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Past News & Press Releases

US Still On Track For $1 Trillion Nuclear Weapons Modernization

Here’s a breakdown of nuclear weapons costs. The average is $34 billion per year.

$1T Trainwreck For Nuclear Weapons Spending
10-Year Estimates for Sustaining and Modernizing the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent

DOD and DOE are undertaking an extensive effort to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. This effort is expected to take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Congress requires submission of an annual report to congressional committees on DOD’s and DOE’s plans for related matters and includes a provision that GAO review aspects of that joint report. GAO has previously recommended that future joint reports provide more thorough documentation of methodologies and context for significant changes from year to year.

GAO analyzed the departments’ internal plans and budget estimates for sustaining and modernizing the nuclear deterrent and interviewed DOD and DOE officials. The fiscal year 2017 joint report continues to omit explicit information about all assumptions and limitations in DOD’s and DOE’s methodologies and reasons for year-to-year programmatic changes in some estimates—information that could improve transparency for decision makers in Congress.

Read the GAO Report Here

Public Interest Organizations File Lawsuit Against New Nuclear Bomb Plant

Public Interest Organizations File Lawsuit Against New Nuclear Bomb Plant

July 20, 2017

Contact: Jay Coghlan, NWNM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org

Washington, DC – Today, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit to stop construction of the problem-plagued Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) until legally required environmental review is completed. The UPF, located at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Y-12 production plant near Oak Ridge, TN, is slated to produce new thermonuclear weapons components until the year 2080. The UPF is the tip of the spear for the U.S.’s planned one trillion dollar-plus make over of its nuclear weapons arsenal, delivery systems, and production plants.

“The story of this new bomb plant is a long tale of outrageous waste and mismanagement, false starts and re-dos, a federal agency that refuses to meet its legal obligation to engage the public, and a Senator that is bent on protecting this piece of prime nuclear pork for his home state,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA. “But the short version is this: when the NNSA made dramatic changes to the UPF, and admitted that it intends to continue to operate dangerous, already contaminated facilities for another twenty or thirty years, they ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act. Our complaint demands that the NNSA complete a supplemental environmental impact statement on the latest iteration of its flawed plans.”

The NNSA first issued a formal “Record of Decision” to build the UPF in 2011. Within a year, the agency had to admit it had made a half-billion dollar mistake because the designed footprint of the bomb plant was not big enough to hold all of the required equipment and safety features. The American taxpayer had to eat that half billion dollars, as the NNSA held no contractor responsible for it. The agency’s parent organization, the Department of Energy, has been on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List for project mismanagement and chronic cost overruns for 26 consecutive years.

More recently, the House FY 2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations report noted that the NNSA had to reprogram $403 million out of the UPF’s $1.4 billion contingency fund to address “unforeseen issues” before ground is even broken. Both the NNSA and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-TN, chair of Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee) have repeatedly claimed that UPF construction will not exceed $6.5 billion. That declared budget cap seems increasingly uncertain, which could have serious negative political consequences for the troubled facility.

The UPF started with an original estimated price tag of between $600 million to $1 billion in 2006. In December 2013 an independent cost assessment by the Department of Defense pegged the UPF at more than $19 billion, which stopped the project dead in its tracks and compelled NNSA to develop a new approach. The agency commissioned a “Red Team” to perform a quick, secret study, whose recommendation was eventually adopted. In July 2016, the NNSA published an Amended Record of Decision in the Federal Register describing its new plan.

“It was a dramatic change,” commented Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Instead of consolidating all enriched uranium operations into one big, new UPF, NNSA decided to build multiple smaller but integrated buildings, only one of which would be designed to modern seismic standards. More importantly, the agency declared it would continue to indefinitely use deteriorating, already contaminated facilities for dangerous highly enriched uranium operations, while admitting that the buildings can not meet current environmental and seismic standards.”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to revisit any environmental analysis when its plan undergoes significant changes that might impact the environment, or when new information comes to light. It also requires public involvement throughout the process. “NEPA’s fundamental purposes are to ensure that agencies take a hard look at consequences before taking action and to ensure that the public has a voice in agency decisions,” said William Lawton, an attorney working on the case at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, LLP. “Here, the NNSA has chosen to save money by continuing to rely on outdated, deteriorating buildings that run a very real risk of collapsing and releasing nuclear contamination in the event of an earthquake. The agency is putting the public at risk, and the public has a right to make sure that the government has taken the legally required hard look at those serious risks.”

