NNSA Rejects Extension on Pit Production at LANL: Comments Due May 9

The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has rejected Senators Udall and Heinrich’s recent request to extend the deadline for public comment on expanded pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Draft Supplement Analysis of the 2008 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for the Continued Operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory for Plutonium Operations). The senators had asked for a 45- day delay on behalf of 120 people and organizations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Heinrich and Udall were also part of a group of senators that had asked the Office of Management and Budget to extend all federal public comment periods during the pandemic emergency.

In a press release, Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico claimed that NNSA’s rejection of their [the senators’] request is an apparent double standard given DOE’s requests for time extensions to respond to nuclear safety recommendations by the independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The Safety Board has long reported on chronic nuclear safety problems at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). DOE has sought to kill the messenger by restricting Safety Board access to NNSA nuclear weapons facilities.”

With this decision the NNSA makes it clear that it believes expanded pit production at LANL is so vital to national security the National Environmental Policy Administration (NEPA) process must proceed despite the pandemic and despite the fact that all current clean-up at the Lab is on hold because of the pandemic.

NNSA plans to spend at least $5.8 billion at LANL and $4.6 billion at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina over the next decade on construction or upgrades of plutonium pit production facilities.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico encourages both individuals and organizations to sign on to comments that Nuke Watch will submit to the NNSA. Please do so by replying to Jay Coghlan jay@nukewatch.org no later than 2:00 EST/12:00 MT Saturday May 9, the deadline for submission (although Coghlan says in his press release that the government will generally accept individual comments a week after the due date.) In addition to your name, please indicate organizational affiliation (if applicable), town or city and state. Individuals and/or organizations will be listed alphabetically by individual’s last name. You can also go to www.nukewatch.org for a template to help you write your own comments.

Here is the Nuclear Watch New Mexico comment letter:

NNSA Los Alamos Field Office
3747 West Jemez Road
Los Alamos, NM 87544

By email to: lanlsweissa@nnsa.doe.gov, Subject line: LANL SWEIS SA

Dear LANL SWEIS SA Document Manager,

We respectfully submit these comments for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Draft Supplement Analysis of the 2008 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for the Continued Operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for Plutonium Operations (DOE/EIS-0380-SA-06, March 2020). That draft Supplement Analysis has “preliminarily” concluded that NNSA will NOT prepare a new LANL site-wide environmental impact statement, which is the wrong decision.

However, even before a new site-wide environmental impact statement (EIS) for Los Alamos Lab, we believe that NNSA is legally required to first complete a new programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) on its nation-wide plans for expanded plutonium pit production. This is necessary to 1) raise the production cap of 20 pits per year explicitly set by the 1997 Stockpile Stewardship and Management PEIS; and 2) because NNSA now proposes a second site, the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, for redundant pit production, which is inherently a “programmatic” decision. NNSA argues that it can rely upon an outdated 2008 Complex Transformation PEIS which considered various levels of expanded plutonium pit production at five specific NNSA candidate sites. However, that outdated document did not consider simultaneous production at two sites. This changed circumstance is justifiable cause alone for a new programmatic environmental impact statement.

The opportunity for public review and comment on proposed major federal actions is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Using some of that law’s legal language, because the expansion of plutonium pit production at LANL and establishing pit production at SRS are clearly “connected,” “cumulative,” and “similar” actions, “their environmental effects must be considered in a single impact statement,” and a new PEIS is the legally and practically appropriate way to accomplish this. NNSA’s proposed actions at LANL and SRS are “systematic and connected agency decisions” undertaken to implement the specific “executive directive” in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review to produce at least 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. Accordingly, DOE’s own NEPA regulations mandate the preparation of a PEIS.

Further, another reason why nation-wide programmatic review needed is because not only are LANL and SRS involved in plutonium pit production, but so are NNSA’s Kansas City National Security Complex, the Pantex Plant and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as a 2019 Supplement Analysis to the 2008 Complex Transformation PEIS explicitly states.

Congruent with this, the National Academy of Sciences Surplus Plutonium Panel recently released a final report on disposing of surplus plutonium at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico. The Panel noted “the involvement of several facilities at several sites …, a schedule of decades requiring sustained support, and the environmental and programmatic significance of the changes therein.” The NAS report therefore concluded that “a PEIS… that considers all affected sites as a system is appropriate to address the intent and direction of the National Environmental Policy Act.” We assert that all of this is equally true for expanded plutonium pit production. Moreover, nation-wide programmatic analysis is badly needed because these two different plutonium efforts (pit production and excess plutonium disposal) will intersect in some of NNSA’s crucial plutonium facilities and likely compete for processing space.

A new programmatic environmental impact statement is needed to examine the need for expanded plutonium pit production to begin with. We are aware that Congress has legislatively required expanded pit production, but no technical justification has ever been given.

Why is expanded plutonium pit production necessary when independent experts have concluded that plutonium pits last at least a century and more than 15,000 existing pits are already stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX? Why isn’t the extensive reuse of existing pits analyzed as a credible alternative to new production of plutonium pits? Why is no future pit production scheduled to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile? Why will future production instead be for heavily modified pits for speculative new design nuclear weapons that can’t be full scale tested because of the global testing moratorium, hence possibly lowering confidence in stockpile reliability? Alternatively, could heavily modified pits prompt the U.S. to return to nuclear weapons testing? All these questions should be addressed in a new programmatic environmental impact statement.

