12 November 2019 for immediate release
Calling the National Nuclear Security Administration’s brazen disregard for a federal court’s September 24, 2019, ruling an “abuse of the judicial process,” the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with four individual plaintiffs, returned to federal court in Knoxville, TN, today to file a rebuttal of the NNSA’s argument that the agency should be allowed to continue construction on a new nuclear weapons production plant “in the interim”—even while they are preparing the studies that will tell them whether the facilities can be made safe for workers and the public in the event of an earthquake.
“If it turns out that the old buildings can not be made safe enough to operate for 20-30 more years, their entire plan, and a couple billion taxpayer dollars, goes ‘poof!’” said OREPA coordinator Ralph Hutchison. “Because the current strategy is completely co-dependent. In order to meet their mission requirements, they need not only the new bomb plant, the Uranium Processing Facility, but also the old, unsafe buildings. Without the old buildings, it’s back to the drawing board.”
The latest filing by OREPA and its co-plaintiffs puts the matter back on US Chief Federal Judge Pamela Reeves’s desk.
Three days after Judge Reeves set aside the 2016 Amended Record of Decision and ordered the National Nuclear Security Administration to perform additional analysis, the Administrator of the NNSA, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, signed a new Amended Record of Decision authorizing exactly the same activities contained in the now-vacated 2016 Record of Decision—without correcting any of the deficiencies noted by the court.
OREPA, NWNM, NRDC and their co-plaintiffs then filed a motion, in October, asking Judge Reeves to enforce her September ruling ordering the NNSA to undertake further environmental analysis of the risk of earthquakes on the buildings being used to manufacture nuclear weapons components out of highly enriched uranium. The NNSA responded to the motion, telling the court that it should be allowed to continue spending hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars on construction even as it conducted the studies required by the court.
“They’ve been here before,” said Hutchison, “cart-before-the-horse. On this same UPF. That time, it cost taxpayers half a billion dollars. That was the write-off for the space-fit fiasco of 2012—when the designers noticed, as they reached 85% design completion for the UPF, that the building wasn’t big enough to hold all the equipment and operations. That’s what drove them to this hybrid plan—to put some of the operations in old, deteriorating buildings. Then they learned the old buildings did not meet earthquake safety standards. They forged ahead with their plan, though. And then, in 2014, they learned the earthquake risks were even greater than they had calculated. Still they pushed on, refusing to use the new data. That’s why we sued them in the first place.”
In September, Judge Reeves agreed with the plaintiffs and wiped away the 2016 Record of Decision, along with two additional Supplement Analyses, and, in a 104-page ruling, told NNSA it had to go back a do a new analysis that considered the most recent earthquake data, the updated 2014 earthquake hazard maps prepared by the United States Geological Survey.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
“It comes down to this,” said Hutchison. “The law is the law. The judge found them in violation of the law and ordered them to redo a significant piece of their environmental analysis—and the law is clear that this environmental analysis has to be done before they can make an irretrievable commitment of tax dollars.
“So—does NNSA get to make its own rules, or does it have to obey the law?
“The second issue is safety. NNSA has already admitted their buildings failed to meet the old standards, when the risks were considered lower. Now we know the risk is even higher, and there is a serious question about the safety of workers and of people living or working in Oak Ridge and Knoxville. In the event of a moderate—not large—earthquake, one or both of the buildings is expected to collapse, killing workers and releasing highly enriched uranium and other toxic materials into the air.
“Third is the right of the public to know what our risk is. NNSA is on record as saying they intend to deal with whatever risks there are by making some improvements and then simply accepting, on our behalf, some level of risk. They admit that they do not yet know what that risk is. Instead, they are pushing ahead with construction, spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars this year, while they supposedly decide whether or not the buildings can be made safe. If the new analysis shows they can’t, they will have wasted billions of dollars.”
Big money is at stake, according to a Declaration filed in support of the government’s argument that it can continue to build, the judge’s ruling notwithstanding.
“It is a lot of money,” concedes OREPA’s Hutchison. “But here’s the thing. The UPF strategy absolutely relies on using the old, unsafe buildings for 20-30 more years. If the analysis the court has ordered finds the old buildings cannot be made safe enough, they will have to go back to the drawing board. And in the meantime, they will have spent another half billion dollars at least on a UPF that cannot do the job they need to do.
“That’s the whole point of having all of the environmental analysis done before making a final decision and before beginning construction. They should have done this when we first told them, in 2014. Now they come to court asking for more time and saying it will cost so much money…”
In the end, the citizen groups’ rebuttal notes long-standing court precedent that says no party “can be heard to complain about damage inflicted by its own hand.”
OREPA, NWNM, NRDC and the co-plaintiffs are represented by Nick Lawton, an associate at the public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.
OAK RIDGE ENVIRONMENTAL PEACE ALLIANCE
Ralph Hutchison, OREPA, 865 776 5050, [email protected]
NUCLEAR WATCH NEW MEXICO
Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, [email protected]
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL
Geoff Fettus, NRDC, 202.289.2371, [email protected]
The reply to the Government’s opposition to the Motion to Enforce can be found at: