Watchdogs Issue Second Demand for Nation-Wide Environmental Review of Expanded Plutonium Pit Production

Today, lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment sent a second letter to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry and Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the head of the semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The letter demands a nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement for the agencies’ proposed expanded production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons. Invoking the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the letter concludes:

“…we advise the agencies that timely compliance with NEPA is the best means for the agencies to keep these [expanded plutonium pit production] projects on track, as a failure to rigorously comply with NEPA may necessitate litigation, including if necessary motions for injunctive relief, all of which would likely increase the expense of DOE’s and NNSA’s proposed actions and extend their timelines further. Accordingly, we strongly encourage DOE and NNSA to come into compliance with NEPA by preparing a new or supplemental PEIS for its proposals regarding plutonium pit production, and to do so immediately. If the agencies continue on their current trajectory, we will have no choice but to evaluate all our options to enforce compliance with federal environmental laws.”

As background, on May 10, 2018, the Departments of Defense and Energy jointly announced that plutonium pit production would be expanded from the currently sanctioned level of 20 pits per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico to at least 30 pits per year, plus redundant production of at least 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, which would be a completely new mission there.

Expanded plutonium pit production is NOT to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. It is instead for shifting proposals for speculative new-design nuclear weapons, starting with the Reliable Replacement Warhead (canceled by Congress in 2008), the so-called Interoperable Warhead for both Navy and Air Force ballistic missiles (canceled by NNSA in late 2018 due to lack of Navy support), and now a new warhead dubbed the W87-1 to replace the W78 warhead on the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Of particular significance, future pits will not be exact replicas of existing designs but instead according to NNSA’s congressional budget request will be “W87-like”, without further explanation. The potential danger is that national security will be degraded because these pits cannot be full-scale tested given the global testing moratorium, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to resume testing, which would have grave international proliferation consequences. Nevertheless, expanded plutonium pit production is the NNSA’s declared #1 priority and is a central component of the Trump Administration’s $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons “modernization” program that is helping to fuel an escalating global nuclear arms race.

The legally required public environmental reviews were first demanded in an October 31, 2018 letter by Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (CAREs), to which NNSA did not respond. A follow-up May 17, 2019 letter sent on their behalf by attorneys for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Washington, DC law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLP yielded quick results. On May 31, 2019, NNSA signed a formal Notice of Intent stating that three environmental reviews would be conducted: 1) a site-specific environmental impact statement for pit production at the Savannah River Site, 2) additional NEPA documentation for expanded pit production at LANL, and 3) a “Supplement Analysis” to the 2008 Final Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic EIS to determine whether or not a new supplemental PEIS should be completed.

NNSA had already preliminarily concluded that a new supplemental PEIS is not required, but nevertheless offered the Supplement Analysis for public comment. The organizations on whose behalf the attorneys’ letter was sent responded by submitting detailed formal comment to NNSA. Perhaps most significant of all, the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed to a 1998 court order that it had secured while representing more than 60 citizen organizations that requires DOE to prepare a supplemental PEIS when the Department begins to plan for more than 50 pits per year with a single work shift, or more than 80 with multiple work shifts. Thus, DOE and NNSA are required to complete a new supplemental PEIS not only by NEPA requirements but also by a court order that NRDC noted it would enforce if necessary.

NNSA proposes to implement pit production at SRS by repurposing the failed MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, a boondoggle that cost American taxpayers some $7 billion dollars. Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch, commented, “Lacking any justification for expanded pit production and absent any demonstration that the poorly constructed MOX building can be converted into a Plutonium Bomb Plant, NNSA needs to either abandon the new pit project or start over with the legally mandated PEIS.” He further added, “Before proposing the reuse of the MOX building, NNSA must cooperate with Congress in investigations and hearings into fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement at the bunged MOX project.”

Tri-Valley CAREs’ executive director Marylia Kelley commented, “As today’s letter notes, the government is twice-bound by legal requirements to complete a PEIS. On the one hand, NEPA itself requires a PEIS. On the other, there is also a federal court order that mandates a PEIS in the present circumstance. My organization, along with NRDC, is party to the Order. I am pleased that the attorneys’ letter sent today makes clear our willingness to act to uphold it. DOE and NNSA would be wise to ‘do the right thing’ by announcing they will commence a PEIS before taking any further action to expand plutonium pit production.”

