Atomic Histories & Nuclear Testing
Quote of the Week
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LANL’s Central Mission: Los Alamos Lab officials have recently claimed that LANL has moved away from primarily nuclear weapons to “national security”, but what truly remains as the Labs central mission? Here’s the answer from one of its own documents:
LANL’s “Central Mission”- Presented at: RPI Nuclear Data 2011 Symposium for Criticality Safety and Reactor Applications (PDF) 4/27/11
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Click the image to view and download this large printable map of DOE sites, commercial reactors, nuclear waste dumps, nuclear transportation routes, surface waters near sites and transport routes, and underlying aquifers. This map was prepared by Deborah Reade for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
Nuclear Watch Interactive Map – U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex
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New & Updated
ALLIANCE FOR NUCLEAR ACCOUNTABILITY
A national network of organizations working to address issues of
nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup
Ashish Sinha: (301) 910-9405 email@example.com
Bob Schaeffer: (239) 395-6773 firstname.lastname@example.org
for use with March 4, 2014 Obama Administration Budget Request
QUESTIONS FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE)
FY 2015 NUCLEAR WEAPONS, REACTOR AND CLEANUP BUDGET
The U.S. nuclear budget is out of control. Huge cost overruns for unnecessary production facilities are common. At the same time, cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal is falling behind. The Department of Energy (DOE) budget for FY 2015 will reveal the Obama Administration’s nuclear priorities.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 25-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 Media Advisory.
— Does the budget reflect the Administration’s commitment to curtail unnecessary spending on the $19 billion 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 address the looming deficit in nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity so the United States can meet its international arms reduction commitments?
— Will the Obama Administration articulate its alternative plutonium strategy to the $6 billion “CMRR Nuclear Facility,” which was effectively cancelled in 2012? Is any expanded production needed when expert studies have found that existing plutonium pits are durable?
— Will NNSA reduce funding or impose meaningful milestones at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which performed less than half of its planned Stockpile Stewardship experiments in FY2013 and still has not achieved ignition.
— Is the budget a de facto cancellation of plans to pursue “interoperable warhead designs” by imposing a delay of five years or more on the program? How much money will taxpayers save?
— Does the FY 2015 budget seek more than the $537 million requested for the B61 Life Extension Program last year? Will the “First Production Unit” from this $10 billion program continue to slip to 2020 or later delaying needed routine replacement of critical components?
— How much of the additional $26 billion in Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel’s “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” will go to DOE nuclear weapons programs?
— Will the Administration support increased funding for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects given the many cost over-runs, schedule delays, safety issues and technical problems?
— What is the projected life-cycle cost of the plutonium fuel (MOX) program at Savannah River? Is DOE’s internal cost assessment consistent with ANA’s estimate of $27 billion? When will it be released? Have any nuclear reactor operators committed to using MOX fuel?
— Does the Request include continued funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which private investors have been unwilling to finance fully because of concerns about viability and risks? Does DOE have plans to finance SMR construction?
—How much additional Environmental Management (EM) funding would be necessary in FY 2015 to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars.
— In which states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones due to budget shortfalls? Which states are enforcing their binding clean-up agreements by imposing fines and taking further legal action?
— What is the high range for total life-cycle clean-up costs (LCC) for EM sites Because of funding shortfalls, are LCC costs continuing to increase? In the FY 2013 Budget Request High Range LCC was $308.5 billion, and in the FY 2014 Request LCC was $330.9 billion.
— Does the FY 2015 Request include funds to cleanup contamination from the recent radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)? How much will this incident delay shipments from the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge?
— How much money is included for construction of new double-shell tanks to replace those leaking radioactive waste at the Hanford site? Are funds included for emergency pumping of tanks found to be leaking?
— Is DOE allocating sufficient funds to monitor and address ignitable hydrogen gas buildup in Hanford’s nuclear waste tanks as recommended by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to protect workers, the public and the environment from possible explosions?
— Is an independent review of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant included in the budget request to address concerns about the reliability of many of the parts and materials?
–– How much money is DOE allocating for building and development of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant based on the current, flawed design and how much on redesign?
— For information about specific DOE nuclear weapons sites and programs, contact:
Meredith Crafton – Hanford: (206) 292-2850 x26 email@example.com
Tom Clements – Savannah River and MOX Plant: (803) 240-7268 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jay Coghlan – Los Alamos Lab and Life Extension: (505) 989-7342 email@example.com
Don Hancock – Environmental Management Program: (505) 262-1862 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ralph Hutchison – Oak Ridge Site and Dismantlement: (865) 776-5050 email@example.com
Marylia Kelley – Livermore Lab and Life Extension: (925)-443-7148 firstname.lastname@example.org
WIPP Update Feb 27 2014 – 13 Employees Contaminated
I’ll remind us all that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site is NOT a National Security site. It is a fancy landfill. There are really no secret programs there to protect. Maybe there are some secret parts buried there, but they have long-since been crushed. There is no reason to withhold news. The waste streams are well known and exactly where they are emplaced in WIPP is also well known. When the public gets news from WIPP officials, we deserve to have our questions answered clearly with all the important facts included.
