GOVERNMENT ISSUES RECORD OF DECISION TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR WEAPONS PRODUCTION AT Y-12 COMPLEX IN OAK RIDGE, DOWNPLAYING RISK TO WORKERS AND PUBLIC CITIZENS SAY, “A BEGINNER’S CLASS IN DISSEMBLING”
The National Nuclear Security Administration issued an Amended Record of Decision for the Continued Operation of the Y-12 National Security Complex* on September 30, 2020. NNSA says the new decision updates its October 2019 AROD.
The AROD dismisses risks from earthquakes and declares that NNSA will continue to conduct nuclear weapons manufacturing operations in facilities that do meet environmental and safety codes for at least 20 more years under its Enriched Uranium program. This AROD is the result of a federal court decision in September 2019 in a case brought by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the Natural Resources Defense Council and four individual plaintiffs. In that decision, Chief Judge Pamela Reeves ruled NNSA had not met the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. Judge Reeves vacated two Supplement Analyses and one previous AROD and ordered NNSA to conduct further analysis on the risks of earthquakes.
“The new Amended Record of Decision is a pretty respectable beginner’s class in dissembling,” said OREPA coordinator Ralph Hutchison. “The first lie is a big one, and easily disproved. NNSA says ‘The court further held that NNSA is not required to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the UPF Project or the Extended Life Program.’ This is simply not true.
“The court explicitly did not make that finding; it would have been inappropriate. What the court did was tell NNSA they didn’t have to prepare a new or Supplemental EIS due to changed circumstances. Instead, they had to prepare a Supplement Analysis—one step earlier in the process—to determine whether or not a new or Supplemental EIS was required. That is the only purpose of an SA, and NNSA knows it. They just tried to spin it. Either that, or they think the court didn’t understand what it was saying.
“From that point on, it is pure spin. NNSA says it has prepared an ‘unbounded analysis of earthquake consequences at Y-12.’ But in fact, it prepared a very narrow assessment of the potential risks in the event of an earthquake—the assessment was limited to radiation exposure only, and to human beings only. In both cases, the law requires more—an evaluation of the environmental impact on all of the environment, and of all possible impacts, including releases of hazardous and toxic materials as well as physical damage. NNSA simply declined to ask the hard questions.”
The AROD asserts that NNSA will “avoid many of the safety risks [of continued operations in out-of-compliance buildings] by relocating processes.” In fact, NNSA’s EU program has limited its options; there is no place to safely put many of the dangerous HEU operations. “That’s why NNSA can’t say they will avoid or mitigate all of the safety risks, or the worst safety risks, or the serious safety risks,” Hutchison noted.
In its final duplicitous assertion, NNSA writes: “Through the Extended Life Program, mission-critical existing and enduring buildings and infrastructure will be maintained and/or upgraded, which will enhance safety and security at the Y-12 site.” Here again, NNSA’s language is meant to sound reassuring without saying anything. It does not guarantee safety or security; it does not promise to meet a standard; it simply says it will enhance safety and security. The public is left to wonder how much or how little—and what level of risk remains.
“What we do know from NNSA’s own documents,” Hutchison noted, “is that they do not yet know what will be required to make the dangerous facilities safer. Those studies won’t be completed until next year, if then. And they have already said they think some of the required safety improvements will be ‘cost prohibitive.’
“The bottom line is this Record of Decision shows that NNSA’s environmental analysis is an admission that the work at Y-12 is happening now in substandard facilities, facilities that do not meet modern environmental and safety standards, buildings that pose a significant risk to workers and the public. It also shows that NNSA is not fully committed to make the workplace safe at Y-12, or to protect the public. Instead, before they even fully understand the risks or the measures necessary to mitigate them, they are issuing a Record of Decision.”
Following the September, 2019 federal court decision, OREPA and its co-plaintiffs filed a motion with the federal court to enforce its vacature of the NNSA environmental studies and stop construction of the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant until NNSA was in full compliance with the law. That motion is pending before the court.
* Federal Register/Vol. 85, No. 190/ Wednesday, September 30, 2020/Notices,