The Department of Energy (DOE) has submitted a report to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declaring its preferred plan to “cap and cover” radioactive and toxic wastes at one of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) oldest dumps. DOE’s $12 million cleanup-on-the-cheap plan for Material Disposal Area C will create a permanent nuclear waste dump above our regional groundwater. In contrast, DOE has asked Congress for one billion dollars for expanded plutonium “pit” bomb core production at LANL for fiscal year 2022 alone.
LANL used to falsely claim that groundwater contamination was impossible and even asked NMED for a waiver from even having to monitor for it. We now know that there is extensive groundwater contamination from hexavalent chromium (the carcinogen in the Erin Brockovich movie) and high explosives. Traces of plutonium have been detected 1,300 feet under Area C in regional groundwater monitoring wells. The dump also has a large toxic gaseous plume of industrial solvents known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which threatens nearby facilities. LANL is banking on a cap of less than five feet of soil and gravel to protect northern New Mexico from these wastes for a thousand years. But bomb-making plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years and is generally considered dangerous for 100,000 years. Finally, as an internal Lab document concluded, “Future contamination at additional locations is expected over a period of decades to centuries as more of the contaminant inventory reaches the water table.”
The Lab claims that the cap and cover will be protective for 1,000 years. However, Area C is loaded with radioactive transuranic (TRU) wastes, defined as wastes that contain manmade elements heavier than uranium on the periodic table (e.g. plutonium). Therefore, Area C should be required to meet DOE regulations for TRU wastes containment for 10,000 years. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which was built to dispose of transuranic wastes, meets DOE’s requirement of a reasonable expectation of containment for 10,000 years and is 2,150 feet deep. Area C is 25 feet deep at the deepest and should not be allowed to become a permanent dump for plutonium and other dangerous transuranic bomb-making materials.
Public interest groups will hold a press conference for a major announcement of a forthcoming legal action as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration forge ahead with plans to drastically expand production of plutonium pits, the cores of nuclear weapons, at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. The legal action follows previous unanswered requests from the groups to DOE and NNSA as seen in correspondence in February and April.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 25, 2021
The New Mexico Environment Department has announced that it is filing a lawsuit against the Department of Energy to terminate a “Consent Order” governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Nuclear Watch New Mexico, which has fought against that Consent Order ever since it went into effect nearly five years ago, strongly supports and applauds NMED’s decision.
Much to its credit, in 2005 the State of New Mexico successfully compelled DOE to enter into a strong, enforceable Consent Order after years of tough negotiations and lawsuits brought against it by DOE and the University of California (then LANL’s manager). However, at the Lab’s request the anti-regulation Susanna Martinez Administration eviscerated that Consent Order with more than 150 milestone extensions. Further, in a process riddled with conflicts of interest, the Martinez Administration negotiated a revised 2016 Consent Order that subordinated cleanup to the budget that DOE wants instead of having cleanup drive the budget. As a direct result, DOE added $900 million to LANL’s nuclear weapons programs in FY 2021 alone (to a total of $2.9 billion) while proposing to cut cleanup by nearly half to $120 million (fortunately Congress blocked that cut).
FEBRUARY 10, 2021
Santa Fe, NM – A Lab press release has announced that “[c]onnections between Los Alamos National Laboratory and the City of Santa Fe will be strengthened with the Laboratory’s opening of a new downtown office” after signing a 10-year lease on a 28,000-square-foot building. The Lab’s press release ignores LANL’s $2.9 billion nuclear weapons production budget (up 33% in one year), its proposed 46% cut to cleanup to $120 million, serious groundwater contamination and recent reports how it has neglected wildfire protection. Two catastrophic wildfires in the last 21 years on or near the Lab blanketed a large portion of northern New Mexico with possibly contaminated smoke.
The City of Santa Fe’s official name is the “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís” (“The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi”), in honor of the beloved saint who preached peace and environmental protection and from whom the present Pope draws his name. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the abolition of nuclear weapons and while in Japan paid homage to the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Those atomic bombs were designed and produced at the Los Alamos Lab.
