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.

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Fact Sheets, Press Releases, Budget Analyses,

and more about the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

Atomic Histories & Nuclear Testing

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

Waste Lands: America’s Forgotten Nuclear Legacy

The Wall St. Journal has compiled a searchable database of contaminated sites across the US. (view)
Related WSJ report: https://www.wsj.com

Quote of the Week

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Recent Posts

New & Updated

Curating the Stockpile: Remanufacturing Fogbank

I only now happened to run across the article below from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Nuclear Weapons Journal about how the remanufacturing of Fogbank was reestablished. As dated as it is, I think its implication is very important that existing programs are more than sufficient to keep the nuclear weapons stockpile safe and reliable, until eventual disarmament.

You may recall that the loss of Fogbank was a bit of a crisis that seriously delayed the W76 Life Extension Program. It had at various times been used as rationale for why existing LEPs would not work in the long run because of necessary changes to materials, loss of knowledgeable workforce, etc. By extension this was used to argue why Reliable Replacement Warheads should be designed and built.

But this article demonstrates that all that was needed was to simply give some emphasis to reestablishing fogbank production. Plus as an added bonus, it has some pleasing wonky detail. “It’s the impurity, stupid!” [see link below]

LANL Nuclear Weapons Journal, Issue 2 • 2009, pp. 21-22
Fogbank: Lost Knowledge Regained

Power of the Purse over DOE Projects

I was in Washington, DC last week and heard a number of congressional offices express support for the CMRR-Nuclear Facility, indicating what we already know, that it will be very difficult to defeat directly. However, the issue of costs is another matter, and I have some hope that the Nuclear Facility can die a death of 1,000 cuts.

For example, while in DC I met with a staff person knowledgeable about DOE project cost accounting requirements introduced by the Senate Armed Services Committee. I expressed my concern that LANL could implement its first segment of CMRR-Nuclear Facility construction without having come up with total costs, thus steamrolling the project.  [Reminder: we are now $4.5 billion for estimated total project costs and climbing.]  That staffer said that sort of thing will not be allowed to happen. Further, while being in favor of some advance site prep, that staffer said LANL would not be allowed to construct the concrete batch plant and replace 225,000 cubic yards of weak volcanic ash strata with “lean concrete” until total project costs are in.

The requirements were introduced as SEC. 4713. NOTIFICATION OF COST OVERRUNS FOR CERTAIN DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY PROJECTS.

I realize this is not a showstopper, but it is something. It should slow the CMRR-NF down some, which hopefully we can capitalize on. Further, it may provide us with ammo over the project’s tremendous and escalating costs.

Nick Roth of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability was instrumental in suggesting this cost accounting requirement to Congress.

Three Huge New Facilities Rebuild U.S. Nuclear Weapons Production Capacity

Modern nuclear weapons are comprised of three general types of components: plutonium pit primaries, uranium/lithium secondaries that are triggered by the primaries, and the 1,000’s of non-nuclear components that create deliverable weapons of mass destruction (fuzes, radar, bomb cases, etc.). The U.S. is aggressively pursuing major new production facilities for all three types. At the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, the “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project” will be the keystone to a revived plutonium manufacturing complex. The proposed “Uranium Processing Facility” (UPF) at the Y-12 Site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will be the future production plant for warhead secondaries. A new “Kansas City Plant” (KCP) in Missouri for nonnuclear components production is slated for groundbreaking in August 2010. Each of these three major new production facilities is expected to operate for the next half-century, in sharp contradiction to the declared national and global security goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.

A Compromised START

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is a staunch supporter of arms control treaties, particularly since they can be confidence building steps toward the long term goal of creating the nuclear weapons-free world articulated by President Obama.

However, we fear that arms control treaties will be turned on their heads to become in effect armament treaties for the American nuclear weapons complex. We think our fears are now concretely realized by the Obama Administration’s “modernization plan” attached to yesterday’s submittal of New START to the Senate for ratification.

