BY MAIRE O’NEILL
During Thursday evening’s New Mexico Environment Department’s virtual Consent Order Update Meeting, a Department of Energy Environmental Management representative may have let the cat out of the bag when he said the DOE/NNSA has just received funding to start a new Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Although LANL has said the SWEIS forms the backbone of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation for the Lab’s continued facility operations, the last SWEIS was conducted in 2008. In the past couple of years, there have been calls for a new SWEIS in light of the plans for expanded plutonium pit production at LANL. In September 2020, NNSA issued a final Supplement Analysis for the 2008 SWEIS which determined that “no further NEPA analysis is required prior to implementing elements of the Expanded Operations Alternative in the 2008 SWEIS, as needed, to produce a minimum of 30 war reserve pits per year during 2026 for the national pit production mission and to implement surge efforts to exceed 30 pits per year to meet (the Nuclear Posture Review) and national policy.
During Thursday’s meeting, the Jesse Kahler, the NEPA Compliance Officer for EM-LA, said NNSA is working on getting the new SWEIS started and notifying the public.
Kahler’s comments came during the response to a question posed by Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall as to whether there was any evaluation of the carbon footprint of EM-LA remediation alternatives for legacy waste. NMED Acting Resource Protection Division Director Chris Catechis responded that NMED has not yet received anything along those lines.
“Looking at some of these corrective measures or just any routine operations, are there any metrics about how to reduce the carbon footprint,” Ryti asked.
Lee Bishop, Director of the Office of Quality and Regulatory Compliance for EM-LA said that gets a little too specific for just EM-LA remediation.
“Under the National Environmental Policy Act there’s the NEPA program, there’s the Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement where they do look at overall carbon footprint and that’s being updated right now by NNSA and EM will be supporting them with that with our contributions and certainly under the new administration some of the NEPA requirements have increased quite a bit along with documenting your carbon footprint,” Bishop said.
Kahler said the new SWEIS will include some of the greenhouse emission standards Ryti referred to.
During the question and answer period, Nuclear Watch New Mexico executive director Jay Coghlan said he was fascinated to hear that there was some funding allocated for a new SWEIS.
“The last one was in 2008 and it’s woefully outdated. To use NEPA terms, there’s a lot of new information and changed circumstances,” Coghlan said. “…And then there’s the question of the scope of the SWEIS, which would by definition imply it should consider the full range of issues from cleanup to pit production. What more can be said about a new SWEIS for Los Alamos (National Laboratory) at this time because as far as I know this is the first inkling whatsoever that there will be a new one?”
Kahler responded that he is talks with the NEPA compliance officer for NNSA.
“And I did not intend to open that can of worms on this call. You at this point know as much as we do. The Department of Energy is not in a position to discuss scoping or ideas or anything like that. We are in the very, very infancy stages of preparing to do that. I can’t go down the EIS path with anyone because we don’t know the details just yet. I will say that the DOE is receptive to those things but we have to it in a very methodical way….We are not even close to talking about scope yet,” he said.
Coghlan pointed out that a new SWEIS would have to be an EM and an NNSA document analyzing the full spectrum of issues and programs at Los Alamos.
“I get it that you can’t say any more. I appreciate you said anything at all,” he said.