volume 1, issue 3
newsletter of nuclear watch of new mexico
What's Changing at WIPP?
You might not know it from reading the newspaper or watching local TV news, but many potentially huge developments are ongoing at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. This permanent nuclear waste dump, which took decades to build and open due to regulatory wrangling, public opposition and scientific doubts, may now be redefining its mandate and loosening its standards.
BULLETIN: WIPP IS OPEN... FOR ANY & ALL BUSINESS?
*The U.S. Department of Energy now seeks to open waste barrels at WIPP. DOE is contemplating a WIPP permit modification that would allow generator sites to avoid some of their own testing in favor of these tests being performed at WIPP. They've proposed that the WIPP above-ground storage be expanded by 25% and that the time limit for leaving waste barrels above ground be indefinitely extended. Nuclear Watch and other groups have insisted that this is a major modification requiring a formal hearing, with a decision that could be appealed in court. If a modification this big is approved by the state's Environment Department (NMED), a period for public comment will follow, probably after the holidays, and then there will be public hearings on this modification.
EXTRA! EXTRA! ROGUE WIPP TRUCK TAKES DANGEROUS DETOUR
On November 21, 2000, a WIPP truck driver from Idaho failed to make the Lamy exit turnoff from I-25 onto U.S. 285, the official WIPP transportation route. The satellite watch system failed to work. It seems the folks in Tennessee in charge of the TRANSCOM system, and the Carlsbad Area Office were asleep at the wheel.
Only the New Mexico State Police Department dispatcher caught the mistake. She notified state authorities, and the truck containing plutonium-contaminated wastes was turned around before it hit the jungle of orange barrels in Albuquerque, during rush hour, on one of the busiest travel days of the year. New Mexico explicitly barred WIPP waste transportation on this section of I-25 because of the danger and so the truck route was illegal.
DOE suspended Tristate Trucking for 30 days pending an investigation.
Since the failure also involved the TRANSCOM, shouldn't DOE have suspended all transports pending an investigation?
Bait and Switch?
The 1970 NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) mandated the five nuclear powers to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race...and to nuclear disarmament…." In exchange, the nations without nuclear weapons pledged to never acquire them. This fundamental bargain has been the core of global efforts at nonproliferation for 30 years. In direct contradiction, the U.S. now seeks to preserve nuclear weapons literally "forever" through DOE's so-called Stockpile Stewardship Program. Funding for nuclear weapons programs has grown to over $5 billion per year; the three weapons labs are receiving more money than ever and designing new nuclear weapons.
DOE's stated rationale for SSP was that it would ensure the safety and reliability of aging nuclear weapons without full-scale testing. Ironically, our Senate shocked the world in October 1999 by refusing to ratify the long-awaited Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But even before that, DOE's own studies stated that "historical [plutonium] pit surveillance data and pit life studies do not predict a near-term problem…. No age related problems have been observed in pits up to 30 years in age,…Nuclear components (pits and secondaries) are expected to have service lives significantly in excess of their minimum design life of 20 to 25 years…." DOE's proclaimed rationale for SSP thus had little justification to begin with.
What DOE dismissed long ago is simple custodianship of nuclear weapons while awaiting dismantlement in accordance with the NPT. Instead, the provocative and speculative Stockpile Stewardship Program was embarked upon. Now the program's very effectiveness in ensuring stockpile safety and reliability is increasingly in doubt. Recently, the DOE's own Inspector General Office found that routine surveillance and lab testing of weapons components is seriously behind schedule. Because these "nuts and bolts" stewardship activities are being neglected, the required annual certification to Congress of the safety and reliability of the stockpile could be jeopardized within two years. Should the stockpile not be formally certified by the three weapons labs, there would then be overwhelming political pressure to return to full-scale testing. As a result, the program may be viewed in the future as a $50 billion-plus bait-and-switch whereby the labs managed to successfully gain ever-increasing institutional justifications and funding in the post-Cold War transition, but once that funding was established managed to return to full-scale testing anyway.
Nukewatch Director Sizes Up Russian Nuclear Complex
Our own Jay Coghlan took an October jaunt to meet with nuclear safety activists in Russia. He met with citizen experts whose work focuses on the weapons design and manufacturing facilities in Siberia and nuclear naval bases in Russia's far northwest.
"What struck me," said Jay, "is the enormity of their radioactive waste problems, and the courage and enthusiasm that our Russian colleagues show in helping to build a democratic society while working on those problems."
In terms of total environmental releases, each of Russia's three major production facilities has discharged almost twice as much radioactivity as the accident at Chernobyl. Moreover, the deteriorating nuclear submarines and old reactor fuel rods are a dire threat not only to Russian coastal waters, but ultimately to all oceans world-wide. Finally, in many ways present and future U.S. and Russian nuclear policies are closely intertwined. Because of all of these things, what goes on in Russia concerns us here at home.