FEBRUARY 9, 2021
Santa Fe, NM – The Department of Energy’s Inspector General is reporting that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is falling seriously behind in wildfire protection. This is despite the fact that the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire forced the mandatory evacuation of both LANL and the Los Alamos townsite, burned 3,500 acres of Lab property and came within a half-mile of Area G, its largest waste dump. At the time Area G stored above ground some 40,000 barrels of plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes. It could have been catastrophic had they burst and sent respirable airborne plutonium across northern New Mexico (inhaled plutonium is a very serious carcinogen).
In 2011 the Los Conchas Fire raced 13 miles in 24 hours to the Lab’s western boundary, where it was stopped along State Highway 4. Both it and the Cerro Grande Fire sent huge plumes of harmful smoke across northern New Mexico, possibly carrying Lab contaminants as well (operation of radioactive air emissions monitoring equipment was suspended during the Cerro Grande Fire).
November 5, 2020
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today issued a formal decision that it will pursue a massive Plutonium Bomb Plant (PBP) at the DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, in order to produce plutonium “pits,” or cores, for nuclear warheads. The provocative decision, which adds fuel to concerns about a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China, drew immediate opposition from public interest groups near DOE sites in South Carolina, New Mexico and California.
The issuance by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the “Record of Decision” (ROD) on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on pit production at SRS, issued in late September, officially affirms the “preferred alternative” that DOE intends to produce a minimum of 50 plutonium “pits” per year by 2030 at SRS. Also on November 5, NNSA issued an “Amended Record of Decision” (AROD) to its 2008 nation-wide Complex Transformation Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that incorporated its SRS pit-production decision.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that it will NOT prepare a new site-wide environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) (1). With this decision NNSA is slamming the door shut on public accountability while it rams through expanded plutonium “pit” bomb core production at the Lab. NNSA is relying upon outdated studies from 2008 to justify pit production. Since that time the agency has wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars, another catastrophic wildfire threatened the Lab, serious deep groundwater contamination was discovered and LANL has had chronic nuclear safety incidences with plutonium that it can’t seem to fix.
The NGOs request that the semi-annual public meetings resume by early fall 2020, and the CMRR Project website be updated and maintained until the RLUOB reconfiguration and PF-4 upgrades are completed. All documents and presentations from the previous 13 public meetings must be reposted. The NGOs are also asking that the unilateral decision by the DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to increase the amount of plutonium equivalent allowed in the RLUOB from 8.4 grams to 400 grams be reviewed by NMED.
“This is yet another example of the racial disparity that exists in the wake of communities like Los Alamos, established under the protective umbrella of government sanctioned white privilege. When you take something by force and don’t pay for it, that’s called stealing. So why is land stolen by the US government from the original Hispanic and Native American owners not being given back to them?…As the national reckoning over racial injustice unfolds, let us not forget how Los Alamos Lab came to be and the insult to injury that giving away land stolen from others represents.”
— Chuck Montaño, Nuclear Watch NM Steering Committee member. Mr. Montaño, born and raised in Santa Fe, NM, worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 32 years where he investigated allegations of fraud, waste and abuse.
“DOE and NNSA appear to be deliberately slow-walking the issuance of a formal Record of Decision on expanded plutonium pit production in an apparent effort to prevent the federal courts from reviewing the agencies’ failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.”
Multiple sources indicate the FY2021 budget request from the Trump Administration will seek a dramatic increase in funding for nuclear weapons—an unprecedented leap of 20% over current spending levels, bringing the total for The National Nuclear Security Administration to $20 billion. Reportedly, the increase is earmarked principally for modernization programs for warhead design and plutonium pit manufacturing facilities.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability released a letter to Congressional leadership calling for a hard look at the budget request when it arrives, scheduled for February 10, and encouraging House and Senate members to reject the increase as unjustified and unwise.
