|"Forget the Rest" blog|
Remarks and Press
The National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) of Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed building
and operating a large-scale facility for the manufacture of plutonium
“pits,” the cores of the primary stage of nuclear weapons.
Tonight, DOE will conduct a public hearing in
The first pit was made at
Rocky Flats was shut down in 1989 after a joint EPA/FBI raid, prompted by reports of what turned out to be massive violations of environmental and other laws. This raid was preceded by one of the largest sustained campaigns of public protest in the history of the United States, involving tens of thousands of people over roughly a two-decade period, which involved many issues, including environmental, ethical, and national security concerns.
In 1992, after three years of attempting to fix the physical, environmental, and institutional problems at the site, DOE shut down “Rocky.” Since then, cleanup has been underway at that site. Source removal, building decontamination and demolition, and cleanup is expected to cost very roughly $10 billion, not including long-term monitoring and other post-closure care.  Cleanup will not, even if all goes well, address much of the widespread soil contamination at the site. While future facilities are unlikely to be as contaminating and dangerous as the Rocky Flats Plant, this cannot be guaranteed. New or newly appreciated hazards (e.g. terrorism and sabotage) have risen as risk factors even as others have purportedly declined.
Prior attempts to construct
a new plutonium pit factory to replace the Rocky Flats Plant have been
highly controversial, both in
This struggle has been, not least, a struggle for accurate information, without which hearings such as this have little meaning. While some information has kindly been provided, the key pieces of the puzzle, and therefore the whole pattern, have not been. They are not available now. Therefore this momentous issue is being brought before the public in what could only be described as a misleading fashion.
As will be discussed below,
one crucial category of information that has not been fully available
is relates to the past, current, and future potential for pit manufacturing
The requirement to hold the present hearing stems from the settlement of a lawsuit organized by the Los Alamos Study Group (Study Group) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 1997, in which a total of some 39 plaintiffs eventually took part. An important part of that lawsuit concerned the environmental impacts of pit manufacturing then proposed for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
It was specifically alleged by the plaintiffs that DOE had, in addition to its declared pit manufacturing plan, a secret contingency plan to construct a large-scale pit manufacturing facility, which would have much greater environmental and policy impact, and which would complement DOE’s smaller, then-current plan in the fullness of time.
As tonight’s hearing confirms, DOE did have such a plan.
These allegations can be found
in an affidavit dated
In response to these allegations, DOE agreed in settlement to conduct a “supplemental analysis” if it were to change its pit production plan. Tonight’s hearing, and the analysis that will follow, is the legally required result.
In the past 10 years DOE and now NNSA have had several different plans for producing plutonium pits (see note 3). Our friend Jay Rose, who is leading the present analysis, will remember at least some of them. Perhaps Mr. Rose and all of us can sit and have tea together when this plan, like the others, is just a memory.
Almost half of DOE’s large projects are never built, and of those that are, many have serious problems and some never achieve their original purpose. Between 1980 and 1996, DOE cancelled some 31 out of 80 major projects, on which more than $10 billion had already been spent. As of the end of this period, only 15 projects out of 80 had yet been completed (see GAO, RCED-97435R).
We believe the Modern Pit Facility is likely to be one of those projects, because, like so many DOE projects, there is no real “mission need.” It is very important to understand this mission need, which usually receives only cursory treatment in proceedings such as these, and the analysis of alternatives in relation to it. This last, as the pertinent federal regulations state, is the heart of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
Of particular interest, quoting
from the Federal Register Notice of Intent for this process (on
We will submit, in addition to these remarks and the unanswered questions now pending for several years, other comment by mail.
2. Higher Laws
It’s important to recall that the purpose of
this facility is to manufacture a particularly violent and cruel type
of weapon of mass destruction (WMD).
It’s also important to know that the
This recollection is particularly salient because our country is poised to enter a war of aggression, the first such in its history,  under color of eliminating another nation’s ability to produce WMD. Production of WMD is the purpose of the MPF.
Nuclear weapon lethality exceeds that of the worst chemical weapons, on a warhead by warhead or pound for pound basis, by approximately two orders of magnitude.  It also exceeds the effects of all known biological weapons as well, save smallpox. The destructive effects of nuclear weapons – blast, heat, and radiation -- are virtually total near the detonation point, and create a large and not fully predictable area of total killing, within a much large zone of increased likelihood of sickness and early death. These lethal effects cannot by their nature discriminate between military and civilian populations, and one of them, residual radiation, persists for fairly long periods of time.
Nuclear weapons are explicitly
proscribed by numerous international laws and resolutions and, implicitly,
by the laws of war taught to
In fact, such use anywhere would likely be a war crime of high degree, and could be prosecuted as such. Under established principles of international humanitarian law, willful ignorance or blind obedience in such matters does not by themselves constitute a plausible defense against the assignment of responsibility for crimes carried out with such weapons.
Not only is the use of nuclear
weapons barred by law in all important cases, but their very possession
into the indeterminate future is not fully supported by law. In 1968, the
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. 
