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.
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. Continue reading
The study in question came about because Marylia Kelley, of Tri-Valley CARES, and NukeWatch’s Director, Jay Coghlan, suggested to congressional staff that it be done. But they wanted to ask independent scientists (the JASONs) to do it – instead just NNSA did it. And NNSA dodged the central congressional requirement to compare the benefits and costs of the Interoperable Warhead vs a “conventional” life extension program for the Air Force’s W78 ICBM warhead. NNSA simply said a conventional life extension program would not meet military requirements and therefore summarily dismissed it (no further explanation). Marylia and Jay had the opportunity to discuss this with the relevant congressional staffer who said this ain’t over.
NNSA Has Taken Steps to Prepare to Restart a Program to Replace the W78 Warhead Capability
GAO-19-84: Published: Nov 30, 2018. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2018.
The National Nuclear Security Administration is preparing to restart a program to replace the W78 nuclear warhead, which is used in Air Force intercontinental ballistic missiles. The goal is to produce the first W78 replacement warhead in fiscal year 2030. Pending further study, this replacement warhead may also be used in Navy submarine launched ballistic missiles.
Today the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced:
To achieve DoD’s [the Defense Department] 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This two-prong approach – with at least 50 pits per year produced at Savannah River and at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos – is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking.
First, in Nuclear Watch’s view, this decision is in large part a political decision, designed to keep the congressional delegations of both New Mexico and South Carolina happy. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are adamantly against relocating plutonium pit production to South Carolina. On the other hand, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was keeping the boondoggle Mixed Oxide (MOX) program on life support, and this pit production decision may help to mollify him. This could also perhaps help assuage the State of South Carolina, which is suing the Department of Energy for failing to remove plutonium from the Savannah River Site as promised.
But as important is what is NOT in NNSA’s plutonium pit production decision:
• 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 avoided pointing out that expanded plutonium pit production is NOT needed to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, no production of plutonium pits for the existing stockpile has been scheduled since 2011, and none is scheduled for the future.
• NNSA did not mention that in 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century. Plutonium pits in the existing stockpile now average around 40 years old. The independent expert study did not find any end date for reliable pit lifetimes, indicating that plutonium pits could last far beyond just a century.
• 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 immense inventory of already existing plutonium pits.
• Related, 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 did not make clear that expanded plutonium pit production is for a series of speculative future “Interoperable Warheads.” The first IW is meant to replace nuclear warheads for both the Air Force’s land-based and the Navy’s sub-launched ballistic missiles. The Obama Administration delayed “IW-1” because the Navy does not support it. However, the Trump Administration is restarting it, with annual funding ballooning to $448 million by 2023, and “IW-2” starting in that same year. Altogether the three planned Interoperable Warheads will cost at least $40 billion, despite the fact that the Navy doesn’t support them.
• NNSA’s expanded plutonium pit production decision did not mention that exact replicas of existing pits will NOT be produced. The agency has selected the W87 pit for the Interoperable Warhead, but its FY 2019 budget request repeatedly states that the pits will actually be “W87-like.” This could have serious potential consequences because any major modifications to plutonium pits cannot be full-scale tested, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to return to nuclear weapons testing, which would have severe international proliferation consequences.
• The State of South Carolina is already suing the Department of Energy for its failure to begin removing the many tons of plutonium at the Savannah River Site (SRS). NNSA’s pit production decision will not solve that problem, even as it will likely bring more plutonium to SRS.
• The independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has expressed strong concerns about the safety of plutonium operations at both the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) LANL and SRS, particularly regarding potential nuclear criticality incidents. NNSA did not address those safety concerns in its plutonium pit production decision.
• Politicians in both New Mexico and South Carolina trumpet how many jobs expanded plutonium pit production will create. Yet NNSA’s expanded plutonium pit production decision does not have any solid data on jobs produced. One indicator that job creation will be limited is that the environmental impact statement for a canceled $6 billion plutonium facility at LANL stated that it would not produce a single new Lab job because it would merely relocate existing jobs. Concerning SRS, it is doubtful that pit production could fully replace the jobs lost as the MOX program dies a slow death. In any event, there certainly won’t be any data on the greater job creation that cleanup and renewable energy programs would create. Funding for those programs is being cut or held flat, in part to help pay for nuclear weapons programs.
