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Nuclear News Archives – 2021

NNSA Says No Injuries, Contamination During February 26 Incident At LANL Plutonium Facility

February 26 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4) waste generator site at Technical Area 55 involving sparking in a where a metal waste item in a transuranic waste drum has resulted in a potential noncompliance notification to the New Mexico Environment Department.

By: | Los Alamos Reporter March 17, 2021

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office confirmed that there were no injuries, no fire, contamination or release of material to the environment.

“During normal waste packaging operations, small sparks were observed in a plastic waste bag containing a High Efficiency Particular Air (HEPA) from a titanium welding area inside a glovebox,” she said. “The staff at TA-55 responded quickly and effectively, appropriately following safety protocol to evacuate the area and notify the Los Alamos Fire Department.”

A March 12 letter from NNSA to NMED noting the potential for noncompliance under the Hazardous Waste Facility permit says preliminary calculations indicate that there is no imminent or potential threat to human health or the environment and that NNSA is providing this report as a precautionary measure to keep NMED informed of the fact-finding extent of condition and the planned recovery path.

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Ongoing ‘review’ forces Pentagon official to pull out of SC pit production briefing

A Pentagon official backed out of a plutonium pit production briefing in Columbia this week because the Biden administration is “engaged in a full review of the program,” according to Rick Lee, the chairman of the S.C. Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council.

By:  |

Rick Lee, the chairman of the S.C. Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council, pictured here during a meeting in 2018. The council met in Columbia on Monday. (Colin Demarest/Staff)
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters Drew Walter was scheduled to make a presentation about pit production – the crafting of nuclear weapon cores, potentially in both South Carolina and New Mexico – “and why the Department of Defense feels it’s imperative that we get underway with the program,” Lee said.
But until the new administration settles on “what they want to do moving forward,” the chairman continued, Walter “would not be available for that kind of gathering.”
Exactly what the purported review covers or drills down on is unclear. A big question, Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements suggested Wednesday, “is if there is any kind of formal review of pits and overall nuclear weapons modernization at DOE and DOD.”

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Local Governments Should Leave the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities

Summary: Local governments get little in return for being members of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC). That is because the Coalition is ineffective, dysfunctional, wastes taxpayers’ money and stands in the way of genuine, comprehensive cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The RCLC was created to serve the interests of the Department of Energy and Los Alamos County, both of whom strongly support expanded plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons and supply 80% of the Coalition’s funding. The Regional Coalition brings no discernible economic benefit to local governments other than already rich Los Alamos County because the Lab’s presence is an economic net loss to them. Local governments should not put their time and money into the Coalition. Instead, their constituents would be better served if local governments left the coalition and advocated for comprehensive cleanup that would permanently protect the environment while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.


In 2011 the Department of Energy pulled promised funding from the Community Involvement Fund administered by the New Mexico Community Foundation that supported independent, often critical citizen and tribal analyses of DOE cleanup programs. At the same time DOE began funding the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities modeled on earlier alliances with local governments around the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, CO and the Mound Plant, near Mound, OH.

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The Nuclear Weapons Dimensions of the 2021 Integrated Review: A First Look

ACROSS THE POND AND OVER TO THE SAVANNAH RIVER AND NEW MEXICO MOUNTAINS: The UK will rearm itself with new American-made W93 warheads, and the plutonium pits for these weapons will be manufactured here at LANL and at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

BY: March 16th, 2021

Today’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (IR), Global Britain in a Competitive Age, is said to contain the most comprehensive review of UK nuclear weapons policy since the end of the Cold War (pp.76-78). Although there is certainly some continuity with the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, it sets a decisive course away from the United Kingdom’s long-term trend towards nuclear arms reductions and greater transparency.

Warhead Numbers and Transparency

The most headline-grabbing change to UK nuclear weapons policy is the increase to the cap on its overall nuclear warhead stockpile from 180 to 260, which was leaked last week and is now confirmed. This 44.4% increase decisively moves the Johnson Government away from the pledge made by the Coalition Government in 2010 to limit numbers to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s. While neither confirming that numbers will actually rise nor stating the precise reasons for this change, the IR claims vaguely that the previous target cap must be abandoned due to ‘recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats’ (p.76).

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New United Kingdom Defense Strategy a Troubling Step Back on Nuclear Policy

“We have RCLC, which is funded primarily by the Department of Energy funds, yet DOE doesn’t necessarily listen to the resolutions that we put forward about reducing plutonium pit production. They don’t ask us what we think as city of Santa Fe residents.”

For Immediate Release: March 15, 2021
Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext 104

The United Kingdom announced today that it will move to increase its total nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling by over 40 percent and reduce transparency about its nuclear arsenal. This is a needless and alarming reversal of the longstanding British policy to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons.

These changes, which are outlined in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, are also inconsistent with the British government’s prior pledges on nuclear disarmament under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The United Kingdom now joins China and perhaps Russia as the permanent members of the UN Security Council that are planning to increase the size of their warhead stockpiles.

The review attributes the need to increase the total stockpile ceiling from 180 warheads to 260 warheads to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats,” but it does not explain how raising the number of warheads will enhance deterrence against these threats.
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New Mexico demands more of US when addressing nuclear waste

“Some elected officials and watchdog groups say the list is another indication that New Mexico is on the back burner when it comes to cleaning up legacy waste. They’re also raising concerns that new waste generated by Los Alamos when it ramps up production of key nuclear warhead components will need to be cleaned up and could further sideline decontamination efforts.” March 15th, 2021

FILE – In this April 2019, file photo, provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory, barrels of radioactive waste are loaded for transport to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at the Radioactive Assay Nondestructive Testing (RANT) facility in Los Alamos, N.M. New Mexico is going after the federal government for failing to make progress on cleaning up contamination left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research at one of the nation’s premier nuclear labs. In a civil complaint filed in federal court, the state says the plan by the U.S. Energy Department lacks substantive and appropriate targets for dealing with waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Nestor Trujillo/Los Alamos National Laboratory via AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The U.S. Energy Department has rolled out its 2021 priorities for cleaning up tons of toxic waste left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research at scientific installations and defense sites around the country.

The list includes a goal of sending 30 shipments from the birthplace of the atomic bomb — Los Alamos National Laboratory — to the federal government’s underground waste repository in southern New Mexico.


For the NPT to work, plutonium has to go

Dealing with uranium enrichment is complicated because nuclear power plants use enriched uranium fuel, but that should not hold us back from eliminating the danger we can eliminate—plutonium.

Plutonium pellet. US Energy Department public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), whose tenth review conference is coming up in August, is in trouble, and not only because of the crescendo of complaints about the failure of the nuclear-armed states to implement nuclear disarmament. The treaty is threatened with irrelevancy because its controls have not kept up with the times. It was drafted over 50 years ago, when it was widely believed that nuclear energy represented the future and would soon take over the generation of electricity. Not surprisingly, countries put few treaty restrictions on access to technology or materials other than to impose international inspection, and even that was circumscribed. We now have a more realistic view of the dangers of access to fuels that are also nuclear explosives (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) and also of the limited economic utility of these fuels for powering reactors. If we want an effective NPT, we have to eliminate these dangerous materials from civilian nuclear power programs. 

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Checking in: WIPP maintenance work ‘on schedule’ during 2-month operations pause

At WIPP, the waste is delivered from facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Energy around the country and buried in an underground salt deposit which gradually collapses and encases the waste permanently.

By:  | March 15, 2021

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant halted waste emplacement and handling operations for the last month at the nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad while an array of maintenance projects was completed.

The facility, which permanently disposes of low-level transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste about 2,000 feet underground, planned the outage for about two months until April 14 to allow workers to complete routine upgrades to its infrastructure and other needed work.

During the two-month pause, WIPP planned on 97 activities from six departments including mine operations, waste handling, hoisting, work control, safety and engineering.

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Japan Hasn’t Recovered 10 Years After Fukushima Meltdown

“There is an old laboratory adage that says, “The best way to clean up a spill is not to have a spill,” and this applies on a much larger scale to the entirety of northern Japan, where cleanup will remain economically unfeasible.”

Truthout March 11th, 2021

Weeds grow in the parking lot of an abandoned restaurant along Route 6, just outside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which suffered a multiple-reactor meltdown following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post)

On March 11, 2011, a devastating offshore earthquake and ensuing tsunami rocked Japan and resulted in nuclear meltdowns in three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site. Until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were placed on a one-year hiatus because of concerns over COVID-19, the Japanese government had portrayed these events as the “Recovery Olympics.” It had hoped to use the Olympics to showcase a claimed restoration of Japan since it was devastated in 2011. But has Japan really “recovered?”

Recently, corresponding author Marco Kaltofen (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), co-author Maggie Gundersen (Fairewinds Energy Education) and I published our second peer-reviewed journal article analyzing hundreds of radioactive samples from northern Japan that we collected with assistance from Japanese citizens and scientists. Our sampling on five occasions over almost a decade totaled 70 days on the ground.

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Report: Cancer death rates rising near Fermi nuclear plant

A new study is looking to test baby teeth from children living near the plant.

By: Tricia Ennis |

(Photo: DTE Energy) (WNDU)

NEWPORT, Mich. (WTVG) – A new report from the Radiation and Public Health Project claims that the cancer death rate in Monroe County, Michigan is on the rise and it’s tying that growth to the Fermi 2 nuclear plant in Newport.

According to the report, which uses public health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of death due to cancer in Monroe County was roughly equal to that of the rest of the United States. Since 1988, that rate has risen steadily, reaching 11.3% higher than the national average in the most recent 10 years (2009-2018). From 2014-2018, that rate was 14.3% higher than the national average, amounting to 1,794 deaths. In the period between 1969 and 1978, outlines the report, that rate was 4.5% lower than the national average.

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LANL W-87-1 Nuclear Warhead and Proposed Expansion into Santa Fe

“CCNS asks that we look more closely at LANL’s claim to boost the local economy – an extra cup of coffee in the morning, a bagel for lunch, a tank of gasoline, a trip to the bank to deposit the salaries of some of the highest paid employees in New Mexico? LANL’s taxes are already contributing to Santa Fe’s economy. Such claims depend on redefining what is meant by “economic support” because there is no commercial product, nothing that is a benefit to the community.” March 11th, 2021

The W-87-1, a new plutonium pit for a proposed nuclear warhead for fighting a full-scale nuclear war, would be fabricated at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  A plutonium pit is a grapefruit sized radioactive core of a nuclear warhead.  The plutonium pit would fit on a proposed Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missile.  Many people question the need for a new estimated one billion dollar weapon, which they say is “outdated and unnecessary.” (Federation of American Scientists); (Issue Brief:  Inside the ICBM Lobby:  Special Interests or The National Interest, Center for International Policy’s Arms & Security Program); and (Capitalizing on conflict:  How defense contractors and foreign nations lobby for arm sales, Center for Responsive Politics).

The total congressional budget request for LANL in Fiscal Year 2021 is approximately $3.7 billion.  Approximately 80 percent is for nuclear weapons activities, or $3 billion.

Recently LANL signed two 10-year leases for nearly 96,000 square feet of space in three vacant office buildings in Santa Fe.  LANL plans for 75 employees to be based in one building on the corner of West Alameda and Guadalupe, and 500 more in two buildings on the hill above the intersection of St. Michael’s and Pacheco.  It is calculated that of those employees, 460 will work on nuclear weapons.

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Staffing, scheduling problems imperil projects at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, report says

Within the report, the GAO pointed to “significant” staffing shortages at WIPP that could prevent WIPP from completing construction projects needed to increase the facility’s space for waste disposal and allow for more workers in the underground to mine and emplace waste simultaneously.

By:  | March 11, 2021

Staffing and other problems at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant continued to be voiced by the federal government’s watchdog agency in a two-year report seeking to identify struggling areas in the government and ways to improve operations.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified the U.S. Department of Energy’s contract and project management at both the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Office of Environmental Management (EM) as one of six areas in its 2021 “High Risk List” that had showed some improvement since the last such report in 2019.

The EM manages WIPP on a federal level as low-level nuclear waste is permanently disposed of in an underground salt bed at the facility near Carlsbad.

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63 Years Ago – March 11, 1958: The Atomic Bomb that Faded into South Carolina History

Two women recall the bizarre day in 1958 when an atomic bomb fell out of the sky and landed on a Mars Bluff farm outside Florence.

Thankfully, the nuclear warhead, which at 30 kilotons was twice as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb, didn’t go off. But its TNT trigger did, leveling the farmhouse and leaving a massive crater. Such “broken arrow”incidents took place an extremely troubling number of times during the Cold War.


House nears vote to repeal nuclear plant bailout

“We need to hit the reset button and start from scratch here,” state Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D., Parma) said. “We can’t continue this nonsense of pretending that the corruption didn’t happen.”

By: JIM PROVANCE | The Blade, Toledo (TNS)  

COLUMBUS — A House committee Tuesday set the stage for a full chamber vote to partly repeal provisions of a state law at the heart of a $61 million Ohio Statehouse bribery scandal.

The full Ohio House of Representatives was expected to vote Wednesday.

This would mark the House’s first action to undo a $1 billion, consumer-financed bailout of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland. That law has come to epitomize shady, backroom dealing hidden even to those lawmakers ultimately manipulated to get it passed.

Two players and a nonprofit, dark-money corporation have already pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges carrying up 20 years in prison for the individuals. Three others — including former House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) — face similar charges.

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Nuclear Power Looks to Regain Its Footing 10 Years after Fukushima

Economics may play a stronger role than fear in steering nuclear power toward a slow decline.

“The pace of nuclear technologies’ progress could also be a factor in clean-energy strategies turning away from such power generation. Small modular reactors, along with other experimental designs, are not expected to begin commercial operations (or even testing) until the 2030s at the earliest, according to the DOE. This suggests that small reactors are unlikely to make a meaningful difference in reducing carbon emissions within the next 20 years. And at that point, they will have to compete in a future energy landscape that has been transformed even further by cheaper renewables and energy-storage technologies.”

“One imagines that solar will be more ingrained and cheaper, wind may be more ingrained and cheaper, the offshore wind will be developed, maybe batteries will be better developed, and storage will be better developed,” says Allison Macfarlane, who was chair of the NRC in 2012–2014. “That’s the market nuclear will have to compete in.”

By: | March 9, 2021

Nuclear power faces a wobbly future 10 years after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. But the industry’s unstable footing has less to do with the Fukushima accident—and more to do with how a natural gas glut and the rise of renewable power have transformed the global energy landscape.

Fukushima has certainly left its mark on the nuclear industry. When the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami occurred on March 11, 2011, there were 54 nuclear reactors in Japan. Since then about a third of them have been permanently shut down, and only nine have resumed operation.

“In Japan, [the accident is] still an outsize event,” says Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It not only had direct and indirect environmental consequences that they’re still dealing with—and a price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars to clean it up—but also it shattered the confidence of the Japanese people in nuclear power, which the authorities had always assured them was totally safe.”

Additionally, the accident spurred regulatory reviews of nuclear power worldwide and accelerated a preexisting plan in Germany to completely phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022. Other countries, including Spain, Belgium and Switzerland, are in the process of doing so within the next 14 years.

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After 75 years, it’s time to clean Bikini

“It is time, finally, to recognize and right the wrongs perpetrated by the US government in the Marshall Islands. The US forced a new and dangerous technology on the native lands and peoples, without fully comprehending the short- and long-term consequences.”

A nuclear weapon test by the US military at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: US Defense Department image via Wikimedia Commons, licensed with PD-USGov-Military.

BY: Hart RapaportIvana Nikolić Hughes | March 9, 2021

Due to their remote location in the Northern Marshall Islands, the people of Bikini Atoll were spared the worst of the mid-Pacific fighting between the American and Japanese armies in the final years of World War II. Their millennia-old culture and sustainable way of life ended abruptly when, in early 1946, Commodore Ben Wyatt, a representative of the occupying United States Navy, informed King Juda and other Bikini residents that the US would begin to test nuclear weapons near their homes. Wyatt asked the Bikinians to move elsewhere, stating that the temporary move was for “the good of mankind and to end all wars.” Though Wyatt may have believed his words to be true, the show of might by the US that followed neither ended all conflict, nor was the exodus short-lived. Seventy-five years later, Bikinians have yet to return.
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By: William D. Hartung | Arms & Security Program

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have been called “some of the most dangerous weapons in the world” by former Defense Secretary William Perry, because under current policies the president would have only a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them in a crisis, increasing the risks of an accidental nuclear war.1 Despite this reality, proposals for reducing this risk have routinely been blocked, in significant part due to a group of Senators from states that host ICBM bases or ICBM maintenance and development activities, often referred to as the ICBM Coalition. The Coalition includes Senators from Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

The polices promoted by the ICBM Coalition and its allies do not have wide public support. A recent poll conducted by ReThink Media and the Federation of American Scientists found that 60% of Americans supported either forgoing the development of a new ICBM, eliminating ICBMs altogether, or eliminating all nuclear weapons, an indication that a change in current ICBM policies would have significant public support.



Can the Energy Department store 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium for 10,000 years?

Safely ridding the nation of one of the world’s largest excess stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium will be no minor feat. At issue is the US Energy Department’s 2016 decision to dilute and dispose of, all told, about 48.2 metric tons of plutonium, including 26.2 tons of components, known as “pits,” from several thousand dismantled thermonuclear warheads and 22 metric tons in other forms…If one gram of soil contains as little as 1.587 micrograms of plutonium, the Energy Department is required by federal standards to geologically isolate it from the environment for at least 10,000 years at WIPP.

By: Robert Alvarez | March 8, 2021 

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico has received more than 12,500 shipments of transuranic waste since operations began in 1999.

The nuclear age is undergoing a paradigm shift. During much of the latter half of the past century, the nuclear enterprise was ascendant; now, it has entered a period of decline and uncertain long-term custodianship. This reversal of fortune is especially apparent in the United States’ efforts to rid itself of its unwanted reserves of plutonium. It’s been more than 75 years since a blinding flash lit up the pre-dawn sky at Alamogordo in the Chihuahua Desert of New Mexico. On July 16, 1945, a single gram of the grapefruit-size sphere of plutonium at the center of the world’s first nuclear explosion released three times the destructive force of the largest conventional bomb used during World War II. [1]

Thereafter, the United States government built a grossly oversized nuclear arsenal and never envisioned having to stop building it. Between 1944 and 1994, the Energy Department and its predecessors produced 99.5 metric tons of plutonium for use in an estimated 70,000 nuclear weapons. (An additional 11 tons were produced or acquired for research and development purposes.)

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This Is How the Biggest Arms Manufacturers Steer Millions to Influence US Policy

Five of the nation’s biggest defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics — spent a combined $60 million in 2020 to influence policy, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics.

By: Stephen Losey

The paper, “Capitalizing on conflict: How defense contractors and foreign nations lobby for arms sales,” details how a network of lobbyists and donors steered $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending over the last two decades, as well as hiring more than 200 lobbyists who previously worked in government.

The amount of money at stake is immense, both at home and abroad, the center states on its website, Not only is a significant portion of the Pentagon’s $740 billion annual budget spent on weapons, the report explains, but American defense firms agreed to sell $175 billion in weapons to other countries over the last year. That includes deals to sell $23 billion in F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and drones to the United Arab Emirates, and billions more in sales to Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, it adds.

The practice appears unlikely to change significantly under the Biden administration.

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Putin, Biden Should Aim For More Arms Curbs: Gorbachev

Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency that the two leaders  – who spoke by phone after Biden’s inauguration last month – should meet and discuss further arms curbs.

By: AFP NEWS – Agence France Presse /

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin and new US President Joe Biden to push for deeper restrictions on nuclear weapons.

Tensions soared between the two nations under previous US leader Donald Trump, fuelled by allegations of sweeping cyberattacks and a litany of other disagreements.

But soon after Biden took office, the two powers extended a pact that limits each side to 1,550 nuclear warheads, which Putin hailed as a positive development.
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A Decade Later: Human Suffering and Failures of Fukushima

Fukushima Daiichi 2011-2021


The decontamination myth and a decade of human rights violations

The following is the Executive Summary from the new Greenpeace report. Download the full report.

As a result of a catastrophic triple reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on 11 March 2011, several tens of thousands of square kilometres in Fukushima Prefecture and wider Japan were contaminated with significant amounts of radioactive caesium and other radionuclides. The first Greenpeace radiation expert team arrived in Fukushima on 26 March 2011, and Greenpeace experts have since conducted 32 investigations into the radiological consequences of the disaster, the most recent in November 2020.

This report, the latest in a series, chronicles some of our principal findings over recent years, and shows how the government of Japan, largely under prime minister Shinzo Abe, has attempted to deceive the Japanese people by misrepresenting the effectiveness of the decontamination programme as well as the overall radiological risks in Fukushima Prefecture. As the latest Greenpeace surveys demonstrate, the contamination remains and is widespread, and is still a very real threat to long term human health and the environment.

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Department of Energy, nuclear oversight agency on ‘high-risk’ list

“This is more than just chronic behavior — it’s like institutionalized bad management,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

By: Scott Wyland | March 3, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy and its agency overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons program have serious enough problems with managing contractors and projects — including for nuclear waste cleanup — that they made a government watchdog’s “high-risk” list again this year.

Both the Energy Department and its branch known as the National Nuclear Security Administration have made some progress in how they manage personnel, facilities and waste disposal, but they still are deficient in key areas, the Government Accountability Office said in its biannual high-risk report.

The report lists programs and operations that are high-risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement — and some require an overhaul.

The GAO issues the reports at the start of each new session of Congress. They have led to more than $575 billion in cost benefits to the federal government in the past 15 years, the GAO said.

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Santa Fe councilors question LANL coalition membership

BY: Kyle Land /

What’s the actual benefit to the city?

That was the question Santa Fe city councilors debated Monday as they considered the city’s membership in the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

At the center of it all was a revised Joint Powers Agreement for the coalition, which officials hope will solve some of the group’s long-standing organizational issues.

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Panel weighs benefits to LANL communities coalition

BY: Sean P. Thomas /  Updated 

Santa Fe City Councilor Renee Villarreal renewed her concerns Monday about the city’s involvement in a joint powers agreement with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

During a Finance Committee meeting Monday, Villarreal said she has yet to understand how the city benefits from the agreement, which calls for a $10,000 contribution.

“Why is it important we are part of this coalition?” she asked. “It’s never been clear to me about the benefits and how it holds up the values that we care about in Santa Fe.”

The city is one of nine cities, counties, towns and tribal governments that make up the regional coalition, which was established in 2011 to give communities in Northern New Mexico a more official say in decision-making pertaining to job development and cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

But controversy emerged in recent years over the organization’s spending practices.

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How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

“During training, the instructors had told us we had about 30 minutes to clear the blast radius of the device. We never really believed that,” a retired Special Forces operator who served on a Green Light Team told Insider.

BY: Stavros Atlamazoglou / March 1st, 2021

A Green Light operator conducting a high-altitude, low-opening jump with the MK54 SADM. Courtesy photo
  • In the Cold War, strategists wanted nuclear weapons they could use without sparking a nuclear war.
  • That led to the development of tactical nuclear weapons for use against targets.
  • Teams of Green Berets trained to carry those nukes to their targets and saw it as a one-way mission.

Throughout the Cold War, as the nuclear arms race became more frantic, a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union remained a major concern.

With intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-dropped bombs, both countries had several options when it came to nuclear warfare.

But the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II made clear the destructive capability of nuclear arms and the danger of a full-blown nuclear conflict.

As a result, US strategists sought ways to use nuclear weapons without triggering an all-out nuclear war.
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New Mexico alleges in court filing Los Alamos National Lab failed to clean up nuclear waste

“I’m glad that NMED went to court. If LANL is serious, they should not be spending lots of federal time and resources and lawyers to fight this…They should be trying to see what they can do to come to an agreement with NMED.” — Don Hancock, director of the nuclear waste program at the Southwest Research and Information Center

By: Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus / March 2nd, 2021

Los Alamos County/Santa Fe New Mexican Courtesy photo

An alleged failure to clean up hazardous and radioactive waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) led the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to take the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to court in hopes of seeing the DOE address its concerns.

In a complaint filed in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe County, NMED alleged the DOE displayed a “pattern” of failing to meet deadlines and benchmarks for hazardous waste clean-up at the federal nuclear facility in northern New Mexico.

NMED sought to terminate a 2016 consent order, enacted during the past administration, citing a lack of adequate targets and progress in cleaning up waste at the facility.

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Gorbachev’s Greatest Hits

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev did more for global nuclear disarmament than any other person in history

Gorbachev made history, then freed history by opening his documents

Briefing Book #746 | Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya & Thomas Blanton / March 2nd, 2021

Mikhail Sergeyevich Turns 90; Archive marks milestone with new publication of Gorbachev memcons with Castro, Mitterrand, and Shamir; compilation of dozens of Gorbachev primary sources.

Washington, D.C., March 2, 2021 – The first and only president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, is turning 90 years old today in Moscow.   On the occasion of his anniversary, the National Security Archive has compiled a collection of postings called “Gorbachev’s Greatest Hits.”  These documents help illuminate the story of the end of the Cold War, political reform of the Soviet system, and the vision of a world built on universal human values.

This compendium, accompanied by a collection of Russian-language documents on the Archive’s Russia Page, is intended to encourage scholars and others to revisit and study those miraculous years in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the global confrontation stopped, walls fell, peoples found freedom, and Europe was seen as a common home.  Though not for long.

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Modeling Software Once Led Us to the Precipice of Nuclear War. What Will AI Do?

The Pentagon must heed the lessons of RYAN and Able Archer amid its artificial-intelligence aspirations.

