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"Forget the Rest" blog

November 20, 2010   

By email to:    Reference: 505-665-0113

Mr. John Tegtmeier, CMRR-NF SEIS Document Manager
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Los Alamos Site Office
3747 West Jemez Road, TA-3 Building 1410
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Dear John –

        I’ve left these “scoping” comments until now while working on our National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) litigation regarding this project, the broad subject of which is the proper scope for NEPA analysis concerning the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).  I urge you to review these submittals for recommendations regarding the present process.[1]

        I can’t offer a “cookie cutter” approach because the process in which you are engaged is so mis-aligned with the realities of agency action, facts on the ground, and law.  For these reasons I encourage you to just start over.  It is virtually impossible to repair what you have offered. 

        I am sorry if this timing – five days after the formal closure of your comment period – is in any way inconvenient, but the process in which you are engaged has not merited a high priority compared to other fora in which comments can be offered.  We have also had a death and a grave illness in our family. 

        Among our principle comments are that 1) investment in the project must stop during NEPA analysis, 2) all reasonable primary and secondary alternatives must be examined as NEPA’s implementing regulations require, and 3) there is nothing to “supplement” in the original environmental impact statement (EIS) given that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has abandoned all the alternatives examined there.  Hence the process of preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to which you are assigned is improperly named and grossly inadequate.  The scope of analysis presented in the October 1, 2010 Notice of Intent (NOI) is irreparably narrow and cursory.    

        The present effort is one of transparent bad faith.  Not only is NNSA not halting its advanced commitment to a particular project alternative during the NEPA process, as is required by law and common sense, but each of us can read of the full commitment of the entire Executive Branch to building the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).  We read it on the front pages of our newspapers[2], in the trade press,[3] on the White House web site[4], and in the updated “Section 1251 Report” (attached to this email)

        Nevertheless you are tasked to pretend to conduct an objective SEIS process in which two of the proposed alternatives are primary alternatives, i.e. they would not build the project.  Given the full commitment expressed by government officials to a particular alternative as well as the continued expenditures of great sums, we must conclude that this SEIS process is a fraud.  It puts you in an unfortunate position. 

        My colleagues and I aren’t sure what process NNSA used to provide notice of this SEIS process and suspect it was inadequate.  Neither I nor anyone else here received any direct notice from NNSA or DOE by mail or any other means.  No one else with whom I have spoken has either.  I personally learned of the NOI, and the opening of the comment period, from news reporters I happened to know.  We knew a SEIS process was coming sometime, though we didn’t know when, only because we are engaged in litigation on the topic.  We could not discover that any of the cognizant staff members at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) had ever seen any formal notice.  We aren’t sure whether the tribes were formally notified, or local governments.  For this reason also it appears you need to start over.  This is a matter of national importance – were your national mailing lists used? 

        We are also concerned there were no hearings in other relevant NNSA locations, given that the choice of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as a plutonium warhead core (“pit”)  production site was predicated on total costs which were initially estimated to be about a factor of ten lower than today’s, in constant dollars.[5]; In part these costs stem from the relatively recent discovery of greater seismic hazard at LANL and the subsequent realization that the unconsolidated volcanic ash beneath the site poses significant seismic problems.  These geologic factors suggest other sites as reasonable alternatives, especially the Savannah River Site (SRS), where NNSA and DOE are constructing a large plutonium manufacturing and waste handling infrastructure.  There should have been notice given, and a hearing or two there.  Pantex and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) are also reasonable sites.  NNSA may say that these alternative sites were examined when LANL was chosen, which is true.  But the basis for that decision strongly included economic and technical factors that have not been reexamined since.  Given the huge cost increase, these sites merit re-examination. 

        The parties notified and the means of their notification are matters of public record.  I would like this information and with this letter I am requesting it.  

        I would also like to attach my 2002 scoping comments on what became the 2003 CMRR EIS, for two reasons.  Most of these issues are still germane and have not been considered.  Also, DOE did not include those comments in its comment response materials or even list me or this organization as a commentator at the time.  Perhaps I will have better luck this time. 

        Concerning the October 1 NOI, consider first the “No Action” alternative.  As described it is very far from “no action,” as it would build a CMRR-NF as decided in 2004.  It is also an alternative which NNSA has declared impossible and unrealistic.  Such a “No Action” alternative is therefore doubly absurd and discredits the present process. 

        “CMR Alternative 1” is also absurd, having been previously labeled unacceptable by NNSA and the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB).  In fact, the unsuitability of this alternative is used by NNSA as the primary justification for the CMRR project.  In addition, NNSA has already abandoned 3 of 7CMR wings.

