Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has given itself a Categorical Exclusion (CX) under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the removal, relocation, and examination of transuranic (TRU) waste drums at Waste Control Specialists (WCS). These drums are similar to the ones that forced WIPP to close in 2014. LANL officials decided that formal environmental assessments, with public input, of the movement of the possibly exploding waste drums are not needed.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has had two major wildland fires — the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 and the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. Each fire burned partially on Lab property within miles of several nuclear facilities. LANL’s wildfire prevention should be 100% in place and constantly updated. But a February 1, 2021, report by the DOE Inspector General found that activities designed to reduce the impact from wildland fire had not been fully implemented at LANL. The DOE-IG found that while the contractor, Triad, had identified fire risks, it had not completely implemented all measures to prevent serious fires.
In a recent report, the Department Of Energy’s Office of Inspector General (IG) found issues with the way Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) keeps track of controlled substances such as cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. The IG found that LANL staff had not managed controlled substances in accordance with applicable Federal laws and regulations.
The IG also found that LANL staff had mislabeled procurement records of these drugs, kept inaccurate inventories, and retained controlled substances well beyond the conclusion of experiments. The IG determined that Los Alamos did not have appropriate “processes, procedures, or controls in place to monitor, track, account for, and dispose of controlled substances.”
Comments to the Northern NM Citizens’ Advisory Board
By Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch NM, July 24, 2019
Tremendous progress requires overall improvement, not just at one spot. A recent Environmental Management Los Alamos (EMLA) press release claimed “tremendous progress” with regards to the chromium (Cr) plume. Media stories then did their job and generalized that everything about the plume was getting better. This is the kind of public relations’ language that does not help to further the discussion on these complex issues.
Over the last decade funding for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) nuclear weapons programs has increased 20%. However, funding for needed cleanup has remained flat at one-tenth of the almost $2 billion requested for nuclear weapons programs in FY 2020. Nuclear weapons funding is slated to keep climbing under the $1.7 trillion 30-year nuclear weapons “modernization” program begun under Obama. Trump is adding yet more money, and is accelerating the new arms race with Russia by adding two new types of nuclear weapons. Cleanup funding, on the other hand, is doomed to stay flat for the next two decades because the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) under Gov. Martinez gutted a 2005 “Consent Order” that would have forced the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL to get more money for cleanup.
The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup
Funding for nuclear weapons is still the priority at the Lab
- $1.7 trillion 30-year “modernization” program total current estimate across the nation
- LANL receives $2 billion annually for nuclear weapons work
Legacy Cleanup Program at LANL is getting started with new contractor
- Current cleanup estimate is $4.1 billion remaining to finish by 2036
- LANL cleanup has been receiving $195 to $220 million per year
Forum on June 14 in Aiken, SC on Expanded Production of Plutonium “Pits” – for Nuclear Weapons – to Give Voice to Concerns in Face of DOE’s Failure to Engage and Inform the Public about the Risky Proposal
Columbia, SC– The controversial proposal by the U.S. Department of Energy to expand production of plutonium “pits”- the core of all nuclear weapons – will be the subject of a public forum in Aiken, South Carolina on Friday, June 14, 2019. The event is free and open to all members of the public.
In response to DOE’s lack of public engagement about the proposal and its potential environmental and health impacts, three public interest groups that work on DOE and nuclear weapons issues have taken the initiative on the matter. The questionable proposal by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is to expand pit production at the Savannah River Site into the shuttered MOX plant – a totally new and unproven mission for SRS – and at the Los Alamos National Lab to 80 or more pits per year. Such pit production for new and “refurbished” nuclear weapons may help stimulate a new nuclear arms race. The vague proposal is far from finalized and is unauthorized and unfunded by Congress.
A new report illustrates why planned expanded plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos Lab has a high probability of failure.
Posted By Scott Kovac
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
More than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, all eight established nuclear weapons powers are “modernizing” their stockpiles. Talks have broken down with North Korea, the new nuclear weapons power. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan narrowly averted war last month. Russian President Vladmir Putin made new nuclear threats in response to Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This could lead to hair-trigger missile emplacements in the heart of Europe and block extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia. If so, the world will be without any nuclear arms control at all for the first time since 1972.