By: Steve Blank Defense One / March 1st, 2021


In 1983, the world’s superpowers drew near to accidental nuclear war, largely because the Soviet Union relied on software to make predictions that were based on false assumptions. Today, as the Pentagon moves to infuse artificial-intelligence tools into just about every aspect of its workings, it’s worth remembering the lessons of RYAN and Able Archer.

Two years earlier, the Soviet Union had deployed a software program dubbed RYAN, for Raketno Yadernoye Napadenie, or sudden nuclear missile attack. Massive for its time, RYAN sought to compute the relative power of the two superpowers by modeling 40,000 military, political, and economic factors, including 292 “indicators” reported from agents (spies) abroad. It was run by the KGB, which employed more than 200 people just to input the data.

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New Mexico Environment Department Takes Legal Action To Terminate Defective LANL Cleanup “Consent Order”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 25, 2021

The New Mexico Environment Department has announced that it is filing a lawsuit against the Department of Energy to terminate a “Consent Order” governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Nuclear Watch New Mexico, which has fought against that Consent Order ever since it went into effect nearly five years ago, strongly supports and applauds NMED’s decision.

Much to its credit, in 2005 the State of New Mexico successfully compelled DOE to enter into a strong, enforceable Consent Order after years of tough negotiations and lawsuits brought against it by DOE and the University of California (then LANL’s manager). However, at the Lab’s request the anti-regulation Susanna Martinez Administration eviscerated that Consent Order with more than 150 milestone extensions.

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State sues DOE over LANL cleanup

The lawsuit notes that Nuclear Watch New Mexico previously filed a lawsuit against the DOE over its non-compliance with the 2016 Consent Order.

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a statement that “What New Mexicans really deserve (is) to have needed cleanup drive funding instead of the budget that DOE wants driving cleanup. We strongly salute the Environment Department for taking legal action against DOE’s scheme of expanding dirty nuclear weapons production over cleanup.”

By: T.S. LAST / JOURNAL NORTH / February 25th, 2021 at 11:45pm Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state Environment Department has lost patience with the U.S. Department of Energy over what it says is a “continuing pattern of delay and noncompliance” with the cleanup of hazardous legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posing a health risk to people in surrounding communities.

After a dispute resolution process broke down, the New Mexico Environment Department late Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit against the DOE in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe. It claims that DOE has failed to meet objectives identified in compliance orders in 2005 and 2016 and has dragged its feet in cleaning up contamination left behind from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.

It asks that a court-supervised process be conducted to resolve the issues.

“We’re a state agency, and our patience is long,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said in a phone interview. “But our patience runs out quickly when there’s an inability to meet promises.”

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New Mexico sues feds over LANL cleanup, plans tougher oversight

Jay Coghlan, executive director of nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico, agreed that hard deadlines are crucial in making real headway on cleanup.

“The main thing we would want is to have cleanup drive funding instead of a budget that [the Energy Department] wants driving cleanup,” Coghlan said.

By: Scott Wyland | Feb 25, 2021

Worker moves drums of transuranic (TRU) waste at a staging area curtesy
Worker moves drums of transuranic (TRU) waste at a staging area. By filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy, state regulators now hope to dissolve the existing consent order regulating waste cleanup at the lab and impose tougher rules for disposing of transuranic waste. Credit: Richard Robinson

State regulators are suing the U.S. Department of Energy for what they say is a failure to adequately clean up legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and they will impose tougher rules for disposing of waste generated at the lab during the Cold War and Manhattan Project.

Critics have bashed the 2016 agreement for waste cleanup — known as a consent order — that was crafted under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, saying it weakened the original 2005 order by eliminating real deadlines and imposing few penalties for slow or deficient work.

The lawsuit, filed in state District Court, seeks to cancel the consent order, fine the Energy Department about $330,000 for not meeting its cleanup obligations and have the court oversee mediation between the two parties for a new waste agreement.

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Ex-SCANA CEO pleads guilty to fraud in SC nuclear fiasco: ‘I’m sorry it’s come to this’

Tom Clements, an environmental activist who criticized the nuclear project even before its abandonment, noticed and shouted a question as the former SCANA executive walked past. “Mr. Marsh, are you going to apologize to the people of South Carolina for this nuclear nightmare?”

By Avery G. Wilks & Conor Hughes | February 24, 2021 – updated March 5, 2021

Kevin Marsh, then-CEO of SCANA, walks past demonstrators outside a 2017 meeting of the S.C. Public Service Commission shortly after the company abandoned the V.C. Summer nuclear construction project. Marsh appeared in court for the first time to plead guilty to fraud charges and formally accept responsibility for his role in the failed decade-long expansion. Sean Rayford/Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Former SCANA Corp. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Marsh will spend at least two years in prison and pay back at least $5 million for defrauding electric ratepayers in South Carolina’s $9 billion nuclear power fiasco, according to a plea deal that was presented to a federal judge Feb. 24.

The 65-year-old Marsh appeared in court for the first time to plead guilty to fraud charges and formally accept responsibility for his role in the failed, decade-long expansion of SCANA’s V.C. Summer nuclear power plant in Fairfield County. Marsh had to surrender his passport at the courthouse but was released without having to post money for bond.

Once one of South Carolina’s top businessmen, Marsh has spent the past six months as a criminal informant and will continue to be a key witness for state and federal prosecutors who continue to probe the V.C. Summer project’s failure. He faces up to 10 years in prison if he does not fully cooperate with that investigation, according to the new terms of his plea deal.

“Justice has been served,” U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Peter McCoy said after the hearing. “For years, institutions and individuals have abused the public trust with little to no accountability. This includes corporations that have increased profits at the expense of their customers. Oftentimes, it’s assumed that these executives will avoid any oversight because of who they are and where they’ve worked.”

Marsh’s first day in court was a long one, a product of a three-year investigation by the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina, State Law Enforcement Division and S.C. Attorney General’s Office that brought both state and federal fraud charges against him.

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That Time an Airman Accidentally Prevented a Nuclear Apocalypse

Perroots wrote, “it is not certain that we looked hard enough or broadly enough for information…For Western collectors the context was peacetime without even the most basic ripples of crisis. For the Soviets, however, the view may have looked quite different.”

In a 1989 memo, CIA officials admitted that Perroots’ letter surfaced “a long standing warning problem, i.e. the need for the intelligence community in Washington to provide more timely, discriminating and accurate warning in support of the theater commander.”

B | FEBRUARY 23, 2021

Lt. Gen Leonard H. Perroots

Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots was on the intelligence desk for U.S. Air Forces Europe on Nov. 5, 1983, when he heard that Soviet Air Forces in East Germany were on high alert and being loaded with munitions. The Air Force officer called his boss, Gen. Billy Minter, who asked Perroots if they should load up for war in response.

“I said that we would carefully watch the situation,” Perroots later wrote in a letter to senior U.S. intelligence officials, “but there was insufficient evidence to justify increasing our real alert posture.”

Little did Perroots know, he had just played a crucial role in averting what could have resulted in armageddon, had the nuclear-capable war machines of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Soviet Union continued to spin up. Experts later compared the incident, now known as Able Archer 83, to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis in terms of how close both sides came to declaring war.

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No Growth, No Big Cuts Likely For First Biden Defense Budget

The full budget, set to be released on May 3, should spark heated debate in Congress between an emboldened progressive wing of the Democratic party looking to cut defense budgets, and Republicans and conservative Democrats who say spending must increase to stay ahead of the Chinese military buildup.

“You can’t obtain serious and durable cuts in Pentagon spending without an equally serious rethinking of our strategic objectives…Resources constraints should cause us to rethink our strategic objectives, but the Biden team seems unwilling to do that.” – Christopher Preble, co-director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council.


President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the Pentagon, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley

WASHINGTON: Early planning indicates that the Biden administration’s first defense budget might only match last year’s request, marking the second year in a row that the budget request will not keep up with inflation according to several sources familiar with the guidance.

If that planning holds up, the top line for the Pentagon’s 2022 budget will likely come in around the $696 billion the department received in it’s base funding 2021, which was itself just $2.6 billion more than the enacted 2020 budget.

The full budget is now scheduled to be released on May 3. The Biden administration’s first DoD funding request will be delivered to a Congress already split between an emboldened progressive wing of the Democratic party looking to cut defense budgets, and Republicans and conservative Democrats who say spending must rise significantly in order to stay ahead of the Chinese military buildup.

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Progressives Face Tough Road in Bid to Cut Biden Defense Budget

⋅ ‘Legacy’ weapons programs to come under review, Reed says
⋅ Critics eye Northrop’s intercontinental ballistic missile

By: /

The high price tag of taming the coronavirus pandemic and pressure from some Democrats to significantly reduce the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget probably won’t force arbitrary national security budget cuts, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s new chairman said.

“Arbitrary reductions would not be the right way to go,” Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat who leads the panel, said in an interview Monday. Congress will weigh President Joe Biden’s first budget request and review the military services’ proposals to see if they cut unnecessary, so-called “legacy” weapons programs and facilities, Reed said.

Reed’s position is significant because Biden’s election elevated a narrative within the Democratic Party that the president will be under enormous pressure from progressives to slash defense spending. National security makes up about half of the federal government’s discretionary budget.

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Nuclear Weapons — They’re Illegal

“Remember that when your congressional members pitch expanding nuclear weapons production as jobs programs; you can respond that they are illegal. Tell them they should show visionary leadership and moral courage by helping to create cleanup and green energy jobs instead.”

By:  / Santa Fe New Mexican

Jan. 22 will go down in history as the day when the tide turned against nuclear weapons. That was the day when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into effect, signed by 122 countries.

It specifically prohibits nations from developing, testing, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons and assisting others in doing so. It reinforces existing international law obligating all states not to test, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

What immediate impact will it have here, given that the Los Alamos National Laboratory is the birthplace of nuclear weapons and now sole producer of plutonium pit triggers for the expanding U.S. stockpile? The brutally honest answer is no impact, not immediately.

But think about it. Nuclear weapons are now internationally illegal, just as horrendous chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction have long been. But nuclear weapons are the worst WMDs, potentially killing millions more while causing radioactive fallout and famine-inducing nuclear winter. Ask your New Mexican congressional members to explain why nuclear weapons shouldn’t be internationally banned just like chemical and biological WMDs, all of which cause agonizing, indiscriminate suffering and death.

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Semis Hauling Millions of Radioactive Loads Across the Country

“…Charles is concerned, not only with the radiation he and other drivers may have been exposed to, but with the fallout from the radioactive rigs that continue to travel our nation’s highways.”

By: Duane Pohlman, WKRC

Semis hauling millions of radioactive loads across the country (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) – Each year, millions of radioactive loads are shipped across the country, many on trucks that travel right beside you on our highways.

The federal government says the shipments are safe, but some of those who handle and haul the toxic material disagree.

In this exclusive Local 12 Investigation, Chief Investigative Reporter Duane Pohlman interviews two of those workers.

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Jay Coghlan looks back at NukeWatch NM’s first grant from Ploughshares Fund

Jay Coghlan is the executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a nonprofit organization founded by veteran anti-nuclear activists that seeks to promote environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities, mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs, greater accountability and cleanup in the nationwide nuclear weapons complex, and consistent US leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Jay recently spoke with us on the initial reaction to Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s first grant from Ploughshares Fund, what has been accomplished since their founding in 1999, and what you can do to continue supporting their work.

What was your reaction when you found out that you received a grant?

My initial reaction was one of surprise. I was new to the work and didn’t really feel worthy of the trust that the Ploughshares Fund had put into me. Second came elation and the realization that I could become professional and devote myself to the work full time, which I view as a necessity. Third came a strong feeling of gratitude, which I still feel 28 years later because of Ploughshares’ incredible steadfast and consistent support.

What are you most proud of accomplishing in this field?

What I am most proud of is having played a central role in beating back four attempts by the US government to expand plutonium pit bomb core production, which has been the chokepoint of resumed US industrial-scale nuclear weapons production ever since a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. This work included convincing a New Mexico senator to require an independent plutonium pit lifetime study which in 2006 concluded that pits last at least a century. Shortly thereafter, in conjunction with a restrained budget environment, Congress deleted funding for a new-design nuclear weapon called the Reliable Replacement Warhead and related expanded plutonium pit production.

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Newly Released Documents Shed Light on 1983 Nuclear War Scare with Soviets

“On a hair trigger”: The Soviet Union put warplanes loaded with nuclear bombs on 24-hour alert during a 1983 war scare that was one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War.

By: Nate Jones & David E. Hoffman / Washington Post

The Soviet Union put fighter-bombers loaded with nuclear bombs on 24-hour alert in East Germany during a NATO nuclear weapons command exercise in November 1983, and the alert included “preparations for the immediate use of nuclear weapons,” according to newly released U.S. intelligence records that confirm a “war scare” during some of the most tense months of the Cold War.

It was disclosed previously that the NATO exercise, named Able Archer 83, triggered worries in the Kremlin. But the new documents provide precise details for the first time of the Soviet military response to the NATO exercise, an annual event that practiced a simulated nuclear attack on the forces of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact.

According to the documents, the heightened Soviet alert was raised in the fighter-bomber divisions of Soviet forces stationed in East Germany. All command posts were ordered to be manned around-the-clock by augmented teams. In tandem, the chief of the Soviet air forces, Marshal Pavel Kutakhov, ordered all units of the Soviet 4th Air Army in Poland to be covered by the alert.
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EPA awards 3 companies $220M for cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation

“We are very pleased that Native American-owned firms are being considered and selected for the remediation of uranium mine sites,” Valinda Shirley, executive director of the Navajo EPA Shirley said in a statement. “The award of these contracts propels the cleanup of our priority mine sites across the Navajo Nation.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded three contracts for the clean-up of more than 50 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo Nation, worth up to $220 million over the next five years.

The majority of the funding comes from the $1 billion Tronox settlement in 2015. According to the EPA, work is scheduled to begin later this year following the completion of assessments in coordination with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency. A news release stated that the cleanup sites are in New Mexico’s Grants Mining District and in 10 chapters located on the Navajo Nation, which was the primary focus of uranium extraction and production activities for several decades beginning in the 1950s.

The Navajo Area Abandoned Mine Remedial Construction and Services Contracts were awarded to:

  • Red Rock Remediation Joint Venture,
  • Environmental Quality Management Inc.,
  • Arrowhead Contracting Inc.

In addition, the U.S. EPA and the Navajo Nation have secured funding agreements, through enforcement agreements and other legal settlements, for the assessment and clean-up of approximately 200 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo Nation, the news release stated.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a prepared statement:

The Navajo people have endured decades of radiation exposure and contamination caused by uranium mining and production that has taken the lives of many former miners and downwinders and continues to impact the health of our children. We appreciate the U.S. EPA’s efforts to create incentives and opportunities for Navajo Nation residents by working with the contracted companies to develop training programs for our people and businesses to promote professional growth related to abandoned mine clean-ups. We strongly encourage these companies to create more opportunities for Navajo businesses to receive sub-contracts for the work related to assessments and clean-up efforts. We have many Navajo-owned entrepreneurs and businesses that have the expertise and experience to help clean-up our communities.

Each of the companies will develop training programs for Navajo individuals and businesses to promote professional growth in areas related to the AMRCS contract. Workforce training that could be offered by the contractors may cover radiological contamination, health and safety, construction and road building.



LANL Looks to Reduce Risks of Volatile Waste

“Many of the drums probably have sat around for years, even decades, posing a hazard,” said Scott Kovac, research and operations director for the nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

“It’s an example of nuclear weapons work getting the priority while cleanup and waste management is on the back burner,”

Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking steps to address the hazards posed by dozens of barrels of radioactive waste mixed with incompatible chemicals, which have the potential to explode.

The lab is responding to a report in October by the federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which found the lab had failed to analyze chemicals present in hundreds of containers of transuranic nuclear waste.

Incompatible chemicals could blend together and cause a container to burst, releasing a high level of radiation that would threaten workers and the public, the report said.

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Groups Seek Broader Review of Nuclear Work

Federal installations face a deadline of making 80 cores per year by 2030, with the first 30 due in five years.

“Nuclear Watch New Mexico, South Carolina-based SRS Watch and California-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment sent a letter to the U.S. Energy Department last week, asking that a rigorous environmental review be done before production is ramped up at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina.”

By: Susan Montoya Bryan | Feb 18th, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Watchdog groups want the Biden administration to reconsider a decision by a U.S. agency not to conduct a more extensive environmental review related to production of the plutonium cores used in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The renewed request comes as federal installations in New Mexico and South Carolina face a deadline of making 80 cores per year by 2030, with the first 30 due in five years.

With jobs and billions of dollars in spending at stake, the effort to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress over the years, especially among New Mexico Democrats whose districts stand to benefit from the economic windfall. The Biden administration has taken swift action to reverse some policies by the Trump administration but has yet to say whether it plans to push ahead with making more plutonium cores. It does say that work is being reviewed.

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Nuke groups pressing Biden administration for more pit production environmental review

Savannah River Site Watch, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Tri-Valley CAREs, represented by the the S.C. Environmental Law Project, in early February sent a letter and supporting documents to the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration outlining grave concerns and allegations of cut corners.

Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements holds a large photo of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a never-completed nuclear fuel plant at the Savannah River Site.
Staff photo by Colin Demarest

A coalition of nuclear watchers and nonprofits is again lobbying the federal government to conduct a more rigorous environmental review of plans to produce nuclear weapon cores in South Carolina and New Mexico, this time hoping the new administration is more amenable.

Savannah River Site Watch, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Tri-Valley CAREs, represented by the the S.C. Environmental Law Project, in early February sent a letter and supporting documents to the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration outlining grave concerns and allegations of cut corners.
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Editorial: LANL’s lack of wildfire plan, action irresponsible

By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board
Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

One would think an entity with 13 nuclear facilities that experienced two catastrophic wildfires in recent years would be taking fire prevention seriously.

After all, the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire burned about 7,500 acres of Los Alamos National Laboratory property, resulting in $331 million in damages. And that figure doesn’t include an estimated $15 million in lost productivity per week during a 15-day shutdown and recovery period.

And then there was the 2011 Las Conchas Fire. While it ultimately burned only about 1 acre of LANL land, it forced roughly 10,000 LANL employees out of their offices and out of Los Alamos for more than a week.

But according to a recent report from the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, managers at LANL have not fully implemented measures designed to reduce the impact from wildland fires, including tree thinning in buffer zones below overhead power lines.

The report is so disappointing because the Las Conchas Fire, which burned about 156,293 total acres, started when a tree fell on a power line in the Santa Fe National Forest, resulting in a fast-burning “crown fire” that burned through tree canopy.


Biden Administration Asked to Review Plutonium Pit Expansion Plans

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico: “It’s important to note that no future pit production is to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. Instead, it is for speculative new nuclear weapons designs that can’t be tested because of the international testing moratorium, or perhaps worse yet may prompt the U.S. back into testing, after which surely other nations would follow.”

FEBRUARY 11, 2021

Public interest organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) requesting that it address calls for a rigorous environmental review of plans to expand production of nuclear bomb cores at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina.

The non-profit groups—Nuclear Watch New MexicoSRS Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment—have previously submitted a number of formal comments and information related to the environmental and public health risks associated with a significant expansion of plutonium “pit” production at the two DOE sites.
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Nuclear News Archives – 2020

Covid-19 Stopped Water Pollution Monitoring At A Major Radioactive Site For Months

“Given LANL’s history it’s imperative that monitoring be robustly resumed,” Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in an email. “This is after all the Lab that use to claim that groundwater contamination was impossible… Now we know of heavy chromium and high explosives groundwater contamination which are a harbinger for more contaminants to come.”


Town of Los Alamos, New Mexico on the left and center, the Omega Bridge in the middle and the Los Alamos National Laboratories on the right. GETTY

When the coronavirus and resulting Covid-19 pandemic closed everything in mid-March, TA-54 was one of the many places where all activity came to a virtual standstill.

Technical Area 54 is a part of Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) in New Mexico – the same Los Alamos that was home to the Manhattan Project, which ushered in the atomic era and today continues to produce radioactive triggers for nuclear weapons.

Within TA-54 is what’s called Area G. The federal government refers to as LANL’s “legacy waste management area.” For over 60 years, it has been a storage, processing and disposal area for different kinds of radioactive and otherwise toxic waste from LANL.

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Nuclear Tests Have Changed, but They Never Really Stopped

75 years after the first explosive nuclear tests, now outlawed, sophisticated virtual testing allows American physicists to understand these weapons better than ever.

BY:  |

Nuclear Tests Have Changed but Never Really Stopped

JUST BEFORE SUNRISE on July 16, 1945—75 years ago today—a patch of New Mexican desert was incinerated during the first trial of the most destructive weapon ever created. The plutonium bomb used for the Trinity test left a 5-foot crater in the ground and turned the surrounding desert floor into a radioactive green glass. The blast bathed the peaks of the nearby Oscura Mountains in a blinding white light, and dozens of scientific observers watching from 20 miles away reported feeling an immense heat wash over them. As the light from the explosion faded, one of the architects of the bomb, Kenneth Bainbridge, gave a pithy appraisal of the event to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the project’s lead scientist: “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

And he was right. Less than a month later, the United States dropped the same type of bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, just three days after detonating a smaller nuclear warhead over Hiroshima. It effectively ended World War II, but it came at the price of well over 100,000 civilian lives and the enduring suffering of those who survived.

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DOE Targets End to US Reliance on Russian Nuclear Fuel, Revived Domestic Capability

“Industry and NGO representatives did not agree with Brouillette’s assertions regarding U.S. reliance on Russian nuclear fuel.
“Brouillette overstated the U.S. commercial nuclear industry’s dependence of Russian uranium ore, Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Utility Dive. “Most of it comes from Australia and Canada,” he said. Industry sources put the amount coming from Russia at 20%.”

By: |

Dive Brief:

  • The Department of Energy is working to end U.S. reliance on Russia for nuclear fuel, Secretary Dan Brouillette told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy last week.
  • The department’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group wants American-sourced uranium and plans to begin processing U.S. uranium into high-grade fuel at a DOE facility in Portsmouth, Ohio, as early as next year, Brouillette said. The high-grade fuel is particularly important for new and smaller commercial reactors that DOE considers critical to grid stability as renewables replace aging fossil fuel power plants, he said.
  • Brouillette also said the government has been able to blunt cyber attacks on the U.S. power grid “from places like Russia” and is working to ban Chinese-made grid equipment it believes could contain spyware, he told the subcommittee.

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Global Zero Mourns the Loss of Dr. Bruce Blair

June 20, 2020
Global Zero

“We are saddened to announce that Dr. Bruce G. Blair, Co-Founder of Global Zero and President of its Board of Directors, died unexpectedly on Sunday, July 19, following a sudden illness.

Derek Johnson, Executive Director of Global Zero, released the following statement on behalf of the organization regarding the recent passing of Dr. Blair:

“I am heartbroken at the sudden loss of my colleague, mentor, and dear friend, Bruce Blair.

“15 years ago, Bruce brought together an unprecedented international community of leaders and visionaries to build a new kind of movement to persuade governments to come to their senses and set aside the most catastrophic weapons on the planet. A veteran nuclear launch officer and unrivaled expert in command and control, Bruce understood — perhaps better than any single person alive — the urgency, enormity, and complexity of the nuclear threat. He built the Global Zero movement from the ground up and devoted all of his energy to making the world safer and better for all people.

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DOE Responds To NMED Concerns About Lack Of Plan For Contaminated Materials Unearthed At Middle DP Road Since February


The Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Los Alamos and the National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office have responded to New Mexico Environment Department concerns about the DOE’s failure to address their plans for mitigation of contamination at Middle DP Road. Since February, there have been at least three discoveries of radioactive material in the vicinity of two housing projects underway on property that was turned over to Los Alamos County by NNSA for public use.

NMED has complained that DOE has failed to provide a schedule of preliminary screening plan (PSP) activities that indicates that DOE “understands the seriousness of this matter” and has not provided a timeframe for implementation of the plan.  NMED has asked DOE for the basis of the delay in implementing the PSP “to ensure full transparency and understanding of why this important risk to public health is not being addressed in a more timely manner”.

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Trinity’s Atomic Blast Changed the World

As the first atomic blast lit up the morning sky and scorched a vast desert landscape in south-central New Mexico, the scientists and engineers who had worked on this top-secret weapon felt a mixture of relief, awe and trepidation.


No one knew exactly what to expect July 16, 1945 — not even renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was put in charge of designing the nuclear device for the Manhattan Project with the aim of ending World War II. Some researchers feared it might wreak widespread, fiery destruction. More than a few scientists worried it might be a total failure.


Trinity: “The most significant hazard of the entire Manhattan Project”

“New Mexico residents were neither warned before the 1945 Trinity blast, informed of health hazards afterward, nor evacuated before, during, or after the test. Exposure rates in public areas from the world’s first nuclear explosion were measured at levels 10,000- times higher than currently allowed.”


Trinity Atomic Test complete takes

For the past several years, the controversy over radioactive fallout from the world’s first atomic bomb explosion in Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945—code-named Trinity—has intensified. Evidence collected by the New Mexico health department but ignored for some 70 years shows an unusually high rate of infant mortality in New Mexico counties downwind from the explosion and raises a serious question whether or not the first victims of the first atomic explosion might have been American children. Even though the first scientifically credible warnings about the hazards of radioactive fallout from a nuclear explosion had been made by 1940, historical records indicate a fallout team was not established until less than a month before the Trinity test, a hasty effort motivated primarily by concern over legal liability.