        NNSA knows these alternatives are unrealistic. 

        “CMR Alternative 2” is reasonable, provided if applies only to some subset of the four southern wings of CMR and when considered together with other programmatic and infrastructure decisions which are not stated.  Without those decisions, it too would not be reasonable. 

        So this SEIS would analyze just one or possibly two reasonable alternatives, the preferred alternative being by definition reasonable to NNSA.  This is very below any legal or professional standard. 

        Disregarding the bad faith aspects, the NOI offered is so sketchy as to be nearly a complete tabula rasa.  There is a highly abridged notice and comment opportunity here not just because, as it presently appears, few if any were notified, but also because what notice was obscurely provided in the Federal Register was itself highly abridged. 

        There is such a complete lack of analysis underlying the decision to build CMRR-NF that is difficult to know where to start. 

        The first step would be to lay out the proposed mission clearly.  This I cannot do for you.  As time is limited, these comments will largely pass over this foundational problem. 

        I can offer a discussion of recommendations for pit management policy, which bears on CMRR-NF’s central purpose and need.  It is dated about 10 months but the facts have not changed that much.  It is impossible to define alternatives unless NNSA clarifies the proposed mission of CMRR-NF.  The building itself is not its mission, as DOE Order 413.3A makes plain:

The mission need is independent of a particular solution, and should not be defined by equipment, facility, technological solution, or physical end-item. This approach allows the Program the flexibility to explore a variety of solutions and not limit potential solutions.[6]

        NNSA cannot define its purpose as “building a building like CMRR-NF.”  This does not generate any alternatives. 

        What does NNSA mean when it says CMRR-NF is being built in a modular, expansible manner?  In other words, what is the actual decision being made?  This may connect with the preservation of the space to the west of CMRR-NF as a possible expansion space.  There are many ways in which the nature of the proposed CMRR-NF – its project definition – is vague, open-ended, and incomplete.  We simply do not know the mission of CMRR-NF. 

        Next comes the issue of available existing and planned infrastructure and how the proposed mission(s) are to be integrated with others.  Reasonable primary alternatives to CMRR-NF will involve the use, or the planned contingent use, of various subsets of the following existing and planned facilities (the net programmatic HazCat II space shown is approximate):

1.      At LANL

a.   PF-4 (HazCat II)                                               59,500 sq. ft.

b.   CMR Wing 9 (Hazcat II)                                       8,000 sq. ft.

c.   CMR Wing 7 (Hazcat II or III)                                8,000 sq. ft.

d.   CMR Wing 5 (Hazcat II or III)                                 8,000 sq. ft.

e.   CMR Wing 3 (Hazcat II or III) (no HEPA)                8,000 sq. ft.

f.    RLUOB (radiological)                                           19,500 sq. ft.

g.   Possibly others, HazCat II and III                                   ?

2.      At LLNL

a.   Superblock                                                         25,000 sq. ft.

3.      At SRS

a.   MFFF (gross area process building, 500,000 sq. ft)

b.   K-Area Complex or PDCF (incl. storage)            ?

4.      At INEL                                                              

a.   Existing, planned Pu facilities                              ?

5.      At Pantex

a.   Pit requalification capability                                   modest

6.      Pu storage                                                                        large

7.      At various sites (Pu storage)                                               large

8.      At WIPP (disposal)                                                             n/a

9.      Private industry sites (contractor-owned and -operated)

        So, without being able to clarify where we stand as to mission, we must come to the question of alternatives somewhat in the dark.  NNSA should consider primary, secondary, and tertiary alternatives to CMRR-NF. 

A.    Primary CMRR-NF alternatives: not building CMRR-NF or not building it now

1.    A suite of options involving delay of CMRR-NF for a period of time (e.g. one decade), then re-examining the issue.  This alternative will save discounted operations costs as adjusted by discounted changes in construction costs and a discounted premium for reinitiating design, if the project does not change.  This savings is large but hard to predict, approximating $1 B for a ten year delay.

2.    A suite of options involving contingency plans for pit production, involving various sites above.  One can distinguish levels of contingency with their associated strategies.  Such strategies would draw upon NNSA’s full suite of facilities, listed above in I. 

3.    CMRR-NF with or without the “hotel option.”

4.    A suite of options involving pit recycling and metal purification at SRS (K-Area or PDCF), which diminishes the purpose and need for space in the PF-4, CMRR-NF complex.