By Scott Kovac Los Alamos National Laboratory is first and foremost a nuclear weapons laboratory. The Department of Energy’s annual Congressional Budget Request for fiscal year 2020 shows that 71% of the Lab’s budget will go to nuclear weapons work if Mr. Trump has his way. While cleanup of Cold War wastes would be 7%. And electrical transmission research along with renewable energy and energy efficiency research were slashed to a mere 0.36% of the request for the Lab. As the country goes deeper in debt, we must let go of the old Cold War mentality and invest in our future.
By Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director
The White House released the top line numbers of its fiscal year 2020 Congressional budget request and, although there are some increases heading to New Mexico, they are not the increases that we’d like to see. It’s called – A Budget For a Better America, Promises Kept. Taxpayers First. but only Defense and Department of Energy (DOE) weapons contractors are going to think that anything is better. Meanwhile the rest of us taxpayers will, first and foremost, be looking at cuts to programs that affect us daily.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the landmark environmental law which requires executive agencies to give the public the opportunity to formally review and comment on major federal proposals. These talking points outline the history of the Department of Energy’s NEPA compliance on its various proposals concerning the production of plutonium pits (the fissile cores of nuclear weapons). The conclusion is that DOE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is legally required to prepare a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) on its current plan to expand plutonium pit production.
There are at least three reasons why NNSA must complete a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement for expanded plutonium pit production:
1) Implementing regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act stipulate that “DOE shall prepare a supplemental EIS if there are substantial changes to the proposal or significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns…” 10. C.F.R. § 1021.314
2) As precedence, since 1996 there have been five programmatic environmental impact statements related to pit production and its expansion. It is legally unlikely that NNSA could implement its current plan to expand plutonium pit production without a new supplemental PEIS.
3) Now that NNSA is planning to produce more than 50 pits per year (or more than 80 pits under multiple shift operations), it is obliged by the 1998 court order to prepare a new PEIS.
While Sandia, LANL, and Journal Statements Leave Many Questions
A January 15 Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) press release reviewed preliminary research from the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER). The research claimed that the “average annual total impact on economic output across New Mexico from 2015 to 2017 was $3.1 billion.” This implies that BBER estimates that LANL contributes an average of $3.1 billion a year to the state’s economy annually.
This $3.1B conclusion is based on unreleased data and pushes the boundaries of accepted economic theory. The authors or the title of the research are not given. No estimate of when the final report of this will be released is given. Is the research even complete? Will the results change? Has it been reviewed?
For Immediate Release
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
Nuclear Watch New Mexico – Santa Fe, NM
A United States District Court judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by Nuclear Watch New Mexico (NukeWatch) can move forward. The lawsuit is based on thirteen (13) violations of corrective actions Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) and the Department of Energy (DOE) failed to complete under a 2005 Consent Order governing cleanup that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) fought for under former Governor Bill Richardson.
Fines for failure to complete the corrective tasks are $37,000 per violation per day. Violations for failing to complete the tasks started as early as June 2014 and now total well over $300 million.
The judge in allowing the lawsuit on civil penalties to move forward stated that DOE/LANS had failed to show in their legal and factual analysis that violations were unlikely to recur.
Jon Block, representing NukeWatch as a staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said “We are gratified that the Court is allowing the lawsuit on civil penalties to move forward.”
In 2002, the NMED determined that decades of contamination at Los Alamos National Laboratory constituted an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” and sought to compel cleanup at the Lab. DOE/LANS counter-sued, and in 2005 the parties agreed to a Consent Order specifying that DOE/LANS would characterize the extent and nature of the contamination, assess alternatives for effective cleanup of the contamination, and implement cleanup. Gov. Martinez came into office in 2011, after which DOE/LANS compliance with the Consent Order effectively stopped.
NukeWatch filed its original complaint in May 2016, followed by an amended complaint in July 2016. That was in response to a June 2016 announcement by NMED and DOE/LANS that they had entered into a new Consent Order that rendered the 2005 Consent Order invalid.