 

“Since 2011, despite our repeated efforts to get information, including filing Freedom of Information Act requests, visiting DOE offices, asking officials for information and writing hundreds of letters, we have been shut out of the process completely,” noted OREPA’s Hutchison. “When we saw the final document, admitting that they were going to continue to use dangerous risky facilities without bringing them up to code, we realized why the NNSA was so determined not to make its plan public.”

Coghlan noted that the NNSA faced a similar scenario several years ago at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico when plans for a huge new plutonium pit fabrication facility were substantially changed. “We told NNSA they had to complete more public review, and the agency wisely decided to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement,” he said. “The proposed changes to the UPF are even more dramatic, and we are invoking that precedent to demand that NNSA follow the law.”

# # #

The complaint is available at https://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/UPFcomplaint.pdf

The Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Natural Resources Defense Council have engaged the well-respected public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein and Eubanks, LLP, located in Washington, DC, to represent them in the litigation.

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance is an 1,800 member grassroots public interest group that has focused on nuclear weapons and environmental issues at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation since 1988.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been watchdogging Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities in New Mexico and across the NNSA’s nuclear weapons complex since 1999.

The Natural Resources Defense Council combines the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

Plans are to complete UPF by 2025 for no more than $6.5B
UPF at Y-12 proposes to house enriched uranium operations for thermonuclear warhead secondaries. Courtesy NNSA.
Inside a nuclear weapon

A Preview of Trump’s Budget: More Nuclear Bombs and Plutonium Pit Production

Santa Fe, NM.

The proposed level of funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA)’s Total Weapons Activities is $10.2 billion, a full billion above what was requested for FY 2017. In March, Trump’s “skinny budget” stated NNSA’s funding priorities as ‘moving toward a responsive nuclear infrastructure’, and ‘advancing the existing warhead life extension programs’.

Concerning Life Extension Programs, rather than merely maintaining and extending the lives of existing nuclear weapons as advertised, they are being given new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government. A current example is the B61-12 Life Extension Program, which is transforming a “dumb” nuclear bomb into the world’s first highly accurate “smart” nuclear bomb.

With respect to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), “responsive infrastructure” no doubt means accelerating upgrades to existing plutonium facilities and likely building two or three new underground “modules”, all for the purpose of quadrupling plutonium pit production from 20 to 80 pits per year. (Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons.)

Read More…

Budget Estimates For Nuclear Modernization

Costs Jump in Nuclear Weapons vs. Cleanup; Nuclear Weapons Winning over Environmental Protection

Santa Fe, NM.

America is at a crossroads, having to choose between an unnecessarily large, exorbitant, nuclear weapons stockpile, and cleanup that would protect the environment and water resources for future generations. Expanded nuclear weapons research and production, which will cause yet more contamination, is winning.

Two recently released government reports make clear the stark inequality between the so-called modernization program to upgrade and indefinitely preserve U.S. nuclear forces (in large part for a new Cold War with Russia), and the nation-wide program to clean up the radioactive and toxic contamination from the first Cold War. The Obama Administration launched a trillion dollar nuclear weapons “modernization” program, which President Trump may expand. In contrast, cleanup of the first Cold War mess has been cut from a high of $8.5 billion in 2003 to $5.25 billion in 2016, even though comprehensive cleanup would produce far more jobs than nuclear weapons programs.

Watchdogs Assail Revolving Door Between New Mexico Environment Department and Polluters; Gov. Martinez Fails to Protect State Budget and Environment

Santa Fe, NM

As the annual state legislative session begins, New Mexico is faced with a ~$70 million budget deficit, which must be balanced as per the state’s constitution, while revenues are projected to continue falling. To remedy this, Gov. Martinez plans to divert $120 million from public school reserves, take ~$12.5 million out of state employee retirement accounts, make teachers and state workers pay more into their retirement accounts (they are already among the lowest paid in the country), and extend 5.5% cuts for most state agencies while cutting yet more from the legislature and higher education. Instead, the state’s budget deficit could have been prevented had the New Mexico Environment Department aggressively fined polluters. But unfortunately there is a strong revolving door between NMED and the polluters it is suppose to regulate.

