Informal note to local friends: amendment to bar expansion of pit production at LANL to be voted on tonight
May 25, 2016
Dear colleagues --
We just received word from Rep. Garamendi's office that the House of Representatives will vote tonight on Congressman John Garamendi’s amendment to H.R. 5055, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which will prohibit the expansion of plutonium pit production capacity at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Here is a video of Congressman Garamendi’s statement on the floor of the House in favor of the amendment. Here is his letter to fellow representatives:
Our job is about making hard choices. Fortunately, this one is easy. I ask for your support of my amendment which will halt an expensive, dangerous, and unnecessary program to build new nuclear weapons.
My amendment would halt a plan to increase the capacity of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manufacture new plutonium “pits” at the PF-4 facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Plutonium pits are [sometimes] spherical pieces of plutonium which form the core of all American nuclear weapons. NNSA is currently planning to increase its capacity to manufacture these pits, and therefore build new nuclear weapons, from 11 per year to 50-80 per year over the next decade. This plan will cost taxpayers billions of dollars and is not necessary.
Why do we need even more capacity for new nuclear weapons?
We don’t. Nuclear weapons proponents claim that we need this capacity in case of geostrategic surprise. The United States already has more than 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons (according to New START counting rules) and nearly 5,000 nuclear weapons in the active stockpile. Nuclear weapons proponents also claim that we need this capacity in case we discover a problem with our warheads. However, our nearly 5,000 warheads are spread across many different warhead types and variants, from tactical systems less than a tenth the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima to a megaton-class bomb capable of inflicting more than a million casualties in a densely-populated area. A technical failure in one system will still leave us with plenty of options while the existing production capacity manufactures replacement pits or utilizes the existing stockpile of several thousand plutonium pits currently in storage.
Why are we increasing capacity?
NNSA currently plans increase capacity because of an arbitrary requirement and timeline of 80 pits per year by 2027. My office has had repeated discussions with the Department of Defense and NNSA to find the source of the 80 pits per year requirement. Based on those conversations, we believe that source of that number is based on the maximum theoretical capacity of the PF-4 facility and not any specifically calculated military necessity. The arbitrary mandate also pushed up a planned production timeline by four years, putting pressure on an already strained nuclear weapons infrastructure charged with ensuring that our current nuclear weapons are safe and reliable.
Will this amendment restrict safety and construction upgrades at PF-4?
Absolutely not. The PF-4 facility is currently the only facility in the United States with an ability manufacture plutonium pits. It is also a very old building which sits near a major fault line. In recent years, PF-4’s MAR rating (the amount of fissile material the building is allowed to contain at any one time) was downgraded because of concerns about the building’s structural integrity during an earthquake. My amendment would not restrict construction to make the PF-4 facility safer and more survivable. It would also not restrict current plans to replace and upgrade ventilation systems and glove boxes which keep workers safe and protected from radiation. It would only restrict funds to increase pit production capacity.
The United States does not need this excess capacity to produce new plutonium pits and new nuclear weapons. I ask for your support on my amendment to rein in unnecessary spending to achieve an arbitrary capacity which the United States does not need.
Member of Congress
We have been working with Rep. Garamendi closely off and on for two years on this topic but we didn't know he would be able to file an amendment to the Energy and Water bill. At this late moment there is nothing much for any of us to on this particular vote but take heart, dear friends! Many people in government know this proposed expansion is unnecessary and wasteful. We can defeat it, as we have defeated previous attempts to bring a new Rocky Flats to Santa Fe.
We hope you will join us next month to talk about this and so much else. Trish has updated our handy on-line calendar.
As it happens we were developing a new fact sheet on this topic when Rep. Garamendi's office contacted us tonight.
Some of you will have seen the fine article by Rebecca Moss of the New Mexican (Report finds fire-safety deficiencies at LANL, Santa Fe New Mexican, May 20, 2016; see also the underlying Seismic Qualification of Fire Suppression System at LANL, DNFSB report, May 12, 2016). There is now a formal "Evaluation of the Safety of the Situation" (ESS) underway at LANL. In the meantime, allowable plutonium "material at risk" (MAR) in PF-4 has been lowered.
From other congressional correspondence tonight we know that this recent important DNFSB information, now summarized and made politically meaningful by Ms. Moss, was not known until now by many (if any) in Congress. So it goes.
The inability of LANS and NNSA to take care of its basic business at PF-4 -- pushing back against needed safety upgrades, often for years, and discovering one problem after another seriatum -- is indicative of more failures to come.
Best wishes and good evening,