The judge did grant DOE/LANS and NMED’s motions to dismiss that part of NukeWatch’s complaint asking for declaratory and injunctive relief (in general seeking to have the 2016 Consent Order declared invalid). However, the judge specifically noted that the revised 2016 Consent Order replaced enforceable goals in the 2005 Order with unenforceable goals.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch director, commented “Susana Martinez’ administration shamefully gave away the store to the Los Alamos Lab, forgiving hundreds of millions of dollars in potential penalties for clear violations of an enforceable cleanup order, at the very time when New Mexico was facing a serious budget crisis. We are very pleased that the issue of penalties can now go forward in court, which should bring some accountability toward achieving comprehensive Lab cleanup that would produce hundreds of high-paying jobs.”
See NukeWatch’s Amended Complaint here
See Judge Judith Herrera’s decision here
Jay Coghlan: Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Jon Block, Staff Attorney: New Mexico Environmental Law Center
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 backwards 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.
- Under Gov. Martinez, the revised 2016 Consent Order was a giveaway by NMED to DOE and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. As documented below, it is clearly the reverse of the 2005 Consent Order, whose underlying goal was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup.
The 2016 Consent Order was negotiated to allow DOE’s budget to drive cleanup, not what is needed to permanently protect our water.
- As late as 1996 LANL was claiming that groundwater contamination from its operations was impossible, even going so far as to request a waiver from NMED from having to monitor for contamination to begin with (which fortunately NMED denied).
- Since then, extensive groundwater contamination from chromium, perchlorates, high explosives and VOCs has been documented.
- As a harbinger of more to come, plutonium has been detected up to 240 feet below the surface of Area G, the Lab’s largest waste dump. See https://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/AGCME-Plate_B-3_radionuclides_subsurface.pdf
LANL plans to “cap and cover” some 200,000 cubic meters of toxic and radioactive wastes at Area G, creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts.
- Despite the threat to precious water resources, the revised 2016 Consent Order allows DOE to determine cleanup priorities based on its anticipated budget, which is the reverse of the original Consent Order.
- The new Consent Order allows LANL and DOE to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up. (See CO quotes below.)
- Shortly after the 2016 Consent Order went into effect, DOE took advantage of it by estimating a lifetime budget that projected a top range of $3.8 billion to clean up the Lab, while delaying completion to 2040. That works out to only around $150 million per year, when NMED is already on record that $250 million per year is needed. DOE is planning “cleanup” on the cheap.
- Worst of all, DOE claimed that only 5,000 cubic meters of mixed radioactive wastes need to be cleaned up, willfully ignoring the estimated 200,000 cubic meters in Area G alone. See https://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/LBC-Summary-Aug-2016.pdf, p. 3.
Whose interests were represented in the 2016 Consent Order? Not New Mexico’s!
- Shortly after the 2016 Consent Order went into effect, NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn displayed his true environmental colors by resigning to become the Executive Director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. The Association’s main purpose is to lobby on behalf of the oil and gas industry against environmental regulations.
- Before joining NMED, Mr. Flynn worked for a law firm that advertises that “Our representation of oil and gas producers, mid-stream entities, and natural gas pipelines has been a mainstay of Modrall Sperling’s natural resources practice since the early days of the firm.” Modrall Sperling has also defended LANL or LANS (LANL’s managing contractor) against environment regulations and labor complaints.
- In January 2017 Kathryn Roberts, the head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division and lead Consent Order negotiator, announced that she was leaving to work as a public communications specialist for Longenecker and Associates, a DOE contractor. Prior to working at NMED, Ms. Roberts worked at LANL for four years as Group Leader for Regulatory Support and Performance.
