leroymoore

New nuclear ‘pit’ production at LANL is unnecessary

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics, Workplace exposure on July 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

By Jay Coghlan, Albuquerque Journal, July 21, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Center for Public Integrity recently published a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos lab that captured a lot of national attention.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons. The articles were largely based on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s annual contractor Performance Evaluation Reports. Those reports are publicly available only because Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued for them in 2012.

The former plutonium pit production site, the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, was shut down by a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes. A special grand jury indicted both Department of Energy (DOE) officials and the contractor, but a federal judge quashed the indictments at the urging of the local federal attorney general. It was only by sheer luck that a major plutonium fire on Mother’s Day 1969 didn’t contaminate Denver with highly carcinogenic plutonium.

I specifically recall senior DOE officials promising New Mexicans 20 years ago that serious lessons were learned from Rocky Flats and that re-established plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) would always be safe. Since then, the lab has spent billions of taxpayers’ money on plutonium pit production but, as the recent articles document, LANL still can’t do it safely.

As the articles reported, a serious nuclear criticality accident was narrowly averted in July 2011, which resulted in the three-year shutdown of LANL’s main plutonium facility. Nevertheless, according to the fiscal year 2011 LANL Performance Evaluation Report, the lab contractor was paid $50 million in pure profit for that year.

In 2014, a radioactive waste barrel improperly prepared by LANL ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), shutting down that multi-billion-dollar facility for nearly three years. Radioactive waste disposal at WIPP will remain constrained for years, raising the question of where future LANL bomb-making wastes will go.

Congress has required the Los Alamos lab to quadruple plutonium pit production, regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. The requirement was drafted by professional staff on the House Armed Services Committee, one of whom was originally from the Sandia nuclear weapons lab.

That the existing stockpile doesn’t need pit production is demonstrated by the fact that none has been scheduled since 2011 when LANL finished up the production run that was stopped when Rocky Flats was shut down.

At NukeWatch’s request, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) required an independent study of the lifetimes of pits. The expert conclusion was that plutonium pits last at least a century, more than double government estimates (the oldest pits in the stockpile are now around 45 years old). Moreover, there are some 20,000 existing plutonium pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

Future plutonium pit production is for a new so-called “Interoperable Warhead” that is supposed to function both as a land-based ICBM and a sub-launched nuclear warhead. The nuclear weapons labs are pushing this $13 billion make-work project that the Navy doesn’t want.

Ironically, new-design pits for the Interoperable Warhead may hurt national security because they cannot be tested in a full-scale nuclear weapons test or, alternatively, testing them would have severe international proliferation consequences.

Given all this, why expand plutonium pit production when apparently it can’t be done safely and may decrease, not increase, our national security? One strong reason is the huge contractor profits to be had under the $1 trillion-plus “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile and production complex started under Obama, which Trump promises to expand. Far from just “modernization,” existing nuclear weapons are being given new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government.

The directors of the Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs in truth wear two hats – the first as lab directors, the second as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations running the labs. This inherent conflict of interest skews U.S. nuclear weapons policy and should be brought to an end.

The New Mexico congressional delegation kowtows to the nuclear weapons industry in our state. I specifically call upon Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to certify within this calendar year that future plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab will be safe, or otherwise end their support for it.

Jay Coghlan is the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

 

OREPA, NukeWatch, NRDC file lawsuit against new nuclear bomb plant

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics on July 21, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Our lawsuit against the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) over the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) is important for many reasons. First, despite the fact that 122 countries just passed a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the UPF is the tip of the spear for the U.S.’ planned one trillion dollar-plus make over of its nuclear arsenal, delivery systems and productions plants. Those production plants are expected to be operational until ~2080, modifying existing nuclear weapons while endowing them with new military capabilities.
Our lawsuit seeks to compel NNSA compliance with the law, when the National Environmental Policy Act requires supplemental public review when major federal proposals are substantially changed. The UPF is also an issue of good governance and proper use of taxpayers dollars, since it has had constant cost overruns and a half-billion dollar design mistake for which no contractor was held accountable.
Finally, our lawsuit against this new bomb plant near Oak Ridge, TN will hopefully benefit New Mexicans by reminding NNSA to conduct legally required public review for new or upgraded plutonium facilities at the Los Alamos Lab.

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For immediate release, July 20, 2017:

Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and The Natural Resources Defense Council File Lawsuit Against New Nuclear Bomb Plant

Washington, DC – Today, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit to stop construction of the problem-plagued Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) until legally required environmental review is completed. The UPF, located at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Y-12 production plant near Oak Ridge, TN, is slated to produce new thermonuclear weapons components until the year 2080. The UPF is the tip of the spear for the U.S.’s planned one trillion dollar-plus make over of its nuclear weapons arsenal, delivery systems, and production plants.