Our best wishes go out to the employees.
Here’s the February 26, 2014 letter from the U.S. Department of Energy – Carlsbad Field Office, which provides oversight of the private contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, that currently manages and operates WIPP. Unfortunately, this letter raises many questions. Below are each of the paragraphs of the letter, followed by my questions and comments.
First Paragraph –
This morning (February 26), the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination. Employees were notified within about 12 hours of the receipt of preliminary sample results.
Ok, “the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14,” sounds like there were only 13 employees at WIPP on Feb 14. But the February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release states, “All non-essential employees were off-site by 5:30 PM MST.” The February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release also states, “No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” I guess we are to read this as, “No contamination has been found ON any personnel.”
Questions raised –
How many employees were onsite when?
Were the 13 contaminated employees essential or non-essential?
Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed?
How does an employee inhale rads and not have any on them?
Second Paragraph –
At the time of the event, these employees were performing above ground operations, and federal oversight duties at the WIPP facility. Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the site contractor, requested that all workers on site the night of the event submit follow-up bioassay samples as they were considered more likely to have indications of potential exposure. Additional samples will be collected from these employees in the weeks ahead in order to perform complete analyses.
Questions raised –
When did Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC request the bioassay samples from the night workers?
What made them “more-likely” to be exposed? What exactly were they doing?
Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed? When was this request made?
Third Paragraph –
It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed. However, on-site sampling and surveys and environmental monitoring, to date, continue to support National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling, which indicates that airborne contamination was likely at very low levels.
Questions raised –
Where is the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling? The public must be allowed to read any and all reference documents. And by the way, NARAC is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is a Department of Energy site.
Fourth Paragraph –
The material for this release event is transuranic radionuclides. The release material was predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.
Questions raised –
Really? Smoke detectors? Here’s from the EPA
As long as the radiation source stays in the detector, exposures would be negligible (less than about 1/100 of a millirem per year), since alpha particles cannot travel very far or penetrate even a single sheet of paper, and the gamma rays emitted by americium are relatively weak. If the source were removed, it would be very easy for a small child to swallow, but even then exposures would be very low because the source would pass through the body fairly rapidly (by contrast, the same amount of americium in a loose powdered form would give a significant dose if swallowed or inhaled). Still, its not a good idea to separate the source from the detector apparatus.
All the americium at WIPP is the byproduct of Cold War nuclear weapons production. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) explains the health effects of americium.
The radiation from americium is the primary cause of adverse health effects from absorbed americium. Upon entering the body by any route of exposure, americium moves relatively rapidly through the body and is deposited on the surfaces of the bones where it remains for a long time. As americium undergoes radioactive decay in the bone, alpha particles collide with nearby cell matter and give all of their energy to this cell matter. The gamma rays released by decaying americium can travel much farther before hitting cellular material, and many of these gamma rays leave the body without hitting or damaging any cell matter. The dose from this alpha and gamma radiation can cause changes in the genetic material of these cells that could result in health effects such as bone cancers.
Fifth Paragraph – Here it states that inhalation did employees did occur.
Determining employee dose typically involves multiple sample analyses to determine employee’s radionuclide excretion rate over time. This allows the lab to estimate the employee’s accumulated internal dose. The time this process takes depends largely on the solubility of the inhaled particulate, with less water-soluble radioactive materials requiring more samples and time to accurately estimate the dose. Follow-up urine samples may require about three or more weeks to accurately predict dose.
Sixth Paragraph –
We are now focusing our sampling program on employees with work assignments that may have placed them at greater risk, including those on shift February 15. We are still reviewing staff assignments to determine if additional employees will need to be tested. However, employees who feel they were assigned positions or functions that placed them at risk will be included in follow-up bioassay monitoring at their request.
Questions raised –
How many employees were working on the 15th? Were they wearing safety protection?
What is the criterion “to determine if additional employees will need to be tested”?
Seventh Paragraph –
There is no risk to family or friends of these employees. As we learn more information, we will continue to share. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact 1-800-336-9477. Thank you.
Questions raised –
What is the current status at the site?
Are employees working there now?
Are they wearing protective gear?
There apparently is a Press Conference today (Feb27 2014) at 3pm MST.
