Pleas for LANL Accountability Go Unheard

By KAY MATTHEWS

Since the beginning of 2020, petitions, press conferences, letters, and pleas have demanded that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which governs our nuclear labs under the Department of Energy (DOE), do the right thing and issue a full a blown environmental impact study before Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) starts producing pits, the cores of nuclear bombs (LANL is directed to produce 30 pits per year; the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, 50 pits per year).

In February, Taoseños for a Sustainable Future started a petition to Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Lujan to demand that the Department of Energy (DOE) conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) followed by a new Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for Los Alamos LANL before any expanded plutonium pit production and associated infrastructure projects begin.

On March 10, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) and Taoseños for a Peaceful and Sustainable Future delivered over 700 of those petitions to the New Mexico congressional delegation.

In an ironic twist of fate, on the same day these petitions were delivered, the NNSA published on its website a Draft Supplement Analysis (SA) on the previous 2008 Site-wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for Continued Operations of LANL, with a 45 day comment period. The petitioners argue that an SA is not sufficient and violates a 1998 court decision that stipulates when two or more sites are involved in pit production or when the NNSA plans to produce more than 80 pits per year a Supplemental PEIS must be undertaken.

In April, Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent a letter signed by 120 organizations and individuals asking New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich to request that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) extend the comment period to June 19 for the Draft Supplement Analysis of the 2008 Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

On April 22, the Senators Udall and Heinrich sent a letter to the DOE asking that the comment period be extended until June. 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.

On May 7, the senators’ request for an extended public comment period was rejected. On September 3, the NNSA announced that it would NOT prepare a new site-wide environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

A Nuclear Watch New Mexico press release reacted to this news: “With this decision NNSA is slamming the door shut on public accountability while it rams through expanded plutonium ‘pit’ bomb core production at the Lab. NNSA is relying upon outdated studies from 2008 to justify pit production. Since that time the agency has wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars, another catastrophic wildfire threatened the Lab, serious deep groundwater contamination was discovered and LANL has had chronic nuclear safety incidences with plutonium that it can’t seem to fix.”

This is especially egregious news in light of the recent fiscal impact study  undertaken by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research that revealed the Lab’s economic impact on the surrounding communities has been negative. These negative costs, which the Lab asked the Bureau to delete from the final version of the report are:

  • Santa Fe County: $1,414,655
  • Taos County: $809,406
  • Rio Arriba County: $3,215,566.

The fiscal impact on Los Alamos County has been positive: $11,642,589 in Fiscal Year 2017.

Underlying all of these demands for accountability are some fundamental questions:

• Why in the world should LANL make more nuclear bomb pits when experts have argued over and over again that the life span of a pit is at least a century and that 15,000 of them already exist at the Pantex Plant in Texas.

  • Why in the world should the taxpayers of this country provide the NNSA $5.8 billion at LANL and $4.6 billion at the Savannah River Site (SRS) over the next decade to construct or upgrade plutonium pit production facilities when the agency has already wasted $7 billion to repurpose the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS for pit production and a half-billion dollars on the 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 (remember the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility)?
  • Why in the world should the citizens of New Mexico allow the DOE to potentially turn the Pajarito Plateau into the next Rocky Flats where 70,000 plutonium pits for every warhead in the United States nuclear arsenal were made between 1952 and 1989. The FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency actually took action and raided the Rocky Flats plant in 1989 citing egregious environmental violations. Designated a Super Fund site after its permanent closure in the early 1990s, it’s soils are embedded with levels of plutonium (picocures) 1,250 times greater than the .04 background levels.
  • Why in the world should we allow the enormous potential of this kind of contamination when neither the DOE or the state of New Mexico have fulfilled their obligations to clean up the contamination that already exists at LANL? The fiscal year 2021 budget proposal cuts funding for environmental cleanup at LANL from $220 million to $120 million. LANL’s legacy waste, from before 1999, dates back to the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. The 2016 Revised Consent Order (CO) between LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) already stands in the way of cleanup, which is demonstrated by the fact that within a couple of months of the signing of the Consent Order the DOE produced its Baseline Lifetime Estimate for Cleanup Costs, which were woefully low and explicitly linked to the new CO that the NMED signed under the Martinez Administration’s Ryan Flynn.

The latest bad news is that the DOE and NMED will not initiate remediation of the hexavalent chromium plume that has flowed down a Los Alamos Canyon since 1956 and today threatens the water table, until 2025.

As La Jicarita reported earlier this year, in anticipation of the required work force required to produce thirty pits, the NNSA put in a Midtown Development Bid to develop the former College of Santa Fe campus to extend its reach to what is being referred to as the “New Mexico Innovation Triangle”: Los Alamos, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, with new bridges built across the Rio Grande. NNSA didn’t get the bid, but that doesn’t mean the development company that did won’t work with LANL to find room for Lab extensions and employee housing. Most LANL watchdogs suspect the Lab will never be able to recruit the necessary work force or has the industrial capacity to produce its pit quota despite its dedication to spreading its tenacious tentacles into our cities and schools.

  • Why in the world can’t we implement a safer, saner, more sustainable mission at LANL with jobs that would actually benefit the surrounding communities instead of jobs that make bombs intended to kill people.

 

 

 

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