5.   A suite of options involving building RLUOB only (since this is nearly done, these options are variations of the "no action alternative")

a.   Build RLUOB only and modify PF-4 in the TA-55 Reinvestment Project (TRP)

                                    i.   By changing the building physically

                                    ii.   By changing the mission mix and internal equipment in PF-4, for example by moving the entire Pu-238 operation to INL, as previously planned, creating a more contingent-pit-production-dedicated profile of missions for PF-4.  Moving Pu-238 activities from PF-4 to INL would liberate about 15,000 ft2 in PF-4.

                                    iii.   These changes could be contingent upon future policies and events.

b.   Using or maintaining Superblock at LLNL as a HazCat II facility for some CMRR-NF purposes

c.   Using elements of the Pu infrastructure at SRS, especially in a contingency mode

d.   Using elements of the Pu infrastructure at INL, especially in a contingency mode. 

e.   Wings 9, 7, 5, and perhaps 3 are apparently going to be kept until 2022 at least, if not 2026.  Keep part of these suite of facilities longer than that, focusing upgrades on that part of CMR.  There are currently no plans to tear down Wing 9.  So Alternative 2 in the SEIS NOI really addresses upgrading a subset of wings 7, 5, and 3.    

f.    Combinations of the above.

B.     Secondary alternatives: building CMRR-NF with a different overall concept

1.   The present CMRR-NF is 342 ft x 304 ft.  It has a gross square footage of 381,000 ft2, meaning there are nominally 4 (counted) floors in the building.  This design requires that the building bottom be 75 ft below grade, requiring an additional 50-60 feet of concrete below that to a total depth of 125 ft.  This is very costly and has great environmental impacts.  Is this the only way to build this? 

Is replacement of the unconsolidated ash layer a firm requirement if a) the “hotel concept” were dropped and the building bottom was 25-35 ft higher? 

The lab space in the building is evidently about 150 ft by 150 ft in size on the third floor up, or 22,500 ft2.  It is surrounded by a 77-96 ft buffer of other building space on all sides.

Could the CMRR-NF be built less deep but wider?  Is it true that NNSA is preserving the area to the W of CMRR-NF for another possible facility, and if so shouldn’t this be part of the project description? 

Could the CMRR-NF be built higher and bermed, or fitted with blast protection via double walls, gabions, or other measures? 

C.    Tertiary alternatives with differing impacts that affect the construction process

1.   Alternative locations for the source of aggregate; these sources affect trucking impacts in a big way

2.   Road alternatives.

3.   And so on.

D.    Alternatives for D&D of CMR

1.   These are driven or connected to choices as to partial use.  

E.     Alternatives for D&D of CMRR

1.   Grout in place

2.   Remove and dispose

        The above sketch does not exhaust the possible alternatives, includes mixing and matching missions (assuming NNSA knows what these are) with facilities.  Here are some illustrative possible elements.      

1.   Refurbish CMR Wing 9, with other CMR utility, security, and safety upgrades as needed

2.   Refurbish CMR Wing 7, with other CMR utility, security, and safety upgrades as needed

3.   Refurbish CMR Wing 5, with other CMR utility, security, and safety upgrades as needed

4.   Refurbish CMR Wing 3, possibly as utility core, with other CMR utility, security, and safety upgrades as needed

5.    Reconfigure or task PF-4 to include some CMR missions as needed

6.    Operationally and/or physically upgrade RLUOB to include some transient HazCat II missions

7.    Move Pu-238 missions from PF-4, e.g. to INL

8.    Use elements of the Pu infrastructure at INL to absorb some LANL Pu missions and tasks

9.    Retain Superblock as a HazCat II facility or a contingent one

10.  Cancel PuO2 production for MOX

11.  Use SRS K Area Complex or other location for long-term Pu storage

12.  Use PDCF or MFFF to prepare Pu metal for pit manufacturing, liberating space at TA-55

13.  Dedicate a portion of MFFF to some aspect of the pit production mission or some other Pu mission(s)

14.  Pause CMRR-NF at CD 2 and take selected interim actions, including actions from this list

15.  Contingency planning (in lieu of prompt facility and program initiation), affecting various facilities

        As I said, what NNSA has provided is too sketchy to truly comment upon, all other problems notwithstanding.  You pose a so-called “wicked problem,” with no solution. 

        Thank you for your attention.  I believe NNSA should pull back its SEIS NOI and start over with something far more substantive in the way of analysis.  I have been requesting this for some years now. 


        Greg Mello

[1] “CMRR Nuclear Facility: Litigation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

[2] E.g. today: John Fleck, “Nuclear Spending Plan Up,” Albuquerque Journal, 11/ 19/10,       

[3] E.g. any recent issue of Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, such as today’s.

[4] White House, “Fact Sheet: An Enduring Commitment to the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent,” 11/17/10,

[5] For a discussion see April 6, 1998 Declaration of Gregory Mello,


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