As you probably know, the Obama plan is to increase funding for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs from $6.4 billion in FY10 to $9 billion by FY 2018, which is a 76% increase above the Cold War annual average of $5.1 billion. We think that is obviously a serious step backwards on the road to a nuclear weapons-free world, especially when the labs seem intent on introducing new military capabilities to existing types of U.S. nuclear weapons.

There have been calls for unconditional public support of New START. Yet current political realities are that New START will be heavily conditioned by both the Obama Administration and the Senate to include the revitalization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

In concrete terms, this means dramatically increased funding for huge new production plants for plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear components, respectively the Los Alamos CMRR-Nuclear Facility, the Y-12 Uranium Processing Facility and the new Kansas City Plant.

It also means future aggressive Life Extension Programs that will substantially modify the nuclear explosives package, a serious threshold that we have not yet crossed (and which could effectively recreate the Reliable Replacement Warheads that NNSA sought but Congress rejected, but by another name). We also need to remain aware of the failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, but which nevertheless profited the nuclear weapons labs and complex by some $100 billion to date under the Stockpile Stewardship Program to compensate for the loss of underground full-scale testing.

We don’t question that appeals for public support of New START should go forward. But as NGOs we are also entrusted with public responsibility to provide a fuller picture.

We argue that certain conditions for New START ratification, such as increased funding for new production facilities, LEPs and stockpile work, should be publicly explained, and lead to qualified instead of unconditional support of New START ratification.

Obama Bails Out Arms Reduction Treaty by Dramatically Increasing Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday President Obama submitted the new bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to the Senate for ratification. At the same time he submitted a modernization plan required by Congress that “includes investments of $80 billion to sustain and modernize the [U.S.] nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.” Given that two-thirds of the Senate is required for treaty ratifications a large political fight was always expected over a second attempt at ratifying the previously rejected Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, last December all 40 Republican senators plus one independent wrote to President Obama demanding modernization of both the stockpile and complex as a condition for New START ratification. Meanwhile, the prospects for ratification of the CTBT (first proposed by Prime Minister Nehru of India in 1954) look increasingly dim.

In response to Republican demands, the Obama Administration plans to increase funding for the nuclear weapons research and production programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by more than 40% from $6.4 billion in FY 2010 to $9 billion by 2018. In turn, $9 billion is 43% above the average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for analogous Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs.

The one-page unclassified summary of the modernization plan declares

U.S. nuclear weapons will undergo extensive life extension programs in the coming years to ensure their safety, security and effectiveness. Maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent requires that the United States operates a modern physical infrastructure and sustain a highly capable workforce.

That may seem intuitively logical on the face of it, but NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are subtly changing the frame of debate to favor their own interests. Independent scientists have repeatedly found that the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable and can be so maintained by existing life extension programs. Past NNSA budget requests repeatedly invoke a “reliable” stockpile, but its FY 2011 request is full of references to an “effective” stockpile.

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino claimed at a recent presentation to international delegations at the United Nations for the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that the U.S. is meeting its disarmament obligations in good faith. At the same time, he repeatedly stated the U.S.’s need to maintain an “effective” stockpile. When asked what effective meant he replied it meant having confidence in the nuclear weapons stockpile underpinned by the right mix of infrastructure and people.

In order to extract increased funding, NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are trying to shift the debate over maintaining the stockpile from technical arguments over warhead safety and reliability to subjective arguments over maintaining an exorbitant research and production complex and workforce. This will not only cost enormous sums of money, which is what the labs seek, but will also perversely undermine confidence in the stockpile because of planned changes, including new military capabilities, that will be made to existing, previously tested weapons. Giving the nuclear weapons labs a blank check contradicts Obama’s declared national security goal of a future nuclear weapons-free world. Instead, he should be redirecting the labs into dramatically increased nonproliferation programs, cleanup, and meeting today’s national security threats of nuclear terrorism, energy dependence and climate change.