The New York Times ran a WIPP story today, NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY SET TO REOPEN AFTER LEAK, New York Times — February 26, 2014, By Matthew L. Wald
This is a good example of what is known, what is being said, and what is not being said.
1. One shaft has a filter with a monitor and three don’t. The article, and many others, quotes a WIPP press release,
But late on Feb. 14, at an hour when no one was in the mine, an air monitor indicated the presence of radioactive contamination. An automated system cut off most of the ventilation and routed the exhaust through filters that are supposed to capture 99.97 percent of all contamination, turning off fans and changing the air flow, in less than one minute.
At WIPP, there are 4 ways for air to get to the surface – the Exhaust Shaft, the Salt Shaft, the Air Intake Shaft, and the Waste Handling Shaft. When radioactive contamination is detected, airflow is directed to the Exhaust Shaft as its filter is put into place. This shaft has the only filter and monitors on any of the shafts. WIPP officials claim that it was a monitor in Panel 7 that detected radiation and set into action the sending of all the air to the Exhaust Shaft. The Panel 7 monitor is around 2000 feet from the shafts. This means that the WIPP officials were relying on any contamination to set off the monitor before any contamination went up a shaft. We need a layout of the monitors, and if they were working, in the underground.
2. “Safe levels” of radioactivity? The article quotes a WIPP monitor,
“For someone living in town, I would say the dose was probably zero,” Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an independent monitoring organization that is part of New Mexico State University, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said that the event would not add to background levels of radiation — including bomb fallout — any more than an eyedropper full of water would contribute to the rise in the level of the Pacific Ocean.
Seriously, an eyedropper in the Pacific? I had to look it up –
There are over 70 cubic million miles in the Pacific Ocean. Meaning there are 188,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons in the pacific ocean. That is 187 quintillion gallons.
No problem, unless you eat the fish that drank that drop. Anyway, I don’t believe anyone knows how much radiation was released. The preliminary results are based on a ridiculously small number of air samples. The official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely.
3. Then, it was explained how to get dosed –
Even in the desert, the danger to humans was small, the mine’s operators said. The highest reading from the monitors indicated that a person could have inhaled radioactive material that would emit a dose, over the person’s lifetime, of 3.4 millirem, an amount roughly equal to three days of natural background radiation. But to get the dose, the person would have had to stand for hours in the desert, on the downwind side of the plant.
Again, the official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely. We await the many soil samples that will shed light on the actual amounts.
Let’s start with what we know.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the Nation’s only operating geologic repository for nuclear waste. WIPP can legally only accept a very specific type of waste – transuranic (TRU) waste generated at defense-related nuclear facilities. “Transuranic” refers to atoms of man-made elements that are heavier (higher in atomic number) than uranium. The most prominent element in most TRU waste is plutonium. Some TRU waste consists of items such as soil, rags, tools, and laboratory equipment contaminated with radioactive materials. Other forms of TRU waste include organic and inorganic residues or even entire enclosed contaminated cases in which radioactive materials were handled.
The WIPP underground is 2150 feet below the surface. And will consist of 8 separate panels with 7 football field-sized rooms per panel. (Two additional panels, 9 & 10, are to be placed in the existing tunnels that lead to Panels 1 – 8.) WIPP has a legal maximum capacity of 175,564 m3 and is currently starting to fill Panel 7.
At 12:25 p.m. February 5, 2014, – Shortly after 11 a.m., an underground vehicle used to transport salt is on fire in the underground.
At 11:30 PM Friday February 14, 2014, a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground.
Sometime on Saturday February 15, 2014, a filter aboveground at the fence line of the WIPP facility (Location A) was sampled. The field preliminary analysis showed .87 Bq. (EPA’s action level for the isotopes of concern is 37 Bq.)
Sometime on February 17 & 18, 2014, more samples were taken from other monitors and also from Location A, which showed a much lower reading (.04 Bq) than it did three days earlier. http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Environmental%20Sampling%20Results.pdf
Are the fire and the release related?
On the surface I would have to say yes. The first large fire in the underground was followed by first release 9 days later. But the 9 days is a problem. Apparently nothing happened for 9 days after the fire then something happened to cause the release of radionuclides aboveground. Did the fire somehow loosen the ceiling 2000’ away? Maybe, but right now, I have to think that it is a freak coincidence, because we don’t know the cause of the release.
Is the release serious?
Yes, WIPP is not supposed to leak for 10,000 years.
Is the release a threat?
Elevated levels of radionuclides can always pose a threat. The primary threat of alpha-emitters like plutonium is inhalation. Inhalation of very small amounts of plutonium can cause cancer.