The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has formally announced that it is proceeding with aggressive plans to expand the production of plutonium pits without required nation-wide “programmatic” public review. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley CAREs assert this is in direct violation of the legal requirements of both the National Environmental Policy Act and a 1998 court order that stipulates that DOE must prepare a “programmatic environmental impact statement” (PEIS) when it plans to produce more than 80 pits per year. Plutonium pits are the radioactive cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons.
Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported:
“Santa Fe city leaders asked for developers’ ideas on what to do with the city-owned midtown campus…The National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA], which administers the Los Alamos National Laboratory management and operating contract, submitted a master developer proposal to build an open-campus environment with administrative offices, sustainable green spaces, engineering space, light manufacturing, training facilities and research and development…
[A NNSA spokesperson said] “LANL is undergoing unprecedented growth and expects to hire more than 1,000 new personnel annually for the next several years. Having a new campus — midway between New Mexico’s two national laboratories [LANL and Sandia]— to house professional staff, scientists, and engineers in partnership with the city of Santa Fe — would be very beneficial.” ”
Santa Fe, NM – Today, Pope Francis called for the global abolition of nuclear weapons while paying homage to the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two cities were both destroyed by atomic weapons designed and produced by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, located in northern New Mexico’s Santa Fe Catholic Archdiocese.
The Holy Father declared:
“With deep conviction I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral, as I already said two years ago. We will be judged on this. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act to bring it about among the peoples of the earth. How can we speak of peace even as we build terrifying new weapons of war?”
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.
Santa Fe, NM – Today the Trump Administration released more budget details for the Department of Energy and its semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons programs for fiscal year 2020. This same fiscal year will also mark the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Global Nuclear Weapons Threats Are Rising
In sum, the world is facing the most serious nuclear threats since the first half of the 1980’s. At that time President Ronald Reagan said, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought” and called for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Today, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch, and Tri-Valley CAREs sent a letter of demand to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to inform the government that its plan to quadruple the production rate of plutonium bomb cores is out of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
NNSA’s premature plan to quadruple the production rate of plutonium bomb cores (“pits”), the heart of all US nuclear weapons, is out of compliance with requisite environmental law, the groups argue, as NNSA has failed to undertake a legally-mandated programmatic review and hold required public hearings.
Related News Articles ↓
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Kathy Crandall Robinson (Washington, DC): 202 577 9875
Joni Arends (New Mexico): 505 986 1973
Tom Carpenter (Washington state): 206 419 5829
Tom Clements (South Carolina): 803 834 3084
Jay Coghlan (New Mexico): 505 989 7342
Don Hancock (New Mexico): 505 262 1862
Ralph Hutchison (Tennessee): 865 776 5050
Marylia Kelley (California): 925 443 7148
Watchdog groups from across the nuclear weapons complex are pushing back against a new Department of Energy order that severely constrains the oversight capacity of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board [DNFSB] at an August 28 hearing in Washington, DC. Kathy Crandall Robinson will speak at the hearing.
Members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a national network of organizations that addresses nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup issues, hail the work of the DNFSB as a critical guard against DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration efforts to cut corners on safety.
“The Safety Board works outside of the media spotlight,” said Tom Clements, Director of Savannah River Site Watch in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Its value to the public is immeasurable. DNFSB frequently provides information about SRS operations which DOE fails to communicate. The role of the Safety Board should be expanded, not curtailed.”
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, California, said, “The DNFSB is absolutely vital to worker and public safety. I have spent 35 years monitoring Livermore Lab. I can tell you that workers and community members rely on the Safety Board to do its job—every day!”
DOE MUST RESTORE DEFENSE NUCLEAR FACILITIES SAFETY BOARD ACCESS TO INFORMATION, NUCLEAR SECURITY FACILITIES, AND PERSONNEL
On May 14, 2018, the Department of Energy (DOE) Deputy Secretary approved DOE Order 140.1Interface with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board,which limits release of information, limits the DNFSB’s access to nuclear security sites, and personnel. The impacts are already being felt by Congress, the Board, DOE contractors and workers, and in communities located near some of the most dangerous nuclear facilities across the nation.