• Finally, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that major federal proposals be subject to public review and comment before a formal decision is made. NNSA’s decision does not mention its NEPA obligations at all. In 1996 plutonium pit production was capped at 20 pits per year in a nation-wide Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). NNSA failed to raise that production limit in any subsequent NEPA process, despite repeated attempts. Arguably a decision to produce 80 pits or more per year requires a new or supplemental nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement to raise the production limit, which the new dual-site decision would strongly augment. This then should be followed by whatever site-specific NEPA documents might be necessary.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “NNSA has already tried four times to expand plutonium pit production, only to be defeated by citizen opposition and its own cost overruns and incompetence. But we realize that this fifth attempt is the most serious. However, we remain confident it too will fall apart, because of its enormous financial and environmental costs and the fact that expanded plutonium pit production is simply not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production decision is really all about.”
# # #
 See 2012 Navy memo demonstrating its lack of support for the Interoperable Warhead at https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.
 For example, see Safety concerns plague key sites proposed for nuclear bomb production, Patrick Malone, Center for Public Integrity, May 2, 2108, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/05/02/safety-concerns-nuclear-bomb-manufacture-sites/572697002/
Testimony Calls Out Continued DOE Cost Estimating Mismanagement
Given that DOE has challenges estimating almost all large projects, taxpayers must push to spend on cleanup first. Both nuclear weapons and environmental management estimates keep increasing. We can keep spending on dangerous nuclear weapons that we don’t need, or we can finally focus on cleaning up the Cold War mess.
Since the end of the Cold War, it is claimed that much of the nuclear weapons production infrastructure has become outdated, prompting congressional and executive branch decision makers to call on DOE to develop plans to modernize. The Department of Defense’s (DOD) 2010 Nuclear Posture Review identified long-term modernization wishes and alleged requirements. In January 2017, the President directed the Secretary of Defense to initiate a new Nuclear Posture Review to meet the Administration’s vision. This review was released in February 2018.
GAO has found that NNSA’s estimates of funding needed for its modernization plans exceeded the budgetary projections included in the President’s own modernization budgets. And the costs of some major modernization programs—such as for nuclear weapon Life Extension Programs (LEPs) — may also increase and further bust future modernization budgets.
The LEPs facing potential cost increases include:
B61-12 LEP. An independent cost estimate for the program completed in October 2016 exceeded the program’s self-conducted cost estimate from June 2016 by $2.6 billion.
W80-4 LEP. Officials from NNSA’s Office of Cost Policy and Analysis told us that this program may be underfunded by at least $1 billion to meet the program’s existing schedule
W88 Alteration 370. According to officials from NNSA’s Office of Cost Policy and Analysis, this program’s expanded scope of work may result in about $1 billion in additional costs.
EM is responsible for decontaminating and decommissioning nuclear facilities and sites that are contaminated from decades of nuclear weapons production and nuclear energy research. In February 2017, GAO reported that, since its inception in 1989, EM has spent over $164 billion on cleanup efforts, which include retrieving, treating, and disposing of nuclear waste.
GAO found that the federal government’s environmental liability has been growing for the past 20 years—and is likely to continue to increase—and that DOE is responsible for over 80 percent ($372 billion) of the nearly $450 billion reported environmental liability. Notably, this estimate does not reflect all of the future cleanup responsibilities that DOE may face.
As NNSA works to modernize the nuclear weapons complex, EM is addressing the legacy of 70 years of nuclear weapons production. These activities generated large amounts of radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel, excess plutonium and uranium, and contaminated soil and groundwater. They also contaminated thousands of sites and facilities, including land, buildings, and other structures and their systems and equipment. Various federal laws, agreements with states (including New Mexico), and court decisions require the federal government to clean up environmental hazards at federal sites and facilities, such as nuclear weapons production facilities. For years, GAO and others have reported on shortcomings in DOE’s approach to addressing its environmental liabilities, including incomplete data on the extent of cleanup needed.
EM has some budget issues, too.
Examples of costs that DOE cannot yet estimate include the following:
DOE has not yet developed a cleanup plan or cost estimate for the Nevada National Security Site and, as a result, the cost of future cleanup of this site was not included in DOE’s fiscal year 2015 reported environmental liability. The nearly 1,400-square-mile site has been used for hundreds of nuclear weapons tests since 1951. These activities have resulted in more than 45 million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the site. According to DOE’s financial statement, since DOE is not yet required to establish a plan to clean up the site, the costs for this work are excluded from DOE’s annually reported environmental liability.