Read More…

NNSA Releases Los Alamos Lab Performance Evaluation Report Nuclear Criticality Safety Issues Still Not Fully Resolved

Santa Fe, NM

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has publicly released its fiscal year 2016 Performance Evaluation Report (PER) for Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), the for-profit contractor that runs the Los Alamos Lab. The Performance Evaluation Report is NNSA’s annual report card on contractor performance, and overall the agency awarded LANS $59 million in profit out of a possible $65 million. The grade was 85% for the incentive part of the award. In 2012 Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued NNSA to ensure that the Performance Evaluation Reports detailing taxpayers funds paid to nuclear weapons contractors are publicly available. In 2016 the NNSA decided to put the LANL management contract out for competitive bid, but granted LANS a contract extension until the end of September 2018.

Despite the passing grade that NNSA gave LANS, there is still ample reason for public concern. First, it bears repeating that in February 2014 a radioactive waste drum improperly prepared by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) burst underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), contaminating 21 workers and closing that multi-billion dollar facility (a limited restart of operations at WIPP may occur this month).

Less widely known is the fact that LANL’s main plutonium facility that produces WIPP wastes has only recently restarted operations after being shut down since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns…

Read More…

LANL Estimate of $2.9 Billion for “Remaining” Cleanup Leaves Nuclear and Toxic Wastes Behind and Kills Needed Jobs

Santa Fe, NM.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that the cost of “Remaining Legacy Cleanup” of radioactive and toxic wastes from more than 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will cost $2.9 billion through fiscal year 2035, averaging $153 million per year.

“That cost estimate clearly assumes that the Lab’s major radioactive and toxic wastes dumps will not be cleaned up. Instead they will be “capped and covered,” leaving some 200,000 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic wastes at Area G, its largest waste dump. Those wastes sit in unlined pits and trenches, 800 feet above groundwater and three miles uphill from the Rio Grande (plutonium contaminants have been detected 200 feet below Area G). During this same period of time the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with will cost ten times as much, even before expected funding increases for expanded production of plutonium bomb core “pits” and increasingly aggressive “Life Extension Programs” that give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities…”

Read More…

NM Environment Dept Finalizes Consent Order on Los Alamos Lab Cleanup Surrenders Enforcement to Nuclear Weaponeers

NM Environment Dept Finalizes Consent Order

on Los Alamos Lab Cleanup

Surrenders Enforcement to Nuclear Weaponeers

 

Santa Fe, NM – In a classic move to avoid publicity, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced late Friday afternoon June 24 that it had finalized a new “Consent Order” to replace a 2005 Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Environment Department’s brief press release headlined “Agreement Focuses on Cleanup & Supporting Stronger Federal Funding Requests.” This is doublespeak, as the new Consent Order is a giveaway to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. The new Order is also clearly the opposite of the old Consent Order, whose underlying intent was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup. In contrast, the new Consent Order allows them to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up.

The nuclear weaponeers are now openly talking about the “The Second Nuclear Age” before cleaning up form the first nuclear age. They are actively seeking to expand nuclear weapons production that caused the widespread contamination to begin with, particularly plutonium pit production at LANL.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs. But yet the Environment Department fails New Mexicans by failing to enforce cleanup at Los Alamos.”

When NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn announced a draft new Consent Order on March 30, he claimed that the old Consent Order did not work. Nuclear Watch agrees, but that’s because Secretary Flynn granted more than 150 compliance milestone extensions at the Lab’s request, effectively eviscerating the old Consent Order. While finalizing the new Consent Order NMED ignored the explicit public participation requirements of the old Order, which among other things requires a public hearing on major modifications. Instead, NMED rammed through the final Consent Order, largely brushing aside the formal comments of some 40 concerned citizens and the Santa Clara Pueblo.