November saw the passing of America's dean of the environmental movement
pioneer outdoorsman and climber, founder of Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute. Nuclear Watch would like to honor the many contributions made by this thoughtful and gentle man.
for an action of courage and principle in the defense of our planet
Dr. Andreas Toupadakis
who resigned from his job at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, stating that nuclear weapons development poses an unconscionable danger to human society and the natural world.
Los Alamos Snapshot 2000: LANL at the Millennium
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was spending $600 million (year 2000 dollars) on its nuclear weapons programs. With the end of the Cold War, funding fell as low as $450 million in 1991. Since that time, under DOE's so-called Stockpile Stewardship Program, funding for the lab's nuclear weapons programs has more than doubled to $950 million dollars. Prior to the Cerro Grande fire, LANL's cleanup programs remained flat under $100 million (and of mediocre effectiveness). This has led to the potential threat that the Rio Grande now faces following the fire from potential contaminant migration. Most cleanup at the lab could have been efficiently completed years ago but for the fact that its nuclear weapons programs have always been given top priority, and will continue to enjoy that supremacy in the future. LANL is expected to ask Congress for more than $1 billion next year for its nuclear weapons programs.
The lab is now planning for the creation of a "nuclear campus" at the current site of its plutonium pit production facility. In 1996, DOE formally decided to relocate plutonium pit production to LANL from the notorious Rocky Flats Plant. In effect, that decision was made years in advance by the lab. In 1993, LANL prepared an internal "strategic plan" that set out to grab whatever portions it could of nuclear weapons programs that would inevitably be consolidated within a shrinking American nuclear weapons complex. Now that the plutonium pit production mission has been relocated to LANL, DOE and the laboratory are planning on huge investments in the lab's plutonium pit manufacturing infrastructure. This includes over half a billion dollars in construction over the next decade for upgraded or new facilities that are directly involved in plutonium pit production.
Not coincidentally, DOE had earlier decided to relocate beryllium manufacturing operations to LANL, which had also been performed at the Rocky Flats Plant. [Beryllium is used in plutonium pit liners, tampers, reflectors, and neutron generators for nuclear weapons.] Together, the relocation of these two missions represents a return to the lab's historic "roots." LANL had produced plutonium pits before Rocky Flats was built in the mid-1950's, both for deployed weapons and for the design and testing of new weapons. Additionally, LANL is planning on a ten-fold increase in tritium storage and processing (tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen used to "boost" nuclear weapons). In all, the lab hopes to sink $4.5 billion in taxpayers' money into in new or upgraded nuclear weapons facilities over the next ten years.
In a major initiative that could have profound consequences for new nuclear weapons designs, the lab is proposing to build an Advanced Hydrotest Facility (AHF). In the lab's own words, "[h]ydrotesting is the most important diagnostic for nuclear weapons performance short of nuclear testing." It involves high explosives tests that x-ray imploding surrogate plutonium pits. [LANL has used hydrotesting techniques for over a half-century - - by 1979 LANL had blown up 220,000 pounds of uranium or depleted uranium in "dynamic experiments." LANL is now preparing to triple its number of dynamic explosive tests.]
The AHF, which has grown from a proposed cost of $440 million a couple of years ago to $1.6 billion now, is itself a follow-on to the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrotest Facility (DARHT; originally $180 million but now $270 million). Both DARHT and the AHF are part of a larger strategy to consolidate hydrotesting for the nuclear weapons complex at Los Alamos. In a double standard, DOE has declared a policy not to conduct hydrotests involving plutonium in California, but has always done so in New Mexico. Between DARHT, the AHF and new supercomputers, LANL will have the most advanced capability in the world to design the new nuclear weapons that the U.S. is now apparently contemplating. Finally, as the result of all of its expanded nuclear weapons activities, LANL is planning on doubling the size of its so-called low-level radioactive waste dump adjacent to San Ildefonso Pueblo "Sacred Lands." In short, LANL is not only preparing to remain very much in the nuclear weapons business, but is radically expanding that business even in light of the oft-cited end of the Cold War.
WHAT TO DO! (this month)
1. Take a minute, make a phone call to promote de-alerting
Back from the Brink, an international coalition working to de-alert all nuclear weapons (see info on flyer inside) needs our participation in their call-in campaign. Please call the White House at 202-456-1414, on February 5 and 6. Tell the President: "I urge you to reduce the danger of accidental nuclear war by working with the Russians to get all nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert."
Nuclear Watch of New Mexico
551 W. Cordova