In addition, damning conclusions by independent experts at the Institute for Defense Analysis on the feasibility of NNSA’s plans for expanded plutonium pit production buttress the need for full programmatic review. They noted how most NNSA projects costing more than $700 million are canceled, and that of the few that proceed none are completed in less than 15 years. NNSA plans to spend at least $5.8 billion at LANL and $4.6 billion at SRS over the next decade on construction or upgrades of plutonium pit production facilities. NNSA proposes to ‫“repurpose” the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS for pit production, after that canceled project wasted more than 7 billion taxpayer dollars. Similarly, a half-billion dollars was wasted in design of a major new plutonium facility at LANL that was cancelled in 2012 when its projected construction costs exploded ten-fold to $6.5 billion. A new programmatic environmental impact statement should analyze the agency’s budget failures and how to better conserve taxpayer dollars, including independent cost estimates given the unreliability of NNSA cost estimates.

A new PEIS should analyze the impacts of diverting taxpayer dollars to new nuclear weapons facilities instead of cleaning up the massive environmental damage caused by past research and production. What are the long-term public health and environmental effects of leaving radioactive and chemical contaminants that can pollute precious water resources, while new, unnecessary, and costly nuclear facilities that will produce more contaminants are being built? This is amplified by DOE’s plans to radically cut cleanup across the nation, for example by nearly half at LANL. Moreover, a reordering of national security priorities is in order, given that $2 trillion in proposed nuclear weapons “modernization” will do nothing to protect us against our most imminent national security threat, the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement on expanded plutonium pit production, NNSA must complete a new LANL site-wide EIS that does not solely focus on pit production. NNSA has created a Franken-document monster in that the LANL Supplement Analysis completely relies on various parts of existing outdated documents. Very few analyses are new as most are over 10 years old. Expanded pit production at LANL is too important not to have a fresh look with a new truly site-wide environmental impact statement.

LANL has a long track record of nuclear safety incidences, as reported by the independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which must be addressed in a new site-wide environmental impact statement. In addition, that document should make clear that Safety Board access to inspect NNSA nuclear facilities will not be restricted, as a recent internal DOE Order tried to do.

Potential seismic impacts are a serious issue at the Los Alamos Lab that could result in high offsite radioactive doses. The Safety Board has formally recommended that the Lab seismically upgrade its main plutonium facility PF-4 since 2013. The Lab’s failure to completely do so to date should be analyzed in a new site-wide EIS. As it is, seismic upgrades are not scheduled for completion before expanded pit production is scheduled to start.

NNSA must complete a new comprehensive Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis for the Los Alamos Lab. NNSA requires new analyses every ten years, yet LANL’s most recent PSHA was in 2009. The PF-4 Seismic Performance Reassessment Project is ongoing and aims to determine the seismic performance of the PF-4 building. LANL’s Seismic Analysis of Facilities and Evaluation of Risk Project is a multi-year analysis of the seismic design loads on existing facilities in LANL’s Plutonium Facilities Complex. The bottom line is that the probable seismic performance of the PF-4 building is still not yet known.

The draft 2020 Supplement Analysis concludes its seismic analysis by stating that its projected seismic impacts are consistent with the 2008 LANL site-wide EIS and a 2018 Supplement Analysis. That means little. A new LANL site-wide EIS should properly evaluate potential seismic risks with the latest available information from a new comprehensive Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis and other relevant sources.

NNSA must do a full analysis of LANL’s other facility involved in pit production, the Radiologic Laboratory Utility Office Building (AKA the “Rad Lab”). NNSA plans to convert the Rad Lab into a hazard category 3 nuclear facility for which it was not originally designed. A seismically induced fire could have major consequences for workers and the surrounding public. A new LANL site-wide EIS should address all Safety Board seismic concerns with the Rad Lab.

As its title indicates NNSA’s draft 2020 Supplement Analysis is focused on plutonium operations. For other issues the new draft Supplement Analysis relies upon an earlier 2018 Supplement Analysis to the 2008 LANL SWEIS. Concerning cleanup, that 2018 Supplement Analysis states that “Implementation of the Consent Order [governing cleanup negotiated with the New Mexico Environment Department] was a fundamental part of the 2008 SWEIS.”

The original 2005 Consent Order was superseded by a 2016 Consent Order about which the 2018 Supplement Analysis says, “The 2016 Consent Order does not change the investigations, cleanup, and corrective measures to be conducted at LANL and therefore is bounded by the 2008 SWEIS.” That is patently false as the 2016 Consent Order eliminated the 2005 Consent Order’s detailed and rigorous compliance schedule and subordinated cleanup to the DOE budget instead of having cleanup drive funding. One direct result has been DOE’s plan to cut Lab cleanup funding by nearly half for FY 2021. A new LANL site-wide EIS is needed to fully analyze cleanup programs at LANL with the overall goal of protecting northern New Mexico’s limited groundwater resource.

LANL recently proposed to vent 100,000 curies of excess tritium while claiming an unapproved dose reduction factor that kept the calculated public dose under the Clean Air Act standard of 10 millirem to the “Most Exposed Individual” (since postponed because of public outcry). Without that unapproved dose reduction factor LANL would be in legal violation of the Clean Air Act standard, as it was in the 1990’s after another unilaterally-appropriated unapproved dose reduction factor was disallowed by the EPA. A new site-wide EIS is needed to disclose and analyze other large intentional radioactive releases, their potential health impacts and whether or not they comply with established environmental law.

Climate and tree ring data indicate that the Southwest may be moving into a megadrought. A new site-wide EIS is needed to analyze potentially adverse effects, including growing water scarcity and increasing wildfire risks.

These comments on expanded plutonium pit production at LANL respectfully submitted,

Name, organization if applicable, town or city and state


Jay Coghlan, Executive Director
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501
505.989.7342 c. 505.470.3154