DOE’s reported environmental liability includes an estimate for the cost of a permanent nuclear waste repository, but these estimates are highly uncertain and likely to increase. In March 2015, in response to the termination of the Yucca Mountain repository program, DOE proposed separate repositories for defense high-level and commercial waste. In January 2017, we reported that the cost estimate for DOE’s new approach excluded the costs and time frames for site selection and site characterization.
“Gateway Drug to Nuclear War” Feeds More Nuke Addiction
The Trump Administration’s high policy document, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released February 2, includes recommendations for the deployment of lower yield, “more usable” nuclear warheads. This will only feed the US addiction to nukes.
So while the [NPR’s] recommendations won’t necessarily be a surprise, what is less public is the bitter battle during its drafting that pitted senior Army and Navy warriors against nuclear wonks inside the Defense Department. That fight—over the exorbitant costs associated with the NPR, and charges that it could make nuclear war more likely—are bound to continue through implementation.
“It’s one thing to write a policy,” a senior Pentagon civilian privy to the NPR fight told The American Conservative, “and it’s another thing to have it implemented. What the NPR is recommending will break the bank, and a lot of people around here are worried that making nuclear weapons more usable isn’t what we should be doing. The conventional military guys have dug in their heels, they’re dead-set against it. This battle isn’t over.”
In effect, the congressionally mandated review calls for the U.S. to deploy two new types of lower yield nuclear warheads, generally defined as nuclear bombs below a five kiloton range (the one dropped on Hiroshima was 20 kilotons), that could be fitted onto a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and one, yet to be developed, that would be fitted onto a submarine-launched cruise missile. Additionally, the NPR calls for “recapitalizing” the complex of nuclear laboratories and plants, which, taken together with the proposed modernization program of the U.S. nuclear arsenal (the “triad”), will almost certainly cost in excess of the estimated price tag of $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years.
The article continues that Army and Navy officers worry that senior administration officials would promote massive new funding initiatives at the expense of badly needed funding for conventional military readiness. They also worry, more urgently, that the administration would put the nation on the slippery slope to nuclear escalation.
NukeWatch’s bottom line: Addiction to nukes is a potentially world-ending problem.
Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review goes in the opposite direction of meeting our long-term need to eliminate the one class of weapons of mass destruction that can truly destroy our country. It will instead set back nonproliferation and arms control efforts across the globe, and further hollow out our country by diverting yet more huge sums of money to the usual fat defense contractors at the expense of public education, environmental protection, natural disaster recovery, etc. Under the Trump Administration, expect Medicare and Social Security to be attacked to help pay for a false sense of military security. Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review is part and parcel of that.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Please help support NukeWatch.
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, which it summarized as:
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.
To put this in perspective, the Congressional Research Service has estimated the total post-9.11 costs of the “Global War on Terrorism” at $1 trillion and all of World War II at $4 trillion. It is also roughly the same amount that the Trump Administration is beginning to push for in questionable missile defense technologies and tax cuts for the already rich, adding to uncertainties how the average American taxpayer can afford it.
Expanded U.S. nuclear capabilities under the rubric of “modernization” include:
The wholesale rebuilding of the Department of Energy’s production complex for nuclear weapons, with new and/or upgraded manufacturing plants for nonnuclear, plutonium and highly enriched uranium components expected to be operational until ~2080;
Completely new intercontinental ballistic missiles, destabilizing cruise missiles, heavy bombers and submarines to deliver the rebuilt nuclear weapons.
Driving this astronomical expense is the fact that instead of maintaining just the few hundred warheads needed for the publicly claimed policy of “deterrence,” thousands of warheads are being refurbished and improved to fight a potential nuclear war. This is the little known but explicit policy of the U.S. government. As a top-level 2013 Defense Department policy document put it, “The new guidance [in Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review] 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.”
A new Nuclear Posture Review under President Trump is currently scheduled for release in Spring 2018. Among other things, it is expected to overturn the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review’s prohibition against new-design nuclear weapons, possibly promoting more usable “mini-nukes”, and to shorten the lead-time necessary to resume full-scale nuclear weapons testing.