“The story of this new bomb plant is a long tale of outrageous waste and mismanagement, false starts and re-dos, a federal agency that refuses to meet its legal obligation to engage the public, and a Senator that is bent on protecting this piece of prime nuclear pork for his home state,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA. “But the short version is this: when the NNSA made dramatic changes to the UPF, and admitted that it intends to continue to operate dangerous, already contaminated facilities for another twenty or thirty years, they ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act. Our complaint demands that the NNSA complete a supplemental environmental impact statement on the latest iteration of its flawed plans.”

The NNSA first issued a formal “Record of Decision” to build the UPF in 2011. Within a year, the agency had to admit it had made a half-billion dollar mistake because the designed footprint of the bomb plant was not big enough to hold all of the required equipment and safety features. The American taxpayer had to eat that half billion dollars, as the NNSA held no contractor responsible for it. The agency’s parent organization, the Department of Energy, has been on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List for project mismanagement and chronic cost overruns for 26 consecutive years.

More recently, the House FY 2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations report noted that the NNSA had to reprogram $403 million out of the UPF’s $1.4 billion contingency fund to address “unforeseen issues” before ground is even broken. Both the NNSA and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-TN, chair of Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee) have repeatedly claimed that UPF construction will not exceed $6.5 billion. That declared budget cap seems increasingly uncertain, which could have serious negative political consequences for the troubled facility.

The UPF started with an original estimated price tag of between $600 million to $1 billion in 2006. In December 2013 an independent cost assessment by the Department of Defense pegged the UPF at more than $19 billion, which stopped the project dead in its tracks and compelled NNSA to develop a new approach. The agency commissioned a “Red Team” to perform a quick, secret study, whose recommendation was eventually adopted. In July 2016, the NNSA published an Amended Record of Decision in the Federal Register describing its new plan.

“It was a dramatic change,” commented Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Instead of consolidating all enriched uranium operations into one big, new UPF, NNSA decided to build multiple smaller but integrated buildings, only one of which would be designed to modern seismic standards. More importantly, the agency declared it would continue to indefinitely use deteriorating, already contaminated facilities for dangerous highly enriched uranium operations, while admitting that the buildings can not meet current environmental and seismic standards.”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to revisit any environmental analysis when its plan undergoes significant changes that might impact the environment, or when new information comes to light. It also requires public involvement throughout the process. “NEPA’s fundamental purposes are to ensure that agencies take a hard look at consequences before taking action and to ensure that the public has a voice in agency decisions,” said William Lawton, an attorney working on the case at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, LLP. “Here, the NNSA has chosen to save money by continuing to rely on outdated, deteriorating buildings that run a very real risk of collapsing and releasing nuclear contamination in the event of an earthquake. The agency is putting the public at risk, and the public has a right to make sure that the government has taken the legally required hard look at those serious risks.”

“Since 2011, despite our repeated efforts to get information, including filing Freedom of Information Act requests, visiting DOE offices, asking officials for information and writing hundreds of letters, we have been shut out of the process completely,” noted OREPA’s Hutchison. “When we saw the final document, admitting that they were going to continue to use dangerous risky facilities without bringing them up to code, we realized why the NNSA was so determined not to make its plan public.”

Coghlan noted that the NNSA faced a similar scenario several years ago at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico when plans for a huge new plutonium pit fabrication facility were substantially changed. “We told NNSA they had to complete more public review, and the agency wisely decided to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement,” he said. “The proposed changes to the UPF are even more dramatic, and we are invoking that precedent to demand that NNSA follow the law.”

# # #

The complaint is available at https://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/UPFcomplaint.pdf

 

The Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Natural Resources Defense Council have engaged the well-respected public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein and Eubanks, LLP, located in Washington, DC, to represent them in the litigation.

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance is an 1,800 member grassroots public interest group that has focused on nuclear weapons and environmental issues at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation since 1988.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been watchdogging Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities in New Mexico and across the NNSA’s nuclear weapons complex since 1999.

The Natural Resources Defense Council combines the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

 

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director
Scott Kovac, Research Director

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Nuclear power for your home and business

In Climate change, Environment, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on July 20, 2017 at 8:36 am

Dear friends –

Regardless of any other public and career commitments each of us may have, it is now essential for everyone who is, or could be, involved in the public sphere to address themselves in one way or another to the global climate crisis.