- At Longenecker Ms. Roberts joined Christine Gelles, its Corporate Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer. They know each other well, as Ms. Gelles was the former interim manager of the new DOE Environmental Management field office at the Los Alamos Lab. A Longenecker resume´ notes that Gelles “Led planning and initial regulatory interactions with New Mexico Environment Department negotiation of Los Alamos Consent Order.” She also led initial development of the LANL lifetime budget that will cheat New Mexico out of needed increased cleanup funding. See http://longenecker-associates.com/leadership/
- During the 2016 Consent Order negotiations, Ms. Roberts was one of Gelles’ main counterparts on the other side of the table as head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division. Now Gelles is one of her superiors at Longenecker, when the DOE contractor could possibly bid in the future on LANL cleanup.
- Section II.A of the 2016 Consent Order allowed the Lab to “settle any outstanding violations of the 2005 Consent Order.” Existing violations were then waived.
- NMED pre-emptively surrendered its regulatory and enforcement powers, when the state of New Mexico really needed the money!
- New Mexico could have collected more than $300 million in stipulated penalties had NMED vigorously enforced the 2005 Consent Order. At the time, New Mexico was facing a budget crisis with a projected $600 million deficit. In effect, NMED gave half of that deficit away to a polluting nuclear weapons site that has an annual budget of ~$2.4 billion and rising.
The 2005 Consent Order was all about the enforceable schedules.
- The 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 stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet. Ironically, the last milestone, due in December 2015, required a report from LANL on how it successfully cleaned up Area G, its largest waste dump.
Under Gov. Martinez, NMED extensions eviscerated the 2005 Consent Order.
- When NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn announced a draft new Consent Order on March 30, 2016, he publicly claimed that the 2005 Consent Order was not working, hence the need for a new one to replace it.
- Nuclear Watch agrees that the 2005 Consent Order wasn’t working, but that’s because Flynn granted more than 150 compliance milestone extensions at the Lab’s request, effectively eviscerating it. The 2005 Consent Order was working quite well until Gov. Martinez took office.
Some specific provisions in the 2016 Consent Order that put DOE in the drivers seat.
- “The Parties agree that DOE’s project’s plans and tools will be used to identify proposed milestones and targets.” See https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/LANL_Consent_Order_FINAL.pdf, p. 28.
- “DOE shall define the use of screening levels and cleanup levels at a site…” Ibid, p. 32.
- “DOE shall update the milestones and targets in Appendix B on an annual basis, accounting for such factors as… changes in anticipated funding levels.” Ibid, p. 29.
- “… [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…” Ibid, p. 30.
- “If attainment of established cleanup objectives is demonstrated to be technically infeasible, DOE may perform risk-based alternative cleanup objectives…” Ibid, p. 34. DOE can opt out because of “impracticability” or cost of cleanup. Ibid, p. 35.
- Altogether, these put the Department of Energy in the driver’s seat, not the New Mexico Environment Department, and create giant loopholes that threaten comprehensive cleanup at LANL. The 2016 Consent Order and therefore cleanup at LANL will be held hostage to DOE funding, when the Department’s own track record makes clear that its priority is expanded nuclear weapons production paid for in part by cutting cleanup and nonproliferation programs.
All future cleanup does not have cradle to grave enforceable deadlines.
- Under the 2016 Consent Order, all anticipated cleanup projects do not have scheduled, enforceable cleanup deadlines from the beginning to the end of the project. This will encourage a lack of accountability in LANL cleanup programs that are already slow, incomplete, and wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars.
- The 2016 Consent Order eliminates all the final deadlines for completing cleanup under the 2005 Consent Order, and replaces them with an open-ended and vague scheduling process, with highly limited enforcement opportunities.
- The 2005 Consent Order (Section XII) established dozens of detailed deadlines for the completion of corrective action tasks, including completion of investigations at individual sites, installation of groundwater monitoring wells, submittal of groundwater monitoring reports, evaluation of remedial alternatives for individual sites, and completion of final remedies. These deadlines were truly enforceable under Section III.G.
- The 2016 Consent Order abandons the 2005 Consent Order provisions and replaces them with a so-called “Campaign Approach” under Section VIII. Under Section VIII.A.3, it would be up to the DOE, not the regulator (i.e., NMED) to select the timing and scope of each “campaign.”