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, noted, “The Los Alamos Lab has a long track record of nuclear safety problems that must be resolved before expanded plutonium pit production is even considered. The government’s claimed need for expanded production needs to be critically examined in a new nation-wide supplemental PEIS for its environmental impacts, costs and potentially adverse national security impacts. Following that, given the massive changes proposed for LANL due to expanded pit production, NNSA will also have to prepare a new site-specific site-wide environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos Lab.”

# # #

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, California; and Savannah River Site Watch in Columbia, South Carolina. All three groups are members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a grassroots network of public interest groups that addresses Department of Energy issues nationwide. The three organizations are being represented by the public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC, based in Washington, DC.

Today’s letter to DOE Secretary Rick Perry NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty is available at https://nukewatch.org/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Second-Letter-Regarding-Need-for-PEIS-for-Plutonium-Pit-Production.pdf

The May 17, 2019 attorneys’ letter to DOE Secretary Rick Perry NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty is available at https://nukewatch.org/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Summary-Pit-Production.pdf

The 1998 court order in which NRDC was lead counsel for plaintiffs is available at https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/20/45/2423390/

 

Lack Of Safety And Health Priorities Continue To Plague Los Alamos Beryllium Program

A new assessment finds that Department of Energy (DOE) is not conducting effective oversight of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) beryllium program, or of safety and health programs in general. In addition, DOE is not maintaining sufficient technical capability and knowledge of site and contractor activities to make informed decisions about hazards and risks. DOE indicated the lack of sufficient safety and health resources has presented a challenge to achieving effective oversight in this area.

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The U.S. should carefully and prudently maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile

Defense News reports that “Nuclear gravity bomb and warhead upgrades face new delays” because of new components used in so-called Life Extension Programs (LEPs) to prolong the service lives of existing nuclear weapons. These programs also give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities. For example, see How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze

The point of this blog is to raise the question of whether these Life Extension Programs really enhance U.S. national security while maintaining the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, perhaps the crux issue is prudent and conservative maintenance of the stockpile versus increasingly aggressive LEPs.

The latest proposed LEP for the W87-1 ICBM warhead will use “W87-like” plutonium pits instead of exact replicas (plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons). This little known fact is serious because these pits cannot be full-scale tested given the current global moratorium, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to return to testing with grave international proliferation consequences. Further, the National Nuclear Security Administration plans to spend at least $43 billion in expanded plutonium pit production over the next 30 years, despite the fact that some 15,000 existing pits are already stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX, and independent experts have found that pits have reliable lifetimes of at least a century.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s position is that the U.S. should carefully and prudently maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile – a curatorship program, if you will – instead of steamrolling its $1.7 trillion so-called modernization program. That program will completely rebuild the nuclear weapons stockpile and the production side of NNSA’s nuclear weapons complex, and buy completely new missiles, subs and bombers to deliver nuclear weapons. This will enrich the usual mega-defense contractors while possibly lowering confidence in stockpile reliability through the introduction of major changes. Further, it is fueling a new global nuclear arms race that definitely puts our national security at greater risk. Congress should stop this nuclear weapons “modernization” program but instead is too interested in the nuclear pork.

Proposed New Exhaust at WIPP Designed to Release Radiation

19 seconds – the amount of time airborne radiological contamination could be released before the safety dampers close. This assumes that all other components work perfectly.

A recent report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) explains the DNFSB’s calculations on the proposed new (estimated at nearly $300 million) safety significant confinement ventilation system (SSCVS).

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Bolivia’s ratification on Hiroshima Day brings Nuclear Ban Treaty halfway to entry into force

Bolivia became the 25th nation to ratify The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Bolivia became the 25th nation to ratify The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

ICAN August 6, 2019

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in 2017, is now halfway towards entering into force. This important milestone was reached on 6 August, the anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, when Bolivia became the 25th nation to ratify the treaty.