The Location A monitor was some 6750 feet from the assumed source of the release, Panel 7. (2000’ from Panel 7 to the bottom of the exhaust shafts + 2150’ to the surface + ½ mile (2600’) to the monitor) Did Location A pick up a representative sample of the release? Unlikely. There are too many variables to know if the Feb 15 sample from Location A was higher or lower than the main part of the release. But the results do show that any higher risk is more than likely localized.
The map shows the seven monitoring locations. I have always thought that this was not enough monitoring locations.
What about the plume maps floating around the internet?
Please remember that these maps represent one possible outcome of a group of inputs entered into a NOAA computer program. We don’t know the input parameters that were used, therefore we do not know what this map is based on. This is not an actual map of where any actual plutonium actually went.
Also please notice the units.
The yellow is “1.0E-13 mass/m3”.
That would be .000,000,000,000,1 of something per cubic meter.
The blue is “1.0E-16 mass/m3”
That would be .000,000,000,000,000,1 of something per cubic meter.
It’s not nothing, but it’s not much. I would like to see what this map is based upon. This does show how well computers can crunch numbers.
What about claims of nuclear salt water rocket explosions in the WIPP underground?
A grim “Of Special Importance” (highest classification level) report prepared by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) circulating in the Kremlin warned that the “potentially catastrophic nuclear event” currently unfolding at the US atomic Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has prompted the White House to begin pre-staging government forces and equipment in the event a large-scale evacuation is needed, Whatdoesitmean.com reported.
I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to respond to Whatdoesitmean.com. There was no Rosatom/WIPP report. There are no nuclear salt-water rockets in the underground at WIPP, exploded or otherwise.
What to do?
In the short term let’s keep a critical ear open to the DOE story and separate out the spin. I’m waiting for the next batch of samples to be released to the public. WIPP has several proposals modify its permit in the works. Clearly, at this time, those all need to be put on hold until details of the exact cause of this accident are released to the public. The health and environmental impacts must be fully known and cleanup must be completed to everyone’s satisfaction.
Budget Deal Mixed Bag for Nuclear Weapons Programs
Planned Long-Term Trend Not Sustainable
Following December’s budget deal Congressional appropriators have completed a one trillion dollar omnibus appropriations bill for this fiscal year, expected to pass given that neither political party wants another shutdown. The federal government has been running on a Continuing Resolution since October 1, and the omnibus bill now provides funding levels for the entire fiscal year 2014. Concerning the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons programs, the appropriators made a slight cut to Obama’s requested $7.87 billion, funding “Total Weapons Activities” at $7.78 billion.
All of this, of course, takes place within a larger context. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a study entitled Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will cost $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.
As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars. This is simply not sustainable, given the nation’s continuing budget constraints.
The new omnibus appropriations bill has fully funded the most controversial program, the B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program (LEP), at the president’s request of $537 million. This overrode a proposed cut by Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations, a key subcommittee that Senator Tom Udall sits on. Udall vigorously opposed that cut, saying that he wanted to save a few hundred jobs in New Mexico.
The B61 LEP has exploded in costs from an original $4 billion dollars to $12 billion, including a program synchronized with the Pentagon to give the bomb a new tail fin guidance kit that would transform it into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb. Its main mission is forward deployment in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War, contradicting Obama’s rhetoric of lowering the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe.
But this is not a clear-cut victory for NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs. The appropriators cut funding for the B83 nuclear bomb that NNSA claims the B61 LEP will enable it to retire (leaving aside the fact that it was already planned for retirement). The appropriators made clear that they wanted to hold NNSA to its word. Moreover, the appropriators demanded detailed reporting on major warhead refurbishments, which they applied retroactively to the B61 LEP, and cut the requested amount for the tail fin guidance kit in half. Finally, the fight over the B61 LEP will soon start all over again with the release of the proposed FY 2015 federal budget, expected in late February or early March.
So whereas the NNSA and the labs have won an ambiguous victory in the B61 LEP, the rest of the omnibus appropriations bill demonstrates how deeply troubled their nuclear weapons programs are. Foremost amongst these is a planned Life Extension Program for the W78 ICBM warhead, proposed to be “interoperable” with the W88 sub-launched warhead. This is the first of three proposed interoperable warheads, which the NNSA and labs want to use to transform both the nuclear weapons stockpile and the research and production complex that supports it, with requisite exorbitant appropriations to fund them. In a serious blow to this scheme, the appropriators funded only $38 million out of $72.69 million requested for paper studies. Although not yet officially reported, conventional wisdom in Washington, DC is that the Nuclear Weapons Council (composed of senior officials from both NNSA and the Pentagon) has already canceled the interoperable warhead.
