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The Republic

Watchdog files second lawsuit over proposed Los Alamos plutonium lab

JERI CLAUSING, Associated Press
October 21, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A nuclear watchdog group on Friday filed a second lawsuit seeking to halt construction of a $5.8 billion plutonium research lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court by the Los Alamos Study Group seeks to force Los Alamos to consider cheaper alternatives to the project.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy that oversees the nuclear labs, last week issued the formal orders needed to begin taking bids for final design and construction of the nuclear facility, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project, or CMRR.

The facility would replace a 60-year-old building that has been declared seismically unsafe. It's a project that has been on the drawing board for decades, and one that won't likely be finished for close to another decade.

Critics have been fighting the proposal for as long as it has been on the table, arguing it is an unnecessary and outrageously priced bomb factory.

Lab officials insist nuclear weapons will neither be made nor stored there. They say CMRR's mission is to analyze and understand nuclear elements.

The new lawsuit claims NNSA failed to evaluate alternatives as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"Despite spending millions on what turns out to be 14 pounds of after-the-fact NEPA paperwork, NNSA still has not analyzed the impacts of even one reasonable alternative," Los Alamos Study Group Director Greg Mello said in statement. "For NNSA, it's their way or the highway. Yet analysis of the environmental impacts of reasonable alternatives to a project is the very heart of NEPA."

Mello argues the country should be funding infrastructure projects "that help us save the environment, not destroy it."

Toni Chiri of the NNSA's Los Alamos Site Office said agency officials were in the process of reading the lawsuit. Citing the pending litigation, she declined to comment further.

Last year, the group filed a similar lawsuit seeking to block the project. That suit claimed the U.S. Department of Energy and NNSA violated federal law by preparing to build CMRR without a new environmental impact statement or without properly considering alternatives.

A federal judge threw that lawsuit out in June after NNSA released a new review of the project.

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