LANL is key to the trillion dollar rebuilding of nuclear forces as the premier nuclear weapons design lab and the nation’s sole production site for plutonium pit triggers, the most critical nuclear weapons components. Funding for Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons programs is nearly double historic Cold War averages, with around $1.5 billion spent annually at LANL alone. In contrast, funding for Lab cleanup has been cut to $189 million for FY 2017 (down from $225 million in FY 2014), with only approximately a third going to actual cleanup (one-third goes to pensions and another third to safeguard improperly treated radioactive waste barrels, one of which ruptured and closed the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant).

The original 2005 Consent Order required DOE and LANL to investigate, characterize, and clean up hazardous and mixed radioactive contaminants from 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production. It also stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet. Ironically, the last milestone, due December 6, 2015, required a report from LANL on how it successfully cleaned up Area G, its largest waste dump. However, real cleanup remains decades away, if ever. Instead, the Lab plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, four miles uphill from the Rio Grande.

 

A few of the serious deficiencies of the new Consent Order are:

[Quotes are from the new Consent Order followed by page numbers]

• “The Parties agree that DOE’s project’s plans and tools will be used to identify proposed milestones and targets.” P. 28. “DOE shall define the use of screening levels and cleanup levels at a site…”  P. 32. This puts the Department of Energy in the driver’s seat, not the New Mexico Environment Department.

• “DOE shall update the milestones and targets in Appendix B on an annual basis, accounting for such factors as… changes in anticipated funding levels.” P. 29. Therefore the new Consent Order will be held hostage to DOE’s budget, which recently cut LANL’s cleanup funding.

• “… [DOE and NMED] shall meet to discuss the appropriation and any necessary revision to the forecast, e.g. DOE did not receive adequate appropriations from Congress…” P. 30. Again, the new Consent Order and therefore cleanup at LANL will be held hostage to DOE funding, when DOE’s own track record makes clear that its priority is expanded nuclear weapons production paid for in part by cutting cleanup and nonproliferation programs.

• “If attainment of established cleanup objectives is demonstrated to be technically infeasible, DOE may perform risk-based alternative cleanup objectives…” P. 34. DOE can opt out because of “impracticability” or cost of cleanup. P. 35. This creates giant loopholes that threaten comprehensive cleanup at LANL.

• The new draft Consent Order explicitly states that public participation requirements do NOT apply to future modifications of the Order. P. 25. This is the opposite of what the original Consent Order required, which made a point of incorporating the public process requirements of federal environmental law. Nuclear Watch New Mexico maintains that full public participation requirements apply to the new Consent Order as well, including its very formulation as a major modification of the old Consent Order. That full public participation process requires a public hearing if there are unresolved issues, which NMED has rejected, a position that may be of questionable legality.

 

On May 12, 2016, Nuclear Watch New Mexico filed a lawsuit against LANL and DOE for failing to meet compliance milestones in the old Consent Order. These violations incur around $300 million dollars in potential penalties, which NMED shows no sign of enforcing. To the contrary, NMED has filed a motion to intervene against Nuclear Watch New Mexico in its lawsuit, raising the question of whose side the Environment Department is on, the environment or the polluter (in this case a for-profit nuclear weapons lab)?

Moreover, when Nuclear Watch NM filed a notice of intent to sue on January 21, NMED Secretary Flynn sought to intimidate our lawyers by declaring “If a suit is filed, and the Environment Department becomes involved, we would insist on collecting any and all labor and legal costs from the (New Mexico Environmental Law Center) to reimburse New Mexico’s taxpayers for the costs resulting from this groundless and frivolous action.”

Far from being a frivolous action, Nuclear Watch and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center seek to compel full and genuine environmental restoration at the Los Alamos Lab, which the new Consent Order blocks by giving the nuclear weaponeers giant loopholes to avoid cleanup.

 

#  #  #

NMED’s June 24 press release and the new Consent Order are available here

Public comment on the draft Consent Order (including Nuclear Watch NM and Santa Clara Pueblo) is available here

Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s lawsuit complaint, filed May 12, 2016, is available here

  • Our complaint alleged twelve counts of milestone compliance violations where NMED did not grant extensions. At that time we calculated 7,853 total days of noncompliance at $37,500.00 per day, equal to $294,487,500, with the clock still ticking.

