 2.64 million liters of treated water were fed to the evaporator, and 2.55 million liters were discharged to the environment as steam from the evaporator stack.
Curies of radioactive materials fed to the effluent evaporator during 2013 were calculated by multiplying the evaporator feed volume (2,638,330 liters) times the flow-weighted average concentration of each radionuclide. Feed to the effluent evaporator in 2013 contained approximately 4.9E-04 curie alpha radioactivity, 3.35E-04 curie beta radioactivity, and 1.7E-02 curie of tritium.
This RLWTF is vital to nuclear weapons production operations at the Lab. But equipment failures could pose a risk to facility workers.
GAO-15-37: Published: Dec 11, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2014.
Authors: Del Signore, John C. [Los Alamos National Laboratory]
NukeWatch Recent Related Work
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NukeWatch Past Related Work
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.