The appropriators also require NNSA to submit a report by May 1 explaining the costs and benefits of stress testing plutonium pits at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. These radioactive nuclear weapons cores would have to be transported back and forth from the Los Alamos Lab. This is significant because Livermore’s continuing future in nuclear weapons programs is becoming increasingly questionable, given the failure of its flagship National Ignition Facility to initiate fusion, its loss of security status to handle large amounts of plutonium, and now the doubtful future of interoperable warheads, which it was banking on.
Concerning the proposed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) near Oak Ridge, TN, the appropriators provided $309 out of $325.8 million requested, but noted that it is an adjustment caused by the necessity to consider additional alternatives. The UPF has been under increasing fire after a half-billion dollar design mistake and a recent Pentagon estimate that it would cost $12 to $19 billion, up from $6 billion. Conspicuous in its absence is any mention of follow-on to the deferred plutonium facility at LANL (the “CMRR-Nuclear Facility”) whose mission is to expand plutonium pit production, or NNSA’s “alternative plutonium strategy.”
The appropriators also provided $343.5 million for the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, adding to the $320 million requested. However, they directed NNSA to identify the root causes of cost increases and prioritize recommended solutions and corrective measures, showing that this program too is in serious jeopardy.
The appropriators funded $224.79 million for “cleanup” at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which primarily consists of removing radioactive transuranic wastes that were suppose to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant a decade ago. In contrast, LANL is planning to “cap and cover” around one million cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill, creating a de facto permanent, unlined nuclear waste dump above groundwater and the Rio Grande.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers have won for now the battle over funding for the gold-plated B61 bomb Life Extension Program, but we look forward to the coming fight over next year’s budget. The rest of their plans are falling apart because they are so often their own worst enemy with constant cost overruns and lack of clear need. We are confident that given the trillion dollar cost for future nuclear weapons, subs, bombers, and missiles, the public will increasingly demand cleanup and related jobs, not more nuclear bombs.”
# # #
The omnibus appropriations bill can be viewed at http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140113/113-HR3547-JSOM-D-F.pdf
The NNSA section begins at p. 34 or PDF p. 70.
Nuclear Weapons “Modernization” Will Cost One Trillion Dollars Over Thirty Years;
Locally, Los Alamos Lab Cleanup and Job Creation Are Imperiled
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released its study Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that estimated costs for maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will total $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.
As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars.
Approximately two-thirds of the modernization costs will be for new submarines, bombers and missiles that could be operational for the rest of this century, contrary to the Obama Administration’s rhetoric of a future world free of nuclear weapons. The remaining third will be for the Department of Energy’s research and production complex, which includes the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia nuclear weapons labs.
While the American public at large is experiencing growing income inequality and limited economic opportunity, nuclear weapons contractors are experiencing increasing profits and decreasing federal oversight. The for-profit corporations running the labs, comprised of Lockheed Martin (the world’s biggest defense contractor), Bechtel, and the University of California, plan a never-ending cycle of exorbitantly expensive “Life Extension Programs.” These programs will not only extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons for decades, but also give them new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. international policy. Ironically, the contractors’ drive for profits may undermine national security, as confidence in our nuclear weapons could be eroded by planned massive changes to an extensively tested stockpile that has been proven to be reliable.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had planned to “modernize” with a new facility to support expanded production of plutonium pit cores (or “primaries”) for nuclear weapons. Because of budget constraints, the Obama Administration decided to defer it in favor of the Uranium Processing Facility near Oak Ridge, TN, for production of nuclear weapons “secondaries.” The LANL plutonium project, known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR)-Nuclear Facility, had grown from an original estimate of $600 million to around $6 billion, for which it would not have created a single new permanent job (it would have merely relocating existing Lab jobs). But the Uranium Processing Facility has now grown from a similarly estimated $600 million to an astounding worse case $19 billion, in part due to a simple design error that cost a half-billion dollars just to correct on paper.
So-called nuclear weapons modernization at these costs is clearly not sustainable, especially when they create few if any new permanent jobs. Moreover, they exist for a product that must never be used (i.e. nuclear weapons). Therefore, they are of little economic benefit to society outside of the privileged enclaves that benefit from nuclear weapons research and production (for example, Los Alamos County is the second richest county out of 3,077 counties in the USA).
Funding for nuclear weapons modernization programs will rob taxpayers’ dollars for programs that local citizens really need. For example, the Los Alamos Lab plans to “cap and cover” its largest waste dump (called “Area G”), leaving up to one million cubic meters of poorly characterized radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill permanently buried in unlined pits and shafts. This will create a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump above the Rio Grande, and most importantly above a sole source groundwater aquifer that supplies 270,000 people in the arid Southwest.