The one-page unclassified summary of the Obama modernization plan for the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex.

The average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for DOE defense programs is derived from Atomic Audit, The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, Steven Schwartz, et.al., Brooking Institution Press, DC, 1998, Table A-2, p. 561 (adjusted for inflation).

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino’s presentation to the NPT Review Conference

For more background, please see “Labs Seek “Stockpile Modernization” Through Test Ban Ratification – Updating” of Treaty “Safeguards” to Protect Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Of particular interest are cited Los Alamos Lab viewgraphs that state “Technically: there is little difference between a ratified CTBT, and the current testing moratorium” and “There are several ways to sustain capabilities… Get more money.” The point is that the nuclear weapons labs are fully aware that treaty ratifications are an opportunity for them to secure more funding, as they did in the build up to the 1999 ratification process that rejected the CTBT.

A Tale of Two Cross-Sections

At the recent LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearings, the public was presented with two cross-sections of the current understanding of the geology under the Lab’s largest nuclear waste disposal area, Tech Area 54. These cross sections are important because the NM Environment Department, with public input, will soon have to decide the final disposition of the over 800,000 cubic yards of radioactive and hazardous waste buried there. The options range from leaving the waste in place with some sort of cover to exhuming the waste.

The geology under the site is very complicated and includes layers of lava flows, ash falls, and old stream beds. The waste is buried in unlined pits, shafts and trenches and is perched 800 – 1000 feet above our sole-source aquifer. Some of the more soluble contaminants, such as tritium, perchlorate, explosives, and chromium have already made their way to the aquifer from other parts of the Lab. The cross-sections are needed to understand the contaminant pathways from the dumps to the aquifer.

First, the Lab’s version – (click on image for larger picture)

The Lab's TA-54 Cross-Section Version

The MDAs, or Material Disposal Areas or dumps, are across the top. MDA G is the largest by far. The PM-#s are wells where drinking water is drawn. The R-#s are characterization and contaminant sampling wells. The elevation is on each side. The top of the regional aquifer is the horizontal blue line near 5800′. There are some perched aquifers shown, too.  The one question is a new structure that the Lab is calling a “dike” discovered by well R-22.

The NM Environment Department’s Version – (click on image for larger picture)

NMED's TA-54 Cross-Section

The Environment Department’s version gives a different interpretation of the fractures that could be pathways to the aquifer. It has many question marks, including the “vent” and the perched aquifers.

We appreciate the two versions. With so many unknowns, with so much waste, and with such a potential negative impact to our aquifer, the most protective course would be to remove the waste.

New Nuclear Facility – An Attempt to Divide and Conquer

During our March 3, 2010 CMRR public meeting in Los Alamos, the CMRR DOE Project Manager told us the the final estimate for the CMRR Nuclear Facility was scheduled for 2014. Additionally we learned that the CMRR Project as a whole is planning to segment some of the work into smaller projects with their own separate schedules for estimates and construction.
This project and cost segmentation concerns us in that much of the preliminary (but huge) infrastructure construction will be completed before the final cost estimates of the CMRR-NF are available.
The Infrastructure Package Construction, including the concrete batch plant, utilities, excavation, etc., will be completed in 2013. The road relocation and the basemat, which includes 225,000 cubic yards of concrete, are also scheduled to be completed in 2013. Even the structural concrete for the building itself, another 130,000 yds3 of concrete, is due to start before estimated final project costs are available.
The current cost estimates for the entire CMRR Project are now pegged at $4.5 billion (from an original $660 million in 2004), but are also listed as “TBD” in the NNSA FY11 budget request, in other words still not known. To allow the infrastructure to be completed, or even started, before final cost estimates for the Nuclear Facility are complete would condone the NF being built at any price.
We request that Congress strongly pressure NNSA in the authorization and appropriations processes for final CMRR Project cost estimates, and bar NNSA from proceeding with major infrastructure investments for the Nuclear Facility until those final Project cost estimates are provided.

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