In October 1947, a local health care provider raised an alarm about infant deaths downwind of the Trinity test, bringing it to the attention of radiation safety experts working for the US nuclear weapons program. Their response misrepresented New Mexico’s then-unpublished data on health effects. Federal and New Mexico data indicate that between 1940 and 1960, infant death rates in the area downwind of the test site steadily declined—except for 1945, when the rate sharply increased, especially in the three months following the Trinity blast. The 21 kiloton explosion occurred on a tower 100 feet from the ground and has been likened to a “dirty bomb” that cast large amounts of heavily contaminated soil and debris—containing 80 percent of the bomb’s plutonium—over thousands of square-miles. (See Figure 1.)

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‘Now I Am Become Death’: The Legacy of the First Nuclear Bomb Test

“Since the Trinity test 75 years ago, at least eight countries have conducted more than 2,000 nuclear bomb tests, said Jenifer Mackby, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. More than half of those tests have been conducted by the United States, a legacy of the Trinity explosion, as the United States and several other countries have continued to refuse to ratify the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapon test explosions.”


An aerial view of the aftermath of the first atomic explosion at the Trinity test site in New Mexico in 1945. The device exploded with a power equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT. Credit Associated Press

It was 1 a.m. on July 16, 1945, when J. Robert Oppenheimer met with an Army lieutenant general, Leslie Groves, in the parched landscape of Jornada del Muerto — Dead Man’s Journey — a remote desert in New Mexico.

A group of engineers and physicists was about to detonate an atomic device packed with 13 pounds of plutonium, a nuclear weapon that the government hoped would bring an end to World War II.

Some scientists on the project worried that they were about to light the entire world on fire, according to researchers. Others worried that the test would be “a complete dud.”

Mr. Oppenheimer, who was tasked with designing an atomic bomb for the Manhattan Project, had not slept.

At 5:29 a.m. local time, the device exploded with a power equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT and set off a flash of light that would have been visible from Mars, researchers said.

It was the first nuclear test in history.

Less than a month later, the United States would drop a nearly identical weapon on the city of Nagasaki in Japan.

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In their own words: Trinity at 75

On July 16, 1945 the first nuclear bomb exploded near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The Trinity test marked the culmination of nearly four years of secret research led by an unprecedented collaboration of the world’s top scientists and the US military. It also guaranteed that the uranium gun-type weapon dropped on Hiroshima could be followed by another that used the plutonium implosion design tested at the Trinity Site. In essence, Trinity was a test-of-concept for the bomb that leveled Nagasaki.

The history of the Manhattan Project and the birth of the bomb have been examined and reexamined countless times over the past seven decades—as have the threats they posed to humanity.Though nearly all now are dead, many scientists, soldiers, and family members who attended the birth of the bomb documented their first-hand experiences in the pages of the Bulletin in a way that lives on, providing an exceptional and vivid glimpse of their struggles to achieve victory in war and science.

Read together, the eyewitness excerpts below offer a new retelling of the Trinity test, woven entirely from words that more than a dozen of the project’s protagonists first published in the Bulletin.


Lt. Gen. Leslie R. Groves

Groves was the Army administrative officer in charge of the entire wartime Manhattan Project. Scientists at Los Alamos loathed his policy of “compartmentalization,” which aimed to isolate scientists to preserve secrecy.

In the early days, we believed that a gun-type bomb would be entirely satisfactory for both uranium-235 and for plutonium, and we did not feel that any full-scale test would be necessary. Later, when we learned that the gun-type would not be suitable for plutonium, we began to realize that we might find it advisable to test the implosion-type bomb. … As soon as a full-scale test—and it had to be full-scale—became likely, we began the search for a suitable testing ground.

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Church Rock Uranium Spill July 16, 1979

In 1968, the United Nuclear Corporation initiated mining operations in the largest underground uranium mine in the United States. Located in Church Rock, New Mexico, in the Navajo Native American Reservation, the Church Rock Mill produced more than two million pounds of uranium oxide per year. Waste from the mining process was disposed of in three lined lagoons fortified by a man-made dam built on geologically unsound land—of which both the United Nuclear Corporation and state and federal agencies were aware. On 16 July, 1979, the dam breached and 1100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water seeped into the Puerco River. Scientists estimate that the amount of radiation released in the Church Rock uranium mill spill was larger than the amount released at Three Mile Island, just four months prior. Surrounding residents of the mill, almost entirely Navajos, relied on the Puerco River as a watering source for livestock. They have since suffered severe health problems due to substantial increases in radioactivity found in the water, soil, and air. Despite several selective investigations and cleanup efforts by the US Environmental Protection Agency, ramifications of the spill remain evident in the Navajo Nation today.


Larry King 3min H264

Interview with Larry King, who worked on-site at the United Nuclear Corporation mine the day of the tailings pond spill, and still lives in the area.

Nuclear Hotseat Podcast episode on the Church Rock Spill

Atomic Anniversary Brings U.S. Nuclear Official to New Mexico

“Los Alamos is facing of a 2026 deadline to begin producing at least 30 of the plutonium cores a year — a mission that has the support of the most senior Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation as the work is expected to bring jobs and billions of federal dollars to update buildings or construct new factories. The effort has drawn much criticism from watchdog groups that long have been concerned about the lab’s safety record, missed deadlines, repeated cost overruns and the pace of cleaning up contamination resulting from decades of bomb making and nuclear research.”


ALBUQUERQUE — The head of the National Nuclear Security Administration is in New Mexico this week as part of a nationwide tour of the federal government’s nuclear security operations.

The visit by Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Trinity test in Southern New Mexico, which marked the world’s first atomic blast on July 16, 1945. She’s scheduled to lead a commemoration Thursday at the historic V-Site at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where early testing and some assembly of the atomic bomb took place.

Gordon-Hagerty has been spearheading the federal government’s recent efforts to resume and ramp up production of the plutonium cores that are used to trigger nuclear weapons. The work will be split between Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

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Trinity Downwinders:  75 Years and Waiting

Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC)


***  I M M E D I A T E    P R E S S    R E L E A S E  ***

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Virtual Event at 9:00 a.m. MDT

Access at

Trinity Downwinders are commemorating the 75th Anniversary since the first nuclear test was conducted anywhere in the world and bringing attention to the fact that New Mexicans still have not received Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) benefits.

RECA was passed in 1990 by the US Government to provide health care coverage and compensation to downwinders from other parts of the country but has never included the people of New Mexico.  The fund has paid out over 2.3 Billion Dollars in reparations to downwinders of the Nevada Test site but never to New Mexico downwinders.  It also provides the best health care coverage available.

Trinity Downwinders will commemorate the New Mexicans who have died from cancer and other radiation exposure related diseases during this event and read firsthand accounts of the bomb blast.

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Funding Nuclear Weapons at a Time of National Crisis

Nuclear weapons represent the greatest imminent existential threat to our very existence and to every social, racial, environmental and economic justice movement that we are working for, since ultimately it is all connected.


This time of awakening has drawn attention to the connection and challenges we face as a nation and world. (Photo: Ralf Schlesener/ICAN)

Today, July 15, we fund our nation’s priorities. This year, the nation is awakening to the problems of systemic and institutionalized racism while simultaneously grappling with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has no end in sight. The Black Lives Matter movement is receiving its due attention and communities are demanding demilitarization of police forces and tactics and reprioritization of funding to address the needs of communities to bring forth a socially just, environmentally sustainable and peaceful community. City councils are taking a close look at police budgets and many citizens are calling for participatory budgeting with input in the budgets of their cities as they move to determine their own priorities. Nationally, with our massively bloated defense budget, it is also the time we fund the nuclear arms race even as nations around the world work to pass a nuclear ban treaty, the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”, similar to those banning all other weapons of mass destruction.

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15 LANL Workers Tested for Radiation Exposure After Mishap

“Mishandled glove boxes are a long-standing problem at the lab, but having 15 workers possibly exposed to radiation because of one breach is a high number and could become more common as the plutonium plant ramps up production of nuclear cores.” — Scott Kovac, research and operations director for nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

“The 15 workers is just an example of things to come,” Kovac said.


A view inside a conveyer alley where contained handling takes place. The gloveboxes are designed for preparing uranium and plutonium carbide compounds.

Fifteen employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s plutonium plant were tested for radiation exposure after a “glove box” breach in June contaminated the work area.

Air monitors sounded an alarm at the facility when an operator accidentally ripped off the protective gloves attached to a sealed compartment for handling plutonium after the worker weighed and packaged plutonium-238 oxide powder.

The breach contaminated the worker’s protective clothing, hair and skin, and caused enough potential airborne exposure that other workers had to be tested for radiation, according to a report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.


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Trump Plan to Build Nuclear Bombs Divides a Scarred Factory Town

“To me, they haven’t proven that this is going to be safe,” said Pete LaBerge, a 70-year-old retiree who lives about three miles away from the Savannah River Site in nearby Windsor, which has 150 residents. He worries about a release of radiation. “Part of my theory is it’s sort of a make-work program for the Energy Department.”


A factory along South Carolina’s Savannah River produced tritium and plutonium for U.S. nuclear weapons during the Cold War, employing thousands of workers but leaving behind a toxic legacy of radioactive waste.

Now the Trump administration has proposed spending $9 billion over 10 years to restart production of bomb parts there and at another site. The plan has raised the welcome prospect of new jobs though also rekindled environmental fears. And it’s set off alarms about a new nuclear arms race just as key treaties with Russia lapse.

“It’s a waste of money and dangerous,” said Stephen Young, an expert on arms control and international security issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

ABC NEWS FILE PHOTO Nov., 20, 2013, file photo, radioactive waste, sealed in large stainless steel canisters, are stored under a five-feet of concrete in a storage building at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C.

President Donald Trump’s plan, announced by the departments of Energy and Defense in 2018, calls for restarting production of nuclear bomb ‘pits’ at the South Carolina site and another one in New Mexico. The bowling-ball sized spheres of plutonium act as the trigger in a nuclear warhead, setting off the explosive chain reaction.

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WIPP: Nuclear Watchdog Group Again Challenges Utility Shaft in New Mexico Supreme Court

The Southwest Research and Information Center previously filed a motion to the court in April, seeking to block the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) temporary approval (TA) of plans for the shaft that saw no public hearing or comment process.


The $100 million project to build the shaft was intended to increase airflow to the WIPP underground, where transuranic (TRU) waste is permanently disposed of, to allow emplacement of waste and mining of panels where it is emplaced to occur simultaneously.

A nuclear watchdog group in Albuquerque filed two appeals in New Mexico Supreme Court last week, seeking to block the construction of a utility shaft at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

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‘Will to fight together’: Fiji’s has taken another bold step in the battle against nuclear weapons

“For many in the Pacific, memories of the impact of nuclear weapons testing still exist, its legacies continue, and the Pacific-wide solidarity that started in Fiji carries lessons for the world.”
Ratification of United Nations treaty banning atomic weapons honours a half-century of anti-nuclear activism

By: Vanessa Griffen & Talei Luscia Mangioni |

The Against Testing on Mururoa (ATOM) committee protests on the streets of Suva, Fiji, in the 1970s Photograph: The Guardian

In the streets of Suva in the 1970s it was the young who carried the cause. In afros, headbands and bell-bottom jeans they handed out pamphlets and printed newsletters, performed skits and variety shows, gave lectures, and led rallies on the streets of Fiji’s capital.

Crowds heard firebrand speeches from church leaders, trade unionists, university staff and student leaders.

The Atom (Against Testing on Mururoa) committee, formed in Fiji in 1970, was dedicated to educating, creatively but powerfully, the Fijian public of the dangers of radioactive fallout from French testing and colonialism in the Pacific.

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China Challenges the U.S. to Reduce Its Nuclear Arsenal to Same Level

BEIJING — If the United States were willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level, China would “be happy to” participate in trilateral arms control negotiation with the U.S and Russia, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday.


The U.S. has repeatedly called for China to join in trilateral negotiations to extend a flagship nuclear arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia that is due to expire in February next year.

Fu Cong, head of arms control department of Chinese foreign ministry, reiterated to reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that China has no interest in joining the trilateral negotiation.


Senate Undoes Proposed Power Shift in Nuclear Arms Budgeting

Moves comes at the behest of the Energy secretary


UNITED STATES – MAY 13: Sen. Maria Cantwell , D-Wash., sanitizes her hands as she arrives for the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate voted quietly Thursday to undo a proposal in its fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill that would have given the Pentagon extraordinary new power to shape the Energy Department’s future nuclear weapons budgets.

CQ Roll Call reported this week on behind-the-scenes opposition to provisions in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA that would have given certain Defense Department officials new clout to set the amount and the content of the budget the Energy Department prepares for its National Nuclear Security Administration every year.

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Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2021 Energy and Water Development Funding Bill

“Policy Provision: The bill prohibits funding for nuclear weapons testing.”

July 6, 2020
Evan Hollander (Appropriations), 202-225-2771
Griffin Anderson (Kaptur), 202-225-4146

Legislation invests $49.6 billion in Energy and Water Development programs, an increase of $1.26 billion above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level, addressing climate change, improving infrastructure, and upholding our commitment to strengthening national security

In response to the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic, legislation provides an additional $43.5 billion in emergency spending to repair water infrastructure and modernize energy infrastructure

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft fiscal year 2021 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies funding bill, which will be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The legislation funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of the Interior programs, the Department of Energy, and other related agencies.

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Fifteen LANL Workers Being Evaluated For Possible Exposure To Plutonium-238 Following June 8 Glovebox Glove Breach

Los Alamos National Laboratory is investigating the possible exposure of Laboratory employees to plutonium-238 after a breach in a glovebox glove at the Plutonium Facility on June 8.


The Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Courtesy photo

A Lab spokesperson told the Los Alamos Reporter Monday that employees responded promptly and appropriately, and cleared the room in a safe manner.

“Fifteen Laboratory workers are being evaluated for potential exposure. The area inside the Plutonium Facility where this occurred has been secured, pending a review of the events and there is no risk to public health and safety,” the spokesperson said.

A report by Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board inspectors Jonathan Plaue and David Gutowski dated June 12 noted that on June 8 continuous air monitors sounded when an operator pulled out of the glovebox gloves after weighing and packaging plutonium-238 oxide powder.

“The worker received significant contamination on his protective clothing, hair, and skin, as well as positive nasal swabs indicating a potential intake. Radiation protection personnel successfully decontaminated the individual, and he was provided chelation therapy,” the report states. “The room experienced significant airborne radioactivity and was contaminated. Fourteen additional workers were placed on bioassay. On Thursday (June 11), Triad management conducted a fact-finding to discuss the event, response, and near-term actions. Given the significance of the event, they chartered a team to perform a comprehensive investigation.”


House Panel Would Block Pentagon From Extra Sway Over Nuclear Weapons Budget

The bill would bar funding for the Pentagon-led Nuclear Weapons Council, and would prevent it from assisting with the budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency under the Energy Department.


Airman 1st Class William Ray removes the screws holding the nose point of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile to the rest of the reentry system inside a payload transporter at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. (Senior Airman Brandon Valle/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON ― House appropriators on Tuesday approved a spending bill that would block plans from defense hawks to give the Pentagon a stronger hand in crafting nuclear weapons budgets.

The House Appropriations Committee passed their Energy-Water bill, which contained the provision, by a voice vote. The $49.6 billion spending bill contained $13.7 billion for nuclear weapons accounts ― a $1.2 billion increase over fiscal 2020 that’s still $1.9 billion less than the president’s request.

Lead Republicans voiced opposition to the bill, arguing that Democrats had not consulted with Republicans on pandemic emergency funds in the bill and that Democrats included policy riders the White House will seek to cut. The top Republican on the House Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, said the bill “still shortchanges funding for the nuclear weapons program.”

“While I acknowledge the increase above last year, we must also acknowledge that the threats we face today are not the same threats we faced in the years immediately following the end of the Cold War,” he said. “We must adequately fund the activities necessary to maintain a safe, reliable and effective stockpile.”

The bill would bar funding for the Pentagon-led Nuclear Weapons Council, and would prevent it from assisting with the budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency under the Energy Department.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill would allow the council to edit the budget request after the Energy Department crafts it and before the request is submitted to the White House budget office. The move was seen as giving the Pentagon extra sway to boost warhead programs and nuclear weapons laboratories.

Its introduction came after Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette clashed with SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who backed a budget request for the larger number than Brouillette sought.

The Energy-Water spending bill contains language ordering no funds “may be used in furtherance of working through the Nuclear Weapons Council to guide, advise, assist, develop, or execute a budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration.”

Separately, the proposed bill would ban the Trump administration’s reported plan to resume nuclear weapons testing. The bill would prohibit funding “to conduct, or prepare to conduct, any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield.”

“Critically, the bill would prevent the Trump administration from using any funds to carry out its dangerous and short-sighted plan to resume nuclear testing,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

The Trump administration was reportedly discussing whether a “rapid test” could aid it in negotiations with Russia and China, as the White House seeks a trilateral nuclear weapons pact.

The defense appropriations bill introduced Tuesday would also bar funding for explosive nuclear weapons tests.



Kathy Helms

Special correspondent
July 4, 2020
SANTA FE – Seven non-governmental organizations are asking the New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Energy for the resumption of semi-annual presentations covering the production of plutonium pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The public participation provisions are contained in a 2005 settlement agreement. The settlement was reached after the same seven organizations objected to the issuance of an air emissions permit for the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project.
At the same time, a New Mexico Environment Department draft air emissions permit is being prepared for public review and comment on releases from the lab and manufacturing facilities. The organizations said they are working to ensure those provisions public meetings covering construction at the weapons-component production facilities and a dedicated website are included in the air permit.

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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The All-American Way

Today, in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich considers the all-American version of “extreme materialism” that Martin Luther King called out more than half a century ago. And when it comes to the overwhelming urge to get one’s hands on the goods, among the looters of this moment two groups are almost never mentioned: the Pentagon and the police.


Yet, in 1997, the Department of Defense set up the 1033 program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act to provide thousands of domestic police forces with “surplus” equipment of almost every imaginable militarized kind. Since then, thanks to your tax dollars, it has given away $7.4 billion of such equipment, some of it directly off the battlefields of this country’s forlorn “forever wars.” For items like grenade launchers, mine-resistant armored vehicles, military rifles, bayonets, body armor, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, all that police departments have to fork over is the price of delivery. The Pentagon has, in fact, been so eager to become the Macy’s of militarized hardware that, in 2017, it was even willing to “give $1.2 million worth of rifles, pipe bombs, and night vision goggles to a fake police department,” no questions asked. That “department” proved to be part of a sting operation run by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “It was like getting stuff off of eBay,” a GAO official would say. Only, of course, for free.

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Nuclear War Simulator Reveals the Dystopia We’ll be Living in if Nuclear War Breaks Out

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“There are currently over 13000 nuclear weapons on this planet of which over 9000 are in military stockpiles. This software should help you answer the question: what will happen if Russia and United States or India and Pakistan use their arsenals?

The goal of this project is to build a realistic simulation and visualization of large-scale nuclear conflicts with a focus on humanitarian consequences

There are a lot of interlocking systems and processes in a nuclear conflict: the command and control system, locations and movement of forces, weapons delivery systems and humanitarian consequences. By simulating the most relevant of these systems you should be able to tell a credible story about how nuclear conflicts play out and what are the consequences.”

— Ivan Stepanov


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Want To Know How A Nuclear War Might Go? There’s Now A Frighteningly Detailed ‘Game’ For That

To describe a nuclear war honestly is to argue for the abolition of nuclear weapons.


At least, that’s part of the goal of the Nuclear War Simulator, developed by Ivan Stepanov and released for download June 28. Built on the Unity3D engine, the simulator incorporates sheaves and sheaves of public data about yields, flight trajectories, and calculated armageddon.

Stepanov’s project specifically draws inspiration from the NUKEMAP made by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at Stevens Institute of Technology. Wellerstein’s tool lets people pick an existing warhead, toggle some settings, and then place the blast over a target area, rendering in concentric colored circles the salient details about what kind of effect would hit what people, where.

“[Nuclear War Simulator] was made to help you answer the question: what will a war between Russia and United States or India and Pakistan look like and what are the consequences for the world, your country and your family?” writes Stepanov.

To capture this fuller feeling of human impact, the simulation includes a population density grid, to render an impact not just in terms of blast radii, but in the deaths and injuries that can easily number in the millions.

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How to Vaccinate the Military-Industrial Complex

“As the first wave of the pandemic continues and case numbers spike in a range of states, oversight structures designed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse when it comes to defense spending are quite literally crumbling before our eyes. Combine weakened oversight, skewed priorities, and a Pentagon budget still rising and you’re potentially creating the perfect storm for squandering the resources needed to respond to our current crisis.

The erosion of oversight of the Pentagon budget has been a slow-building disaster, administration by administration, particularly with the continual weakening of the authority of inspectors general. As independent federal watchdogs, IGs are supposed to oversee the executive branch and report their findings both to it and to Congress.”


How to Vaccinate the Military-Industrial ComplexRepresentative Barbara Lee. (photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP)

n response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Washington has initiated its largest spending binge in history. In the process, you might assume that the unparalleled spread of the disease would have led to a little rethinking when it came to all the trillions of dollars Congress has given the Pentagon in these years that have in no way made us safer from, or prepared us better to respond to, this predictable threat to American national security. As it happens, though, even if the rest of us remain in danger from the coronavirus, Congress has done a remarkably good job of vaccinating the Department of Defense and the weapons makers that rely on it financially.
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Officials and NGOs Express Deep Concerns about Holtec

“Many commenters stated that the storage could be permanent because there is no disposal site.  They reminded the NRC that this is why the law requires that a permanent repository be selected before the designation of an interim facility like Holtec, and this has not been done.

On Tuesday, June 23rd, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a webinar and invited telephone comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for a nuclear waste storage facility that Holtec proposes to build halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs.  Holtec applied for a license to store all of the nation’s most radioactive spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.  Over twenty years, Holtec proposes to ship 10,000 canisters to the site by railroads, passing through more than forty states., scroll down to Environmental Impact Statement.

In 2012, officials in Eddy and Lea counties announced that a private company would submit a license application in March 2013.  In December 2015, Holtec told the NRC that it would submit the license application in June 2016, so that the facility could begin operating in 2020.  The application was submitted in March 2017, and stated that NRC’s license would be issued in 2019 and that construction would begin by March 2020.

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Missed Deadlines at LANL Documenting Waste Shipments Draws $300K Fine

The state Environment Department has fined the U.S. Department of Energy $304,000 over missed deadlines at Los Alamos National Laboratory in documenting waste shipments, a problem state officials said was part of a longtime pattern of delayed reporting.


The agency cited the Energy Department, the lab and the lab’s contracted operator, Triad National Security LLC, for eight violations dating back to 2017 — in most cases for being a year or more late in recording deliveries of mixed waste.

All violations occurred under former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who had pressed for more lax waste management during her tenure. They also occurred under a previous lab operator, Los Alamos National Security LLC. Triad took over management of the lab in November 2018.

“This has been a recurring issue that had not been addressed by the past administration,” said Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the Environment Department, explaining why the lab was being cited now for the older violations.

Under state Environment Secretary James Kenney, the agency wants to be clear on its expectations for compliance and accountability going forward, Hayden said.

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New Mexico Environment Department Fines DOE/NNSA And Triad $303,600 For Violations Related To Waste Shipment

The New Mexico Environment Department has notified the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration and Triad National Security at Los Alamos National Laboratory a civil penalty of $303,600 under the Hazardous Waste Act in connection with the repeat violations of the 1995 Federal Facility Compliance Order.


The amount was calculated using the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau’s Civil Penalty Policy dated March 2017.

NMED claims NNSA and Triad repeatedly failed to submit waste shipment information for waste containers within 45 days as required for eight shipments involving some 20 containers from the Waste Treatability Group.

The containers allegedly contained radioactive material described as 10-100 nanocuries per gram, halogenated organic liquid, activated or inseparable lead, or solids with heavy metals.

NNSA spokesperson Toni Chiri said in an email late Thursday that the information for the containers identified by the NMED resulted from administrative discrepancies that were identified, self-reported, and corrected by LANL.

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More Radioactive Contaminants Found at Los Alamos Housing Site


More radioactive material has been found on a former Los Alamos National Laboratory site where low-income housing is being built.

Debris containing two forms of uranium was discovered last month in Los Alamos County, just south of where a utility crew found enough low-level radioactive waste in February to fill three drums.

Crews removed another three drums of contaminated debris, including glass shards, wood and metal objects, from the second site, according to state and federal officials. Other unearthed material remains isolated at the site until it can be analyzed and properly disposed of.


NMED Tells DOE Widespread Waste at DP Road Represents Substantial Risk To Human Health, Environment

NM Environment Department Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief Kevin Pierard said the widespread waste at the site represents “a substantial risk to human health and the environment”.


Workers in February at the DP Road site where contaminated waste was found on property turned over to Los Alamos County. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

New Mexico Environment Department officials are unhappy with the Department of Energy’s response to the discovery in February of contamination at the Middle DP Road Site in Los Alamos. NMED has given DOE 30 days to provide a schedule of preliminary screening plan (PSP) activities that “indicates that DOE understands the seriousness of this matter” including a timeframe for implementation for its implementation.

In a letter signed by NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief Kevin Pierard and sent to DOE Los Alamos NNSA and Environmental Management Field Office managers, DOE has been asked to include the basis for the current delay and limitations in implementation of the PSP “to ensure full transparency and understanding of why this important risk to public health is not being addressed in a more timely manner”.

In April 7, 2020, NMED directed DOE to develop and implement a PSP that would include sampling and investigation activities and a schedule for implementing those activities.

“Although DOE agreed to develop a PSP, it did not provide a schedule for development and implementation of a PSP. DOE stated that it intends to complete tasks associated with Section X of the Consent Order ‘as soon as practicable’,” the letter states.