The Cities of Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, oppose LANL’s plans to create a permanent nuclear waste dump, passing resolutions demanding full characterization of the wastes and offsite disposal. The resolutions note that, “full cleanup of Area G would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our precious groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating 100’s of high paying jobs for twenty years or more.” The costs for full cleanup of Area G would be about the same as four to five years’ worth of the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM Director, commented, “We simply can’t afford to squander precious taxpayers’ money on programs that enrich contractors while introducing radical changes to fully tested nuclear weapons. This may harm national security by undermining confidence in stockpile reliability. Instead, New Mexicans should demand that their elected officials invest taxpayers’ money in programs that create real security for citizens, such as creating jobs that protect diminishing water resources, rather than their habitual support for unneeded, mismanaged and exorbitantly expensive nuclear weapons programs.”
# # #
The Congressional Budget Office report Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023 is available at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf
The Santa Fe City press release announcing passage of its resolution opposing “cap and cover’ of Los Alamos Lab’s largest radioactive and toxic waste dump is available at http://www.santafenm.gov/news/detail/santa_fe_city_council_unanimously_passed_resolution
For a comparative estimate of cleaning up LANL’s Area G radioactive and toxic waste dump see http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Area_G_Comparison_Costs-11-14-12.pdf
For a history of successful citizen activism against expanded plutonium pit production see http://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Pit-Production-History.pdf
Nuclear Watch New Mexico is almost broke. When we say it, we mean it- it’s not a figure of speech.
Too bad we’re not paid by merit; then we’d be rich. But support from foundations is steadily decreasing, as if there are more important things to fight against than nuclear weapons (which we don’t think there are). We’re left with no choice but to increasingly rely on citizens like you.
Why should you support us? Check out 25 years of NukeWatch achievements
There you will also see the unsung story of successful citizen activism against repeated government attempts to expand the production of plutonium pit cores, which has always been the choke point of resumed U.S. nuclear weapons production. This history is a critical part of the march toward a future world free of nuclear weapons.
We are most proud of our successful battles against the expanded production of plutonium pit cores for nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NukeWatch has been central to beating back four successive attempts by the federal government to expand pit production, from a Cold-War-like level of 450 pits per year proposed a decade ago, to today when no pits are scheduled for manufacture.
This was no accident. It’s the result of sustained citizen activism, including beating back a new $6 billion plutonium facility at LANL. To keep stockpile production at zero will require strong future activism that will have to quash proposed “Life Extension Programs,” slated to cost something like 100 billion dollars over the next quarter-century.
They will not only indefinitely extend the life of existing nuclear weapons, but also give them new military capabilities, a shift which overtly contradicts declared U.S. international policy.
We advocate strongly for comprehensive cleanup at the Lab, a true win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting the Rio Grande and groundwater while creating 100’s of high-paying jobs. LANL wants to “cap and cover” nearly one million cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill, leaving it forever buried in unlined pits and shafts. To combat this, NukeWatch drafted a resolution adopted and passed by the Cities of Santa Fe and Taos that calls on the New Mexico Environment Department not to approve a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump at LANL. This resolution- which we hope other local governments will soon pass- instead calls for full characterization of the poorly recorded wastes, and their offsite disposal.
To support us, please send a check to “Nuclear Watch NM” at 903 W. Alameda, #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Or donate by credit card on our donations page. All donations are tax deductible, and all are appreciated.
Thank you! We hope you and your loved ones have a great holiday season and new year.
P.S. Please forward this mail, using the link at the bottom of the page, to friends who may be interested- thanks!
Jay Coghlan,Executive Director
Scott Kovac, Operations Director
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501
Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
The first iteration of the draft City resolution on Area G cleanup called for reburial of low-level wastes in a modern landfill, while specifically calling for any high level and transuranic wastes to be disposed offsite. Most low-level wastes are mixed with hazardous wastes, which legally would have to be disposed offsite. Unfortunately DOE has sole regulatory authority over “purely” radioactive low-level wastes.
The resolution has now gone through several iterations, and the final draft that will presented to the Council does not have reburial. See http://www.santafenm.gov/index.aspx?NID=2887
and scroll down.
Rather than being fast tracked this resolution has gone through 2 City committees and a 3rd today, before being presented to the full council on Wednesday.
FYI, two back-to-back events:
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6:00-6:45 pm, Santa FePublic info session presented by Nuclear Watch NM and others (TBD) on Santa Fe City resolution calling for comprehensive cleanup of LANL’s largest radioactive waste dump (see below). First Presbyterian Church, 208 Grant Ave. From there we’ll walk two blocks to City Hall.
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 7:00 pm.
Santa Fe Santa Fe City Council hearing and public comment on a resolution introduced by Mayor Coss calling on LANL to examine alternatives to planned “cap and cover” of radioactive wastes at TA-54 Area G. This will be followed by the City Council’s yes or no vote to adopt. We are encouraging citizens to come and show their support for comprehensive cleanup of the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump! Council Chambers, Santa Fe City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave.