We will review the reasons for this in the next Bulletin, if they are not already clear. In a letter to local members earlier this year we said,
Today, our long inaction in the face of converging environmental and social disasters requires us to consider our lives and actions…All that we are and do, and would do, must be weighed sub specie Terrae – from the perspective of Earth…[T]he biggest story and struggle of our time and our greatest, most salient struggles, lie in the nexus of climate, energy, economics, and environment. These connected crises have now thoroughly converged…We now need to anchor all our politics, including nuclear disarmament politics, in the work of saving our only home and the creatures in it, who have come this long way with us and made us who we are. This is not just “another issue.” It is the master predicament that we and our children are facing. (1/7/17)
One small part of our collective response deserves highlighting first, and all by itself for clarity’s sake, because it is so straightforward and has so many personal, political, and economic advantages (micro and macro – both).

I am talking about nuclear power. Fusion power, that long-sought miracle of energy abundance. For your home and business or those of your friends. From the sun.

As Los Alamos gadfly and peace activist Ed Grothus used to say, the reactor location is ideal, at 93 million miles away; the power output is essentially infinite; and the distribution is universal.

Solar energy is almost perfectly accessible – almost too good to be true, and much better than almost any alternative. Google’s Sunroof algorithms estimate that just our city, Albuquerque, has 188,000 roofs that are suitable for photovoltaic installations (93% of the total), with a combined potential capacity of 3.5 gigawatts. This is more than one-third of the total summer generation capacity in the whole state (8.4 GW). (About one quarter of NM’s electricity is exported). That’s just Albuquerque roofs. It does not include parking lots (many of which would benefit from solar shade structures), or all the suitable vacant land within and around the city, which together would dwarf the solar potential of the roofs alone.

The marginal cost of a solar kilowatt-hour is, once a solar generation facility is installed, zero. Nuclear-generated electricity finally is, in that sense, “too cheap to meter.” The cost is really a capital investment, not an operating expense, and a big hunk of it makes jobs and builds skills in your community.

We here at the Los Alamos Study Group are laser-focused on the political and social changes we can foster that will help save the planet and strengthen our communities. Especially now that it is cheap, and especially here in sunny New Mexico, solar energy is an enabling technology.

Solar energy is a core part of the Gandhian “constructive program” in our time and place. He emphasized that constructive program far more than nonviolent resistance. That program, and the radical simplicity that was and is a necessary part of it, is a face of the active nonviolence we need.

We need a lot of renewable energy – distributed renewable energy, with associated ownership, skills, and renewed community institutions – quickly. For some people and institutions, it will be a “gateway” (as in, “gateway drug,” but in a positive sense) to other transitions, personal and political.

In general, and of course with exceptions, we do not see the ephemeral, convenient protests that are habitual on the political left as being at all politically effective. (Long-term protests and true nonviolent resistance are quite another matter.) Organizing people to boycott as much planetary ecocide as possible – necessarily starting with one’s own household and business – would be far more effective than showing up for the typical protest.

Of course constructive action alone is not enough. Renewable energy, even 100% renewable energy, is not enough in itself to save the climate and halt the Sixth Great Extinction. We also need effective resistance. We need radical simplicity and connection with others.

But renewable energy is necessary; it is necessary now; it is necessary on a large scale; and it is necessary that it not be controlled by a few. The process of making this happen is politically potent and fruitful across the whole range of our converging crises.

Let me be very clear. We are asking you to consider adding solar generating capacity on your home or business. We think it is politically important.

As we said last year (Bulletin 226), the Study Group has chosen to have a financial “confluence of interest” in this transition, because we believe strongly in it. It is program and fundraising, both. We are working with two employee-owned New Mexico companies:
Positive Energy: very high efficiency, long-life, hassle-free solar guaranteed installations, including all permitting and paperwork. “Smart,” long-life, battery systems. $100 to LASG for any consultation (which are free to customers); an additional $400 with system installation.
McCune Solar Works: ultra-long life, low-cost PV modules and systems; systems tailored for renters; long-life, non-toxic battery systems; much more. Free consultations. $500 to the Study Group with system installation.
If you don’t live in New Mexico, that’s fine. We still want you to think about solar energy, for all the above reasons.
If you rent, there are ways of approaching the solar energy proposition that may work for you and your landlord.

More than this, we are asking you to become climate and solar “ambassadors,” educating and connecting with others about our climate crisis and undertaking to produce a concerted response in your own circles, which will include renewable energy, especially solar energy.

Some of you have very small electric bills, which is great. There are now cheap, small solar systems with easy-to-wire AC output, which may have demonstration value for others as well as yourself.

The federal investment tax credit is still 30% until the end of 2019. The credit applies to any necessary new roofing and to carports, parking lot structures, etc. Nonprofits and churches can create LLCs to benefit from these credits.

As a result of our summer climate and solar ambassador program, we know a little bit about this industry. Talk to one of us (at 505-265-1200) if you have questions, but we will want to connect you with the real pros, who can best analyze your situation in detail.

Greg and Trish, for the Los Alamos Study Group