Our May 5, 2016 second notice of intent to sue (which is a good summary of our complaint) is available here

Our January 20, 2016 notice of intent to sue is available here

NMED Secretary Flynn’s quote is from “Nuclear Watch to sue over LANL cleanup problems”, Mark Oswald, Albuquerque Journal, January 21, 2016, is here.

 

Underground Pits and shafts at Area G
LANL Area G Underground Disposal Pits and Shafts

NukeWatch Files Second FOIA Request for Los Alamos and Sandia Labs Evaluations, Demand Expedited Release to E-FOIA Reading Room

Santa Fe, NM.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico has filed a second request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s FY 2015 Performance Evaluation Reports for the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. Nuclear Watch filed its first request on December 22, 2015, which has still not been fulfilled despite the law’s statutory requirement that FOIA requests be honored within 20 working days. Because of that, Nuclear Watch is demanding expedited processing and posting of these reports to an electronic FOIA reading room, as required by the 1996 E-FOIA amendments.

Read More…

NukeWatch NM Heads to DC To Stop U.S. Nuclear Weapons “Trillion Dollar Trainwreck”

NukeWatch NM Heads to Washington to Press Congress, Obama Officials

To Stop U.S. Nuclear Weapons “Trillion Dollar Trainwreck” —

LANL Whistleblower Chuck Montaño to Be Honored

 

Three members of Nuclear Watch New Mexico will visit Washington, DC from April 17 to April 20 to oppose U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons projects, which they say will lead to a “trillion dollar trainwreck” through out-of control spending, more radioactive waste generation, and weapons proliferation. The group will meet with the New Mexican congressional delegation, committee staffers, and administration officials with responsibility for U. S. nuclear policies to press for new funding priorities.

The Nuclear Watch NM delegation will be working with more than 50 colleagues from two dozen other states who are participating in the 28th annual Alliance for Nuclear Accountability “DC Days.” They will distribute copies of the ANA’s new report “Trillion Dollar Trainwreck” a detailed analysis of the Obama Administration’s latest plans to spend more money on nuclear weapons without truly enhancing U.S. security.

Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch director and president of the ANA Board of Directors, said, “Massive spending on nuclear weapons ‘modernization’ creates potential catastrophic risks for U.S. taxpayers, the environment and world peace. We will press policy-makers to cut programs that fund dangerous DOE boondoggles. The money saved should be redirected to dismantling weapons and cleaning up the legacy of nuclear weapons research, testing and production.”

NukeWatch NM Steering Committee member Chuck Montaño will receive recognition during DC Days from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) at a reception on April 19, 2015, at the Hart Senate Office Building. He, along with California’s senior U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D.-WA), will be among those honored by ANA for their efforts to hold the nuclear weapons military-industrial complex accountable. Montaño is being recognized for his advocacy confronting whistleblower and employee abuse, managerial malfeasance and fraudulent activity, all of which he documents in his recently released book detailing the chain of events that led to him becoming a federally protected whistleblower.

Montaño commented that he wrote Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths, “so people can appreciate the Lab’s full impact and legacy, not just what institutional leaders want the public to remember. There are important events I document for posterity, which may otherwise be hidden or erased from memory, and I didn’t want that to happen.”

Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch director, said, “I am very proud of Chuck Montaño, especially since he’s a Nuke Watch Steering Committee member as well. We depend on people like him with the inside story to help keep the Lab safe for communities and workers alike. It’s gratifying to see that the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and its many member organizations appreciate his efforts.”

Mr. Montaño, a lifelong Santa Fe area resident, was employed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 32 years, until his forced retirement from the lab in 2010. He is also the former Director of Fraud and Special Audits for the Office of the New Mexico State Auditor.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) is a network of three-dozen local, regional and national organizations representing the concerns of communities downwind and downstream from U.S. nuclear weapons production and radioactive waste disposal sites.

 

# # #

 

Chuck Montaño’s book Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths

is available at www.losalamosdiary.com