- “Campaigns” have enforceable cleanup deadlines for only the work scheduled for the current year, when cleanup takes many years. These campaigns are to be negotiated each year between NMED and DOE with no public participation and opportunity to comment on the schedule. To add insult to injury, the annual schedule is determined by funding at DOE’s discretion, rather than the schedule driving the funding, which was the fundamental driver of the 2005 Consent Order.
- All cleanup projects should have mandatory completion dates scheduled from the beginning, and must be fully enforceable. The 2016 Consent Order miserably fails that test.
The opportunity for a public hearing was not provided.
- Any extension of a final compliance date (which was December 6, 2015) under the 2005 Consent Order should have been implemented only after the opportunity for public comment and a public hearing, including formal testimony and cross-examination of witnesses.
- The Environment Department was legally required to follow these public participation requirements that were explicitly incorporated into the 2005 Consent Order, but did not.
Public participation provisions in the 2005 Consent Order were not incorporated into the 2016 Consent Order.
- The 2016 Consent Order explicitly limits public participation requirements that were incorporated into the 2005 Consent Order.
- All notices, milestones, targets, annual negotiations, and modifications should have had public review and comment and the opportunity for a public hearing, but did not.
Comprehensive cleanup at LANL would be a win-win for northern New Mexicans, permanently protecting the environment while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.
- When DOE wants to do something, it lowballs the cost. When DOE doesn’t want to do something, it highballs the cost. LANL has estimated that comprehensive cleanup of Area G would cost $29 billion. Using actual costs of cleaning up smaller dumps, Nuclear Watch has extrapolated that cleanup of Area G would cost $7 to 8 billion. See https://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Area_G_Comparison_Costs-11-14-12.pdf
- But of that $29 billion, DOE estimated that labor costs would be $13 billion. Applying that 45% proportion to Nuclear Watch’s estimate, that would be around $3.5 billion in jobs, jobs that northern New Mexico sorely needs.
- In contrast, the government’s own environmental impact statement for a $6.5 billion nuclear weapons facility for expanded plutonium pit production stated that it would not produce a single new lab job, because it would merely relocate existing lab jobs.
- Comprehensive cleanup at LANL would be a real job producer!
Rebecca Moss at the New Mexican has another hard charging article on safety lapses at the Los Alamos Lab. See “Lab might have known dangerous waste was unmarked” at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/lab-might-have-known-dangerous-waste-was-unmarked/article_19d37b31-219a-5620-954c-a62fa9620d2a.html
If the New Mexico Environment Department is claiming, as this article reports, that its revised Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a stronger enforcement tool than the original 2005 Consent Order, then it is being highly disingenuous (to put it politely).
Interested citizens should judge for themselves. The 2016 revised Consent Order is available at http://www.lanl.gov/environment/protection/compliance/order-on-consent.php
The revised Consent Order was a giveaway by NMED to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. It is 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.
The new Consent Order allows LANL and DOE to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up. Not long after the revised Consent Order went into effect, DOE took advantage by estimating a lifetime budget that projected a top range of $3.8 billion to clean up the Lab by 2040. That works out to only around $150 million per year, when NMED is already on record that $250 million per year is needed. Most egregious of all, DOE claimed that only 5,000 cubic meters of wastes needed to be cleaned up, purposively misleading the public and politicians by willfully ignoring the ~200,000 cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes known to be buried in LANL’s biggest dump alone.
Some of the highlights (or perhaps better put as lowlights) of the revised Consent Order are:
- “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 is held hostage to DOE’s budget.“… [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.
Given all this, how can NMED claim with a straight face that the 2016 revised Consent Order is a stronger enforcement tool? This is just more of the Martinez administration coddling the nuclear weapons industry in New Mexico. Indeed, NMED had the gall to give LANL more than 150 extensions to the original Consent Order, and then turned around and claimed the Consent Order was not working and replaced it with a toothless tiger. Furthermore, and this is telling, the main Consent Order negotiator for NMED left shortly after it was signed to go work for a DOE contractor!
New Mexicans should demand comprehensive, enforceable cleanup at the Lab, which would be a real win-win, permanently protecting our precious water resources while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.
