Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Nuke Pit Facility Just Make-Work Project
By Peter Neils
President, Los Alamos Study Group
President Obama's long-term commitment to increase funding for the nuclear weapon's establishment to $180 billion over the next nine years is irreconcilable with his stated commitment to nuclear disarmament. The apparent intention is to lock in a nuclear apartheid. The vast majority of the world, the non-nuclear countries, are apparently meant to kow-tow to the dictates of the nuclear weapons states while enduring disingenuous homilies about the dangers of nuclear proliferation that give lip service to disarmament. Meanwhile, major infrastructure investments, that can only be justified if new nuclear weapons designs are to be pursued, are in the works in America. International observers are not likely to overlook this incongruity.
What if, to name just one example, one were to suggest that 24,000 certified plutonium pits (currently stored securely at remote locations) were sufficient to ensure the surety of the U.S. nuclear stockpile while we actually led the transition to a nuclear weapons-free world, our obligation under international law?
An independent panel of acknowledged experts in the field has advised Congress that the existing inventory of pits will perform as designed at the least until the last decades of this century. Why, then, is Mr. Obama determined build a $4.3 billion facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory designed to support the manufacture of yet more pits, our existing inventory of which will outlast the design life of this building twice over? He has placed himself in the awkward position of defending a construction project, the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Replacement Nuclear Facility, that was marketed to Congress as a $350 million building that has grown to an estimated $4.3 billion, with no firm cost basis yet completed. Few seem willing to call it what it has become, a boondoggle.
The Los Alamos Study Group has monitored and opposed this project from its inception in the 1999. We have now filed suit under the National Environmental Policy Act to stop all funding for and work on this building until a completely new Environmental Impact Statement is prepared. Following the announcement of our intent to sue, the National Nuclear Security Administration responded that it was conducting an internal review of the project, and it now appears to be on the verge of announcing that in light of significant changes to the project, it intends to conduct a Supplementary EIS. This is insufficient.
A Supplementary EIS does not require the NNSA to weigh the current project against all available alternatives. A Supplemental EIS is designed to assess the impacts of minor changes in a project. A project that now requires 347,000 cubic yards of concrete, 55 times the original, 27 times as much structural steel, entails as many as 100,000 heavy truck trips up and down Pajarito Road, and impacts significantly more surface area than the project that was presented in 2003 is not a modification of the original; it is not the same project.
We do not believe that this project would have been selected from the field of alternatives evaluated in 2003 if it had carried its current cost and environmental consequences.
Americans are working harder than ever to pay their bills. Highly respected independent assessments commissioned by Congress have concluded with a high degree of confidence that the current stockpile will perform as designed far into the future. For a nearly autonomous government agency to throw our tax dollars away to enhance our capability to manufacture new weapons designs that cannot be certified is short-sighted. It is a make-work project for the laboratory that does not make sense, will damage non-proliferation efforts, and which America cannot afford.