Pierard notes that based on information provided to NMED since the discovery of the Middle DP Road Site on February 14, “contamination appears to be widespread”.

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Secretive Sale of Surplus MOX Equipment by NNSA Perpetuates Cover-Up of Bungled MOX Project, Exposes Lack of Accountability to Taxpayers for Money Wasted on Construction and Equipment

MOX Project Wasted Vast Sums of Money on Stockpiling Huge Amounts of Equipment that Project Managers Knew would be Obsolete when the Project Began Operation – Investigations Needed

Savannah River Site Watch For Immediate Release June 16, 2020 Contact: Tom Clements, Director, SRS Watch

Columbia, SC – The announced sale of surplus equipment from the failed plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the Savannah River Site exposes the lack of financial and managerial accountability with the project, according to the non-profit public-interest group conducting public interest oversight of the site.

With no accounting to the public about details of the sale of equipment they own, DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration has hired two sales firms to sell the equipment stored in an off-site warehouse in Barnwell, South Carolina. (See sales company news releases in “notes” below. See photos of the facility on the SRS Watch website, ©SRS Watch: It is unknown where proceeds from the sale will go.

A review of the surplus property posted on the website of one of the sales companies reveals a host of things are being offered at rock-bottom, give-away prices: transformers, switchboards, control panels, electrical supplies, HVAC equipment, valves and an assortment of other materials. But no plutonium gloveboxes, furnaces to produce plutonium oxide or plutonium pellet presses seem to be offered for sale.

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Absolutely Unacceptable: Resumed US Nuclear Explosive Testing

A May 22 Washington Post story reported that in mid-May top national security officials discussed resumption of full-scale US nuclear explosive testing. The next day, the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons was holding, virtually, its annual meeting.

The meeting released a statement, co-authored by Burroughs (see previously circulated press release). It begins:
“Resumption of nuclear explosive testing is absolutely unacceptable. Even discussing nuclear testing again is dangerously destabilizing.” The statement also observes: “This episode comes in the context of ongoing upgrading of nuclear forces by the world’s nuclear-armed states. It is supported by extensive laboratory research and experimentation which in part serves as a substitute for functions once served by nuclear explosive testing.”
Since the Washington Post story, there have been no further signals of returning to full-scale nuclear explosive testing. But at a minimum the White House discussion demonstrates that the option remains alive. Senator Ed Markey and numerous co-sponsors including Senator Chuck Schumer have introduced legislation that would prohibit the expenditure of funds on conducting nuclear test explosions with any yield. A parallel bill (H.R.7140) has been introduced in the House.

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Los Alamos County Seeks over 3,000 acres from Energy Department

A regional watchdog group said the development plans raise some questions.

Technical Area 36, where commercial, industrial and mixed-use complexes would be built, was formerly a firing site where uranium and beryllium were detonated in the open air, so some toxic residue probably lingers there, said Scott Kovac, research and operations director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

The site is also across the road from Area G, where massive legacy waste produced during the Cold War is buried, Kovac said. Contaminants might be released into the air if that old disposal area is excavated, he said.


Los Alamos County has requested 3,074 acres in White Rock from the U.S. Energy Department to use for building housing, stores, offices, light industry and schools.
Santa Fe New Mexican Courtesy photo

Within this clifftop community once shrouded from public view, it’s no secret the Los Alamos area needs more housing for future growth.

Los Alamos County wants the U.S. Energy Department to turn over 3,074 acres in White Rock at no cost so the land can be used for housing, stores, offices, light industry and schools.

To sweeten the deal, Los Alamos National Laboratory would be able to use part of the land to build support facilities and enhance its operations.

Less than 10 percent of the land would be developed — 275 acres — and most of that would be for housing, which county officials say is needed for the lab’s growing workforce and to create a larger pool of workers living in town to help attract other businesses.


More Radioactive Waste Discovered on DP Road


Department of Energy officials recently notified the New Mexico Environment Department that more radioactive waste was found on DP Road on May 18, in addition to radioactive waste that was discovered in February in the same general area.

The new waste was discovered 80 feet south of a parcel of land located approximately halfway down DP Road on the right side, heading eastbound. The land the new waste was discovered on was transferred from the Department of Energy to Los Alamos County in 2018.

Samples collected by Triad National Security identified the waste as containing Uranium 234 and Uranium 238. Officials aren’t sure of the level of radioactivity as the material is still being tested by Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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Why a decision on a second US plutonium-pit-production factory should be delayed

The decision on the second pit production facility can wait. NNSA could announce its decision to move forward on building a pit-production facility in South Carolina as early as September. Based on the above context, this decision should be delayed for a number of reasons:

1. Since the Savannah River Site staff has no experience with pit production, the facility would have to be designed and the staff trained by the Los Alamos group. But the Los Alamos group has not yet demonstrated that that it can design and staff its own pit production facility.

2. Within a decade, we should have a new lower limit on the functional lives of the legacy pits. If they will indeed last for at least 150 years, as the Livermore experts concluded, then there will be no need for a large production facility to replace them anytime soon. The Los Alamos facility, if it can be made operational, should be sufficient for some decades.

3. The argument for producing additional warheads with insensitive high explosive for the Minuteman III replacement is very weak, and the debate over the need to produce new pits for a warhead to replace the W-76, the most numerous warhead in the US operational stock (about 1,500) cannot be made until NNSA and Defense Department are ready to discuss what pit they would use in the W93.


The troubled Mixed-oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project at the Savannah River Site is proposed to be transformed into a plutonium pit production facility. Photo (c) Timothy Mousseau, 2019.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the organization within the Energy Department that is responsible for producing and maintaining US nuclear warheads, is moving forward with a plan to build a plutonium-pit-production factory at DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. “Pits” are the form of the plutonium in the fission trigger “primaries” of US two-stage nuclear warheads.

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Maintain the Moratorium

June, 11, 2020
 The Independent

By Mary Perner

On May 28, 24 non-governmental organizations, including Livermore’s Tri-Valley CAREs, signed onto a letter that was delivered to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. The letter was in response to recent reports that senior White House officials had discussed conducting the first U.S. nuclear weapon test explosion since 1992.

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Senate panel approves $10M to prepare for nuclear test ‘if necessary’

““A U.S. nuclear test blast would certainly not advance efforts to rein in Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals or create a better environment for negotiations. Instead, it would break the de facto global nuclear test moratorium, likely trigger nuclear testing by other states, and set off a new nuclear arms race in which everyone would come out a loser.” — Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association


The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced an amendment aimed at reducing the amount of time it would take to carry out a nuclear test.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would make at least $10 million available to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary,” according to a copy of the measure obtained by The Hill on Monday.

The amendment was approved in a party-line, 14-13 vote during the committee’s closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week, a congressional aide said.

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More Safety Problems at Y-12 Bomb Complex



The safest building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is not safe enough. That is the conclusion of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in an April 21, 2020, Staff Report on the storage of reactive materials at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF). The Staff Report was released on June 1, 2020, accompanied by a letter from Safety Board Chair Bruce Hamilton to Dan Brouillette, Secretary of Energy.

Faced with three separate discoveries of highly enriched uranium that posed an undetermined safety risk because it was pyrophoric, the contractor at Y-12, Consolidated Nuclear Services, without characterizing the materials, decided to re-categorize all the materials as not pyrophoric. NNSA agreed and took the additional step of ordering the contractor to revise the Documented Safety Analysis for the HEUMF to incorporate the material types into the facility safety basis. Neither action was justified, according to the Safety Board, and neither was sufficient to assure worker safety.

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Remember the Original Tree Huggers

“The original tree huggers, a group of women of color, inspired generations of would-be tree huggers through their sacrifice, and their story illustrates what it means for an influential history to get erased from a movement; for leadership and contributions to get largely ignored. Though parts of this history might still be known to some, it is valuable for these histories to be taught, celebrated and acknowledged continuously—so we’re all aware that people of color have been leading environmental efforts throughout history, and still do.”


Photo: Michael A. Estrada

When you hear the term “tree hugger,” what—or who—do you see? What image, or images, pop into your head?

It likely starts with the vague idea of folks who are often—and perhaps overly—passionate about protecting nature.

But then, if you expand it, what do they look like? Is it a man or a woman? Are they white? Do they look like, say, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo if they were out living the #vanlife together? As touching as that movie might be, it presents an all-too-familiar picture for what we might all imagine when we think of tree huggers.

It also misses a lot.

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‘Sea change:’ Advanced reactors spur look at recycling waste

“There are some new designs, but they are not demonstrably greater, so we are still dealing with the same exact issues,” said Samuel Hickey, a research analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “And realistically, we have a much better solution to the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel, and that is dilution and permanent geological disposal of waste.”

Also at issue is the potential that reprocessing of nuclear waste could undercut efforts to promote nonproliferation abroad.

By: Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter |

The Orano La Hague nuclear reprocessing facility in northern France. The U.S. nuclear power industry is eyeing the potential to reuse nuclear waste as fuel in the next generation of reactors. Orano

The nuclear industry’s push for the next generation of reactors is spurring a renewed look at reusing nuclear waste as reactor fuel, rather than burying it.

The implications of such a move have the potential to upend decades of nuclear waste management and global nonproliferation strategies. It also highlights a debate about safety and cost issues from recycling — longtime concerns that advocates say can be overcome.
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As Work Resumes, Energy Dept. Weighs COVID-19 Impact on Cleanup Milestones

The 27-page document, signed June 4 by DOE Senior Adviser for Environmental Management William (Ike) White, directs managers at the agency’s 16 nuclear cleanup sites to make a list of missed contract milestones and a “path forward” for finishing the work on an adjusted schedule. The documents should lay out the impact of delays on contractor fees. No date for submission or approval of such plans is listed.


The Energy Department’s Office of Environmental Management will cut contractors some slack when it comes to work deadlines missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a policy that became official last week.

The nuclear cleanup office “will continue to evaluate COVID-19 impacts on the ability of contractors to perform required work,” according to the formal “COVID-19 Remobilization Framework and Site-Specific Template.”

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EU rejects any US attempt to invoke Iran nuclear deal

In the next few days, the latest quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to become public. It will make headlines even if it doesn’t contain any news.


BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat said Tuesday that since the United States has already withdrawn from an international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it can’t now use its former membership of the pact to try to impose a permanent arms embargo on the Islamic Republic.The accord, which Iran signed with the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in 2015, has been unraveling since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018 and reinstated sanctions designed to cripple Tehran under what the U.S. called a “maximum pressure” campaign.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft have said that extending a permanent U.N. backed arms embargo against Iran is now a top priority for Washington.
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Legal Battle Continues Against Proposed Nuclear Waste Site Near Carlsbad

“It understood that spent fuel remains hazardous for millions of years, and that the only safe long-term strategy for safeguarding irradiated reactor fuel is to place it in a permanent repository for deep geologic isolation from the living environment,” Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, is worried that Holtec could become permanent.


The meeting was designed to allow public comment on a proposed Consolidated Interim Storage Facility by Holtec International.

planned nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad was challenged in federal court, as opponents sought to appeal a decision by the federal government to reject contentions to the project that would see spent nuclear fuel rods stored temporarily at a location near the Eddy-Lea county line.

Beyond Nuclear filed its appeal on June 4 in the U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia, questioning the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s April 23 decision to reject challenges to Holtec International’s application for a license to build and operate a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) that would hold nuclear waste at the surface until a permanent, deep geological repository was available to hold the waste permanently.

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Activists say Holtec filing violates nuclear waste law

A watchdog group has filed a federal lawsuit that contends Holtec International’s application to create an underground storage site for commercial nuclear waste could leave taxpayers holding the bag.


The group Beyond Nuclear argues Holtec International has an illegal provision in its license application that would allow the federal government to take ownership of spent fuel from nuclear reactors before the proposed $3 billion storage facility is built in Southern New Mexico.

That violates a federal law aimed at preventing public agencies from being stuck with massive waste if a company like Holtec decides not to follow through with construction, said Diane Curran, an attorney representing Beyond Nuclear, based in Washington, D.C.

“It’s an end run around the federal statute,” Curran said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission twice rejected the group’s efforts to challenge Holtec’s application. Holtec plans to lease 1,000 acres from the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance — a consortium of local governments — to construct an underground site that could hold as much as 173,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste.

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Watch the full video of Chain Reaction: Securing Our Future, live-streamed June 8, 2020

Chain Reaction is Ploughshares Fund’s annual gala, gathering leaders in our field, devoted partners, and new advocates to generate a nexus of ideas, opportunities, and strategies to advance nuclear policy and promote the elimination of nuclear weapons. Enjoy the full video of Chain Reaction: Securing Our Future, live-streamed via Zoom on June 8, 2020.

Our speakers were right. The threats to our security—whether from nuclear weapons, from COVID-19, from police brutality, from systematic racism, from climate change—are real, and the consequences are dire.

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Trump Envoy to Begin Nuclear Talks with Russia as Key Treaty Hangs in the Balance

The last major treaty limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear might hangs in the balance as the Trump administration pushes to replace it with a long-shot arms-control pact that also includes China five months before the U.S. presidential election.

By Paul Sonne & Robyn Dixon |

The New START accord, which restricts the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and certain launch platforms, is set to expire in February. If the Trump administration declines to extend it and the caps disappear, the United States and Russia will be left without any significant limits on their nuclear forces for the first time in decades.

Russia has said it is willing to extend New START unconditionally. But the Trump administration has balked, saying the treaty signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 is outdated, insufficient and overly advantageous for Moscow.

In addition to wanting a broader pact that covers China, the Trump administration is seeking better verification mechanisms and limits on all Russian nuclear weapons, many of which are particularly risky and fall outside the parameters of New START.

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Nuclear News Archives – 2019

RCLC Hears Talk On Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) Board met Thursday in Española.

RCLC Hears Talk On Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility. Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico expressing his concerns during the public comment portion of Thursday's meeting. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico expressing his concerns during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting. Photo by Carol A. Clark/


The meeting included a presentation by Holtec International Program Director Ed Mayer describing the safety features of a proposed storage site in southern New Mexico should the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issue the New Jersey-based company a 40-year license. If that happens, Holtec would build a multibillion-dollar site to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors around the United States.

“Our job is to prove the facility is safe and secure,” Mayer said.

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New Mexico Appeals Court Expects Waste Volume Status Report Soon


The New Mexico Court of Appeals expects a status report by July 31 on mediation between the parties in litigation over changes to the way the Department of Energy calculates the underground volume of transuranic material at its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

The mediation began last month between representatives of DOE, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the advocacy groups Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC). The state appeals court routinely requires parties to go to mediation in cases involving state agencies before a lawsuit proceeds to trial, says Don Hancock, director of the SRIC nuclear waste safety program. He declined to elaborate on the status of mediation.

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US arms control office critically understaffed under Trump, experts say

State department office whittled down in staff numbers from 14 at start of administration to four as Trump shifts approach

 The US national security adviser, John Bolton, is widely seen as a lifelong opponent of arms control agreements. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP
The US national security adviser, John Bolton, is widely seen as a lifelong opponent of arms control agreements. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP


A state department office tasked with negotiating and implementing nuclear disarmament treaties has lost more than 70% of its staff over the past two years, as the Trump administration moves towards a world without arms control for the first time in nearly half a century.

The Office of Strategic Stability and Deterrence Affairs, normally a repository of expertise and institutional knowledge that does the heavy lifting of arms control, has been whittled down from 14 staffers at the start of the Trump administration to four, according to the former staffers.

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Nuke-Backing NDAA Passes Senate in Landslide

Graham and Heinrich double down on pit production and Safety Board threatened by Senate bill


The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would authorize all the White House’s requested funding for nuclear modernization programs at the Department of Energy and the Pentagon.

The Senate bill would provide a year of bipartisan support for the Donald Trump administration’s nuclear arsenal modernization plans, which are essentially a lightly modified continuation of the 30-year refurbishment the Barack Obama administration started in 2016.

In stark contrast, the House’s version of the NDAA — up for floor debate as soon as the week of July 8 — eyes major changes for the decades-long arsenal refresh by slowing work on nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programs at DOE and the Defense Department.

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Tribute to Robert L. Peurifoy

A tribute to the nuclear weapons career of the late Robert L. Peurifoy (1928-2017) was recently posted HERE

Bob Peurifoy worked at the Sandia Labs for 39 years, serving as director of nuclear weapon development and retiring as a vice president.  He was the driving force behind many safety improvements to U.S. nuclear weapons and a strong believer in conservative maintenance of the stockpile. Bob was also a strong critic of aggressive Life Extension Programs that further diverged the stockpile from its tested pedigree and wasted taxpayers’ money. As Bob’s friend and colleague Gordon Moe puts it, “Bob’s family and I hope that Bob’s wisdom and reason as reflected in the Tribute will continue to benefit humanity for many more years through its use as a reference by researchers in the field of nuclear weaponry.”
A synopsis of the full tribute was written by Gordon Moe, Puerifoy’s fellow Sandia scientist, colleague and friend –

Kick-Off For Public Participation In LANL Legacy Waste Cleanup Draws Large Crowd At Fuller Lodge


The message was clear at Wednesday evening’s Environmental Management Cleanup Forum at Fuller Lodge hosted by the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office and legacy cleanup contractor N3B. That message, according to EM-LA manager Doug Hintze was that the Department of Energy is changing its way of doing business as far as community participation.

Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch NM Director, said about the meeting: “They had too much of an opportunity to control the questions through written submissions and pick and choose what they want. Future meetings should be quite different with open and free discussion,” he said. “I’m fully-prepared to push for the transparency that they claim that they’re operating with.”

“We’re not asking for input – you’ve been giving us input. We’re asking for participation to make sure you understand the risks that we have, the challenges including funding, the cleanup standards and so forth. We’re asking for your participation,” he told a packed room.

N3B’s Regulatory and Stakeholder Interface Manager Frazer Lockhart addresses a large crowd Wednesday evening at Fuller Lodge during a forum on legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo by Maire O’Neill/
Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze, left, speaks with New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kinney Wednesday evening at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Coghlan told the Los Alamos Reporter that EM-LA “have repeated rhetoric for full and complete transparency.

“They’re making the claim that more than half the cleanup is completed. This of course is representative of hidden decisions already made to leave behind the vast majority of waste. So this meeting was just a complete sham and it was carefully controlled really, to make it all look warm and fuzzy when it’s not,” he said.

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Group seeking stormwater regulations in Los Alamos County plans to sue EPA

“An environmental group said it intends to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to determine whether stormwater from Los Alamos County should be regulated by a federal pollution permit under the Clean Water Act.”


Pollutants — including mercury, copper, cyanide, gross alpha radiation and PCB chemicals — have been detected well above human health and state water quality standards in stormwater runoff samples, attorneys for Taos-based Amigos Bravos said in a letter Wednesday to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and David Gray, acting regional administrator.

According to the letter, levels of PCBs, linked to liver and thyroid cancer and reproductive damage, have been detected at levels thousands of times greater than state standards. Runoff from rain or melting snowpack carries metals and chemicals through the finger-like canyons that surround Los Alamos National Laboratory and urban areas of the county.

Amigos Bravos, a water conservation group, petitioned the EPA nearly five years ago to determine whether the water quality violations in Los Alamos County required a federal permit. Such permits are used to enforce water quality standards and keep pollution below certain levels.

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Dangerous chromium plume closer to Los Alamos County well

Chemical contamination more than four times the state limit was detected late last month at the edge of a plume in the aquifer roughly 1,000 feet below Los Alamos National Laboratory.

BY REBECCA MOSS | June 21, 2019

It is the closest high-level measurement of hexavalent chromium detected near the well used to pump drinking water to Los Alamos County, roughly a third of a mile away.

“Our drinking water supply is safe, and we are vigilantly working to keep it that way,” said Tim Glasco, utilities manager for Los Alamos County.

Hexavelent chromium, an industrial chemical tied to lung and other cancers, was found pooled below Sandia and Mortandad canyons in 2005, and environmental managers have since been working to define the full scope of the contamination. It spans at least a mile long and half-mile wide, and abuts San Ildefonso Pueblo.

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"If a nuclear weapon were to explode right now, what would you choose? Live or die?"  Over the course of a brutally honest conversation between two friends, the International Committee of the Red Cross' (ICRC) powerful short film  shows the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the psychological trauma which would inevitably result from their use - and why we need to ban them.  So powerful, in fact, that it just won a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival, one of the highest recognitions in the creative and advertising industry!

At ICAN works closely with the ICRC and celebrates their work to raise awareness about the unacceptable humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the need for all countries to join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons.

Powerful storytelling like this will help open eyes all over the world. Help us spread this message further:

Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, anti-war activist and former US military analyst famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, joins Joe Cirincione for a rare in-depth interview. Daniel discusses what he learned about US nuclear strategy during his time working at the RAND Corporation and the Pentagon, the use of deterrence theory to justify current nuclear arsenals, and the morality of threatening nuclear war.

Also: Early Warning nuclear news analysis with Ploughshares Fund Deputy Director of Policy Mary Kaszynski and Roger L. Hale Fellow Catherine Killough
Listen and subscribe on libsyn

Executed for being an anti-nuclear activist

The incredible unknown story of “nuclear martyr” Nikos Nikiforidis

The incredible unknown story of “nuclear martyr” Nikos Nikiforidis

On March 5, 1951, 22-year-old Nikos Nikiforidis was executed in Greece because he was promoting the Stockholm Antinuclear Appeal (1950). Honoring his death, Greek IPPNW and PADOP organized an event this March in Athens to commemorate him and his courage. Below is an amalgamation of two presentations given about Nikiforidis at that event.


Under present conditions, it seems inconceivable that a 22-year-old fighter for the anti-nuclear movement was arrested, sentenced to death by court martial and executed in Thessaloniki, on a charge of collecting signatures under the Stockholm Appeal for the abolition and prohibition of all nuclear weapons. But Nikos Nikiforidis was the first person (and perhaps also the only one) in the world to suffer such a fate.

At that time, the cold war was at its height on the international stage, and Greece was geographically on the border of the two worlds, the prevailing doctrine of its foreign policy being the “threat from the north”.

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New Mexico land boss concerned with nuclear waste proposal


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says southeastern New Mexico, which is home to one of the world’s most prolific oil and gas basins, is not the right place for storing spent nuclear fuel.

In a letter to Holtec International, she outlined her concerns about plans to build a multibillion-dollar facility that would be capable of temporarily storing tons of high-level radioactive waste from commercial reactors around the U.S.

Nearly 2,500 oil and gas wells and other mineral developments operated by dozens of different businesses are located within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of the proposed site. Garcia Richard contends that storing the waste above active oil, gas and mining operations raises serious safety concerns.

She accused the company of not addressing the potential safety issues and suggested that it hasn’t been forthcoming in its filings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering whether to issue a 40-year license for the facility.

“There is no guarantee that high-level nuclear waste can be safely transported to and through New Mexico. There is no guarantee that there won’t be a hazardous interaction between the storage site and nearby oil, gas and mining activities. There is no guarantee that this site will truly be ‘interim’ and won’t become the permanent dumping ground for our nation’s nuclear waste,” she said in a statement.

Holtec International has argued that the federal government has unmet obligations to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at nuclear power plants and the proposed facility is needed.

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LANL cleanup costs continue piling up

The U.S. Department of Energy in 2016 drafted a list of 17 projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory and in the surrounding town to clean up soil and groundwater that remained contaminated decades after the Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear weapons work.

At the time, more than $2 billion had been spent in a decade on environmental cleanup projects. The Department of Energy estimated it would cost another $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion to finish the job — and up to 25 more years.

The work is far from complete.

Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said cleanup costs have been “woefully underestimated,” and that an updated cost analysis is overdue.

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New Mexico Is Divided Over The ‘Perfect Site’ To Store Nation’s Nuclear Waste

“Why should we be the ones to take this negative project on and put up with the consequences?”
says Rose Gardner, a florist who lives 35 miles from the proposed site. “We know it’s supposed to be consent-based. They’re not getting consent. The actual people aren’t for it. And without community support, it won’t go.”

BY NATHAN ROTT | (originally published April 11, 2019)

Thirty-five miles out of Carlsbad, in the pancake-flat desert of southeast New Mexico, there’s a patch of scrub-covered dirt that may offer a fix — albeit temporarily — to one of the nation’s most vexing and expensive environmental problems: What to do with our nuclear waste?

Despite more than 50 years of searching and billions of dollars spent, the federal government still hasn’t been able to identify a permanent repository for nuclear material. No state seems to want it.

So instead, dozens of states are stuck with it. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, a still-radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, is spread across the country at power plants and sites in 35 states.

The issue has dogged politicians for decades. Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently described the situation as a “logjam.” But some hope that this remote, rural corner of New Mexico may present a breakthrough.

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Public Hearing on Safety Management of Waste Storage and Processing in the Defense Nuclear Facilities Complex

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) held a public hearing on June 20th at its Washington, DC Headquarters. The DNFSB’s goals for the hearing were (1) to discuss Department of Energy (DOE) actions to strengthen the safety posture of solid waste operations and (2) gather information on safety controls to address the vulnerabilities associated with handling and processing solid nuclear wastes.

The Live Stream of the Hearing can be seen here:

The Board will hold the hearing record open until the close of business on July 20, 2019.

Members of the public can submit written comments to until July 20.

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Nuclear Waste Storage Concerns Raised By Panel Members During Santa Fe Forum

Participating in a panel on nucelar waste in New Mexico Wednesday in Santa Fe
Participating in a panel on nucelar waste in New Mexico Wednesday June 19, 2019 in Santa Fe were, from left, Don Hancock, Sally Rodgers, Rep. Christine Chandler and State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Multiple concerns were raised by panel members Wednesday June 21, 2019 during a forum on nuclear waste in the state of New Mexico hosted by the Santa Fe Democratic Party Platform and Resolutions Committee at the Center for Progress and Justice in Santa Fe.