Nuclear weapons “modernization” is a Trojan horse for the indefinite preservation and improvement of the US nuclear weapons arsenal, contrary to the 1970 Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty and the nuclear weapons ban treaty passed this last June by 122 nations at the United Nations (for which the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). Contrary to those treaties, all eight existing nuclear weapons powers are modernizing their nuclear stockpiles, while the newest ninth power North Korea is engaged in heated, bellicose rhetoric with President Trump. But clearly the astronomical expense of US nuclear weapons modernization is not needed to deal with North Korea.
Ironically, “modernization” may actually undermine national security because the nuclear weapons labs (Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia) are pushing radically new weapons designs that can’t be full-scale tested, or, alternatively, if they were to be tested would have severe international proliferation consequences. The most prudent way to maintain stockpile safety and reliability would be to hew to the extensively tested pedigree of the existing stockpile while performing rigorous surveillance and well proven methods of maintenance, including the routine exchange of limited life components. As a 1993 Stockpile Life Study by the Sandia Labs concluded:
It is clear that, although nuclear weapons age, they do not wear out; they last as long as the nuclear weapons community (DOE and DOD) desires. In fact, we can find no example of a nuclear weapons retirement where age was ever a major factor in the retirement decision. (Parenthesis in the original.)
Nevertheless, under nuclear weapons “modernization” the labs are pushing so-called Interoperable Warheads for both land and sub-launched ballistic missiles that will combine elements of three different warheads into a new untested design. The Los Alamos Lab is now tooling up to produce new plutonium pits for those warheads, which will not be exact replicas, thus introducing uncertainties into performance reliability. To compound the irony, the US Navy doesn’t even want the Interoperable Warhead (see https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.pdf and http://seapowermagazine.org/stories/20170525-IW.html).
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Director, commented, “The American public is being sold a bill of goods in so-called nuclear weapons modernization, which will fleece the taxpayer, enrich the usual giant defense contractors, and ultimately degrade national security. Inevitably this won’t be the last major price increase, when the taxpayer’s money could be better invested in universal health care, natural disaster recovery, and cleanup of the Cold War legacy wastes. Nuclear weapons programs should be cut while relying on proven methods to maintain our stockpile as we work toward a future world free of nuclear weapons. That is what would bring us real security.”
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.
Here’s a breakdown of nuclear weapons costs. The average is $34 billion per year.
DOD and DOE are undertaking an extensive effort to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. This effort is expected to take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Congress requires submission of an annual report to congressional committees on DOD’s and DOE’s plans for related matters and includes a provision that GAO review aspects of that joint report. GAO has previously recommended that future joint reports provide more thorough documentation of methodologies and context for significant changes from year to year.
GAO analyzed the departments’ internal plans and budget estimates for sustaining and modernizing the nuclear deterrent and interviewed DOD and DOE officials. The fiscal year 2017 joint report continues to omit explicit information about all assumptions and limitations in DOD’s and DOE’s methodologies and reasons for year-to-year programmatic changes in some estimates—information that could improve transparency for decision makers in Congress.
Public Interest Organizations File Lawsuit Against New Nuclear Bomb Plant
July 20, 2017
Contact: Jay Coghlan, NWNM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org
Washington, DC – Today, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit to stop construction of the problem-plagued Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) until legally required environmental review is completed. The UPF, located at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Y-12 production plant near Oak Ridge, TN, is slated to produce new thermonuclear weapons components until the year 2080. The UPF is the tip of the spear for the U.S.’s planned one trillion dollar-plus make over of its nuclear weapons arsenal, delivery systems, and production plants.
“The story of this new bomb plant is a long tale of outrageous waste and mismanagement, false starts and re-dos, a federal agency that refuses to meet its legal obligation to engage the public, and a Senator that is bent on protecting this piece of prime nuclear pork for his home state,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA. “But the short version is this: when the NNSA made dramatic changes to the UPF, and admitted that it intends to continue to operate dangerous, already contaminated facilities for another twenty or thirty years, they ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act. Our complaint demands that the NNSA complete a supplemental environmental impact statement on the latest iteration of its flawed plans.”
