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ABQ Journal

LANL Facility a Costly Sham

By Peter Neils, President, Los Alamos Study Group,
Sun, May 22, 2011

The Department of Energy and the semi-autonomous agency under it that manages the nuclear weapons program, the National Nuclear Security Administration, are in the process of building the most costly single construction project in New Mexico’s history, the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement — Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In 2003 it conducted an environmental impact statement for the project. At that time they estimated its cost at $350 [$600] million, including a smaller support building.

Since then the cost has ballooned to upward of $6 billion for just the nuclear facility with final design not completed, so it is likely to go higher still.

Its potential environmental impacts have grown commensurately with the cost, now impacting at least three times the surface area on Pajarito Mesa, requiring 55 [100] times the original amount of concrete (350,000 [371,000] cubic yards), and 27 [30] times as much structural steel (15,000 [18,000] tons), and an excavation 125 feet deep. The Los Alamos Study Group believes that the project now bears so little resemblance to the one scoped in 2003 that the original environmental impact statement is no longer applicable.

We have filed a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act to compel the NNSA to comply with the act and initiate a new impact statement. In response to our lawsuit, NNSA has conducted a supplemental environmental impact statement. We regard this as an evasion of its responsibility under the National Environmental Policy Act and have testified accordingly before a federal judge in an effort to halt work on the project until the merits of our complaint are reviewed.

Without an applicable environmental impact statement, roughly a half a million dollars a day is still being spent on this project.

Hearings to gather public comments on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement will be conducted in the next week at several locations in New Mexico. We believe that the appropriate response from concerned citizens should be a boycott of these proceedings.

Various citizen groups are organizing turnouts for these hearings, representing to their constituencies that testifying during the public comment period that they do not want this facility to be built will somehow affect what the NNSA is doing.

First, nothing could be further from the truth. If their opposition to the project is the substance of their testimony, it will have no effect on the project. Second, their participation contributes credibility to NNSA’s effort to use this sham to satisfy its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Citizens are evidently sufficiently disempowered that they will grasp at any straw to convey their sentiments to our government, even when informed that the venue is inappropriate, or that their participation may be used to validate what amounts to a type of fraud.

In this case the supplemental environmental impact statement, and those who support it, is also undermining an attempt to compel the NNSA to start over and conduct a new environmental impact statement. A fresh environmental impact statement could, and we believe would, result in the NNSA and Congress concluding that a more environmentally benign and less costly alternative would do the job. That will not happen if the supplemental environmental impact statement is the last environmental review of the project.

Only if our lawsuit is successful, or Congress has a change of heart, will the NNSA be required to start over and take a hard look at all practical alternatives, many of which we believe could satisfy the proposed mission of this building.

Anyone who believes in good governance, whatever their political persuasion, should desire this outcome in order to halt what has become a massive waste of taxpayers’ money. The supplemental environmental impact statement has been carefully managed to rubber-stamp what is already under way.

We hope concerned citizens carefully consider their participation in the NNSA’s attempt to do an administrative side step around its responsibility and lawful obligation.

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