Land Commissioner Garcia Richard said her office has direct oversight of mineral leasing at the proposed Holtec site. She made public a letter she sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing her concerns about representations made by Holtec to the NRC and New Mexicans about its control of the proposed site as well as agreements it claims to have secured from the state Land Office. She said while the Eddy-Leah County Energy Alliance LLC privately owns the surface of the proposed site, the State Land Office owns the mineral estate and that has not been disclosed by Holtec.

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Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable. And They’re Starting a New Global Arms Race.

A Mach 14 Waverider glide vehicle, which takes its name from its ability to generate high lift and ride on its own shock waves. This shape is representative of the type of systems the United States is developing today. Credit: Dan Winters for The New York Times
A Mach 14 Waverider glide vehicle, which takes its name from its ability to generate high lift and ride on its own shock waves. This shape is representative of the type of systems the United States is developing today. Credit: Dan Winters for The New York Times

How hypersonic missiles — which travel at more than 15 times the speed of sound — are touching off a new global arms race that threatens to change the nature of warfare.

[T]he new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”. – Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who downloaded and publicized the new policy document before the Pentagon pulled it from the internet.

BY R. JEFFREY SMITH | (This story was published in partnership with The New York Times Magazine.)

On March 6, 2018, the grand ballroom at the Sphinx Club in Washington was packed with aerospace-industry executives waiting to hear from Michael D. Griffin. Weeks earlier, Secretary of Defense James Mattis named the 69-year-old Maryland native as the Pentagon’s under secretary for research and engineering, a job that comes with an annual budget of more than $17 billion. So the dark-suited attendees at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference were eager to learn what type of work he would favor.

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Nuclear weapons: experts alarmed by new Pentagon ‘war-fighting’ doctrine

North Korean ballistic missiles. The document said nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability’. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean ballistic missiles. The document said nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability’. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

US joint chiefs of staff posted then removed paper that suggests nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results’

[T]he new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”. – Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who downloaded and publicized the new policy document before the Pentagon pulled it from the internet. | The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability”, according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted by the US joint chiefs of staff last week.

The document, entitled Nuclear Operations, was published on 11 June, and was the first such doctrine paper for 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in US military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war – which they believe is a highly dangerous mindset.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the joint chiefs’ document says. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

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Government watchdog finds 3 issues disrupting US nuclear modernization efforts

Sandia National Laboratories researchers perform series of tests to study fragmenting explosives. The lab is part of the NNSA. (Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)
Sandia National Laboratories researchers perform series of tests to study fragmenting explosives. The lab is part of the NNSA. (Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)


WASHINGTON — The U.S. agency responsible for making explosive materials used in nuclear weapons is facing challenges that could impact the country’s planned modernization of its nuclear arsenal, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, is facing three main challenges, according to the report: a dwindling supply of explosive materials, aging and deteriorating infrastructure, and difficulty in recruiting and training qualified staff.

This report comes amid congressional debate over the cost of modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, an effort driven by President Donald Trump.

NNSA’s supply of materials, which are “highly specialized” with specific chemical and physical characteristics, are in low supply, the report says. Furthermore, the NNSA is lacking the knowledge base to produce the materials, as the recipes to make them were not well-documented, or the processes themselves infrequently practiced, the report notes.

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Center for International Policy Calls for Realistic Defense Spending — $1.2 Trillion in Savings Over 10 Years — Eliminate Space Force, New ICBM, New Nuclear Warheads

Center for International Policy
Sustainable Defense: More Security, Less Spending – REPORT

Washington, D.C.—Today, during a briefing on Capitol Hill, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, which was established by the Washington-based Center for International Policy and includes ex-military officers, former Pentagon officials, and former White House and Congressional budget analysts, released a new report on how the Pentagon can save taxpayer dollars while at the same time improving security for our nation.  The report, A Sustainable Defense: More Security, Less Spending, details how the U.S. can cut over $1.2 trillion in projected Pentagon spending over the next decade while at the same time improving national security. (A link to the full report is above, and a summary can be found here and a two-page fact sheet is here).

“There needs to be a fresh approach to defense strategy that makes America more secure while consuming fewer resources,” stated William Hartung, co-editor of the report.  He continued, “A new strategy must be more restrained than the military-led approach adopted in this century, replacing a policy of perpetual war with one that uses military force only as a last resort when vital security interests are at stake.”

The Sustainable Defense Task Force produced the report to counter the January 2018 National Defense Strategy and the 2019 National Defense Strategy Commission.  “The National Defense Strategy Commission report is an exercise in threat inflation that exaggerates the military threats posed by Russia and China while ignoring urgent, non-military challenges to our security,” said report co-editor Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy.

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Critics blast plutonium pit production pitch at Aiken forum

A coalition of nuclear watchers and environmental groups on Friday night hosted a public forum in Aiken, during which speakers unloaded on the proposed plutonium pit production expansion at both the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.


Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements speaks earlier this month at the plutonium pit production forum, flanked by a large photo of the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility/Staff photo by Colin Demarest

The get-together, held at the Aiken Municipal Building, was largely led by Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements. He was backed by Marylia Kelley, the executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, and Jay Coghlan, who leads Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

Together, the three called into question the actual need for more pits, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s ability to successfully produce them, and discussed at length the environmental and health repercussions that could come with such a significant weapons-oriented mission.

The public “can be effective against bad Department of Energy ideas, like the pit production one,” Clements said early in his remarks.

At least 80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading nuclear policy document. Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

“They keep coming up with this number, 80, and I don’t know where they get this from,” Clements said. “They haven’t justified it.”

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Forum addresses plutonium pit expansion at SRS


AIKEN — A forum regarding the Department of Energy’s proposed expanded production of plutonium pits at Savannah River Site was held Friday evening.

About 70 people gathered in the auditorium of the Aiken Municipal Building to hear speakers present information against the proposal and encourage the public to write to their representatives in opposition to the plan.

The Department of Energy has proposed to use the former Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility as the location to produce about 50 plutonium pits per year. The pits make up the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons.

Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch, said the department should not rush into a new project at the MOX plant, which was shut down in October.

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Critics raise concerns over proposed atomic bomb factory near Aiken

Anti-nuclear activists fired away Friday at what they said is a dangerous and little known plan to produce deadly atomic weapons components at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.


The federal government has proposed a multibillion dollar plutonium pit factory that could create as many as 1,700 jobs as part of an effort to make fresh plutonium, a major ingredient in atomic bombs.

But the proposed factory is raising concerns about its risk to the environment and the public, in addition to how it would be viewed by world leaders. Critics say the government may use the pits in a new type of nuclear weapon, instead of only replenishing the existing stockpile with fresh plutonium.

Savannah River Site Watch, a nuclear watchdog organization that tracks SRS, held a public meeting Friday night in Aiken County to brief people on the government’s plan at SRS, a 310-square-mile complex in western South Carolina.

“We don’t think people are really aware of what is going on: that this new mission is fraught with risk that could come to SRS,’’ Savannah River Site Watch director Tom Clements told The State.

Nuclear watchdog groups from New Mexico and California joined SRS Watch for the forum in Aiken County, where many SRS workers live. Before the Friday meeting, the groups held a news conference to voice concerns. The U.S. Department of Energy plans its own forum on the proposal June 27 in North Augusta.

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Critics raise concerns over proposed atomic bomb factory near Aiken

Anti-nuclear activists fired away Friday at what they said is a dangerous and little known plan to produce deadly atomic weapons components at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.


A mixed oxide fuel factory was under construction at the Savannah River Site for years. But the project has been scrapped and the federal government is looking to convert the site into a plutonium pit factory COURTESY HIGH FLYER

The federal government has proposed a multibillion dollar plutonium pit factory that could create as many as 1,700 jobs as part of an effort to make fresh plutonium, a major ingredient in atomic bombs.

Pro-nuclear groups say the pit plant is a good replacement for the mixed oxide fuel facility, commonly known as MOX. Not only will it provide jobs, but it will help keep the United States safe, they say.

Clements and Jay Coghlan, who directs Nuclear Watch New Mexico, don’t see it that way.

“It will be a great waste of taxpayer’s money,’’ Coghlan said. “There also is a long history of chronic safety problems and environmental or waste problems associated with pit production.’’

The proposed factory is raising concerns about its risk to the environment and the public, in addition to how it would be viewed by world leaders. Critics say the government may use the pits in a new type of nuclear weapon, instead of only replenishing the existing stockpile with fresh plutonium.

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LETTER: New Mexico governor says no to high-level nuclear waste

FILE – In this Jan 7, 2019, file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Lujan Grisham is opposed to plans by a New Jersey-based company to build a multibillion-dollar facility in her state to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors around the United States. Gov. Grisham sent a letter Friday, June 7, 2019, to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, saying the interim storage of high-level waste poses significant and unacceptable risks to residents, the environment and the region’s economy. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File) June 7, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s governor said Friday she’s opposed to plans by a New Jersey-based company to build a multibillion-dollar facility in her state to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors around the U.S.

In a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the interim storage of high-level radioactive waste poses significant and unacceptable risks to residents, the environment and the region’s economy.

She cited the ongoing oil boom in the Permian Basin, which spans parts of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, as well as million-dollar agricultural interests that help drive the state’s economy.

Any disruption of agricultural or oil and gas activities as a result of a perceived or actual incident would be catastrophic, she said, adding that such a project could discourage future investment in the area.

“Establishing an interim storage facility in this region would be economic malpractice,” she wrote.

Holtec International has defended its plans, citing unmet obligations by the federal government to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at nuclear power plants.

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The latest episode of Ploughshares Fund’s new podcast, Press the Button, features Donté Stallworth — former NFL wide receiver and now national security wonk.

Hear his remarkable analysis of rising tensions with Iran, Trump’s flaws, and his ideas for a saner nuclear policy:
Listen and subscribe on iTunes · Spotify · SoundCloud · Google Play

Halting Holtec – A Challenge for Nuclear Safety Advocates

The loading of 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel has been indefinitely halted at the San Onofre independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI), operated by Southern California Edison and designed by Holtec International.


Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fined Southern California Edison an unprecedented $116,000 for failing to report the near drop of an 54 ton canister of radioactive waste, and is delaying giving the go-ahead to further loading operations until serious questions raised by the incident have been resolved.

Critics have long been pointing out that locating a dump for tons of waste, lethal for millions of years, in a densely populated area, adjacent to I-5 and the LA-to-San Diego rail corridor, just above a popular surfing beach, in an earthquake and tsunami zone, inches above the water table, and yards from the rising sea doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense from a public safety standpoint.

The near drop incident last August, revealed by a whistleblower, has drawn further attention to the many defects in the Holtec-designed and manufactured facility.  It has been discovered that the stainless steel canisters, only five-eights inches thick, are being damaged as they are lowered into the site’s concrete silos.  Experts have warned that the scratching or gouging that is occurring makes the thin-walled canisters even more susceptible to corrosion-induced cracking in the salty sea air, risking release of their deadly contents into the environment and even of hydrogen explosions.

Furthermore, critics point out, these thin-walled canisters are welded shut and cannot be inspected, maintained, monitored or repaired.

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How Trump Could Restart the Nuclear Arms Race

Some key arms control agreements could be on the chopping block.


Donald Trump Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by CUTWORLD/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Jack Hill—WPA Pool/Getty Images.

If President Donald Trump doesn’t act quickly, the nuclear arms race, which has been fairly dormant for decades, might break into a gallop.

Trump is famously hostile toward international treaties, especially those that constrain America’s actions, even if they’re actions that no one is particularly keen to take. The Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty are all commitments that Trump has ripped up for no good reason.

The scuttling of that last accord, often abbreviated as the INF Treaty, which was signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev (and eliminated all U.S. and Soviet missiles having a range between 500 and 5,000 kilometers), marked the first time Trump abrogated a nuclear arms agreement between the United States and Russia, the two major nuclear powers.

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Bob Peurifoy worked at the Sandia Labs for 39 years, serving as director of nuclear weapon development and retiring as a vice president.  He was the driving force behind many safety improvements to U.S. nuclear weapons and a strong believer in conservative maintenance of the stockpile. Bob was also a strong critic of aggressive Life Extension Programs that further diverged the stockpile from its tested pedigree and wasted taxpayers’ money. As Bob’s friend and colleague Gordon Moe puts it, “Bob’s family and I hope that Bob’s wisdom and reason as reflected in the Tribute will continue to benefit humanity for many more years through its use as a reference by researchers in the field of nuclear weaponry.”

Nation’s most ambitious project to clean up nuclear weapons waste has stalled at Hanford

The Energy Department’s most environmentally important and technically ambitious project to clean up Cold War nuclear weapons waste has stalled, putting at jeopardy an already long-delayed effort to protect the Columbia River in central Washington.


Entry sign at Hanford Site, Washington. Photograph taken by Tobin Fricke - January 2005.
Entry sign at Hanford Site, Washington.
Photograph taken by Tobin Fricke – January 2005.

In a terse letter last week, state officials said the environmental project is at risk of violating key federal court orders that established deadlines after past ones were repeatedly missed.

Two multibillion-dollar industrial facilities intended to turn highly radioactive sludge into solid glass at the Hanford nuclear site have been essentially mothballed. Construction was halted in 2012 because of design flaws and Energy Department managers have foundered in finding alternatives, according to the letter that threatens new litigation.

The department has stored 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge left over from the production of plutonium in 177 leaky underground tanks on a desert plateau a few miles from the Columbia River, raising concerns that the material has migrated into groundwater and eventually will reach the largest river in the West.

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Listen to the latest episode of Ploughshares Fund’s new podcast, Press the Button, featuring Eric Schlosser, filmmaker and author of several publications, including Command and Control. This is a particularly powerful episode to share. Eric is clear and compelling about the inherent risks of our deterrence strategy, the fallibility of the US nuclear command and control and the horrors from the use of just one nuclear weapon. He is one of the most compelling advocates on our issues in the country today. It’s worth a listen!

You can listen here:
Or – Listen and subscribe on iTunes · Spotify · SoundCloud · Google Play

HASC Panel’s Bill Could Slow-Roll NNSA’s Planned S.C. Pit Plant

The Department of Energy would no longer have to make 80 plutonium pits a year by the end of the next decade, if legislation unveiled Monday in the Democrat-controlled House becomes law.


The legislation, due for a vote Tuesday by House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee “would repeal the requirement for the Secretary of Energy to demonstrate the capability to produce war reserve plutonium pits at a rate sufficient to produce 80 pits per year by 2027,” according to the subcommittee’s portion of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA is the annual policy bill that sets funding limits for defense programs including those managed by the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The full House Armed Services Committee is set to vote on the entire House NDAA on June 12.

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New, More Usable Nukes for Trump? No.

Congress should use the new defense authorization bill to bar the deployment of new, dangerous, and redundant nuclear weapons.


U.S. NAVY / MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 1ST CLASS JAMES KIMBER | The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

The United States has the world’s most powerful military ever. It spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined and has developed many of the most destructive conventional weapons ever created to ensure that America can address any threat. Congress consistently authorizes investments in innovative technology and weaponry to protect our country and our allies. We also possess a strong nuclear deterrent.

These are insanely destructive weapons with an unparalleled ability to kill and destroy, both instantly and for years afterward from the nuclear fallout. Nuclear weapons should never, ever be used first and new nuclear weapons must not be designed to be more usable.

Yet last year, the Trump Administration came to Congress with just such a request to develop a new “low-yield” nuclear warhead for our submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Trident D5. Congress foolishly authorized the development of this warhead on a party-line vote, but there is still time to correct course.

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Could Trump Trash The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?

Think of what the world would be like if Russia, the United States, China, India and Pakistan were testing nuclear weapons.


They are not because of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which is responsible for shutting down nuclear testing by major and regional powers for more than two decades. Walking away from the CTBT would be extraordinarily dumb and dangerous, but the Trump administration has taken a step in this direction.

The CTBT was negotiated in 1996, but it isn’t solidly in place. While Russia has signed and ratified it, Senate Republicans rejected it in 1999. China, like the United States, has signed but not ratified. There are other holdouts, including India and Pakistan. And yet none of these states has tested nuclear weapons since 1998. When a treaty is negotiated, it’s common diplomatic practice not to undercut its objectives while awaiting its entry into force. Hence the two-decades-long moratorium on testing by every nuclear-armed state except North Korea.

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Billion-dollar LANL building has plumbing problem

Saturday, June 1st, 2019 at 12:05am Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A building at Los Alamos National Laboratory with a price pegged at more than $1 billion apparently has some bad plumbing.

A federal safety oversight board recently reported that the operations staff at the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building found a leak in the building’s radioactive liquid waste system.

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a frequent LANL critic who called attention to the recent safety board report, said the plumbing problem is symptomatic of the lab’s history of safety issues, which has included using the wrong kind of cat litter as a desiccant when packing a radioactive waste drum. A reaction in the drum caused it to breach in 2014 and contaminate the nation’s nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad.

Read the complete article here

30th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Thirty years ago, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square became the focus for large-scale protests, which were crushed by China’s Communist rulers.

In the 1980s, China was going through huge changes. The ruling Communist Party began to allow some private companies and foreign investment. Leader Deng Xiaoping hoped to boost the economy and raise living standards. However, the move brought with it corruption, while at the same time raising hopes for greater political openness. The Communist Party was divided between those urging more rapid change and hardliners wanting to maintain strict state control. In the mid-1980s, student-led protests started, and in spring 1989, the protests grew, with demands for greater political freedom. On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops were sent to crush pro-democracy student protests in the famous square in central Beijing, leaving at least hundreds—and possibly thousands—of people dead.

The casualties included soldiers, but were overwhelmingly unarmed demonstrators who had been protesting in the square for six weeks, turning the site into the hub for protests in 400 other cities nationwide. Millions of people took part in the demonstrations, with more than 1 million people descending on Tiananmen Square.

As part of an ongoing brutal crackdown of internal dissent, Chinese authorities have carried out a harsh policy of history suppression, forbidding on-line or other discussions of the events at Tiananmen Square. In light of that it is worth recalling what U.S.  government officials learned at the time and how they assessed Beijing’s response to internal dissent.

To mark an event that decisively shaped contemporary China, the National Security Archive is republishing three documentary E-books that appeared on previous anniversaries, in 1999, 2001, and 2015.  The declassified documents demonstrate that U.S. embassy officials realized very quickly that the Chinese military had carried out a massacre ordered by top officials who feared the public expression of dissent could threaten Communist Party rule. VIEW HERE

Billion-dollar LANL building has plumbing problem


FILE This undated file aerial view shows the Los Alamos National laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, a seven-year, $213 million upgrade to the security system that protects the lab's most sensitive nuclear bomb-making facilities doesn't work. Virtually every major project under the National Nuclear Security Administration's oversight is behind schedule and over budget. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal)
A $1B building at Los Alamos National Laboratory was found to have a carbon steel valves that can’t handle liquid radioactive waste, according to a report by inspectors for the independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. (Associated Press)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A building at Los Alamos National Laboratory with a price pegged at more than $1 billion apparently has some bad plumbing.

A federal safety oversight board recently reported that the operations staff at the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building found a leak in the building’s radioactive liquid waste system.

Lab watchdogs have labeled RLUOB, which got the green light for construction in 2011, as the most expensive building in New Mexico. The lab’s website says it’s part of a capital project to replace aging Cold War-era facilities.

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a frequent LANL critic who called attention to the recent safety board report, said the plumbing problem is symptomatic of the lab’s history of safety issues, which has included using the wrong kind of cat litter as a desiccant when packing a radioactive waste drum. A reaction in the drum caused it to breach in 2014 and contaminate the nation’s nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad.

“Remember, this is the gang that couldn’t get it straight between organic and inorganic cat litter, sending a radioactive waste drum that ruptured and closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for three years, costing the American taxpayer three billion dollars to reopen,” Coghlan said in a statement. “Now we learn that they don’t know elementary plumbing for liquid radioactive wastes lines, and we’re supposed to trust them while they unjustifiably expand plutonium pit production?”

LANL is in the process of ramping up for a congressional mandate to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation’s weapons complex, for production of “pits,” the plutonium cores of nuclear weapons as part of a huge plan to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

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Atomic Veterans Were Silenced for 50 Years. Now, They’re Talking.

Nearly everyone who’s seen it and lived to tell the tale describes it the same way: a horrifying, otherworldly thing of ghastly beauty that has haunted their life ever since.


“The colors were beautiful,” remembers a man in Morgan Knibbe’s short documentary The Atomic Soldiers. “I hate to say that.”

“It was completely daylight at midnight—brighter than the brightest day you ever saw,” says another.

Many tales of the atomic bomb, however, weren’t told at all. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an estimated 400,000 American soldiers and sailors also observed nuclear explosions—many just a mile or two from ground zero. From 1946 to 1992, the U.S. government conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests, during which unwitting troops were exposed to vast amounts of ionizing radiation. For protection, they wore utility jackets, helmets, and gas masks. They were told to cover their face with their arms.

After the tests, the soldiers, many of whom were traumatized, were sworn to an oath of secrecy. Breaking it even to talk among themselves was considered treason, punishable by a $10,000 fine and 10 or more years in prison.

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New START Must Be Extended, Without or Without China

The baffling non-answers from the senior administration officials strongly suggest that the president’s impulse for a grand U.S.-Chinese-Russian arms control bargain is not backed up with a realistic plan.


On May 14, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Sochi, Russia to discuss what the State Department called a “new era” in “arms control to address new and emerging threats” with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin.

The trip follows reports that Donald Trump has directed his administration to seek a new arms control agreement with Russia and China that should include: “all the weapons, all the warheads, and all the missiles.”

U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) because it only limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons and does not cover Russia’s stockpile of sub-strategic warheads in central storage inside Russia.

New START, which caps each side’s enormous and devastating long-range nuclear weapons to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed strategic missiles and bombers, will expire in February 2021 if Trump and Putin don’t agree to an extension.
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Trump Prepared to Bypass Congress on Saudi Arms Sale: Senators

Senator Chris Murphy speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending US military support for the war in Yemen [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
Senator Chris Murphy speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending US military support for the war in Yemen [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Democrats warn Trump may use ’emergency’ loophole to sell missiles to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.


Washington, DC – Democrats in the United States Senate have warned that the Trump administration is preparing to approve a major new arms sale to Saudi Arabia, using an “emergency” loophole to bypass Congress.

“I am expecting that the administration is going to notice a major arms sale through emergency powers,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, told Al Jazeera on Thursday, after he said an administration official gave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “informal notice” of the forthcoming announcement.

US arms control law allows Congress to reject weapons sales to foreign countries but an exemption in the law allows the president to waive the need for congressional approval by declaring a national security emergency.

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Last week, Nuclear Watch New Mexico was in Washington participating in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s 31st annual DC Days. As a recent addition to the NukeWatch NM staff, this was my first time attending DC Days. The week consisted of a Sunday training day followed by three days straight of lobbying meetings with congress and other government departments that have a huge say in new nuclear weapons or energy developments. When the meeting days concluded, I also attended ANA’s Spring Meeting, which is a two-day debriefing and planning session to discuss thoughts on the week and new plans for the year ahead. This week was not only informative but enlightening, in terms of how I learned the ins-and outs of congress and the true functioning (or lack thereof, occasionally) of government. A large part of why I learned as much as I did and why I did feel so engaged, was due to being surrounded by the most genuine and helpful set of people. I would not have felt as comfortable in this world of politics (which is completely foreign to me) if it was not for the other members of ANA organizations that treated me as an equal contributor, despite my lack of knowledge in certain areas. This is a brief introduction to my time in DC, but there are more technical issues to discuss! A following post will contain the specific details of the issues ANA, and NukeWatch specifically, tackled during the week, including: Lobbying for No New Bomb Plants, Reducing proposed plutonium pit production, fighting Yucca mountain & consolidated interim storage – proposing alternatives to these, supporting a No First Use Policy, and much, much more.

Parties Prepare to Start Mediation Over WIPP Waste Volume

 The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is located in the massive salt of the Salado Formation. b. Contact Handled transuranic nuclear waste being transported to the WIPP site in New Mexico in TRUPac II containers. c. Remote Handled nuclear waste being transported to the WIPP site in a 72B cask. d. Over 10,000 nuclear waste drums and standard waste boxes filling 1 of 56 rooms to be filled at WIPP. Note the higher activity remote handled waste plunged into boreholes in the wall to the right (like SNF could be) and plugged with a 4-foot metal-wrapped cement plug. The Valentine’s Day leak of 2014 occurred from a single drum in Panel 7 Room 7. Source: DOE CBFO
Source: DOE CBFO

Face-to-face mediation is expected in June between public interest groups and the New Mexico Environment Department over changes to the way waste volume is calculated underground at the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). | May 23, 2019

The New Mexico Court of Appeals often encourages mediation in cases involving state agencies in hopes parties can bridge their differences outside the courtroom, officials say.

A lawsuit filed in January by Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), which challenged a change to the state hazardous waste permit for WIPP, has been stayed pending the talks.

New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Linda Vanzi issued the stay May 2 and called for the parties to file a status report on the mediation by July 31.

The mediation itself should occur in late June, SRIC Administrator Don Hancock said by email.

Then-state Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate in December authorized a permit modification allowing DOE to stop counting empty spaces between container drums as transuranic waste. The order adopted the findings of state hearing officer, who recommended waste volume counted against the disposal cap set by the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act should cover only the actual waste inside containers.