The NNSA first issued a formal “Record of Decision” to build the UPF in 2011. Within a year, the agency had to admit it had made a half-billion dollar mistake because the designed footprint of the bomb plant was not big enough to hold all of the required equipment and safety features. The American taxpayer had to eat that half billion dollars, as the NNSA held no contractor responsible for it. The agency’s parent organization, the Department of Energy, has been on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List for project mismanagement and chronic cost overruns for 26 consecutive years.
More recently, the House FY 2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations report noted that the NNSA had to reprogram $403 million out of the UPF’s $1.4 billion contingency fund to address “unforeseen issues” before ground is even broken. Both the NNSA and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-TN, chair of Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee) have repeatedly claimed that UPF construction will not exceed $6.5 billion. That declared budget cap seems increasingly uncertain, which could have serious negative political consequences for the troubled facility.
The UPF started with an original estimated price tag of between $600 million to $1 billion in 2006. In December 2013 an independent cost assessment by the Department of Defense pegged the UPF at more than $19 billion, which stopped the project dead in its tracks and compelled NNSA to develop a new approach. The agency commissioned a “Red Team” to perform a quick, secret study, whose recommendation was eventually adopted. In July 2016, the NNSA published an Amended Record of Decision in the Federal Register describing its new plan.
“It was a dramatic change,” commented Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Instead of consolidating all enriched uranium operations into one big, new UPF, NNSA decided to build multiple smaller but integrated buildings, only one of which would be designed to modern seismic standards. More importantly, the agency declared it would continue to indefinitely use deteriorating, already contaminated facilities for dangerous highly enriched uranium operations, while admitting that the buildings can not meet current environmental and seismic standards.”
The National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to revisit any environmental analysis when its plan undergoes significant changes that might impact the environment, or when new information comes to light. It also requires public involvement throughout the process. “NEPA’s fundamental purposes are to ensure that agencies take a hard look at consequences before taking action and to ensure that the public has a voice in agency decisions,” said William Lawton, an attorney working on the case at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, LLP. “Here, the NNSA has chosen to save money by continuing to rely on outdated, deteriorating buildings that run a very real risk of collapsing and releasing nuclear contamination in the event of an earthquake. The agency is putting the public at risk, and the public has a right to make sure that the government has taken the legally required hard look at those serious risks.”
“Since 2011, despite our repeated efforts to get information, including filing Freedom of Information Act requests, visiting DOE offices, asking officials for information and writing hundreds of letters, we have been shut out of the process completely,” noted OREPA’s Hutchison. “When we saw the final document, admitting that they were going to continue to use dangerous risky facilities without bringing them up to code, we realized why the NNSA was so determined not to make its plan public.”
Coghlan noted that the NNSA faced a similar scenario several years ago at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico when plans for a huge new plutonium pit fabrication facility were substantially changed. “We told NNSA they had to complete more public review, and the agency wisely decided to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement,” he said. “The proposed changes to the UPF are even more dramatic, and we are invoking that precedent to demand that NNSA follow the law.”
The Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Natural Resources Defense Council have engaged the well-respected public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein and Eubanks, LLP, located in Washington, DC, to represent them in the litigation.
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance is an 1,800 member grassroots public interest group that has focused on nuclear weapons and environmental issues at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation since 1988.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been watchdogging Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities in New Mexico and across the NNSA’s nuclear weapons complex since 1999.
The Natural Resources Defense Council combines the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.
Nuclear Watch NM Amends LANL Cleanup Lawsuit – Claims New Consent Order To Be Invalid
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.
HISTORIC 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF ATOMIC BOMBING OF HIROSHIMA, NAGASAKI: Major Protests at U.S. Warhead Facilities Across the Nation Unite to Decry Trillion Dollar Plan for New U.S. Nuclear Weapons; Advocate Disarmament
A thousand or more peace advocates, Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors), religious leaders, scientists, economists, attorneys, doctors and nurses, nuclear analysts, former war planners and others across the country are coming together to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this August 6 through 9 at key sites in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
Major commemorations, rallies, protests and/or nonviolent direct actions will place at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in CA, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in NM, the Kansas City Plant in MO, the Y-12 Plant in TN, the Rocky Flats Plant in CO, the Pantex Plant in TX, and in GA near the Savannah River Site. These events are united by their reflection on the past, and, uniquely, their focus on the present and future with a resolute determination to change U.S. nuclear weapons policy at the very locations that are linchpins in producing the new trillion dollar stockpile of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.
