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Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor

July 5, 2010

A New Mexico activist group has called on the National Nuclear Security Administration to update its Environmental Impact Statement for the planned Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility, and is threatening to sue to make sure it happens. Citing the significant increase in cost and scope of the multi-billion-dollar project, the Los Alamos Study Group asked the NNSA and Department of Energy in a letter last week to take a look at the impact of the facility on the environment and consider new alternatives before moving forward with what it contends is a vastly different project from when the agency last performed an EIS in 2003. “NNSA has to take a hard look at what has become a completely different and much bigger project than it ever thought of in 2003,” Los Alamos Study Group Director Greg Mello said. “What we need now is a more conscious process that can take the agency and Congress off autopilot. Clearly in the last year the project has exploded in costs and ancillary impacts. So the range of alternatives that ought to be on the table is now rather large.”

The CMRR-NF is planned to replace Los Alamos’ 1950s-era Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility, relocating and consolidating analytical chemistry, material characterization and actinide research and development work at the lab in support of the agency’s plutonium research and pit surveillance activities. As part of the Obama Administration’s plans to modernize the nation’s weapons complex, the project received a vote of confidence this year as the Administration requested $225 million for the project in Fiscal Year 2011, more than double the $97 million it plans to spend in FY2010, but the facility isn’t expected to be operational until 2022 and a firm estimate for the project won’t be ready until 2014. Construction is slated to start next year, but a lawsuit would delay those plans. Current estimates indicate the facility could cost as much as $4 billion, up significantly from estimates seven years ago, and the Los Alamos Study Group—which opposes the facility altogether—has suggested there are alternatives that should be studied. If the NNSA doesn’t agree to perform an EIS, Mello said the study group will file suit in federal district court to compel the agency to take the action.

NNSA spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner said the agency would not comment on the pending lawsuit, but said a supplement analysis was planned for the proposed facility. “Pursuant to federal regulation, NNSA prepares a supplement analysis to determine whether an existing environmental impact statement should be supplemented, a new environmental impact statement should be prepared or no new NEPA documentation is required,” Wagner said in a statement to NW&M Monitor. “NNSA takes its commitment to environmental stewardship and the state of New Mexico very seriously.”

(copied here by permission)

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