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Hiroshima Unlearned: Time to Tell the Truth About US-Russia Relations and Finally Ban the Bomb

atomic bomb mushroom clouds
Two aerial photos of atomic bomb mushroom clouds, over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 (left) and Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 (right). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Viewpoint by Alice Slater

NEW YORK (IDN) – August 6 and 9 mark 74 years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where only one nuclear bomb dropped on each city caused the deaths of up to 146,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 people in Nagasaki. Today, with the U.S. decision to walk away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) negotiated with the Soviet Union, we are once again staring into the abyss of one of the most perilous nuclear challenges since the height of the Cold War.

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Lab Claims of Tremendous Progress Need Second Look

Chromium Plume under LANL
Representation of the Chromium Plume in the regional aquifer under Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

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.

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As of today, the INF Treaty is officially dead.

The system built to keep us safe from nuclear weapons is being destroyed.

Today the INF Treaty is officially dead, INF treaty, death of INF Treaty, new START, John Bolton, Trump, Putin, Russia, Arms Control

John Bolton is a serial arms control killer, and today President Trump solidified a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin by walking out of Reagan’s treaty. In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and this landmark agreement effectively eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons.

“In all likelihood, the death of the INF Treaty will jumpstart missile production on both sides.”
Matt Korda

Moscow blamed Washington. “The denunciation of the INF Treaty confirms that the US is set on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another,” the statement said. “This will lead to the dismantling of the existing arms control regime.” (1)

The INF Treaty will be missed; it helped keep us safe from nuclear war for 32 years. The death of the INF treaty means that the US will now have just one arms control agreement with Russia left.

The New Start Treaty limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads Russia and the US can have to 1,550, but this treaty is also on Bolton’s hit list. The US National Security Adviser declared in June that Washington was unlikely to extend New Start past its 2021 expiration deadline. If Trump allows New START to wither away as the INF Treaty did, the world will enter a new era without any limitations on the two largest nuclear arsenals on the planet.

Read a full obituary of the INF Treaty by Matt Korda:
In Memoriam: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Dies at 32

Say “No” to the New Plutonium Bomb Plant at the Savannah River Site!

Public “Scoping” Comments Needed by Thursday July 25:

Say “No” to the New Plutonium Bomb Plant at the Savannah River Site!

What:                          “Scoping” comments needed on plutonium bomb core production at SRS.

When:                         Due by Thursday July 25 or as soon as practical.

Where:                        Email to NEPA-SRS@srs.gov

Sample comments:     Please see http://www.srswatch.org/uploads

This new bomb plant will be for the production of plutonium pits, the radioactive cores or “triggers” of modern nuclear weapons. NNSA plan to produce at least 30 pits per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and at least 50 pits per year at SRS, which will be a completely new mission there. Expanded pit production is a key part of the U.S.’ $1.7 trillion “modernization” plan to completely rebuild the nuclear weapons stockpile, its supporting research and production complex, and the missiles, subs and bombers to deliver nuclear weapons. All of this is fueling a new global nuclear arms race that is more dangerous than any time since the height of the Cold War.

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Los Alamos Lab Cleanup to Stay Far Behind Funding for Nuclear Weapons Research and Production

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.

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The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup Backgrounder

The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup

Summary

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

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Congress needs to start over on nuclear waste

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by D Ramey Logan via Creative Commons
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by D Ramey Logan via Creative Commons

Guest Commentary | June 23, 2019

By Geoffrey Fettus, Special to CALmatters

Marooned along the Pacific Ocean are thousands of tons of radioactive waste, awaiting a resting place that would take it far from the threat of tsunami, and far from millions of Californians.

We need a solution for the waste stuck at San Onofre and the other California reactors. But in their desperation to move the threat away from the Golden State, some California lawmakers are making two grave errors.

First, they continue to push a long-doomed final storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That location is scientifically and legally unsound and destined never to pass legal muster or gain acceptance from Nevadans.