Make no doubt about it, Los Alamos National Laboratory is a nuclear weapons research, development, and production facility. In this year’s FY18 Congressional Budget Request:
70% of the Lab’s budget is Nuclear Weapons Activities
11% is for Nuclear Nonproliferation
10% for ‘Work For Others’
.4% Nuclear Energy
This chart and the FY18 LANL Lab tables to back it up are here
From the Albuquerque Journal
New nuclear ‘pit’ production at LANL is unnecessary
By Jay Coghlan
Friday, July 21st, 2017 at 12:02am
SANTA FE, N.M. — The Center for Public Integrity recently published a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos lab that captured a lot of national attention.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons. The articles were largely based on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s annual contractor Performance Evaluation Reports. Those reports are publicly available only because Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued for them in 2012.
The former plutonium pit production site, the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, was shut down by a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes. A special grand jury indicted both Department of Energy (DOE) officials and the contractor, but a federal judge quashed the indictments at the urging of the local federal attorney general. It was only by sheer luck that a major plutonium fire on Mother’s Day 1969 didn’t contaminate Denver with highly carcinogenic plutonium.
I specifically recall senior DOE officials promising New Mexicans 20 years ago that serious lessons were learned from Rocky Flats and that re-established plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) would always be safe. Since then, the lab has spent billions of taxpayers’ money on plutonium pit production but, as the recent articles document, LANL still can’t do it safely.
As the articles reported, a serious nuclear criticality accident was narrowly averted in July 2011, which resulted in the three-year shutdown of LANL’s main plutonium facility. Nevertheless, according to the fiscal year 2011 LANL Performance Evaluation Report, the lab contractor was paid $50 million in pure profit for that year.
In 2014, a radioactive waste barrel improperly prepared by LANL ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), shutting down that multi-billion-dollar facility for nearly three years. Radioactive waste disposal at WIPP will remain constrained for years, raising the question of where future LANL bomb-making wastes will go.
Congress has required the Los Alamos lab to quadruple plutonium pit production, regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. The requirement was drafted by professional staff on the House Armed Services Committee, one of whom was originally from the Sandia nuclear weapons lab.
That the existing stockpile doesn’t need pit production is demonstrated by the fact that none has been scheduled since 2011 when LANL finished up the production run that was stopped when Rocky Flats was shut down.
At NukeWatch’s request, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) required an independent study of the lifetimes of pits. The expert conclusion was that plutonium pits last at least a century, more than double government estimates (the oldest pits in the stockpile are now around 45 years old). Moreover, there are some 20,000 existing plutonium pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.
Future plutonium pit production is for a new so-called “Interoperable Warhead” that is supposed to function both as a land-based ICBM and a sub-launched nuclear warhead. The nuclear weapons labs are pushing this $13 billion make-work project that the Navy doesn’t want.
Ironically, new-design pits for the Interoperable Warhead may hurt national security because they cannot be tested in a full-scale nuclear weapons test or, alternatively, testing them would have severe international proliferation consequences.
Given all this, why expand plutonium pit production when apparently it can’t be done safely and may decrease, not increase, our national security? One strong reason is the huge contractor profits to be had under the $1 trillion-plus “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile and production complex started under Obama, which Trump promises to expand. Far from just “modernization,” existing nuclear weapons are being given new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government.
The directors of the Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs in truth wear two hats – the first as lab directors, the second as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations running the labs. This inherent conflict of interest skews U.S. nuclear weapons policy and should be brought to an end.
The New Mexico congressional delegation kowtows to the nuclear weapons industry in our state. I specifically call upon Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to certify within this calendar year that future plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab will be safe, or otherwise end their support for it.
Jay Coghlan is the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
Check out our new Nuclear New Mexico map.
There’s more information here on all of these sites.
Nuclear Watch NM Press Release
For immediate release: January 17, 2017
Contact: Jay Coghlan, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org
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.