Reader View: City resolution on waste doesn’t do enough
By ShannYn Sollitt | 0 comments
On Dec. 2, the Finance Committee of the Santa Fe City Council considered a resolution requesting a consideration of the alternatives to Los Alamos National Laboratory’s current plan to deal with their highly radioactive legacy nuclear waste by leaving it buried in illegal landfills.
The laboratory’s only plan is to leave it in place and cover it. The highly toxic waste dumps in Los Alamos at the top of the watershed are leaking deadly contaminants into the Rio Grande, directly upstream from the city’s new water source — posing serious health threats to Santa Feans.
Thank you, Mayor David Coss, for your awareness, concern and willingness to bring this issue to the forefront, and for your foresight and compassion for the future generations of our community. However, if the intent is to assure a secure and potable water supply for the coming generations, the resolution falls short.
It relies on a cleanup proposal to rebury the low-level, yet still highly radioactive, waste in lined landfills. This approach postpones the problem for the coming generations while solutions to remediate it are available and being utilized now. American scientists are currently effectively remediating the nuclear devastation of land around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
For 55 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has known of the serious health threats presented by the seepage of radionuclides into the groundwater and has done nothing more than “study” the problem — costing taxpayers billions. Clearly, the laboratory scientists have neither the environmental intelligence nor the will to cope with this problem. Sadly, the resolution is being fast-tracked through the council before the members of the community with considered solutions have been given the opportunity to present their ideas.
The resolution will come before the full City Council on Wednesday. Please help us broaden the discourse by contacting the mayor. Concerned citizens are asking for a seat at the table to share views of the viable alternatives to protect our bioregion from the scourge of the nuclear industry.
ShannYn Sollitt is founder and director of NetWorks Productions, a nonprofit communication arts production company dedicated to creating and disseminating media designed to inspire a peaceful and sustainable world.
Mayor’s Resolution Makes Sense
The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…
The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.
The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.
The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.
Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”
I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.
Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos
Santa Fe, NM – Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds the demand by the Mayor of Santa Fe that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) not rule out alternatives to their so-called “cleanup” plan for Area G, the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump. LANL plans to “cap and cover” and permanently leave one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried forever.
Mayor David Coss will ask the Santa Fe City Council to approve his resolution to seek real cleanup alternatives at their December 11th meeting. Mayor Coss is also chairman of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that lobbies Congress for increased Lab funding. Yesterday he introduced his resolution to the Regional Coalition as well.
LANL is relying on their own outrageous estimate of $29 billion for removal of the waste at Area G as a rationale to leave the waste in place. Nuclear Watch has performed a cost comparison that compares the Lab’s estimate on a recent cleanup actually performed by the Lab and also to another Laboratory estimate. Our cost comparison shows that removal of the waste could actually cost less than $6 billion. The Lab’s preference is to cap and cover and leave the waste in place at Area G.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit playing games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.”
# # #
Heather Wilson Finalized Contract with Sandia Labs While in Congress;
Payments Started the First Day She Left Congress;
Wilson Should Resign from Council Determining Labs’ Futures
Santa Fe, NM – Today, The Albuquerque Journal reported that former Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R. – New Mexico) finalized her first contract with the Sandia National Laboratories on December 19, 2008, while she was still representing the district that includes that nuclear weapons facility. Moreover, her first invoice documents that she began to be paid $10,000 a month for “Consultant/Advisory Services” that had no written work requirements on January 4, 2009, her very first day out of office. A few months later she was also being paid $10,000 a month by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for a similar contract.
The Albuquerque Journal article builds upon a Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General investigation, which determined that the Sandia and Los Alamos Labs had made approximately $450,000 in improper payments to Wilson up until March 2011, when she began to campaign for the Senate. The DOE IG report said that the facts indicate that federal funds were used for prohibited lobbying activities, which that office is still investigating. The Labs were forced to return that money to the government, but not Wilson.
The Albuquerque Journal received the new information concerning the dates of Wilson’s contract with Sandia from Nuclear Watch New Mexico. The watchdog organization obtained the documents by appealing an initially rejected federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
During her unsuccessful 2012 Senate campaign Wilson repeatedly attacked her opponent Martin Heinrich for not supporting the labs strongly enough. In particular, while invoking a jobs argument, she repeatedly criticized the Obama Administration for delaying a controversial facility at LANL for expanded production of plutonium pit cores for nuclear weapons. However, despite its estimated $6 billion cost to the taxpayer, the government’s own documents clearly disclosed that the facility would not create a single new permanent job because it would merely relocate existing Lab jobs. In contrast, during her entire Senate campaign, Wilson did not disclose the full extent of her financial ties to the nuclear weapons labs.