What you can do –
The Board is holding a public hearing on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, from 9 am to 12:30 pm Eastern Day- light Time. It will be live streamed and the link will be available on the day of the hearing.
Public comments will be accepted until September 28, 2018.
There is no explanation why the Department of Defense requires at least 80 pits per year and no justification to the American taxpayer why the enormous expense of expanded production is necessary.
NNSA did not mention that up to 15,000 “excess” pits are already stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX, with up to another 5,000 in “strategic reserve.” The agency did not explain why new production is needed given that an immense inventory of already existing plutonium pits. (In 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century. Plutonium pits in the existing stockpile now average around 40 years old.)
NNSA did not explain how to dispose of all of that plutonium, given that the MOX program is an abysmal failure. Nor is it made clear where future plutonium wastes from expanded pit production will go since operations at the troubled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are already constrained from a ruptured radioactive waste barrel, and its capacity is already overcommitted to existing radioactive wastes.
“NNSA should begin a nation-wide review of plutonium pit production, why it’s needed, and what it will cost the American taxpayer in financial, safety and environmental risks. These are all things that the public should know.”
– Jay Coghlan, Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on Friday, March 23, that it was authorizing the start of construction of the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) and two sub-projects at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The UPF is a facility dedicated solely to the manufacture of thermonuclear cores for US nuclear bombs and warheads.
Citizen watchdog groups are responding by filing an expedited Freedom of Information Act request demanding a full fiscal accounting of the UPF bomb plant- something the NNSA has refused to provide for the last five years, including to Congress, despite repeated assurances that the project is “on budget.”
“This project is already a classic boondoggle, and they are just getting started,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) in Knoxville, Tennessee. “Worse, it undermines US efforts to discourage nuclear proliferation around the world. How can we oppose the nuclear ambitions of other countries when we are building a bomb plant here to manufacture 80 thermonuclear cores for warheads every year?”
Santa Fe, NM
According to media reports, Andrea Romero, Executive Director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, is accused of charging some $2,200 dollars of unallowable travel costs, such as alcohol and baseball tickets, while lobbying in Washington, DC for additional funding for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). She in turn accused the nonprofit group Northern New Mexico Protects of political motivations in revealing these questionable expenses. Romero is running in the Democrat Party primary against incumbent state Rep. Carl Trujillo for Santa Fe County’s 46th district in the state House of Representatives.
Perhaps more serious is the fact that Romero was awarded an undisclosed amount of money by the Venture Acceleration Fund (VAF) for her private business Tall Foods, Tall Goods, a commercial ostrich farm in Ribera, NM. According to a May 8, 2017 Los Alamos Lab news release announcing the award to Tall Foods, Tall Goods, “The VAF was established in 2006 by Los Alamos National Security [LANS], LLC to stimulate the economy by supporting growth-oriented companies.” LANS, primarily composed of the Bechtel Corporation and the University of California, has held the annual ~$2.4 billion Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) management contract since June 2006.
Santa Fe, NM
On December 17, 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a separate $1.4 billion contract for cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos, LLC (also known as “N3B”). This award followed a DOE decision to pull cleanup from LANL’s prime contractor, Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), after it sent an improperly prepared radioactive waste drum that ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). That incident contaminated 21 workers and closed WIPP for nearly three years, costing taxpayers at least $1.5 billion to reopen.
Tetra Tech Inc is a major subcontractor for N3B in the LANL cleanup contract… Serious allegations of fraud by Tetra Tech were raised long before the LANL cleanup contract was awarded. The US Navy found that the company had committed wide spread radiological data falsification, doctored records and supporting documentation, and covered-up fraud at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard cleanup project in San Francisco, CA.
Santa Fe, NM.
Late Friday February 23, the Trump Administration released the detailed FY 2019 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency within the federal Department of Energy. Overall, NNSA is receiving a $2.2 billion boost to $15.1 billion, a 17% increase above the FY 2018 enacted level. Of that, a full $11 billion is for the budget category [Nuclear] “Weapons Activities”, 18% above the FY 2018 level. Of concern to the American taxpayer, DOE and NNSA nuclear weapons programs have been on the congressional Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List for project mismanagement, fraud, waste and abuse since its inception in 1990.
