BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Board of County Commissioners of Santa Fe County unanimously passed a resolution this week calling for the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration to complete a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory prior to expanding plutonium pit production at the facility. The last SWEIS for LANL was completed in 2008.
The original draft resolution was submitted for review by Commissioners Anna Hansen and Anna Hamilton and the final version contained several friendly amendments brought by Commission Chair Henry Roybal who is a LANL employee and chair of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Board.
The resolution notes that Santa Fe County Commission has a “longstanding tradition of promoting democracy and environmental protection in pending nuclear weapons decisions by requesting that local governments be kept fully informed about projects facilitating production of additional plutonium warheads at Los Alamos so as to make citizens aware of potential safety and environmental hazards associated with the handling of plutonium and other dangerous materials in a timely fashion”.
It indicates that the County has previously joined with the City of Santa Fe in calling for a LANL EIS. It mentions a 2017 NNSA report to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board that found that LANL was the only nuclear weapons production site that did not make nuclear safety expectations. It notes that the DNFSB has recently reported the possibility of exposures of potentially lethal radioactive doses as high as 760 rem to workers at the Plutonium Facility with a possible public exposure of 24 rem “because LANL does not appropriately analyze appropriate energetic chemical reactions involving transuranic waste such as the improperly prepared radioactive waste drums from LANL that in 2014 which contaminated and closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Project for nearly three years”.
DNFSB’s calculations of potential exposure to workers and the public are orders of magnitude greater than those disclosed by the NNSA in any of its past analyses related to expanded plutonium pit production, the resolution says. It claims that with pits having a lifetime of at least 60 years, expanded production is unnecessary and there is more than sufficient time – more than 20 years – to complete a SWEIS. The resolution refers to a recent independent Government Accountability Office report that states that “in the last two decades LANL has twice had to suspend Laboratory wide operations after the discovery of significant safety issues” and “a 2018 study found that LANL is marginally capable of meeting NNSA’s plan to ramp up pit production to 30 pits per year by 2026.” It says NNSA has refused to begin a SWEIS, instead relying on the outdated SWEIS and that the National Environmental Policy Act requires new analysis when there’s new information and changed circumstances which in this case includes a major wildfire, up to $13 billion in new construction at LANL, increasing seismic risks on the Pajarito Plateau, including seismic faults near PF-4, the discovery of serious groundwater contamination and planned tritium releases, the resolution states.
There was no discussion during the meeting on the sources for technical or other information included in the resolution and no links were provided to documents referred to in the verbiage. There was little discussion among commissioners as to the reason for the resolution or the concerns raised in its content. The resolution asked that NNSA “suspend any planned expanded plutonium pit production until all outstanding nuclear safety issues are resolved as certified by the independent DNFSB”, however, it has never been the practice of the DNFSB to certify that safety issues have been resolved in any defense nuclear facility. The resolution does not call for nuclear disarmament or voice opposition to the production of nuclear weapons. Also, the resolution refers to $13 billion in spending planned for new construction whereas in since November 2019, Triad officials have used $10 billion as the amount projected for all construction and infrastructure work for the following 10 years.
Under the public comment section of the agenda, there were three people who spoke in favor of the resolution Jay Coghlan and Scott Kovach of Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Teresa Seamster from the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Chair Roybal’s first proposed amendment to the draft was to add, “Whereas all pit activities are beyond the sole discretion of the NNSA and national security operations will continue,” however Hansen and Hamilton both objected to that so it was removed in the final version.
Following the addition of all but one of Roybal’s friendly amendments the resolution included requests that:
- in accordance with the requirements of NEPA, NNSA immediately begin and complete a new SWEIS for Continued Operations at LANL and “while it does so, it take more concerted action to benefit the citizens of Santa Fe County”;
- NNSA work closely with the DNFSB “to correct nuclear safety concerns that will better protect the workers and citizens of Santa Fe County and speed the removal of hazardous materials generated by LANL”;
- NNSA and DOE significantly increase the budget for environmental remediation of the site;
- NNSA and DOE expand both their educational outreach opportunities and workforce training efforts to further benefit the citizens of Santa Fe County; and
- NNSA further “expand the procurement opportunities for our local small businesses vital to the generation of Gross Receipts Taxes needed for County operations”.
The NNSA announced last year that it would not conduct a SWEIS for pit production at LANL but opted instead to complete a Supplement Analysis of the 2008 SWEIS.