Opinion: No environmental review for LANL expansion?

By Suzie Schwartz
Posted 2/13/20

As many of your readers know, the National Nuclear Security Administration, a stovepipe agency within the Department of Energy, is planning a massive expansion at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to increase its plutonium pit production mission to 30-80 pits per year.

You have exceeded your story limit for this 30-day period.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Opinion: No environmental review for LANL expansion?

Posted

As many of your readers know, the National Nuclear Security Administration, a stovepipe agency within the Department of Energy, is planning a massive expansion at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to increase its plutonium pit production mission to 30-80 pits per year.

Plutonium "pits" are the fissile cores for detonating nuclear warheads. Plutonium is a heavy metal and radioactive, lasting more than 240,000 years. Plutonium pits have been described by DOE officials as the "linchpin" of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile.

LANL was the original pit factory when it created the original plutonium atomic bomb, tested at the Trinity Site on July 16, 1945 in south-central New Mexico; the uranium bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945; and the plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945, which was essentially a plutonium pit.

Subsequently, the DOE established the Rocky Flats Plant west of Denver. It became the department's site of mass production of pits in order to fuel the Cold War. There, 70,000 pits were produced.

After Rocky Flats was raided and shut down by the FBI for environmental crimes circa 1989, the pit mission was transferred back to LANL. In the late 1990s, national lab was instructed to make 20 pits per year by DOE mandate.

However, since then, LANL has only been able to produce a handful of pits due to incompetence, including mismanagement, huge cost overruns, cleanup issues, nuclear criticality safety issues, failure to meet seismic requirements and more.

Fast forward to the current mandate for 30-80 pits per year to be produced at two different sites, concurrently, with the dangerous transporting and dismantling of the perfectly usable highly radioactive pits we already have.

The NNSA has stated it will not conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Study, typically required by National Environmental Policy Act regulations for projects involving two or more locations.

Further, the NNSA has all but stated it will not conduct a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for the huge LANL expansion or any other type of impact study for their expanded nuclear weapons activities.

Instead of a true comprehensive environmental impact study, it appears that NNSA plans to move forward with what is called a Supplement Analysis for the massive LANL expansion, which is not an actual environmental study at all, but simply decides whether or not to conduct any kind of new environmental review. A Supplement Analysis has no enforceable requirements for public review and comment - or impact mitigation.

As background, the current site-wide environmental impact statement for LANL was completed in 2008 and analyzed the production of up to 80 plutonium pits per year in a new facility. The new plans are for the production of a minimum of 30 plutonium pits per year, in what is already a 42-year old facility. The 2008 SWEIS analyzed a limited number of alternatives, now obsolete, and depended on a variety of assumptions now known to be false.

LANL's massive plutonium pit expansion plans and associated infrastructure will affect Northern New Mexico's peoples, cultures, health, safety, environment and more.

Additionally, at this time, as far as we know, comprehensive detailed plans have yet to be completed by the NNSA. And yet, senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall and Congressman Ben Ray Luján fully support NNSA's plutonium operations expansion for LANL, along with a Supplement Analysis, as opposed to any sort of environmental review.

New Mexico's 100 percent Democrat delegation tends to be fairly progressive, but on this issue - the seldom-mentioned nuclear weapons industry - they are failing us.

At the very least, it is imperative that, on behalf of the well-being of their New Mexico constituents, our New Mexico delegation stand up to DOE/ NNSA and act now to demand that a new site-wide environmental impact statement be conducted in order to address all of the potential impacts of expansion.

Residents from around the region have written a petition requesting that senators Heinrich and Udall and Representative Luján demand that the DOE conduct a new SWEIS before these plans are allowed to come to fruition.

The signatures will be hand-delivered to our Santa Fe congressional offices and the governor's office in mid-February.

If you would like to sign the petition, circulate a copy or learn about other ways for your voices to be heard and responded to, contact Suzie at (575) 770-2629 or email eototos@gmail.com.

Suzie Schwartz lives in Taos.

Comments


Private mode detected!

In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.