Santa Fe, NM.
Today the National Nuclear Security Administration announced an Environmental Assessment to increase the amount of plutonium used in the Radiological Laboratory Utility and Office Building (aka the “Rad Lab”) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 38.6 grams of plutonium-239 equivalent to 400 grams. This 10-fold increase is significant because it will dramatically expand materials characterization and analytical chemistry capabilities in the Rad Lab in support of expanded plutonium pit production for future nuclear weapons designs. It also re-categorizes the Rad Lab from a “radiological facility” to a “Hazard Category-3” nuclear facility.
Santa Fe, NM
In keeping with the Trump Administration’s recent controversial Nuclear Posture Review, today’s just released FY 2019 federal budget dramatically ramps up nuclear weapons research and production.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, is receiving a $2.2 billion overall boost to $15.1 billion, a 17% increase above the FY 2018 enacted level. Of that, a full $11 billion is for the budget category (Nuclear) “Weapons Activities”, 18% above the FY 2018 level.
Digging deeper under Weapons Activities, “Directed Stockpile Work” is increased from $3.3 billion to $4.7 billion, or 41%. Directed Stockpile Work is the hands on, nut and bolts operations that include extending the service lives of existing nuclear weapons for up to 60 years, while also endowing them with new military capabilities.
Santa Fe, NM
Yesterday evening the Huffington Post posted a leaked draft of the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). This review is the federal government’s highest unclassified nuclear weapons policy document, and the first since the Obama Administration’s April 2010 NPR.
This Review begins with “Many hoped conditions had been set for deep reductions in global nuclear arsenals, and, perhaps, for their elimination. These aspirations have not been realized. America’s strategic competitors have not followed our example. The world is more dangerous, not less.” The NPR then points to Russia and China’s ongoing nuclear weapons modernization programs and North Korea’s “nuclear provocations.” It concludes, “We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it be.”
If the United States government were to really “look reality in the eye and see the world as it is”, it would recognize that it is failing miserably to lead the world toward the abolition of the only class of weapons that is a true existential threat to our country. As an obvious historic matter, the U.S. is the first and only country to use nuclear weapons. Since WWII the U.S. has threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Korean and Viet Nam wars, and on many other occasions.
Further, it is hypocritical to point to Russia and China’s “modernization” programs as if they are taking place in a vacuum. The U.S. has been upgrading its nuclear arsenal all along. In the last few years our country has embarked on a $1.7 trillion modernization program to completely rebuild its nuclear weapons production complex and all three legs of its nuclear triad.
Santa Fe, NM.
The New Mexico State Auditor Office recently questioned whether two settlements between the New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Energy were in the best interests of New Mexico. That Office noted:
“The New Mexico Environment Department unnecessarily forgave tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties related to various waste management issues and missed cleanup deadlines by the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors. Considering the seriousness of the violations, and the clarity regarding responsibility for the violations, it appears highly unusual that the Department would not collect any civil penalties under these circumstances.”
NMED completed an assessment of $54 million in penalties that would have gone to New Mexico, but did not enforce them before making the settlements with DOE. This was at a time when the state was beginning to face a serious budget crisis. As State Senator John Arthur Smith (Chair of the Senate Finance Committee) put it, NMED’s failure to levy penalties when New Mexico was facing a budget crisis is “taking it out of the pockets of our kids and young people when they do something like that.”
Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “This is inexcusable that NMED preemptively surrendered to Department of Energy extortion. In effect DOE is saying if you, the regulator, fine us, we will cut the money the taxpayer has paid to clean up our mess that threatens the citizens you are suppose to protect.”
Santa Fe, NM
Today the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the award of the new Los Alamos National Laboratory legacy cleanup contract to Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos, LLC. The $1.39 billion contract is for ten years, which includes a three-year option and a two-year option. That works out to $139 million per year. LANL’s budget request has been around $189 million per year, but not EMLA’s entire budget goes to the cleanup contractor.