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Study questions whether LANL, DOE can meet ‘pits’ production goal

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico said the report “makes clear that DOE is blowing smoke when it says that it will produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 for new unneeded nuclear weapons. … They need to slow down, do it right and for sure do it safely. Above all the feds must concretely demonstrate a real need for expanded pit production before they fleece the American taxpayer of tens of billions of dollars.”


SANTA FE – A recent study casts serious doubts on the potential success of any of the options considered by the U.S. Department of Energy for meeting mandates on the manufacture of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons – most of them involving Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The congressionally funded study also says that it would be “very high risk” to try to meet the nation’s ambitious goals for making bomb “pits” by installing more equipment and adding an extra work shift for a production “surge” at LANL’s existing plutonium facility, an idea that has been discussed.

Some of the risks cited in the report include whether there is the ability to stage, store and ship waste, and “the transport/transfer complexity of radioactive material.”

The study goes further and questions the overall plan to ramp up U.S. pit production, which is estimated to cost $14 billion to $28 billion, saying that “eventual success of the strategy to reconstitute plutonium pit production is far from certain.”
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Federal workers struggle for years to prove they got sick on the job

Part 2 of NCR’s look at the toxic legacy of one nuclear weapons plant


The Kansas City Plant, pictured May 16, 2019, is under demolition by a private developer. The white bags in the foreground are designed to handle up to 3,000 pounds, or the equivalent of four 55-gallon drums, each of household hazardous waste. (NCR photo/Toni-Ann Ortiz)

Editor’s note: As the government invests in the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, while weakening environmental regulations and federal laws protecting worker safety, National Catholic Reporter looks at the toxic legacy of one shuttered weapons plant in Kansas City, Missouri.
In a three-part series about the Kansas City Plant on Bannister Road and its successor eight miles south, NCR reviews hundreds of pages of government reports and environmental summaries, and interviews more than two dozen sources, including five plant workers and their families, three former federal employees who worked nearby, nuclear industry and government officials, health experts, business sources, state environmental regulators and a former city councilman.
This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.

If the Kansas City Plant was not a “dirty” site, then why were its workers getting sick and dying prematurely? The question haunted television reporter Russ Ptacek. In November 2009, he began investigating the Bannister Federal Complex, a 300-acre property that housed the post-war nuclear components plant as well as various federal offices leased by the General Services Administration (GSA). Ptacek began his inquiry after he was shown a list of nearly 100 sick and dying workers compiled by Barbara Rice, a retired data analyst, who worked for 31 years on the GSA side of the complex.

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“This report makes clear that DOE is blowing smoke when it says that it will produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 for new unneeded nuclear weapons. After all, this is the gang that can’t shoot straight. They need to slow down, do it right and for sure do it safely. Above all the feds must concretely demonstrate a real need for expanded pit production before they fleece  the American taxpayer of tens of billions of dollars.” — Jay Coghlan, Director – Nuclear Watch New Mexico



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NM Environment Department Starts Clock on Four Legacy Waste Penalties at LANL

NM Environment Department Starts Clock on Four Legacy Waste Penalties at LANL

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has sent notices to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that the State intends to assess penalties for four environmental reports that have missed required deadlines. Each report could be subject to penalties of $1000 per day for the first 30 days late and $3000 per day thereafter starting at the date of the notice. These four assessments for FY2015 reports under the Consent Order (CO) showed up on the Los Alamos Electronic Public Reading Room (EPRR) daily notifications.

These four are the first Stipulated Penalties since 2009 that have assessed by NMED under the 2005 Consent Order. In January 2012, the State and DOE/LANL agreed to a “Framework Agreement”, which focused on shipping transuranic (TRU) waste from LANL to WIPP, and put the CO on the back burner. We believe that there were no Stipulated Penalties Lists at all for FY13 and FY14. NMED granted approximately 100 extensions to CO deliverables during this time, which were not subject to penalties.

Before the beginning of each DOE fiscal year (October 1st) NMED and DOE/LANS work out which 15 deliverables to the CO will have potential penalties attached during the upcoming fiscal year. These deliverables are documents or reports that cover activities required under the 2005 Consent Order, which lays out the fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy waste on the Lab’s 36 square miles. For instance, after a mandatory monitoring well is drilled, a Well Completion Report would be required. Each year there may be 40 to 50 or so deliverables required by the State, of which only 15 are chosen to be subject to penalties for being late or deficient.

TRU waste shipments stopped in February 2014 when a TRU waste drum (improperly packaged at LANL) overheated and released radiation in the underground at WIPP. The radiation reached the surface of WIPP and contaminated 21 workers. This TRU waste at LANL is not actually covered under the Consent Order, but much of the aboveground TRU (originally scheduled to be shipped before 2012) is physically in the way of CO cleanup at the Lab.

In December 2014, NMED fined DOE/LANL $37 million and DOE/WIPP $17 million for the release at WIPP. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has hinted that there may be up to $104 million in possible additional fines to DOE/LANL that also have nothing to do with consent order. But the four recent notices are all about the Consent Order.

These CO Stipulated Penalties may seem small compared the potential $100 million fines, but the Consent Order itself is the primary driver for cleanup at the Lab. There are millions of cubic meters of hazardous and radioactive wastes and contaminated backfill buried at LANL. These wastes will pose a permanent threat to our aquifer unless removed.

“The Consent Order was designed to keep pressure on cleanup of legacy waste at Los Alamos. Penalties for missed deadlines are aimed at forcing DOE headquarters in DC to provide sufficient funding. We are pleased that NMED is focusing on the Consent Order again and not backing away from assessing penalties. We have a long way to go and we must all remain vigilant as the Lab addresses each of the many cleanup sites at Los Alamos.” ~ Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Consent Order Stipulated Penalty Documents for Federal Fiscal Year 2015

LANL Consent Order Extensions as of Jan 6 2015

Intent To Assess Stipulated Penalties – Phase II Investigation Report For Upper Canada Del Buey Aggregate Area, March 13, 2015

Intent To Assess Stipulated Penalties – Investigation Report For Upper Water Canyon Aggregate Area, March 13, 2015

Intent To Assess Stipulated Penalties – Installation And Instrumentation Of Six Boreholes At Material Disposal Area T at Technical Area 21, March 18, 2015

Intent to assess stipulated penalties – Investigation report for Starmer/Upper Pajarito Canyon Aggregate Area



DOE releases Investigation of Incident at WIPP by Technical Assessment Team

DOE releases Investigation of Incident at WIPP by Technical Assessment Team

On February 14, 2014, an incident in Panel 7 Room 7 (P7R7) of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) underground repository resulted in the release of radioactive material into the environment and contaminated 21 people with low-level radioactivity.

To add to the completed Accident Investigation Board (AIB) investigations, the Department of Energy (DOE) created a Technical Assessment Team (TAT) to determine what may have contributed to the failure of the waste drum. The TAT was led by scientists from several DOE National Laboratories. Los Alamos National Laboratory was not listed as a member of the team.

The report generally confirms what was already known but left the main question unanswered – What was the exact cause? The TAT could not determine the cause of the drum breach with absolute certainty because the investigation was hindered by “several constraints”.

The TAT’s overarching conclusion is that chemically incompatible contents of Drum 68660 from Los Alamos National Laboratory in combination with physical conditions caused the release.


The following key judgments led to and support that conclusion:

Key Judgment 1: Contents of Drum 68660 were chemically incompatible.

Key Judgment 2: Drum 68660 breached as the result of internal chemical reactions that generated heat and produced gases that built up pressure sufficient to overcome the drum vent and seal.

Key Judgment 3: Drum 68660 was the source of the radiological contamination in WIPP.

Key Judgment 4: Initiation of the thermal runaway was internal and not caused by phenomena outside Drum 68660.

Key Judgment 5: Thermal and pressure effects resulted in the movement of material during the release event and caused the damage observed in WIPP P7R7; the release did not result from a detonation.


The TAT did conclude that a glovebox glove in drum 68660 did not add to the reaction because none of the specialized glove materials were found on any monitors.

The TAT estimated that drum 68660 internally reached 350+ degrees Celsius after 70 days, which is the amount of time given from when the drum was packed at Los Alamos, shipped to WIPP, emplaced in the underground, to when it reacted and released.  (350 degree Celsius = 662 degree Fahrenheit) The report did not estimate the temperature in the drum as it headed down the highway from Los Alamos to WIPP.

Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director at Nuclear Watch New Mexico stated, “It looks like we may never know the exact cause of the February 14, 2014 release at WIPP. What we do know is that human beings are fallible, and nuclear waste will eventually escape whatever we devise to protect ourselves from it. The key question is, will the New Mexico Environment Department allow WIPP to reopen without knowing what caused the contamination to begin with?”

More to come as we continue to study the report.

Read the TAT Fact Sheet here.

Read the full report here.


Department of Energy waste needs to be cleaned up

The New Mexican

Letters to the editor, March 10, 2015

Department of Energy waste needs to be cleaned up

As usual, the Department of Energy gets it exactly wrong. The department was fined by our state Environment Department for lousy procedures that caused the explosion and leak at WIPP. As predicted more than 25 years ago, improperly characterized and mislabeled wastes make a dangerous mix. Now the feds want to steal from nuclear cleanup programs to pay the fine. Cleanup is already perennially underfunded, and environmental targets remain unmet year after year — because all DOE really wants to do is make more unneeded weapons, and thus more waste that doesn’t get cleaned up.

Every time DOE is fined for shoddy work, it should have to pay out of weapons research and development funds — and then throw double the amount of the fine into the cleanup budget. New Mexicans, have we had enough of watching the weaponeers roll around in their pork dollars while we pay the price with our land, water and future? Bad theater, indeed.

Sasha Pyle

Santa Fe

(Sasha is a former NukeWatch NM Steering Committee member.)


Tom Udall’s Unlikely Alliance With the Chemical Industry

NukeWatch NM Commentary: Not to mention Tom Udall’s not-so-unlikely alliance with the nuclear weapons industry in New Mexico. For that he sits on the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, the same seat from which Pete Domenici sent buckets of money to the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs. Except given the beginning of the trillion dollars over 30 years for nuclear weapons “modernization,” Tom is outdoing Pete in supplying money for nuclear weapons programs.

Tom Udall’s Unlikely Alliance With the Chemical Industry

By MARCH 6, 2015

WASHINGTON — Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has earned a reputation as an environmental champion. He helped lead the fight against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and pushed through legislation for a new federal wilderness area in his home state of New Mexico.

It is part of his family legacy, dating back to the Kennedy administration, when his father, Stewart, served as the secretary of interior, and later played a vital role in enacting the landmark Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

So environmental activists were stunned to learn that Mr. Udall’s political supporters now include the chemical industry, which has donated tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns and sponsored a television ad that praised his leadership.

This unlikely alliance has been forged as Mr. Udall emerged as the chief Senate negotiator for Democrats on legislation that would fundamentally change the way the federal government evaluates the safety of more than 80,000 chemicals.

Some of Mr. Udall’s Democratic Senate colleagues and prominent environmentalists say he has helped the industry write new regulations in a way that protects profits more than public health.

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who until last year served as chairwoman of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency, has been the harshest critic of the negotiations between Mr. Udall and Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, notably over the language that would prevent states from setting their own, tougher standards.

“I’ve been around the Senate for a long time, but I have never before seen so much heavy-handed, big-spending lobbying on any issue,” Ms. Boxer said. “To me it looks like the chemical industry itself is writing this bill.”

Mr. Udall emphatically rejects the notion that he is industry’s emissary. “I am fighting for our children and trying to make sure they are not being pumped full of chemicals in the next generation,” he said. “We can’t do something that is pie in the sky; we have to deal with the reality.”

It is a reality that pleases industry officials who have worked to get close to Mr. Udall over the past 20 months, after the death of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, who once led Democrats in negotiations on a deal with Senate Republicans.

“The leadership he is providing is absolutely critical,” said Cal M. Dooley, a former Democratic representative from California, who is now the president and a lobbyist at the American Chemistry Council, which represents DuPont, Dow and other giants in the $800 billion-a-year industry.

The courting of Mr. Udall, even with Republicans in control of Congress, demonstrates how important securing the support of at least a few Democrats in the Senate is to any corporate agenda in Washington, where almost nothing can emerge from the chamber without 60 votes.

Unlike most industries that fight new federal regulations, the chemical industry wants Congress to act. T he existing fe deral law, adopted in 1976, is so antiquated that individual state governments have imposed their own chemical safety regulations.

The E.P.A. acknowledges there are about 1,000 chemicals used in the United States that might represent health hazards. Asbestos, for example, is still illegal to manufacture and sell, but the agency for decades h as been unable to ban its use.

Industry executives also realize the public is increasingly losing confidence in the safety of common chemicals once routinely found in toys or baby bottles, a fear they say can be addressed with more rigorous regulations.

But some environmental activists involved in the negotiations between Mr. Udall and Mr. Vitter are convinced that Mr. Udall has been too open to pressure from the industry.

“Senator Udall’s strong support for the legislation, in spite of its remaining flaws, has emboldened the chemical industry to take a more aggressive approach in Congress and try to disregard the critique of health experts and state governments,” said Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of a nonprofit group called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which represents hundreds of public health, labor and environmental groups.

The criticism is, in part, a negotiating tactic. The environmental groups still hope to toughen the draft legislation. But the disagreements are real.

The most intense disputes are over the pace the E.P.A. will attempt to test the backlog of chemicals whose safety has never been comprehensively assessed. The speed depends in part on how much the chemical industry must pay to cover the cost of tests and rule-making.

Mr. Udall’s current draft would require the start of testing just 10 high-risk chemicals in the first year, a figure Mr. Udall conceded he wishes could be higher.

But Mr. Udall added that the current draft legislation does give the E.P.A. clearer authority to impose limits on chemicals that its tests show cause any “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who has been involved in drafting the bill, along with other environmentalists and chemical industry representatives, said this new safety standard language is a major improvement.

“It is not the bill I would have written from scratch,” Mr. Denison said. “But it’s a solid compromise that would be much more protective of public health.”

Still, the chemical industry prefers Mr. Udall and Mr. Vitter over Ms. Boxer. “Senator Boxer can no longer unilaterally stop the progress of reform,” said Anne Womack Kolton, a Chemistry Council spokeswoman.

The Chemistry Council is engaged in an aggressive push to pass the legislation, which will be named after Mr. Lautenberg as another tip of the hat to Democrats.

As part of its push, the Chemistry Council spent more than $4 million during the 2014 election cycle on television and radio spots to help their allies in Congress.

“These days in Washington, it is not easy getting things done,” said the advertisement that ran in New Mexico, featuring images of Mr. Udall. “But New Mexico’s Tom Udall brings both sides together to get results.”

Millions of dollars in campaign contributions were also distributed among the political accounts of the lawmakers involved in the debate, including Mr. Udall. First elected to the House in 1998, Mr. Udall had never before received a contribution from the Chemistry Council. The industry also made donations to Mr. Vitter, who is running for governor in Louisiana, and Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which would oversee the debate in the House.

Lobbyists from at least 100 chemical manufacturers, retailers that sell chemicals or trade associations representing them were registered as of last year to lobby Congress on the topic, disclosure records show, compared with a total of about 15 environmental, public health and educational institutions.

Mr. Udall and Mr. Vitter circulated a new draft on Thursday, but some environmentalists were still critical. The chief lobbyist at the Natural Resources Defense Council said that the law, if adopted without being strengthened, would actually harm public health. And the California attorney general’s office wrote a strongly worded letter late Thursday calling the new draft an “unnecessary evisceration of state regulatory authority.”

Mr. Dooley, of the Chemistry Council, said the industry was pleased with the new draft — and confident that it would prevail.

“This is the best moment, without question,” Mr. Dooley said from his office overlooking the Capitol. “I think we will get 70 votes on the Senate floor, or that is what Senator Udall, who spoke with us the other day, predicted.”


Los Alamos Cleanup Budget Request Slips to 8% for FY 2016


Los Alamos Cleanup Budget Request Slips to 8% for FY 2016








Even as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) faces more fines from the State for missed environmental cleanup, the cleanup budget request slips to 8% of the Lab’s total budget of $2.2 billion. The request for cleanup for Fiscal Year 2016 is $185.2 million. See the full chart and Lab tables here.

Even this ridiculously small amount is under attack. The ABQ Journal reported that the Department of Energy could be planning to pay for existing LANL fines out of this cleanup budget. In December 2014 the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued fines totalling $37 million for improper waste handling that closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in SE NM.

But really, the breeched drum that closed WIPP (full operations will not resume until 2018 at the earliest) came from the nuclear weapons activities programs. It’s like the weapons program handed the environmental cleanup program a ticking time bomb and said, “You deal with it.” Then when it blows up, it gets blamed on the environment folks. Reckless historic environmental practices by the nuclear weapons programs at the Lab have left a legacy of radioactive and hazardous wastes in the ground above our aquifer.

The official estimate for the total cleanup at Los Alamos has yet to be released. But it could easily $15 – 20 billion to remove the contamination threatening our future. Doing the math, a $15 billion cleanup estimate at $200 million per year would take 75 years. That is too long.

Ask your Congressional Representatives to fully fund cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory and to NOT use cleanup funds to pay any fines!

NM Senator Tom Udall

NM Senator Martin Heinrich

NM Congressional Representative Ben Ray Lujan

Watchdog Groups Praise NNSA Decision to Obey the Law

Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

Nuclear Watch New Mexico

For immediate release.  March 4, 2015

Watchdog Groups Praise NNSA Decision to Obey the Law,

Prepare Supplement Analysis on Bomb Plant

Contacts:       Ralph Hutchison, Coordinator OREPA,  orep(at);
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director NWNM, jay(at)

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s disclosure that the agency “in the process” of preparing a Supplement Analysis for the much-changed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 nuclear weapons production plant brought praise from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) and Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Just two days ago the two grassroots watchdog groups filed an expedited Freedom of Information Act request asking for the Supplement Analysis. At the same time the two groups noted that NNSA could be legally vulnerable without one. The issue is that the NNSA has proposed major changes to the UPF. The two groups contend that a Supplement Analysis is needed to determine whether or not past public review required under the National Environmental Policy Act needs to supplemented because of those changes.

The UPF is a highly troubled project whose costs have exploded from an original estimate of $600 million to more than $19 billion by one Pentagon study. More recently, in order to keep costs down, the UPF’s future mission has been stripped of dismantlement operations that would work off a backlog of unneeded nuclear weapons parts that need to be kept secure. Instead, the UPF will be a production-only facility for up to 80 “secondaries” per year, the components that give nuclear weapons immense thermonuclear capabilities. The UPF’s original “big box” design has been abandoned, replaced by a number of smaller modular facilities, plus use of existing nuclear facilities that were previously deemed too unsafe for continuing operations.

“It’s always a good thing when the government decides to obey its own laws and regulations,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA. “We had been told previously that a decision had already been made to proceed with the Uranium Processing Facility without preparing a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. We were surprised, because the law requires NNSA to complete and publish a Supplement Analysis in order to make that bigger decision.”

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico commented, “The UPF bomb plant has already been delayed several times by bad management decisions and incompetent design work, which dearly costs the American taxpayer every time. Instead of playing games about whether NNSA is or isn’t going to comply with the law, the agency should do what it did here in Los Alamos—prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement after making major changes to a proposed nuclear weapons facility.”

“The cart and horse problem continues to bedevil this project,” Hutchison noted. “It cost us half a billion dollars in the space/fit fiasco, where not all planned uranium processing equipment could fit into the designed building, and for which no one has been held accountable. Now we have federal officials saying they are not going to do the environmental analysis until they have spent more hundreds of millions of dollars on the second go around for “conceptual” project design—even though new seismic hazard maps may show it is unsafe to build the plant where they want to. It’s a great plan if your goal is to hand out taxpayer dollars to giant defense contractors. But if you are trying to complete a project in a sensible and timely way, it’s completely backwards.”

NNSA did not indicate when the Supplement Analysis would be complete. The Oak Ridge Peace and Environmental Alliance and Nuclear Watch New Mexico will be closely monitoring the UPF process as it unfolds.

# # #

NNSA’s admission that it is preparing a Supplement Analysis is reported at


Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

Nuclear Watch New Mexico


For immediate release: March 2, 2015

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (Oak Ridge, TN) and Nuclear Watch New Mexico (Santa Fe, NM) today filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Department of Energy (DOE) to come clean about its plans for a new, multi-billion dollar nuclear bomb plant proposed for the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) is a highly troubled project that has exploded in estimated costs from an original $600 million to as high as $19 billion. Since then, in order to attempt to cap project spending at $6.5 billion, DOE has reduced the scope of the UPF by eliminating dismantlement operations and assuming a mission of production-only for nuclear weapons. After a half-billion dollar design mistake for which no one has been held accountable, DOE has abandoned its previous “big box” concept for the UPF in favor of a modular approach that includes the continuing use of unsafe, aging facilities previously slated for demolition. Despite these major changes, DOE has indicated it does not plan to update the legally required environmental review process it completed in 2011, but which must now address potential impacts of the new plan.

The groups’ FOIA request asks the government to release its Supplement Analysis—a study required by law when a federal agency makes a substantial change to its formally recorded Record of Decision. A Supplement Analysis is used to determine whether the agency needs to prepare a new Environmental Impact Statement, a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or no new environmental analysis. The law requires DOE to make the Supplement Analysis publicly available, and the document would likely provide much valuable and up-to-date information on the UPF project. Alternatively, DOE may be legally vulnerable if no Supplement Analysis has been prepared.

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, stressed that his organization is determined to hold the DOE publicly accountable over its plans for Oak Ridge and Y-12. “We live here. We are the ones placed at risk when people in Washington make decisions to keep building nuclear bombs in buildings that do not meet safety codes or even weakened seismic standards. At the very least, we deserve an explanation. We’ve previously asked DOE politely and got no answer. So now we are resorting to a FOIA request and subsequent steps as needed.”

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, noted, “We had a similar situation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, when the government changed plans for a new multi-billion dollar plutonium facility. In our case, DOE responded to citizen pressure and prepared a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. We believe the same is legally required for the Uranium Processing Facility.”

The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to FOIA requests within twenty working days. OREPA and Nuclear Watch NM have requested expedited processing of their request as provided for by the Freedom of Information Act.

Ralph Hutchison added, “We think informing Congress and the public of the status of the UPF’s compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act is urgently needed because of the project’s substantial changes and the thirty percent increase in funding. Determination of UPF’s NEPA status and updated public review could help prevent further waste of taxpayers’ money after more than a half-billion dollars has already been squandered.”

# # #

OREPA’s and Nuclear Watch NM’s FOIA request is available at:

Tom Udall’s Stand

The New Mexican
Feb. 26, 2015
Letter to the Editor

Udall’s stand

A recent New Mexican article (“Udall weighs in on LANL’s next mission: Pits,” Feb. 22) quotes Sen. Tom Udall, “As long as we have nuclear weapons, they have to have pits, and Los Alamos does that.” He then goes on to hope that future international agreements would lower the need for plutonium “pit” cores of nuclear weapons.

Udall explicitly supported a huge new plutonium facility at LANL for expanded pit production, and a “life extension program” for an existing nuclear weapon that is creating the world’s first nuclear smart bomb. Expanded plutonium pit production is for future life extension programs that seek to not only indefinitely preserve existing nuclear weapons, but also give them new military capabilities, despite U.S. government denials. Udall can’t have it both ways, wishing for future limits on plutonium pit production while supporting the very programs and facilities that will expand production. He needs to stand up, pick one or the other, and make clear whether he is working for a world free of nuclear weapons or not.

Jay Coghlan
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Santa Fe.


DOE Nuclear Weapons Budget Up 10%, Equals Cold War Record

Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Contact: Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342

DOE Nuclear Weapons Budget Up 10%, Equals Cold War Record
Huge Startup for Nuclear Cruise Missile Warhead
$4 Billion Slated for LANL Plutonium Pit Production Facilities
Cleanup and Dismantlement Funding Remain Flat

Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Obama Administration released its proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2016, which starts October 1, 2015.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency within the Department of Energy, and has perennially been on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List for wasting taxpayers’ money. Despite that, the Obama Administration is giving NNSA nuclear weapons programs a 10.5% jump in funding to $8.85 billion. (1) This is statistically equal to the Cold War high point in 1985 under President Reagan’s military buildup. (2) Moreover, the NNSA’s nuclear weapons budget is slated to rise to $9.8 billion by 2020, nearly double that of the Cold War average. All of this is the beginning of the planned one trillion dollar modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons forces over the next 30 years.

The large increases in NNSA budgets are due to 1) aggressive “Life Extension Programs” that seek to indefinitely preserve existing nuclear weapons while giving them new military capabilities; and 2) new production plants for these rebuilt nuclear weapons, expected to be operational until ~2075. As an example of the former, the current $12 billion B61 Life Extension Program will create the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb, and will soon begin production at existing facilities.

NNSA’s FY 2016 budget launches a whole new Life Extension Program for a nuclear warhead for a new air-launched cruise missile. (3) Requested FY 2016 funding is $195 million, a 20-fold increase from $9 million for conceptual studies in FY 2015. This program is slated to rise to $459 million in annual appropriations by FY 2020. This nuclear warhead has been scheduled before Pentagon development of the new air-launched cruise missile itself, in effect putting the cart before the horse. This costly program is arguably redundant as well, given that rebuilt B61 nuclear bombs will be delivered on future super-stealthy fighters advertised as capable of penetrating any adversary’s air defenses. Finally, a nuclear-armed cruise missile is destabilizing from an arms control perspective because they can fly below radar, delivering the proverbial bolt from the blue.

On the flip side of production, the Obama Administration’s funding request for dismantlements is $48 million, less than 4% of the funding for all Life Extension Programs to rebuild nuclear weapons. Obama’s request itself is an improvement from last year, when the Administration asked for only $30 million, a 45% cut compared to the year before. Congress refused to go along with that, earmarking $50 million for dismantlements in FY 2015. Besides providing a good example to the rest of the world, nuclear weapons dismantlements deliver real savings to the American taxpayer by eliminating otherwise permanent security costs.