In her 2012 State of the State speech Gov. Martinez said, “My appointees are barred from lobbying state government for 2 years after serving in my administration.” Yet in August 2016 the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Mr. Ryan Flynn, resigned to become the Executive Director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, whose main purpose is to lobby on behalf of the oil and gas industry against environmental regulations. Before joining NMED, Mr. Flynn worked for a law firm that advertises that “Our representation of oil and gas producers, mid-stream entities, and natural gas pipelines has been a mainstay of Modrall Sperling’s natural resources practice since the early days of the firm.” Modrall Sperling lawyers were very active in the NM Oil and Gas Association’s opposition to the so-called “pit rule” that sought to prevent oil and gas drilling mud waste from leaching into and contaminating groundwater. In June 2013 the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission, appointed by Gov. Martinez, eviscerated the pit rule.
Similarly, Martinez and Flynn promulgated new groundwater protection rules that for the first time in the country actually allows groundwater contamination if it doesn’t migrate past the footprint of the operating site. This is the so-called Copper Rule, drafted by the copper mining giant Freeport-McMoRan (which is also a Modrell Sperling law firm client).
On January 13, 2017 Kathryn Roberts, the head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division, announced that she was leaving the Environment Department to accept an unnamed job in Alamogordo. Before NMED she worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for four years as Group Leader for Regulatory Support and Performance (of “cleanup”). Upon information and belief, she will work as a public communications specialist for Longenecker and Associates, a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor that proposes to drill deep boreholes to test the disposal of high-level nuclear waste near Alamogordo.
This is part of the continuing targeting of New Mexico as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Longenecker and Associates have participated in Sandia Labs studies of deep borehole high-level waste disposal. Of interest are some relatively recent new hires by Longenecker, including Don Cook, a longtime Sandia Labs scientist, past manager of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom, and most recently the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs (i.e., nuclear weapons) at the National Nuclear Security Administration. As such, he was essentially the head of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs.
Also new to Longenecker and Associates as Corporate Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer is Christine Gelles, former interim manager of the new DOE Environmental Management field office at Los Alamos. A Longenecker resume´ notes that Gelles “Led planning and initial regulatory interactions with New Mexico Environment Department negotiation of Los Alamos Consent Order.” Ms. Roberts would have been one of Gelles’ counterparts on the other side of the table as head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division.
An original 2005 Consent Order negotiated between NMED and DOE was meant to compel comprehensive cleanup at LANL and force the Energy Department to increase cleanup funding. The new Consent Order, likely negotiated at least in part between Gelles and Roberts, contains giant loopholes whereby DOE can get out of cleanup by simply claiming that is too difficult or too costly. In fact, since the new Consent Order went into effect in June 2016, 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 LANL will cost $2.9 to $3.8 billion through fiscal year 2035, averaging $153 million per year, which is ridiculously low. 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, posing a permanent threat to groundwater. DOE’s cost estimate for future LANL cleanup assumes flat funding out to FY 2035, and notes how that cost is “Aligned to [the] 2016 Consent Order.” This is a distinct and very unfortunate break from the 2005 Consent Order.
Particularly galling is the fact that under Gov. Martinez and ex-Secretary Ryan Flynn the New Mexico Environment Department granted more than 150 milestone extensions to the 2005 Consent Order, and then turned around and said that the Consent Order wasn’t working. From a budget perspective, New Mexico could have collected more than $300 million in stipulated penalties, more than four times the state’s projected budget deficit, had NMED vigorously enforced the 2005 Consent Order.
[For more, see here]
All of this is part of a pattern where the Martinez Administration has coddled the nuclear weapons industry even as that industry is cutting cleanup funding and ramping up nuclear weapons production that caused the mess to begin with. Gov. Martinez and ex-NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn have touted what they call an historic $74 million settlement that New Mexico and DOE reached after a radioactive waste barrel that LANL improperly treated ruptured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), contaminating 21 workers and closing down that multi-billion dollar facility for nearly three years. What was left unsaid is that DOE was already responsible for the supermajority of “Special Environmental Projects” that were agreed to in lieu of penalties and fines that could helped solved New Mexico’s budgets woes, even though state and federal policy on those projects both require that the regulatory agency collect a significant monetary penalty.