“We stand on the brink of a new, global nuclear arms race,” noted Ralph Hutchison, the longstanding coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. “This is epitomized by government plans for a new Uranium Processing Facility to produce H-bomb components at Y-12, including for new-design weapons.”
“U.S. plans to ‘modernize’ the arsenal are also underway at Livermore Lab,” stated Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs’ executive director. “A new Long-Range Stand Off warhead design and the start of plutonium shots in the Lab’s National Ignition Facility reveal two facets of this new arms race,” Kelley continued. “In contrast to the cold war, which was largely about sheer numbers, the new arms race and its dangers stem from novel military capabilities now being placed into nuclear weapons.”
Around the world, pressure for the U.S. to show leadership toward the abolition of nuclear weapons is growing. Pope Francis has repeatedly pressed the moral argument against nuclear weapons, inveighing not only against their use but also against their possession. In the wake of the successful Iran agreement, many are suggesting that since it has been settled that it would never be legitimate for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, shouldn’t we also agree that the 16,000 nuclear weapons in existence have no legitimacy either. Moreover, 113 governments recently signed the “Humanitarian Pledge,” circulated by Austria, to press the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states to fulfill their disarmament obligations.
Actions this week at U.S. nuclear weapons facilities will highlight the mounting international calls for nuclear abolition, with U.S. organizers lending their deep and often unique “on the ground” knowledge from the gates and fence lines of the facilities involved in creating new and modified U.S. nuclear weapons. “This 70th anniversary should be a time to reflect on the absolute horror of a nuclear detonation,” mused Ann Suellentrop of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Kansas City, “yet the new Kansas City Plant is churning out components to extend U.S. nuclear weapons 70 years into the future. The imperative to change that future is what motivates me to organize a peace fast at the gates of the Plant.”
These and other Hiroshima events and actions at sites in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex are being led by organizations that are members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, which represents about three dozen groups. More about ANA can be found at www.ananuclear.org <http://www.ananuclear.org> .
The Administration releases its Congressional Budget Request this Monday, February 2, 2015.
Questions for the U.S. Department of Energy FY 2016 Nuclear Weapons and Cleanup Budget Request
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
A national network of organizations working to address issues of nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup
The US nuclear weapons budget continues to spiral out of control. Look for double-digit increases in Department of Energy (DOE) weapons activities. Core nonproliferation programs will be cut because of funding for mixed-oxide fuel. Cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal will fall further behind. The DOE budget for FY 2016 will illuminate the Obama Administration’s misplaced nuclear priorities.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 28-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear sites, will be looking at the following issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Advisory.
— Does the budget request boost funding for “modernization” programs that indefinitely maintain nuclear warheads? Such funding is contrary to the Obama Administration’s previously declared goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.
— Does the budget reflect the Administration’s commitment to reduce funding (currently $335 million) on the multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge by downsizing it to the capacity needed to support stockpile surveillance, maintenance and limited life extension?
— Does the budget increase funds for nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity? Will cooperative programs with Russia be maintained?
— Is there increased funding for expanded production of plutonium bomb cores? Why is expanded production needed when expert studies find that existing plutonium pits are durable?
— Is more than $300 million provided for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore Lab that has repeatedly failed to achieve “ignition”? What is the funding level for uncontained plutonium shots although they will taint the NIF target chamber and optics with alpha radiation?
— Does the budget seek an increase for the B61 Life Extension Program (currently $643 million)?
— As DOE affirms that the $30-billion plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the Savannah River Site is financially unsustainable, is the MOX plant construction again proposed for “cold standby” (~$200 million) or a level to barely allow it to survive (~300+ million)? Does the budget include the current validated base-line cost of MOX plant, a validated construction and operation schedule and names of nuclear utilities willing to use experimental MOX fuel?
— Does the budget include $0 for Yucca Mountain? No funding is consistent with past requests that terminate this technically flawed site that is strongly opposed by Nevada state officials and the public.
— Does the budget provide additional Environmental Management (EM) funding (currently $5 billion) to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars.
– How will DOE and its contractors pay fines for missing milestones? In the past three months, the states of New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington have issued fines of tens of millions of dollars, and fines loom in South Carolina. In which other states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones?