Second, while Yucca sputters, some people have decided that an “interim” storage site could be an answer. That approach was discussed – and criticized – at a House panel field hearing in Laguna Niguel this month to discuss options for moving this waste.

These proposals are distractions, ones that will leave our nation stumbling about while ignoring what could be a permanent answer.

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THE U.S. RAISES RED FLAGS ON RUSSIA’S PLUTONIUM EXPERIMENTS — WHILE RAMPING UP ITS OWN

NNSS Subcritical Experiment Preparation
Workers at the Nevada National Security Site prepare for an experiment to assess how plutonium responds to chemical high explosives.

Read the June 18, 2019 Center for Public Integrity article by Patrick Malone

Experiments at Russian and US underground sites are used by both nations to help ensure their nuclear arsenals remain viable but are conducted under a blanket of secrecy. And so they’ve given rise to suspicions, and accusations, that they violate a 1996 global treaty designed to stymie nuclear weapons innovations by barring any nuclear explosions.

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Nuclear Weapons Explosives Program Lacks Adequate Future Planning to Address Dwindling Supply

Key Explosive-Containing Components in a Generic Nuclear Weapon

Five National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) contractor-operated sites conduct activities to design and produce explosive materials. NNSA officials and contractor representatives identified several challenges related to explosives activities, such as the agency’s dwindling supply of explosive materials, aging and deteriorating infrastructure, and difficulty recruiting and training qualified staff. NNSA issued a plan to address these challenges. But it didn’t follow strategic planning practices that ensure accountability over progress. For example, it generally didn’t include measurable performance goals that identify timeframes and responsible parties.

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Brave Political Leadership on Disarmament?

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Foreign ministers and high-level representatives from 15 non-nuclear-armed countries gathered in Stockholm on Tuesday to discuss advancing disarmament, amidst an ever-deteriorating arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation landscape. The resulting joint statement falls far short of the creative thinking and urgency required to rebut current nuclear threats, including an impetuous U.S. President with the launch codes and an effort to dramatically increase the production of radioactive nuclear bomb cores at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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Editorial: LANL leaders must make safety the lab’s top mission

Falling short of the bare minimum in the eyes of the DOE is a far cry from where the public expects or needs LANL to be.

The Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board has a great editorial except for this part – 

Because LANL is home to some of the best and brightest in the nuclear industry. It is the home of the Manhattan Project. And its future is important not only to the prosperity of our state, but also to our national security.

Forum on June 14 in Aiken, SC on Expanded Production of Plutonium “Pits” for Nuclear Weapons

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.

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Federal nuclear regulatory panel rejects all objections to proposed New Mexico nuclear dump

The Holtec U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) nuclear regulatory panel has spoken. None of the contentions by any of the intervenors was admitted.  Not even a pretense of allowing public participation. No one — Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, Fasken, AFES, transportation intervenors — was allowed any contentions.

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A Tale of Two Consent Orders and What Is Needed

On March 1, 2005, after arduous negotiations and threats of litigation, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Department of Energy (DOE), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) entered into a Consent Order specifying the schedule for investigation and cleanup of the Lab’s hundreds of contaminated sites. This Consent Order (CO) was LANL’s agreement to fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy wastes, which NMED began to enforce.

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LANL Regional Coalition Faces More Opposition

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) is facing scrutiny from several directions lately. The Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General is conducting an investigation. Two members of the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners abstained from a vote on new RCLC financial controls because the commissioners opposed blindly supporting LANL’s mission, which is 70% nuclear weapons work. And  SF New Mexican columnist 

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GAO – Environmental Liability Continues to Grow, and Significant Management Challenges Remain for Cleanup Efforts

Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management’s Fiscal Year 2017 Estimated Environmental Liability, by Cleanup Site

DOE Environmental Management’s (EM’s) environmental liability grew by $214 billion in fiscal years 2011 through 2018, even though EM spent over $48 billion on cleanup.

GAO found that this liability may continue to grow for several reasons:

•EM’s environmental liability does not include the costs of all future cleanup responsibilities. For example, as of April 2018, DOE and its contractor had not negotiated a cost for completing a large waste treatment facility, called the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, at the Hanford site.

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