Concerning new production facilities, NNSA is asking for a 28% increase to $430 million for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) near Oak Ridge, TN. The UPF is to produce up to 80 “secondaries” each year, the components that give weapons thermonuclear capabilities capable of killing millions. The previous “big box” design for the UPF was canceled after out-of-control costs rose as high as $19 billion by one Pentagon estimate. UPF also had a half-billion dollar design mistake for which no one has been held accountable, in which all planned equipment could not fit within the building’s footprint. Because of all this, the UPF’s mission has been downscoped to production only, eliminating dismantlements, in order to help contain costs, currently capped at $6.5 billion. Again, dismantlements seem dispensable to the Obama Administration.

NNSA also plans to begin spending $2 billion to upgrade existing facilities for the expanded production of the plutonium pit cores of nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), beginning with $155.6 million in FY 2016. The controversial CMRR “Nuclear Facility” is formally canceled. In its place, up to $675 million is planned to be spent on additional equipment for the already built Radiological Laboratory to quadruple the amount of plutonium that can be handled there, and up to $1.4 billion to upgrade PF-4, LANL’s existing main plutonium facility.

In addition, “The third step of the plutonium strategy extends the lifetime of PF-4 and supports increases in pit production capacity beyond 30 pits per year by proposing to build new modular facilities and move selected processes into new space… The NNSA is planning to construct not less than two modular structures that will achieve full operating capability not later than 2027.” Although still far from final design, those modular facilities will likely cost a billion dollars each. Given the usual cost overruns, eventual costs may meet or exceed the CMRR’s estimated cost of $6.5 billion when it included the Nuclear Facility.

In New Mexico-related news, the DOE budget request for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is decreased by $76 million to $248 million. Of that, $87 million is for “base activities” while WIPP is shut down because of a radiation release in February 2104. The rest of funding is for “Recovery Activities” to resume underground disposal by March 2016 of radioactive wastes that were already stored above ground at WIPP when the accident happened. Meanwhile, plutonium-contaminated wastes across the country already prepared for shipment to WIPP will have to wait. Total costs to reopen WIPP remain unknown.

Inflation-adjusted funding for cleanup across the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex remains flat at $5.5 billion, even though estimated cleanup costs of the massive widespread contamination continue to climb. The funding request for cleanup at Los Alamos Lab is flat at $185 million. It includes repackaging radioactive waste drums stored at LANL that are similar to the one that ruptured and contaminated WIPP. It will also fund investigation and corrective measures for the large chromium plume in our groundwater aquifer, with an emphasis on preventing it from crossing the boundary of neighboring San Ildefonso Pueblo. Current contamination maps show the plume stopping at exactly the boundary, which is nearly impossible.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “Thousands of nuclear weapons rebuilt at enormous costs won’t protect us from ISIS, a dirty bomb in Manhattan, Ebola or climate change. NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs should be cut to help pay for the expansion of nonproliferation programs that actually enhance national security, cleanup programs that protect the environment while creating jobs, and dismantlement programs that get rid of nuclear weapons forever and save taxpayers money.”

# # #

The NNSA’s FY 2016 Congressional Budget Request is available at


(1)  As topline numbers, NNSA’s budget category “Total Weapons Activities” increase from $8.23 billion in FY 2015 to $8.85 billion in FY 2016, or 7.5%. However, the true increase is masked by the fact that two counterproliferation programs formerly within NNSA’s “Total Weapons Activities” are moved to Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. Once that is factored in the real increase for NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs is 10.5%

(2) The FY 2016 DOE nuclear weapons request is calculated as statistically equal to the Cold War record using data from Atomic Audit, Brookings Institute, 1998, Stephen Schwartz editor, Table A-2. It gives 5.494 billion in 1996 dollars as the cost for DOE nuclear weapons research, production and testing programs in 1985, the height of the Cold War military build up under Ronald Reagan. Adjusted for inflation that is $8.99 billion in 2015 dollars.

(3) Called the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon in the budget because heavy bombers can launch the nuclear-armed cruise missiles at a great distance from their intended targets.



Questions for the DOE FY 2016 Nuclear Weapons and Cleanup Budget Request

The Administration releases its  Congressional Budget Request this Monday, February 2, 2015.

Questions for the U.S. Department of Energy FY 2016 Nuclear Weapons and Cleanup Budget Request


Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

A national network of organizations working to address issues of nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup

The US nuclear weapons budget continues to spiral out of control. Look for double-digit increases in Department of Energy (DOE) weapons activities. Core nonproliferation programs will be cut because of funding for mixed-oxide fuel. Cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal will fall further behind. The DOE budget for FY 2016 will illuminate the Obama Administration’s misplaced nuclear priorities.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 28-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear sites, will be looking at the following issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Advisory.

— Does the budget request boost funding for “modernization” programs that indefinitely maintain nuclear warheads? Such funding is contrary to the Obama Administration’s previously declared goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.

— Does the budget reflect the Administration’s commitment to reduce funding (currently $335 million) on the multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge by downsizing it to the capacity needed to support stockpile surveillance, maintenance and limited life extension?

— Does the budget increase funds for nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity? Will cooperative programs with Russia be maintained?

— Is there increased funding for expanded production of plutonium bomb cores? Why is expanded production needed when expert studies find that existing plutonium pits are durable?

— Is more than $300 million provided for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore Lab that has repeatedly failed to achieve “ignition”? What is the funding level for uncontained plutonium shots although they will taint the NIF target chamber and optics with alpha radiation?

— Does the budget seek an increase for the B61 Life Extension Program (currently $643 million)?

— As DOE affirms that the $30-billion plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the Savannah River Site is financially unsustainable, is the MOX plant construction again proposed for “cold standby” (~$200 million) or a level to barely allow it to survive (~300+ million)? Does the budget include the current validated base-line cost of MOX plant, a validated construction and operation schedule and names of nuclear utilities willing to use experimental MOX fuel?

— Does the budget include $0 for Yucca Mountain? No funding is consistent with past requests that terminate this technically flawed site that is strongly opposed by Nevada state officials and the public.

— Does the budget provide additional Environmental Management (EM) funding (currently $5 billion) to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars.

– How will DOE and its contractors pay fines for missing milestones? In the past three months, the states of New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington have issued fines of tens of millions of dollars, and fines loom in South Carolina. In which other states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones?

— What is the high range for total life-cycle cleanup costs (LCC) for EM sites? Because of funding shortfalls, High Range LCC costs have increased from $308.5 billion in the FY 2013 Budget Request, to $330.9 billion in the FY 2014 Request, and were $328.4 billion in the FY 2015 Request.

— How much does the budget include for the shut down of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)? How much is for recovery and how much for waste emplacement (previously $220 million a year) even though no waste is being emplaced? How much additional funding is requested for the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge because of the shutdown?

— Does the budget for Hanford (more than $2 billion) protect workers from toxic chemical exposures, provide an Operational Readiness Review of the nuclear safety of the Waste Treatment Plant, and fund construction of new double-shell tanks to replace the leaking ones?

— Does the budget increase funding (currently $28.5 million) for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects because of the many cost overruns, schedule delays, safety culture issues and technical problems?

— Is the funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) enough to make them viable? As private financing is lacking, will DOE reaffirm that it will not finance SMR construction?


For further information, contact:

Jay Coghlan jay(at)


Download the pdf and more contact info here.


Nuclear Weapons Sites Evaluations Released After NukeWatch requests

Performance Evaluation Reports For Nuclear Weapons Sites Continue to be Released After Nuclear Watch NM Freedom of Information Act requests

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Nuclear Watch New Mexico on March 28, 2012, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released the FY2011 Performance Evaluation Reports for its eight nuclear weapons sites. These reports are the government’s scorecard for awarding tens of millions of dollars to nuclear weapons contractors, and were available to the public until 2009. But after that time NNSA withheld them in a general move toward less contractor accountability. We sought to begin to reverse that with our litigation.

In Spring 2013, NNSA released “Summary Reports” of the Weapons Sites’ FY2012 Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs). Nuclear Watch NM requested and received the full reports, which are posted on our site.

By Fall 2014, the FY2013 had still not been made publically available. In November 2104, Nuclear Watch NM filed a Freedom of information Act request for the FY2013 PERs. These PERs were posted online in December 2014.

Getting tired of waiting for the PERs every year made us file a Freedom of Information Act request for the FY2014 PERs sooner, which we did in mid December. The FY14 Performance Evaluation Reports were released this week, which is the earliest in the year that the PERs which been released in many years.

NNSA should be posting these important reports online without making us take up our valuable time filing for them. The Freedom of Information Act requires that “Frequently Requested” documents be posted in a reading room.

We don’t like it that we have to keep asking for the same reports year after year, especially reports that relate to such important programs and such large sums of taxpayers’ money. NNSA But we will keep doing it.

Check out our NNSA Performance Evaluation Page.


Nonproliferation Expert Highlights Need for New Tools for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Verification

Nonproliferation Expert Highlights Need for New Tools for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Verification

January 12,2015, nonproliferation expert Dr. James Doyle is releasing a report making the case for expansion of the nation’s nonproliferation programs, and will brief key congressional staff on his findings. While in Washington DC, Dr. Doyle is also meeting with the Department of Energy on his contractor employee protection (AKA whistleblower) program complaint regarding his termination from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Lab claims he was merely laid off, after he wrote his study Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons? arguing for abolition. LANL initially cleared his study for release, but then retroactively classified it, despite the fact that it was already available on the Internet.

Dr. Doyle’s new study, Essential Capabilities Needed for Nuclear Security: A National Program for Nonproliferation and Verification Technology Development, builds upon his earlier study. In this new study, written in collaboration with Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Doyle seeks to encourage development and/or deployment of new and existing verification and monitoring technologies that would help make a future world free of nuclear weapons more technically and politically feasible.

Doyle observed, “Nonproliferation and arms verification have for too long been considered “soft power” tools of the diplomatic and arms control communities. Real nuclear security requires that we now consider these capabilities as vital elements of our national security infrastructure. They are potent “smart power” tools offering unique advantages in a rapidly evolving nuclear security environment, which unfortunately includes the threat of nuclear terrorism. Aggressive verification and monitoring technologies will produce a far greater national security return on the taxpayer dollar than will exorbitant “modernization” programs for an unnecessarily oversized nuclear arsenal.”

He continued, “As America allegedly reduces its reliance on nuclear weapons and hopefully further reduces the size of its stockpile, it needs new tools and new capabilities to keep weapons and materials secure and verify that other nations are complying with similar obligations. To meet these needs a new, integrated multiagency program to develop nonproliferation, verification and monitoring technologies for nuclear security should be initiated without delay.”

Some key findings of Doyle’s new report are:

• The program to develop new nonproliferation, verification and monitoring technologies should be funded as a core aspect of the nation’s nuclear infrastructure modernization plan, and thus implemented jointly by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense, with guidance from the State Department, intelligence community and National Academy of Sciences.

• Responsibility for this interagency mission should be assigned to high-level officials who have budget and program authority across the nuclear weapons and nonproliferation programs within the Departments of Defense and NNSA. The State Department should assign a senior task force leader to coordinate with the DoD and NNSA program directors.

• The program should maximize international collaboration, including Russia. Program plans and activities should be a central element of the P-5 dialogue on verification. Other non-nuclear weapons states that support verification and monitoring R&D should also be involved.

· The need for this program was formally codified as an explicit objective in the Obama Administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, and has been repeatedly articulated by both the U.S. government and independent assessments. That need should be met now. Failure in the form of a nuclear detonation on American soil (or anywhere) is not an option

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The nuclear weapons establishment is planning to spend more than a trillion dollars to “modernize” existing weapons, and build new missiles, subs and bombers. Meanwhile, the NNSA is cutting nonproliferation and dismantlement programs to help pay this colossal bill. This is exactly upside down. We should be making smart investments into new nonproliferation, verification and monitoring technologies that will help make a world free of nuclear weapons feasible, eliminating the threat for all time.”

Dr. James Doyle’s report is made possible by the support of the Ploughshares Fund.

His full report, Essential Capabilities Needed for Nuclear Security:

A National Program for Nonproliferation and Verification Technology Development, is available here.

It contains an extensive list of already developed verification and monitoring technologies that have yet to be broadly deployed to help protect the nation.

An executive summary is available here.

Doyle’s February 2013 study Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons? is available here.




More WIPP Fallout: NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90%

Contact:  Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154,

More WIPP Fallout:
NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90%
Watchdogs Say Management Contract Should Be Put Out for Bid

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Los Alamos Lab Director Charles McMillan notified LANL employees that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had slashed FY 2014 management award fees to $6.25 million. Seventeen million dollars were available in fixed fees, and around $40 million in incentive fees, resulting in a 90% cut to potential awards. In addition, NNSA declined to grant a previously pro forma one-year contract extension, and most remarkably rescinded a contract extension from an earlier year (see more below). As justification, the agency invoked a ““First Degree” performance failure… [that] created damage to DOE property or costs for cleaning, decontaminating, renovating, replacing or rehabilitating property that in aggregate exceed $2.5 million.”

This is more fallout from WIPP. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) used unapproved radioactive waste treatment procedures that resulted in a ruptured drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing that multi-billion dollar facility. It will cost an estimated half-billion dollars to reopen WIPP, which will likely double. Additionally, the New Mexico Environment Department has proposed $54 million in fines against LANL and WIPP, and Congress has cut $40 million from cleanup programs at the Lab, while adding $100 million to help reopen WIPP.

LANL is managed by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. LANL Director Charles McMillan is compensated $1.5 million annually, while also acting as president of the for-profit limited liability corporation, a possible conflict of interest.

Because of grossly substandard performance, the Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico had jointly asked the Department of Energy Secretary to cut LANS’ FY 2014 incentive fee at least in half. NNSA’s final decision far exceeds our request. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “We strongly praise NNSA for gutting LANS’ award fees. This sends an unmistakable message to contractors that they will be held accountable, which has been sorely missing to date. However, in light of LANS’ miserable performance, NNSA should take the next big step and put the management contract out to bid. NNSA and Congress should also consider whether for-profit management of the nuclear weapons complex is really in the country’s best interests, when the track record demonstrates that it’s not.”

In addition to the WIPP fiasco, another monumental failure occurred in July 2012 when three elderly protestors broke into a highly secure area, previously thought impregnable, at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, TN. The for-profit contractor had self-appraised its security program management as “excellent” and physical security as “good” in the preceding official “Performance Evaluation Report,” which the NNSA approved and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Concerning LANS’ own substandard performance, LANL has been incapable of conducting major operations at its main plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of serious nuclear criticality safety concerns. This belies the fact that the Lab is the country’s only designated, so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence.” Bechtel has had a particularly troubled performance history with the Department of Energy. Under Bechtel management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers.

Similarly, under Bechtel’s partnership management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR) mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Lab Director McMillan now pushes for a multi-billion dollar “modular” substitute for the CMRR Nuclear Facility, whose mission would be expanded production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, existing nuclear weapons don’t need expanded pit production, implying that it would be for unspecified future nuclear weapons. In any event, LANL has questionable competency to perform any plutonium pit production at all.

On a final related matter, to its credit NNSA posted the LANS FY 2014 Fee Determination Letter and Notice of Reduction. However, the agency did not post the full Performance Evaluation Report upon which they are based. Jay Coghlan commented, “NNSA’s decision to slash LANS’ fees is very welcomed, but far greater transparency is still needed. Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued in the past to make full Performance Evaluation Reports publicly available. We will sue again if our current Freedom of Information Act request for the full FY 2014 Performance Evaluation Report is not soon satisfied.”

LANS received a 68% contractor performance rating for FY 2012, but was given a waiver by the NNSA fee determination officer (who soon thereafter became the NNSA Administrator). That waiver gave LANS additional taxpayer-paid fees and granted it another contract extension, when the required minimum threshold was 80%. Nuclear Watch New Mexico discovered this after litigation that obtained the full FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Report. Congress subsequently required NNSA to report any future waivers to the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, effectively ending that practice. This does, however, demonstrate the importance of public access to NNSA’s full Performance Evaluation Reports, so that taxpayers can know that nuclear weapons contractors are being held accountable.

# # #


1.   NNSA, FY 2014 Performance Evaluation Report, Fee Determination Letter, Los Alamos National Security, LLC,

2.   NNSA, Contracting Officer’s Notice of Reduction of LANS FY 2014 Fixed Fee and Forfeiture of Previously Earned Award Term,

3.   December 3, 2014 joint POGO and Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor.

4.   LANL Director Charles McMillan December 29, 2014 announcement to Lab employees:

From/MS: Charles F. McMillan, DIR, A100
Date: December 29, 2014


NNSA has presented the Laboratory with our annual performance
evaluation report (PER) for FY2014. As expected the overall
results are not, with several notable exceptions, positive.

The fee for Fiscal Year 2014 was reduced to $6.25 million.  Given
the events surrounding our breached drum at WIPP and the severity
of the issue, the Laboratory received a rating of
“unsatisfactory” in operations and infrastructure and a score of
zero in that area which accounted for the significant reduction
in fee.

Although the WIPP incident weighed very heavily on our overall
evaluation from NNSA we performed well in the areas of our core
nuclear weapons work, global security, and science. This good
performance prompted written praise from NNSA Field Office
Manager Kim Davis Lebak as well as in the PER. Lebak said, “The
majority of the work performed by the Laboratory met or exceeded
NNSA expectations.”

I want to emphasize that our true value as a Laboratory should be
measured by the contributions we make to national security. This
is something we can all be very proud of. According to the PER
our nuclear weapons mission and global security mission each
“exceeded expectations.”  The PER cited many weapons program
highlights including: assisting Pantex to surpass the recovery
schedule for W76-1 production, execution of the Leda experiment
at Nevada, advances in the plutonium strategy, and excellent
progress in support of B61-12.  In global security, according to
the PER, “The Laboratory’s efforts were high impact and largely
successful, especially in the areas of Nuclear Safeguards and
Security, the Nuclear Counterterrorism Program, the Nuclear Non-
Compliance Verification Program and Non-Proliferation Research
and Development.”

Despite the challenges of fiscal uncertainty during the past
year, the Laboratory has made significant strides in many areas.
Our mission deliverables included multiple activities and studies
that increased our understanding of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

An update to the W78 life expectancy study was delivered, along
with analyses related to the B61, W76, W78, and W88 systems.  In
the broader national security mission the Laboratory was
instrumental in supporting the removal of low-enriched uranium
from Russia, hosting the IAEA non-destructive inspector training
course, and developing USAF satellite-based treaty verification

In addition, the PER calls out our science, technology and
engineering missions for advancing the state of research and
utilization of the exceptional scientific resources of the
Laboratory including Laboratory Directed Research and Development
(LDRD).   According to the PER, “The Laboratory has reinforced
its stature as one of the preeminent scientific institutions of
the nation.” Indeed, we pushed the boundaries of science,
technology and engineering with major feats, such as: being
chosen to develop SuperCam for the Mars 2020 mission, supplying
unique RAPTOR telescope data on the birth of a black hole,
leading the development of a “desktop” human surrogate device,
and collaboration on the characterization of the damage to the
Fukushima nuclear plant.

Operationally, despite setbacks and shortcomings, we saw progress
and momentum in key areas:
*             Safety and environmental performance are at historically
positive levels.  Injuries and days away from work due to
safety issues are lower than ever before.  The Laboratory
was named a “Star Site” of the Voluntary Protection Plan
program, the largest site in the DOE complex to earn the
star level;
*             Site-wide energy usage was reduced and water consumption
was reduced by 18 percent over last fiscal year;
*             An upgrade project for plutonium facility security was
completed and seismic and fire protection upgrades at TA-55
were completed; and
*             Significant progress was made on construction projects,
including TA-55 revitalization, the Transuranic Waste
Facility, and the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center.

To position the Laboratory to deliver on our future national
security missions we made significant progress with NNSA on
plutonium strategy including the “modular” approach to
infrastructure that will reduce risk associated with the
construction of targeted facilities while meeting mission needs,
safety and security, and regulatory requirements.  We also
awarded a contract to Cray Inc. to build the next-generation
supercomputer, Trinity.  Trinity will play a key role in
assessing future issues, both known and unknown, in the U.S.
nuclear deterrent.

Although this was a very tough year for the Laboratory I am
optimistic that next year will be better. I am determined to do
all that I can to make it so. My personal priorities will be to
continue to make progress on getting PF-4 fully restarted,
continuing collaboration with DOE on an effective and efficient
transition of the Environmental Management program scope, and
enhancing our management and leadership capabilities by filling
key vacancies and correcting operational deficiencies.

I would like to personally thank each of you for the hard work
and wish you and your family members a safe and happy holiday
season. Enjoy your well-deserved break and come back in the New
Year rededicated to serving the national security needs of this

Watchdogs Urge Big Cut to Contractor Fees at the Sandia Labs

Watchdogs Urge Big Cut to Contractor Fees at the Sandia Labs

December 19, 2014 – The Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent the Department of Energy Secretary a letter urging that the FY 2014 contractor incentive award fee for the Sandia National Laboratories be completely denied. The two watchdog organizations wrote to the Secretary earlier this month to urge him to cut performance incentive award fees at least in half for the Los Alamos Lab contractor because of substandard performance that led to the contamination of 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and the indefinite closure of that multi-billion facility. As deplorable as the Los Alamos situation is, the Sandia case is arguably worse because it involves direct violations of federal law that prohibit contractor use of taxpayers’ dollars to lobby the government for further work.

The Sandia Labs are run by the for-profit Sandia Corporation, wholly owned by the country’s largest contractor, the Lockheed Martin Corporation. According to its current contract with the federal government, the Sandia Corporation could earn up to $9.8 million in FY 2014 performance incentive award fees (it also stands to receive $18.3 million in fixed fees). In addition, Lockheed Martin could receive $2.8 million for “Home Office And Other Corporate Support,” which includes the subcategory “Provision of Corporate Ethics.” The Department of Energy should refuse to pay both because of improper lobbying of Congress and federal officials and Lockheed Martin’s ethical failure while doing so.

The Sandia Corporation’s unlawful lobbying has been well documented in two recent Department of Energy Inspector General reports. The first report concluded that Sandia had improperly paid ex-Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R.-NM) around $226,000 in consulting fees to lobby for additional work for the Sandia Labs. This began in January 2009, the day after she stepped down from office representing the congressional district in which Sandia is located. The DOE IG investigation forced the Sandia Corporation to reimburse the government the monies it had received to pay Wilson.

The second DOE IG report concluded: We believe that the use of federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition was inexplicable and unjustified… The evidence indicated that SNL and LMC [Lockheed Martin Corp.] officials had conversations with members of Congress and federal officials to convince the department, NNSA and Congress of the merits of contract extension without competition.

Peter Stockton, POGO’s senior investigator, commented, “This blatant attempt to pass along lobbying costs to taxpayers is revolting. Another example of catch me if you can. Reimbursement isn’t enough; DOE must punish Sandia for violating the law.”

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The for-profit Sandia Corporation has made no public acknowledgment of responsibility or remorse. The Department of Energy must seriously cut Sandia’s award fees to make sure contractors get the message that business as usual corrupted by unlawful lobbying will no longer be tolerated. There should be no more contract extensions. Instead the management contract should be put out to bid as previously planned, until it was short-circuited by the Sandia Corporation’s illegal actions.”

# # #

The POGO/Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Sandia Labs contractor is here.

For the DOE IG reports, see:

Concerns with Consulting Contract Administration at Various Department Sites, Inspection Report: DOE/IG-0889, June 7, 2013, and

Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension, Special Inquiry: DOE/IG-0927, November 2014


GAO Seeks Broader Analysis For Proposed Liquid Waste Facility at LANL

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.


DOE AND NNSA PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Analysis of Alternatives Could Be Improved by Incorporating Best Practices

GAO-15-37: Published: Dec 11, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2014.


Authors: Del Signore, John C. [Los Alamos National Laboratory]

2014-11-25, LA-UR-14-29097

Comments to DOE Re: Transition of Legacy Clean-up Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory

December 10, 2014

Jack R. Craig, Jr.


Re: Transition of Legacy Clean-up Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Mr. Craig,

Please consider these preliminary comments and requests concerning the transition of legacy clean-up work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

First, we request that alternatives to the current Department of Energy contract process be considered. The privatization of the nuclear weapons complex may be failing the U.S. taxpayer. Cost overruns plague the current system. Different variations of the same contractors still continue to line up for different variations of the same contracts. Yet, with a few exceptions, cleanup only crawls along. Many of the sites are still contaminated decades after the work was completed.  And now, WIPP is shut down.

We ask that alternatives such as looking to governmental agencies instead of private contractors be tasked with cleanup at Los Alamos. For instance, could the Army Corp. of Engineers do the job?

We also strongly request that alternatives to “No-Bid” and “Cost-Plus” contracts be considered first. Recently, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain spoke to prohibit the Pentagon from awarding cost-plus contracts, arguing such deals encourage nefariousness. (, December 5, 2014)

Second, if a conventional contract is used, we request that the following specific items be included in the proposed new EM contract at LANL. We also ask that these items be included in the ‘bridge’ contract:

  • Must be tied to LANL Consent Order and LANL RCRA permit.
  • Any “campaigns” must be legally binding, and not used as justification to miss Consent Order milestones.
  • Should be more incentive based – less fixed.
  • Should be more transparent like ARRA, including public availability of Performance Evaluations.
  • Should have dramatically lower overhead costs, for example lower security and no LDRD costs. These overhead costs should be made public just as the old Functional Support Costs were available to the public.
  • Must include public update meetings semi-annually.
  • Should favor local/regional economic development.
  • Must have public update meetings at least semi-annually.

