A letter from 120 activist groups and citizens has prompted the state’s two U.S. senators to ask federal agencies to give the public more time to comment on possible environmental effects of pit production at Los Alamos Laboratory.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich wrote to the National Nuclear Security Administration on Wednesday, urging it to extend the public comment period to June 19 on its environmental study of the lab’s future production.
They cited challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis and referred to a letter they received from activists who had asked for the June 19 extension.
“We continue to believe that providing the public ample opportunity to comment on environmental documents … provides an invaluable source of expertise to NNSA’s decision-makers, enhances transparency and ensures accountability,” the senators wrote. “We respectfully request that you give careful consideration to extending the public comment period.”
Heinrich and Udall were echoing a request they and about 20 other senators made to the federal Office of Management and Budget, asking to indefinitely extend public comment on all rule-making decisions not related to COVID-19.
“Good that they followed their own words,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, who wrote the letter to the senators.
The National Nuclear Security Administration wants the lab to begin producing 30 pits a year in 2026 and develop the ability to surge to 80 pits a year if necessary. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina is scheduled to produce an additional 50 pits per year by 2030.
The agency conducted a supplemental environmental analysis to a 2008 sitewide review of LANL, noting a full review wasn’t needed because the main effects are not significantly different from 12 years ago.
Watchdogs and other critics disagree, arguing that producing a combined 80 pits at two sites is itself enough to warrant a comprehensive study.
On April 1, Coghlan, representing 20 activists, wrote a letter to the NNSA and U.S. Energy Department, requesting the extension of public comment to June 19. At the time, the deadline was April 24.
Bruce Diamond, general counsel for the National Nuclear Security Administration, responded, noting “a two-month extension of the comment period would have a severe adverse impact on the detailed planning and coordination” of ramping up pit production.
However, Diamond said the agency would extend the public comment period to May 8. Savannah River Site also received a 15-day extension for public comment on its sitewide environmental review.
Agency spokeswoman Toni Chiri, who hadn’t seen the senators’ letter, declined to comment Wednesday.
Coghlan said he found it hard to believe the agency would deem an additional six weeks an adverse impact.
“They want to ram their agenda through before they face the uncertain outcome of the pending election,” Coghlan said.