BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Dozens of environmental groups, non-government organizations and individuals have signed a request to the Department of Energy for a two-month extension of the Oct. 3 comment deadline for scoping comments on a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for continued operations of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
A letter sent Tuesday states that the current comment period is simply not enough time for the public to make meaningful comments on the scope of a proposal as large, complex and technical as the LANL SWEIS. It is addressed to Sec. of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Jill Hruby, DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Ted Wyka and NNSA’s NEPA Compliance Officer at LANL Kristen Dors. The top two signatories are Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
“The scope of the LANL SWEIS is of great national importance because it examines the environmental impacts associated with expanded plutonium pit production and cleanup at LANL,” the letter reads. “The 2008 LANL SWEIS is a formidable document, with 1942 pages, not counting the 144-page Summary and the 1207-page Comment Response Document. That’s a total of 3293 pages. This gives an idea of the amount of information analyses that are involved in preparing informed public scoping comments and why more time is needed.”
The letter says that with an annual budget at LANL of almost $5 billion requested for FY2023, the scale of operations at LANL will require much more research than the public can do in 45 days and that the soon to be released 1000-page draft Hazardous Waste Permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad will also require public review and comment.
Although the DOE’s Notice of Intent for the LANL SWEIS includes a list of 21 issues for analysis and NNSA is inviting suggestions for the addition or deletion of items on the list, the letter claims that the list “barely scratches the surface of issues that need to be analyzed”. The letter lists such issues as the slow pace of cleanup, the desire for truly comprehensive cleanup “instead of the ‘cap and cover’ they say LANL is proposing, the growing threat of wildfires, LANL’s chronic track record of nuclear safety incidences and further generation of plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes.
The letter also mentions environmental and social justice impacts on frontline communities.
“DOE plans to spend $9.4 billion in FY 2023 in New Mexico (71% for core nuclear weapons research and production programs), substantially greater than the state’s entire budget of $8.5 billion. The inequitable economic impacts of such funding must be thoroughly evaluated,” the letter states. “Fourteen years have passed since the publication of the 2008 final LANL SWEIS and there is no reason to rush the 2023 SWEIS process.”