— What is the high range for total life-cycle cleanup costs (LCC) for EM sites? Because of funding shortfalls, High Range LCC costs have increased from $308.5 billion in the FY 2013 Budget Request, to $330.9 billion in the FY 2014 Request, and were $328.4 billion in the FY 2015 Request.
— How much does the budget include for the shut down of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)? How much is for recovery and how much for waste emplacement (previously $220 million a year) even though no waste is being emplaced? How much additional funding is requested for the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge because of the shutdown?
— Does the budget for Hanford (more than $2 billion) protect workers from toxic chemical exposures, provide an Operational Readiness Review of the nuclear safety of the Waste Treatment Plant, and fund construction of new double-shell tanks to replace the leaking ones?
— Does the budget increase funding (currently $28.5 million) for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects because of the many cost overruns, schedule delays, safety culture issues and technical problems?
— Is the funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) enough to make them viable? As private financing is lacking, will DOE reaffirm that it will not finance SMR construction?
Nonproliferation Expert Highlights Need for New Tools for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Verification
January 12,2015, nonproliferation expert Dr. James Doyle is releasing a report making the case for expansion of the nation’s nonproliferation programs, and will brief key congressional staff on his findings. While in Washington DC, Dr. Doyle is also meeting with the Department of Energy on his contractor employee protection (AKA whistleblower) program complaint regarding his termination from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Lab claims he was merely laid off, after he wrote his study Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons? arguing for abolition. LANL initially cleared his study for release, but then retroactively classified it, despite the fact that it was already available on the Internet.
Dr. Doyle’s new study, Essential Capabilities Needed for Nuclear Security: A National Program for Nonproliferation and Verification Technology Development, builds upon his earlier study. In this new study, written in collaboration with Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Doyle seeks to encourage development and/or deployment of new and existing verification and monitoring technologies that would help make a future world free of nuclear weapons more technically and politically feasible.
Doyle observed, “Nonproliferation and arms verification have for too long been considered “soft power” tools of the diplomatic and arms control communities. Real nuclear security requires that we now consider these capabilities as vital elements of our national security infrastructure. They are potent “smart power” tools offering unique advantages in a rapidly evolving nuclear security environment, which unfortunately includes the threat of nuclear terrorism. Aggressive verification and monitoring technologies will produce a far greater national security return on the taxpayer dollar than will exorbitant “modernization” programs for an unnecessarily oversized nuclear arsenal.”
He continued, “As America allegedly reduces its reliance on nuclear weapons and hopefully further reduces the size of its stockpile, it needs new tools and new capabilities to keep weapons and materials secure and verify that other nations are complying with similar obligations. To meet these needs a new, integrated multiagency program to develop nonproliferation, verification and monitoring technologies for nuclear security should be initiated without delay.”
Some key findings of Doyle’s new report are:
• The program to develop new nonproliferation, verification and monitoring technologies should be funded as a core aspect of the nation’s nuclear infrastructure modernization plan, and thus implemented jointly by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense, with guidance from the State Department, intelligence community and National Academy of Sciences.
• Responsibility for this interagency mission should be assigned to high-level officials who have budget and program authority across the nuclear weapons and nonproliferation programs within the Departments of Defense and NNSA. The State Department should assign a senior task force leader to coordinate with the DoD and NNSA program directors.
• The program should maximize international collaboration, including Russia. Program plans and activities should be a central element of the P-5 dialogue on verification. Other non-nuclear weapons states that support verification and monitoring R&D should also be involved.
· The need for this program was formally codified as an explicit objective in the Obama Administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, and has been repeatedly articulated by both the U.S. government and independent assessments. That need should be met now. Failure in the form of a nuclear detonation on American soil (or anywhere) is not an option
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The nuclear weapons establishment is planning to spend more than a trillion dollars to “modernize” existing weapons, and build new missiles, subs and bombers. Meanwhile, the NNSA is cutting nonproliferation and dismantlement programs to help pay this colossal bill. This is exactly upside down. We should be making smart investments into new nonproliferation, verification and monitoring technologies that will help make a world free of nuclear weapons feasible, eliminating the threat for all time.”
Dr. James Doyle’s report is made possible by the support of the Ploughshares Fund.
His full report, Essential Capabilities Needed for Nuclear Security: