David D. Jackson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles, issued a scathing review of the latest study to analyze earthquake risks at the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, saying, “The agency’s analysis is defective in numerous regards. It falls far short of relevant professional and scientific standards.”
Jackson was asked by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance to review the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Draft Supplement Analysis (SA) of a 2011 Environmental Impact Statement on plans for continued nuclear weapons production at the Oak Ridge production complex. In September, 2019, federal judge Pamela Reeve set aside two previous SAs and ordered NNSA to prepare additional environmental analysis with special attention paid to the risks presented by earthquakes.
In 2015, NNSA revealed its plans to continue weapons production operations with highly enriched uranium in facilities that fail to meet modern earthquake safety standards. NNSA said it had not completed thorough studies, but believed bringing the facilities into compliance would be “cost prohibitive.” Instead, NNSA adopted a policy of “risk acceptance” and said it would continue to use the noncompliant facilities for thirty more years.
In the Current Draft SA, NNSA admits it does not yet understand the risks posed by the aging facilities; in-depth studies will not be completed until the end of 2021.
Jackson, past president of the Seismology Section of the American Geophysical Union and Science Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, described in detail the shortcomings of the NNSA’s latest Draft SA. “The hazardous nature of the work being done at Y-12, the importance of this work, and the vulnerability of the aging buildings warrant more careful analysis,” Jackson wrote.
Jackson notes that the United States Geological Survey has issued updates to its earthquake hazard maps in 2016, 2017 and 2018. “NNSA appears unaware of these publicly available estimates and maps. Of particular significance, the 2018 seismic hazard calculations indicate even greater hazard than…the 2014 map.”
You can read Jackson’s comments here:
Jackson’s comments on the Draft SA were submitted to the NNSA on May 26, 2020. NNSA is expected to finalize its Supplement Analysis and issue a Record of Decision at an undetermined date. In the meantime, the construction of the Uranium Processing Facility continues in Oak Ridge despite the absence of the legally required environmental impact documentation. That construction has been challenged in federal court by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the Natural Resources Defense Council and four individual plaintiffs.
“This is a wake up call,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. “People living in this area are being placed at significant risk by decisions made by the NNSA, but most people don’t know about it. Dr. Jackson’s review makes it clear that an earthquake of any size could be catastrophic, leading to the release of hazardous and radioactive materials that could threaten hundreds of thousands of people.
“The Draft SA says the earthquake probability is five times higher than they estimated before. They say outright that the old buildings do not meet current standards, and they expect them to fail. They say the exposure from radioactive materials is at least ten times higher than their previous estimates. All of this points to one thing—it is time to prepare a new Environmental Impact Statement, complete with public hearings and a new Record of Decision.”