Third, for the new bridge contract and any final contract we ask:

  • Cleanup must continue at current pace during transition.
  • There must be a new lifecycle baseline – with the range with assumptions spelled out. Comprehensive cleanup must be considered, not just cap and cover.
  • Corrective Measures Evaluations must be completed on all areas as one of the priorities.

Finally, concerning the new bridge contract, the synopsis doesn’t address the issue of how much LANS will be paid under the to-be-finalized bridge contract in relation to how much it would have been paid under the existing contract. It also doesn’t state which of the tasks mentioned are different than under the existing contract. We request that costs and tasks be fully described in the to-be-finalized bridge contract.

Thank you for your consideration in these matters and please call if you have any questions.


Jay Coghlan                                                            Scott Kovac

Executive Director                                                Research Director

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) believes that the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing (RANT) Shipping Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory must resolve safety issues prior to resuming operations. The DNFSB staff review team identified “significant flaws” in hazard and accident analyses.

The RANT Shipping Facility is used to load transuranic (TRU) waste, typically either waste drums or standard waste boxes, into TRUPACT shipping containers. This facility supports the LANL TRU program and will be used long-term. The RANT Shipping Facility is currently in standby with no TRU waste present, pending the resumption of TRU waste shipments.

In November 2013, the contractor, LANS, submitted a new safety analysis, called a Documented Safety Analysis (DSA), to DOE oversight officials at the Los Alamos Field Office (LAFO) for approval. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down due to a radiation leak in the underground. It is believed that wheat-based kitty litter was mixed with nitrate salts in a transuranic waste drum as it was processed at Los Alamos that potentially caused the reaction that breached the container. In July 2014, LAFO completed its review of the RANT DSA and noted only four actions needed.

The DNFSB staff reviewed the DSA and identified significant weaknesses in the hazard analysis (HA), accident analysis, and safety controls. The review revealed inadequate identification and implementation of safety controls to protect the public and workers.

The DNFSB report found that LANS and LAFO underestimated consequences from potential crane failure accidents, seismic events, and fires. Underestimating possible consequences like these can lead to increased radiologic releases to the environment.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Staff Issue Report September 29, 2014

Below is a Google Earth image of the RANT facility. Notice the 8 TRUPACT trailers with three round TRUPACT containers each on them.

NNSA Governance Advisory Panel Condones Diminishing Federal Oversight Of Failing Contractors

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday, the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise released its long awaited report, entitled “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise.” According to enabling language in the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act, “The purpose of the advisory panel is to examine options and make recommendations for revising the governance structure, mission, and management of the nuclear security enterprise.” This means the nuclear weapons complex owned by the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and run by its contractors. In an attempt to give increased prominence to nuclear weapons programs, the Panel goes so far as to recommend that the Department of Energy be renamed the Department of Energy and Nuclear Security.

The Panel itself is full of conflicts-of-interest. It is co-chaired by Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, which is the sole manager of the Sandia Labs and runs the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons production plants in partnership with the Bechtel Corp. The other co-chair, Admiral Robert Mies, sits on the Board of Governors of both for-profit contractors that run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Labs, as do former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and Michael Anastasio, former director of both labs. Yet another panel member, Franklin C. Miller, sits on the Sandia Corporation Board of Directors.

But the most questionable panel member is former Congresswoman Heather Wilson (ex.-R-NM). While still in office she signed a contract for “consulting” services with the Sandia National Laboratories that had no written work requirements. The day after she stepped down from office she started being paid $10,000 a month, and went on to secure a similar contract from the Los Alamos Lab for the same amount of money. The DOE Inspector General has recently found that the Sandia contractor (wholly owned by Lockheed Martin) had engaged in highly improper, if not illegal, lobbying of Congress for contract extensions, in which Heather Wilson was “deeply, deeply involved.” Both Sandia and LANL were forced to return to the government the $450,000 they had paid to Wilson, but she has not returned any money.

The Panel’s report laments the dysfunctional relationship between NNSA and its contractors, and deplores the loss of mutual trust. But while profits are rising, contractors are being held to fewer and fewer performance benchmarks, which the Panel does little if anything to fix. Performance benchmarks were previously codified in annual Performance Evaluation Plans (PEPs), but have been subsequently stripped. As a case in point, the FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Plan for the Los Alamos Lab contractor was 89 pages long, full of concrete performance benchmarks. The restructured FY 2013 Plan was nine pages long, with vague performance benchmarks.

This diminishing federal oversight flies in the face of a long history of project delays and immense cost increases for which contractors are responsible, but not held accountable. For example, the former contractor for the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant committed a half-billion dollar design mistake for the Uranium Processing Facility, but has not been publicly disciplined. Y-12’s new contractor just awarded Bechtel a no-bid UPF construction contract, which in effect awards itself since the contractor is principally composed of Lockheed Martin and Bechtel. This is despite the fact that under Bechtel management the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos exploded in costs from ~$600 million to ~$.6.5 billion, and the Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford from ~$3.5 billion to ~$13.5 billion.

Contractors have also committed very serious operational mistakes. The LANL contractor used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, causing estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which will no doubt increase) and $54 million in New Mexico state fines.

As another example, the former Y-12 contractor self-appraised its security management program as “excellent” and its physical security as “good,” which the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) approved while awarding management fees. Both were shaken to their cores when an 82-year old nun and two elderly colleagues cut through three security fences to protest nuclear weapons in a very sensitive area previously thought impregnable.

Despite all this, the Panel makes no specific recommendations to put performance benchmarks back into management contracts. Instead, it proposes that the number of budget line items be reduced, which could further erode transparency, accountability, and congressional oversight, and increase the ability of NNSA and its contractors to move money around.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the Panel recommends that congressional oversight be strengthened by having the DOE Secretary report to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees, and to the House Energy and Commerce and Armed Services Committees. This would likely have the opposite effect, as it seems to preclude the traditional jurisdiction of the House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittees, which have provided key oversight in the past, and have often cut certain nuclear weapons programs. Indeed, later in the report, the Panel suggests (short of a formal recommendation) that funding authority for NNSA nuclear weapons programs be invested in the Defense Subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Again, this appears to exclude Energy and Water Appropriations, which could have profound implications by weakening congressional fiscal constraints on the nuclear weapons complex.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The Panel’s self-interested premise that the Nuclear Security Enterprise needs a new foundation is wrong. First, call it what it is, not some kind of innocuous sounding “enterprise,” but rather a massive research and production complex that is pushing an unaffordable trillion dollar modernization program for nuclear warheads, missiles, subs and bombers. This will divert taxpayers’ dollars from meeting the real national security threats of nuclear weapons proliferation and climate change. The Panel failed by not arguing for prudent maintenance of the stockpile, instead supporting a perpetual work program of risky life extension programs for existing nuclear weapons that will enrich contractors.”

# # #

“A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise” by the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise is available at

The DOE Inspector General “Special Inquiry: Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension” is available at

The DOE’s Inspector General’s quote of Heather Wilson’s deep involvement in improper lobbying on behalf of the Sandia Labs is from

NukeWatch Urges Increasing DOE Accountability in Wake of Fines

On December 6, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declared multiple violations at both the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NMED plans to fine WIPP $17.7 million and LANL $36.6 million due to major procedural problems related to the handling of radioactive transuranic (TRU) wastes that contributed to two significant incidents at WIPP earlier this year.

In addition to “failure to adequately characterize waste” and other violations, LANL was cited for the processing of nitrate-bearing wastes and adding neutralizing agents to that waste stream. LANL treated this procedure as if it was outside the state hazardous waste permit, but NMED determined that these operations were not exempt. LANL treated 100s of waste drums without a permit, and one of these was apparently the cause of the February 14, 2014 radioactive release at WIPP that contaminated 21 workers.

WIPP was cited for, among other violations, not notifying NMED in a timely fashion of the February 14 radioactive release.

The $36.6 million fine at LANL is based on up to $10,000 per day per non-compliance, but still represents less than 2% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget. The contractor that runs the Lab, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, is eligible to earn $57 million in bonus award fees for the fiscal year that ended last September 30th. The fines should be taken out of the bonuses.

NMED stipulated that the penalties couldn’t be paid for out of designated funding for environmental cleanup or operational needs at LANL and WIPP.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds these efforts to hold the Department of Energy accountable in New Mexico and we urge NMED to not negotiate these relatively modest fines down, as is typically the case. These fines should be paid out of the contractor’s profits. The Lab had this waste for over 20 years and still could not get it right. We hope these NMED fines are a wake up call for safe, comprehensive cleanup of all the wastes left from the Cold War at the Los Alamos Lab.”

NMED information is available here.

FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act cuts Safety Board employees

The House Armed Services Committee has tried repeatedly to cripple the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, realizing that the Board slows down what the nuclear weaponeers want to do (and causes the estimated costs of new nuclear facilities to explode because of safety concerns).

The Board’s enabling legislation authorized a staff of up to 150 personnel. HASC tried to cut it down to 120. The final House-Senate agreement on the FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act cuts it to 130. Remember, the Board covers the entire active nuclear weapons complex and then some, and is often the only adult in the room when it comes to nuclear safety issues. For example, the Los Alamos Lab’s plutonium pit production facility has not conducted major operations since the end of June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues that the Board raised.

The relevant FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act Agreement language is as follows, page 350,

Number of employees of Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board(sec. 3203)

The House bill contained a provision (sec. 3203) that would amend section 313(b)(1)(A) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2286b(b)(1)(A)) to limit the number of full-time employees of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to 120. The Senate committee-reported bill contained no similar provision. The agreement includes the House provision with an amendment that would limit the number of employees to 130. – end of quote –

The Board deserves our ongoing support. In Nuclear Watch NM’s view, the Board should be expanded, not cut, especially in light of the govermnent’s plans to spend more than a trillion dollars over the next 30 years on nuclear weapons modernization.



Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab



Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab

Washington, DC and Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent the Secretary of the Department of Energy a letter urging that the contractor award fee for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) be slashed. The total possible fee that can be earned for FY 2014, which ended September 30, is $17.1 million in fixed fee and up to $40 million in incentive fee.  The watchdog organizations argue that the incentive fee award should be cut at least in half because of grossly substandard contractor performance.

The Los Alamos Lab is run by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. As recently reported by The Albuquerque Journal, LANL Director Charlie McMillan makes $1.5 million annually while also acting as president of LANS, which is a possible conflict of interest.

LANS’ contract performance in FY 2014 was demonstrably worse than other years. The best, well-publicized evidence is that the Lab used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, with estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which will no doubt increase). Moreover, the New Mexico Environment Department now threatens to levy substantial fines against LANL because of its missed deadline to send transuranic wastes to WIPP.

Less well known, the Lab is the nation’s only so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence,” but has been unable to conduct major operations at its plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. The two watchdog organizations do not support plutonium operations at LANL, much of which is geared towards the unnecessary production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, at the same time, contractors should not be paid for work they don’t do.

Peter Stockton, POGO’s senior investigator, commented, “It’s time for some tough love! LANS screws up the WIPP facility, costing the government at least $500 million, and had to stop operations at its plutonium facility for over a year because of nuclear safety concerns. In the face of these debacles, DOE should be seeking restitution, not providing a performance bonus.”

Bechtel has had a particularly troubling contracting history with DOE. Under its management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous whistleblower complaints. Similarly, under LANS’ management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Now, in effect, Bechtel has awarded itself the construction contract to build the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 production plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Under a previous contractor estimated costs for the UPF exploded from around $600 million to as high as $19 billion. To help fix that, the UPF’s mission has been recently narrowed to nuclear weapons components production only (eliminating dismantlements) in order to hold to a budget cap of $6.5 billion. That means the American taxpayer is paying more for less, and arguably for the wrong priorities. Lockheed Martin and Bechtel run the new Y-12 management contract.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The Department of Energy’s cozy relationships with its contractors must end, given their repeated failures and massive cost overruns. Substandard performance by the Los Alamos Lab contractor is costing the taxpayer dearly, and therefore DOE should slash its incentive performance fee award at least in half. From there, DOE should consider booting Los Alamos National Security, LLC for another contractor entirely.”

# # #


The POGO/Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor is available at





Highlights of National Nuclear Security Administration Issues in the House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act

Highlights of National Nuclear Security Administration Issues

In the House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act


Sources: House FY 2015 NDAA, pages 1516 – 1555 and budget tables beginning page 1643.

Compiled by Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Any comments by me are italicized.


The House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $8.2 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) nuclear weapons programs, in contrast to the Obama Administration’s request of $8.3 billion.

It meets the Administration’s $643 million request for the B61 Life Extension Program, and raises the $9.4 million request for the Long-Range Stand-Off (AKA air-launched cruise missile) nuclear warhead to $17 million.

It raises the $30 million request for dismantlements to $40 million.

It meets the $335 million request for the Uranium Capabilities Replacement Project (AKA the Uranium Processing Facility).

It raises the $196 million request for construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to $341 million.

It cuts the $410.8 million request for the NNSA Office of the Administrator to $386.9 million.

SEC. 3111. DESIGN AND USE OF PROTOTYPES OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS FOR INTELLIGENCE PURPOSES requires the lab directors to “develop a multiyear plan to design and build prototypes of nuclear weapons to further intelligence estimates with respect to foreign nuclear weapons activities and capabilities.” This effort “emphasizes the competencies of the national security laboratories with respect to designing and building prototypes of nuclear weapons.”

This could possibly be abused by U.S. designers to design new nuclear weapons under the rubric of gathering foreign intelligence.

SEC. 3112. PLUTONIUM PIT PRODUCTION CAPACITY declares that the “production of plutonium pits and other nuclear weapons components must be driven by the requirement to hedge against technical and geopolitical risk and not solely by the needs of life extension programs.” It goes on to require the actual production of not less than 10 plutonium war reserve pits during 2024, 20 during 2025, 30 during 2026, and demonstration of the capability to produce 80 pits per year by 2027.

How convenient to delink plutonium pit production from the actual needs of Life Extension Programs, since the only LEP that required new pit production has been indefinitely delayed. This was for the so-called Interoperable Warhead, which faced exorbitant costs and lack of support by the Navy. Nevertheless, the House Armed Services Committee now mandates expensive and provocative expanded plutonium pit production for which there is no clear need. Ironically, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has been unable to conduct plutonium operations at its pit production facility since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues.

SEC. 3118. COST CONTAINMENT FOR URANIUM CAPABILITIES REPLACEMENT PROJECT limits Phase 1 of construction of the Uranium Processing Facility to $4.2 billion. That cap could be adjusted if the DOE Secretary submits a detailed justification, including “a detailed description of the actions taken to hold appropriate contractors, employees of contractors, and employees of the Federal Government accountable for the repeated failures within the project.” It also requires that uranium operations in Building 9212 cease by 2025.

Notably, the House NDAA does NOT contain a definitional change that NNSA shopped to key congressional committees that would have narrowed the Uranium Processing Facility’s mission, thereby helping to contain its costs (which was previously capped at $6.5 billion). Thus the Uranium Processing Facility could soon be headed for another budget crisis.

SEC. 3119. PRODUCTION OF NUCLEAR WARHEAD FOR LONG-RANGE STANDOFF WEAPON requires that “The Secretary of Energy shall deliver a first production unit for a nuclear warhead for the long-range standoff weapon by not later than September 30, 2025.”

This is meant to block the Administration’s proposed two year delay. Rushing into the LRSO nuclear warhead makes no sense because it puts the cart before the horse when work on the new air-launched cruise missile has yet to start.

SEC. 3120. DISPOSITION OF WEAPONS-USABLE PLUTONIUM requires another report on possible alternatives to the MOX Program for plutonium disposition, including their life cycle costs.

Nevertheless, as previously stated, the Act increases funding for construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to $341 million.

SEC. 3132. ANALYSIS OF EXISTING FACILITIES AND SENSE OF CONGRESS WITH RESPECT TO PLUTONIUM STRATEGY requires “analysis of using or modifying existing facilities of the nuclear security enterprise… to support [NNSA’s plutonium] strategy, as part of critical decision 1 in the acquisition process for the design and construction of modular structures associated with operations of the PF–4 facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico.” This is to include “plans to construct two modular structures that will achieve full operating capability not later than 2027,” all for the purpose of “meet[ing] the requirements for implementation of a responsive infrastructure, including meeting plutonium pit production requirements.”

But there are no actual pit production requirements. Recall that the Act delinks plutonium pit production from the actual needs of the nuclear weapons stockpile to become a hedge against undefined and indefinite “technical and geopolitical risk.” The Act also requires major expansion of production at LANL, when significant budget, environmental and safety issues for existing plutonium pit production remain unresolved (witness the use of unauthorized waste treatment processes by the Lab that led to the contamination of 21 workers and the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, with initial estimates of $.5 billion dollars to reopen). The House Armed Services Committee’s mandate of expanded plutonium pit production is an ideological statement of nuclear weapons forever, rather than being driven by the technical needs of the stockpile. This is an unnecessary and provocative waste of taxpayer’s money that if enacted is doomed for failure.


NNSA Considers Stuffing More Plutonium Into New Facility

Despite the fact that no one has come up with a good reason to increase plutonium pit production for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, officials want to study the possibility of radically increasing the amount of plutonium allowed in a recently completed laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Deputy Administrator for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs, Don Cook, has requested an analysis to increase the radioactive materials inventory in the recently completed Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) to up to 400 grams of plutonium-239, the isotope used in nuclear weapons. The RLUOB, which originally was limited to 8.4 grams of Pu 239, was built as Phase 1 of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at LANL that would have expanded plutonium pit production to 50 – 80 pits per year (pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons). LANL’s current capacity is 20 pits per year. Phase 2 of the CMRR project, the “Nuclear Facility,” was canceled because of lack of clear need and a bulging ten-fold increase in costs.

This RLUOB, along with some floor space in the existing Plutonium Facility (PF-4), will replace the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, which is slated for closure in 2019. The Laboratory was working on a plutonium strategy to move out of CMR and maintain the current plutonium capability.

But NNSA recently increased the maximum amount of radiological materials allowed in the RLOUB, and all “radiological” facilities, from 8.4 grams to 38.6 grams. Internal Lab documents floated plans that could have increased the limit again by two or three times by treating each little laboratory in the RLUOB as its own radiological facility. This could have increased the limit to 115.8 grams of Pu239.

But NNSA apparently wants to go big. The new analysis is to consider the RLUOB as a Hazard Category 3 nuclear facility, which is a huge step up from its current designation as a radiological facility.

Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said, “This turkey of a plan is stuffed with bad ideas – The RLUOB is not seismically qualified for that amount of plutonium. A new supplemental environmental impact statement will be needed. There is no need for more plutonium pits, except for new nuclear weapons, because they last for around 100 years and nuclear weapons stockpiles are decreasing. And apparently LANL can’t safely handle plutonium anyway, as major operations with plutonium have been paused since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. Finally, it was LANL’s improper handling of plutonium waste that contaminated 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, causing it to close with at least a half billion dollars in costs to reopen. We say no to more plutonium at Los Alamos!”

# # #

Read the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report here.


Comment on NYT article “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?”

Today’s New York Times article “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” does a public service by pointing out that contrary to his rhetoric, Obama has the lowest nuclear weapons dismantlement rate of any president. In fact, he proposes to cut funding for dismantlements by 45% in FY 2015, along with cutting nonproliferation programs designed to keep nuclear materials safe from terrorists by 20%. This is to help pay for increasing nuclear weapons production.

The U.S. government under Obama is completely rebuilding the nuclear weapons production complex. This includes multi-billion dollar facilities for plutonium components at Los Alamos, NM, and highly enriched uranium at Oak Ridge, TN, both of which have massive cost overruns. It also includes a new Kansas City Plant, built by private investors in a sweetheart deal, for the thousand of nonnuclear components (fuzes, radars, etc.) needed to make nuclear weapons deliverable.

In all, “modernization” of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems is expected to cost more than a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. This will inevitably rob American taxpayers of what they truly need (upgraded public infrastructure, environmental and health protection, public education, etc.), while enriching the usual, unaccountable defense contractors. All of these new production plants are expected to manufacture nuclear weapons until 2075, a far cry from the aspirational future world free of nuclear weapons that President Obama claims to profess.

See “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” at



Scottish Independence and U.K. “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age”

Scots will vote on independence from the United Kingdom on Sept. 18, with polls showing the lead of anti-independence forces narrowing. If independence wins one declared goal of the Scottish National Party is to kick out the only British base for nuclear-armed strategic submarines at Faslane, effectively putting the future of U.K. nuclear forces in grave doubt. Polls show that the majority of Scots favor getting rid of Faslane.

In addition, a Review Conference of the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) will be held at the United Nations in May 2015. Non-weapons state are growing increasingly impatient with the weapons states’ failure to abide by the NPT Article VI mandate “… to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…” In fact, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has sued the UK and others in the World Court over that failure.

NPT Article I also requires that “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other explosive devices directly, or indirectly…” Given the interdependence of their nuclear weapons programs, the U.S. and U.K. violate this as well, as explained below.

The late Martin White, former head of Strategic Technologies for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the United Kingdom, made clear that the UK will not be honoring NPT Articles I and VI for the foreseeable future. The Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) July issue of National Security Science features an article by White entitled “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age.”

Some excerpts:

•           You may know that we are in a period of major investment at AWE [Atomic Weapons Establishment] in terms of workforce, facilities, and programs. In the past decade, the workforce has grown from a low of 3,000to the current 4,500.

•           By the end of this decade, we will have new uranium, high explosives, and assembly facilities. Just as crucial, we will have a state-of-the-art high-power laser, supercomputing, and new hydrodynamic experimental capabilities.

•           In all this, our interactions with the United States have been and remain pivotal in shaping the U.K. deterrent program. And our continuing collaborations with Los Alamos National Laboratory touch the very core of our technical capability.

But the title itself contains my main point, “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age.” Indeed, the cover page page of the article has a dramatic picture of a U.K. strategic submarine, whose home port can only be Faslane.

This “Second Nuclear Age” is already a common theme with American nuclear weaponeers, See, for example, “The challenges facing stockpile stewardship in the Second Nuclear Age”, LANL Director Charlie McMillan,

Or “The Second Nuclear Age”,

The U.S. and UK nuclear weapons programs are very close and always have been. For example, the now head of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons programs, NNSA Dep. Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook, is an American from the Sandia Labs. Until a few years ago he was the manager of the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment as well. Also, the biggest U.S. defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, is one part of a three-part consortium running AWE.

Contrary to NPT Article I the U.S. is manufacturing neutron generators for the U.K. Neutron generators are crucial nuclear weapons components that introduce neutrons at the instant of detonation to begin the cascading chain reaction of a nuclear weapons explosion. For example, “…we noted that SNL had not established a costing methodology that consistently included a fair share of infrastructure costs to ensure full cost recovery for NG units to be built for the United Kingdom (UK). Reference: “The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Neutron Generator Activities, DOE Inspector General Audit report, page 2,

I conclude by asking questions: If they knew about it, how would the Scots feel about a “Second Nuclear Age”? Would that have any effect in their vote for independence? And how will  the increasingly impatient non-weapons states feel about a “Second Nuclear Age” at the May 2015 NPT Review Conference?

Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach for Congress, August 15, 2014 attempts to present the amount of space needed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Lab to produce 80 plutonium pits per year. CRS has to do this estimating task because the Lab has never done this calculation.

It is unclear to us why the Lab has yet to do this calculation. The Lab claims to be the “Plutonium Center of Excellence for the Nation”  yet the CRS report explains that no one knows whether existing buildings, without modifications, could manufacture 80 plutonium pits per year (ppy); or if modest upgrades would suffice; or if major construction would be needed to augment the current capacity of about 10 ppy.

A plutonium pit is a nuclear weapon component that is a hollow plutonium shell that is imploded with conventional explosives to create a nuclear explosion that triggers the rest of the weapon. Some argue that the capacity to manufacture new pits may be needed to extend the service life of unneeded weapons, to replace broken pits (which never happens), and to hedge against possible unnamed geopolitical surprises where only more nukes will solve the problem. How many pits that the country actually needs to produce annually is beyond the scope of the CRS report. We believe it is zero.

Along with the unknown space requirements, the Lab also does not know how much Material At Risk (MAR a.k.a. plutonium) would be needed in the building to produce 80 ppy. “…these data have never been calculated rigorously.”

CRS created some charts for this report to show what they believe to be current usage of the Lab’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4). But what this looks like for 80 ppy is still a guess.

We at NukeWatch have been demanding that LANL produce this information — most recently in our 2011 comments on the Draft CMRR-NF Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

We think two things a probably happening. There is still not a need for 80 pits per year (or any). And if the Lab were to finally do a pit production study, Congress would find out that LANL has enough space now.

The money should be used to clean up the Lab’s legacy Cold War waste.

Doyle Entangled in Anti-Nuclear Classification

On July 23, 2014, Los Alamos National Laboratory approved for public release an article titled Rethinking the Unthinkable, written by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Houston T. Hawkins, with the intention of being used for public presentations.

This article argues for an increase in nuclear weapons production and expanding stockpiles. Hawkins stresses the importance nuclear weapons has for the stability of U.S. foreign policy, arguing “the march toward disarmament would take us backwards into an even more unstable and dangerous world.” This stability, therefore, is generated by nuclear stockpiles.

In addition, nuclear deterrence according to the article is an important cornerstone of national security in that it serves as “strategic parity” between states. It also yields confidence not only in the functioning of domestic stockpiles, but in the intelligence capability of U.S. decision makers in assessing foreign nuclear advancements and curtailing surprises.

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