In February 2013, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Wilson to a congressional advisory council that will recommend how the nuclear weapons laboratories should be managed and operated in the future. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Heather Wilson should resign from this advisory council immediately because of her clear conflict-of interest. If she does not step down voluntarily, congressional leaders must replace her.”
“Other Members of Congress should take heed of Heather Wilson’s highly questionable ethical behavior,” Coghlan continued. “They should remember that they were elected to represent their constituents, not the for-profit corporations running the labs. Our politicians should avoid even the appearance of favoring the interests of the nuclear weapons labs above the public’s best interests, which Wilson so clearly failed to do.”
# # #
Ex-Congresswoman Wilson’s contract with Sandia and invoices obtained through Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act request are available at
The Nov. 3, 2013 Albuquerque Journal article From Congress to contract: Heather Wilson says 10K per month Sandia Labs deal met ethics rules is available at
(a paid subscription is necessary for the full article).
The June 2013 DOE IG Report Concerns with Consulting Contract Administration at Various Department Sites (DOE/IG-0889) that focuses on Heather Wilson’s contracts with the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories is available at http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/inspection-report-doeig-0889
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
email@example.com • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
The New Mexican has just published “New ideas, technologies from LANL could boost region’s economy” on how the Lab wants to “rebrand” itself. I posted the following response on the newspaper’s web site:
This is more of The New Mexican’s sycophantic reporting on the Los Alamos Lab. It’s a long tradition, going back to the early 1990’s when the newspaper’s previous owner (and ex-member of the Department of Energy’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission) fired two reporters who wrote the groundbreaking series “Fouling the Nest” critical of the Lab. Further, he paid off his managing editor to stay quiet about it. Nevertheless, the Columbia University School of Journalism wrote a scathing review on the whole affair decrying “the nuclear meltdown at The New Mexican.”
Or how about in the same period of time when The New Mexican wrote a glowing editorial praising the executive summary of a 1992 LANL Strategic Plan that crowed about the potential for regional economic development through tech transfer from the Lab (sound familiar?).
There were only two problems: 1) those “Cooperative Research and Development Agreements” between LANL and the private sector never did produce significant local economic development; and 2) the Lab had bamboozled The New Mexican because the main body of its 1992 Strategic Plan explicitly said that nuclear weapons are and always will be the LANL’s “raison d’etre.” That remains true to this day, when just under 2/3’s of the Lab’s budget is for core nuclear weapons research, testing and production programs. Moreover, the for–profit corporation (including war-profiteer Bechtel and the University of California) running LANL plans on a never ending cycle of “Life Extension Programs” that will extend the service lives of nuclear weapons for decades while giving them new military capabilities.
This article’s implied claim that the labs’ national security missions are significantly moving away from nuclear weapons is baloney. In addition, show me the money that will make this pipedream of regional economic development through Lab tech transfer happen (especially when it has failed before). It won’t come from the federal government in this fiscal environment, and the quote that “you’d see private investments pouring in” is empty economic propaganda.
Business at LANL makes no sense because doing business at LANL simply costs too much, when each program dollar also costs an overhead dollar (which historically has been used in part to subsidize nuclear weapons programs). And the examples cited, partnerships with oversized corporations such as Chevron and Proctor and Gamble, please show me what that has done for Main Street Española.
Maybe one of these days the New Mexican could again do some groundbreaking critical investigative reporting on the Lab without firing its reporters. I look forward to that day.
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“The Obama administration’s plans for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including modernization of bombs, delivery systems, and laboratories, will cost the country about $355 billion over the next decade, nearly $150 billion more than the administration’s $208.5 billion estimates in a report to Congress last year; since the modernization effort is just beginning, costs are expected to greatly increase after 2023.”
See also Are New Nuclear Weapons Affordable?
WASHINGTON (January 17, 2013) – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot render an opinion on the 2012 consolidated financial statements of the federal government because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.
As was the case in 2011, the main obstacles to a GAO opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements were:
Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable.
The federal governments inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies.
The federal governments ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.
Can it possibly cost $29 billion to clean up 51 acres? (That’s $568.6 million per acre!) The answer is yes if the estimate comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
NukeWatch has run cost comparisons between the estimate for Area G and two other excavation projects at the Lab. At six acres, excavation of Materials Disposal Area B is almost complete, so we have hard costs. (It is around $22.7 million per acre.) An evaluation of Materials Disposal Area Cwas released this September. The estimated costs for excavation of the 11.8-acre site came out to be $66.7 million per acre. View the cost comparison
A chart of Energy Department Weapons Activities Budgets compared to the average spent during the Cold War. Is this the direction we want spending to go for Nuclear Weapons?
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