Not one penny went to New Mexico, while DOE was “obliged” to, for example, repave roads at WIPP and LANL that it uses to transport the radioactive bomb waste that it produces. To add insult to injury, NMED agreed to waive penalties for all future, unknown violations – no matter the severity or length – as long as there is corrective action of any sort at some undefined time. Also included in this give-away was an obligation by NMED to negotiate modifications to the 2005 Consent Order (now completed to New Mexico’s disadvantage), and to forego penalties that could have been assessed against DOE under it.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “It seems that the Environment Department under Gov. Martinez is in the business of protecting business against environmentalists. The legislature should hold their feet to the fire so that New Mexicans have a real environment department that protects our precious water resources and creates jobs doing so.”
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Nuclear Watch New Mexico has amended its federal lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) that alleges twelve violations of a 2005 Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Those violations could result in potential penalties of more than $300 million dollars that would go to the state, if only the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) were to enforce them.
Nuclear Watch now asks the court to declare the new 2016 Consent Order to be invalid because the requirement for the opportunity of a public hearing was not met.
NMED intervened in the case on June 23, 2016. The next day, NMED and DOE signed the 2016 Consent Order after a 60-day comment period, during which over 40 citizens, nonprofit organizations, public officials, and two Pueblos provided comments. Lack of enforceability and lack of concrete long-term schedules were common major foci of the comments. Despite that, “No change” without any further explanation was NMED’s overwhelming response to specific public comments as the two agencies moved from the draft to final Consent Order.
The finalized new Consent Order surrenders enforceability by creating a giant loophole where DOE and LANL can avoid cleanup by claiming that it is either too expensive or impractical. This is clearly the opposite of what is needed, when nuclear weapons research and production programs that caused the mess to begin with are receiving increased taxpayer funding, while cleanup programs are being cut.
In addition, NMED’s new Consent Order explicitly absolves DOE and LANS of past violations. In response, Nuclear Watch has added to its lawsuit this request for declaratory judgment by the court that DOE and NMED violated the public’s right for the opportunity of a formal hearing, explicitly required by the 2005 Consent Order.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Research Director, noted, “We will not let the public’s right for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab be papered over by DOE and NMED. Both agencies agreed to all parts of the 2005 Consent Order, which included rigorous public participation requirements and a detailed the cleanup schedule, including a final compliance date. We will continue to push for the public to have a true voice in these important matters. ”
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Attorney John E. Stroud are representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce timely cleanup at LANL.
NMED’s Final Consent Order and the “response” to comments matrix are available here
Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s original lawsuit complaint is available here
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
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.
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- 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.
Please join us for an informal public meeting Tuesday, May 24 at 6pm.
Main Library Community Room, 145 Washington Ave, Santa Fe, NM
Please remember that no refreshments are allowed at the Library.
See you there!
Los Alamos Cleanup at the Crossroads
A Discussion on the Future of Cleanup at Los Alamos
We have opportunities to take new directions
How do we get to the Northern New Mexico we want leave for future generations?
Learn how your input can help make better cleanup decisions at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Join us for a
Public Meeting: Tuesday May 24, 2016, 6 – 7:30pm
Main Library Community Room, 145 Washington Ave, Santa Fe
Topics to be Addressed
Los Alamos Cleanup Order
- For “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy Cold War wastes
- The 10-year trip since the original Consent Order was signed in 2005
- New “Consent Order” Proposed by the NM Environment Department
- Proposed changes from the existing
- What can be improved?
- Who is in the driver’s seat?
- Just along for the ride, or will the public have real input?
- Public comments due May 31
Department of Energy’s new Environmental Management at Los Alamos
- Cleanup work no longer under nuclear weapons work
- Looking for a new contractor
- Can cleanup accelerate?
Nuclear Watch’s lawsuit
- Alleging violations of the 2005 Consent Order
Questions, answers, and discussion
- What’s on your mind
- Your comments are important
Brought to you by Nuclear Watch New Mexico
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.
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Chuck Montaño’s book Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths
is available at www.losalamosdiary.com