NukeWatch Press Releases

Groups Release Key DOE Documents on Expanded Plutonium Pit Production, DOE Nuclear Weapons Plan Not Supported by Recent Congressional Actions

“Santa Fe, NM & Columbia, SC. Two key U.S. Department of Energy documents on future production of plutonium “pits” for nuclear weapons, not previously released to the public, fail to justify new and upgraded production facilities at both the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.”

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What’s Not in NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Decision

Excerpts

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.

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NNSA Proposal to Raise Plutonium Limit Ten-Fold in Los Alamos’ Rad Lab Is First Step in Expanded Plutonium Pit Production: Environmental Assessment Is Premature and Deceptive By Omission

“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.

United States To Begin Construction Of New Nuclear Bomb Plant

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?”

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The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities: Benefits for the Select Few

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.”[1] 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.

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Major LANL Cleanup Subcontractor Implicated in Fraud – Entire Los Alamos Cleanup Should Be Re-evaluated

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.

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Detailed NNSA Budget Documents Accelerates Nuclear Weapons Arms Race

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.

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Glowing cylinder of plutonium oxide standing in a circular pit

NNSA Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for LANL Rad Lab; Raises Plutonium Limit 10 Times for Expanded Pit Production

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.

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US and USSR/Russia Stockpiles

Trump’s Budget Dramatically Increases Nuclear Weapons Work

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.

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Draft Nuclear Posture Review Degrades National Security

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.

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New Mexico Environment Department Surrendered to DOE Extortion

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.”

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Los Alamos National Laboratory Sign

Los Alamos Hires New Contractor – Starts Cleanup On the Cheap

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.

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Titan I and Titan II Rockets

Congressional Budget Office: Cost of Nuclear Weapons Upgrades and Improvements Increases to $1.2 Trillion

Today, in Washington, DC, the Congressional Budget Office released its new report, “Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046. It is summarized reporting,

“The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the most recent detailed plans for nuclear forces, which were incorporated in the Obama Administration’s 2017 budget request, would cost $1.2 trillion in 2017 dollars over the 2017–2046 period: more than $800 billion to operate and sustain (that is, incrementally upgrade) nuclear forces and about $400 billion to modernize them. That planned nuclear modernization would boost the total costs of nuclear forces over 30 years by roughly 50 percent over what they would be to only operate and sustain fielded forces, CBO estimates. During the peak years of modernization, annual costs of nuclear forces would be roughly double the current amount. That increase would occur at a time when total defense spending may be constrained by long-term fiscal pressures, and nuclear forces would have to compete with other defense priorities for funding.”

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Santa Fe NM

Santa Fe City Council: LANL Cleanup Order Must Be Strengthened and Expanded and Plutonium Pit Production Suspended Until Safety Issues Are Resolved

Santa Fe, NM.

On the evening of Wednesday October 25, the Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution requesting that the New Mexico Environment Department strengthen the revised Los Alamos National Labs cleanup order to call for additional characterization of legacy nuclear wastes, increased cleanup funding, and significant additional safety training. The resolution also called for the suspension of any planned expanded plutonium pit production until safety issues are resolved.

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International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Wins Nobel Peace Prize- NukeWatch Calls on New Mexico Politicians and Santa Fe Archbishop To Support Drive Towards Abolition

Santa Fe, NM.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico strongly applauds the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (disclosure: NukeWatch is one of ICAN’s ~400 member groups around the world). This award is especially apt because the peoples of the world are now living at the highest risk for nuclear war since the middle 1980’s, when during President Reagan’s military buildup the Soviet Union became convinced that the United States might launch a pre-emptive nuclear first strike. Today, we not only have Trump’s threats to “totally destroy” North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s counter threats, but also renewed Russian fears of a US preemptive nuclear attack… Generally unknown to the American taxpayer, our government has quietly tripled the lethality of the US nuclear weapons stockpile…”

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Chromium Groundwater Contamination at Los Alamos Lab Far Greater Than Previously Expected; LANL’s Treatment Plan Must Be Drastically Changed

Santa Fe, NM.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has detected far more hexavalent chromium (Cr) contamination than previously estimated in the “sole source” regional groundwater aquifer that serves Los Alamos, Santa Fe and the Española Basin. Sampling in July from a new well meant to inject treated groundwater back into the aquifer detected chromium contamination five times greater than the New Mexico groundwater standard of 50 micrograms per liter (ug/L).

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Nuclear Weapons Testing Cleanup

Talking Points: The 2016 LANL Cleanup Consent Order Should Be Rescinded

Why rescind the 2016 Consent Order?

  • In June 2016 the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) signed a revised Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The new Consent Order is a big step backward in achieving comprehensive, genuine cleanup at the Lab.
  • NMED should have kept the original, enforceable 2005 Consent Order that it fought so hard for under the Richardson Administration, modified as needed for the cleanup schedule and final compliance date.

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Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and The Natural Resources Defense Council File Lawsuit Against New Nuclear Bomb Plant

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.”

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Some Background on Plutonium Pit Production at the Los Alamos Lab

Santa Fe, NM

The Washington Post has published the first in a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab. Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that when imploded initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons.

By the way, did you know? Plutonium facilities at LANL are, in principle, designed to withstand a serious earthquake of a degree expected to occur only once every 10,000 years. The last serious earthquake near the Lab is believed to have occurred 11,500 years ago.

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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.)

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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.

Sandia Labs Logo

As Trump Seeks to Expand U.S. Nuclear Weapons Capabilities New Sandia Labs Director Argued for Expanded Use of Nuclear Weapons

Santa Fe, NM

On December 22, 2016 president-elect Donald Trump upended four decades of U.S. policy to reduce nuclear weapons by tweeting “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” The next morning he doubled down by declaring, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

One of the most important players in the trillion dollar nuclear weapons upgrade is the Sandia National Laboratories, with its newly appointed director Stephen Younger. Long before Trump, Younger argued for the expanded use of nuclear weapons, writing in his June 2000 paper Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century “it is often, but not universally, thought that nuclear weapons would only be used in extremis, when the nation is in the gravest danger…..This may not be true in the future.” (P. 2)

Although “deterrence” has been sold to the American taxpayer for decades as the rationale for nuclear weapons, in reality the U.S. (and Russian) arsenal is for nuclear war-fighting, as a 2013 top-level Pentagon document explicitly states:

“The new guidance requires the United States to maintain significant counterforce capabilities against potential adversaries. The new guidance does not rely on a “counter-value’ or “minimum deterrence” strategy.”

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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.

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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…

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