No Environmental Review For LANL Expansion?

Letter To The Editor_Pongratz Endorses Chris Chandler For House District 43 Seat

Dear Editor,

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

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 DOE’s site of mass production of pits in order to fuel the Cold War. Some70,000 pits were produced there.

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 1990’s, LANL was instructed to make 20 ppy by DOE mandate. However, since then, LANL has only been able to produce a handful of pits due to incompetence, including mismanagement by several different for-profit and non-profit corporations, 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 ppy to be built 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 (PEIS), typically required by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 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 (SWEIS) 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 (SA) 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; basically nothing at all.

As background, the current SWEIS 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, economy, environment and climate.

Additionally, at this time, as far as we know, comprehensive detailed plans have not been completed by the NNSA.  Yet, Senators Heinrich and Udall and Congressman Lujan fully support NNSA’s plutonium operations expansion for LANL with only a Supplement Analysis as opposed to any sort of nation-wide programmatic environmental review, followed by a site-specific environmental review for LANL.

New Mexico’s 100% Democrat delegation tends to be fairly progressive on a number of the important issues facing our country and the planet, 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 a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the two sites, followed by 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 Lujan demand that the DOE/NNSA conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, followed by a new LANL 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 on Tuesday, Feb. 11. 

New Mexico needs a fresh look!

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, please call (575) 770-2629 or email

El Prado