There are two important norms
here: “do not improve nuclear weapons,” and “do not possess them” –
whether it is continuous non-possession (by most countries), or eventual
non-possession, by the five countries recognized as nuclear weapon states
in the treaty. It cannot be emphasized too much that these
norms were sponsored, advanced, and ratified by the full government
of the United States, and continue to be advanced and supported in each
and every international gathering reviewing the operation of this treaty. It is a cornerstone of global and
It could be argued that to
fulfill this commitment we have only to try, and not necessarily to
succeed, to end the arms race (now unilateral) and to disarm. The
There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control. 
In May of 2000, 155 NPT signatories
[To implement Article VI of the NPT, we commit to:]...An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States and parties are committed under Article VI. 
We believe that the facility in question tonight is not needed for many years hence, if ever, and therefore is an affront to these requirements. It is, in essence, be illegal.
By contrast, the alternative we propose would be compatible with all these commitments as well as with the temporary maintenance of today’s very large nuclear arsenal. It is also compatible with the indefinite maintenance of the arsenal proposed by President Bush, should our country fail to fulfill these treaty requirements.
better alternative would also provide the opportunity to negotiate measures
to prevent rapid buildup of the Russian and Chinese arsenals, improving
And most germane to the present hearing, it would minimize environmental impacts, and both the risks and consequences of accident, sabotage, and terrorist attack.
3. Small is … Less Ugly
According to cognizant LANL
While pits are not fully fungible
between different weapons, there is a degree of interchangeability in
some cases, and some of these cases already have been the subject of
That is, some pit reuse options are “mature
designs” which could be readily certified, according to the DOE. For example, one such option has been prepared
for the W76 Trident I warheads, of which the
President Bush and President
In this agreement, the
We propose that, after consultation
with his advisors, Secretary Abraham convey to President Bush the wisdom
– strategic as well as political -- of renaming the pits in those 6,446
reserved weapons, plus an additional 850 already-retired tactical weapons,
or 7,296 pits in all, a “hedge” against aging in the remaining arsenal,
which will then consist of 2,200 deployed strategic weapons and no more
than 1,160 tactical weapons. In
addition, the circa 5,000 war reserve pits in
This is a lot of pits -- enough, as we used to say, to blow up the world many times over.
It is so many pits, in fact, and of so many kinds and ages, that any outside observer might question just why it is that the most hawkish advisors to the DOE – and here I include Mr. John Foster and Mr. Harold Agnew, among others -- have pushed so hard for the MPF.
I think we all know.
So what is the capacity of the LANL facilities today? It has been variously described.
According to documents submitted to the court in the aforementioned case, LANL had the capacity to make 12 pits per year in 1992. 
In the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement SSM PEIS (p. 3-4, note "a"), DOE states that a pit-making capacity of "up to 50 per year" is "inherent with the facilities and equipment required to manufacture one component for any stockpile system."
We are now supposed to believe that LANL will make its first certified pit in 2007, at a cumulative cost last estimated at $1.741 billion, and that the LANL facility will then have a capacity of approximately 10 pits per year at that time. 
This is most assuredly understated.
Upon information and belief, it does not include the plutonium
isotope pits prepared for testing at the DARHT, Phermex, LANSCE, and
planned follow-on facilities including the Advanced Hydrotest Facility,
as part of programs such as “Appaloosa,” nor, upon information and belief,
does it include all the pits prepared for underground subcritical tests
The planned scale of these programs is substantial -- so substantial that the LANL Comprehensive Site Plan 2000 says that they create a programmatic justification for floor space equal to three-fourths of PF-4, TA-55. 
The actual floor space dedicated to pit production is, upon information and belief, modest relative to the total active floor space at PF-4.  In fact, pit production floor space could be doubled within PF-4, if desired, albeit at sacrifice to other programs.
We believe that LANL’s PF-4 could actually build more than 50 pits per year (with a 3-shift capacity of 80 pits/yr), an alternative already analyzed in the SSM PEIS. Upon information and belief, LANL could double this rate if a) national security depended upon it (which it never will, but that is the assumption in the MPF program) and b) LANL had the manufacturing lines and equipment prepositioned.
What is essential is for LANL to get out of the nuclear weapons design business and into the stockpile maintenance business.
Instead, what the superhawks
are pushing on LANL – perhaps without a full understanding in all parts
of the LANL community – is a future in which new pit designs are brought
forward for certification and manufacture.
These designs would need to be tested in full-up explosive tests
Upon information and belief, the proposed MPF facility is to be sized to produce approximately 125 new pits per year. This is far too large, but it might be, with a careful review and vetting of competing missions, attainable or almost attainable within PF-4.
The capacity for material processing throughput need not be limiting at this scale; in the 1980s this facility processed up to approximately 3 times this much metal in some years. 
The overall rate-determining
steps in pit manufacture are almost certainly manufacturing the fissile
material parts (plutonium in most cases and highly enriched uranium
in the case of the B83 bomb), and assembling the whole.
Other process rates are readily improved if "lacking,"
either at LANL or other DOE sites. Parts
of the CMR building may be available for non-nuclear use; the main shops
could be used; the Sigma Complex is already designated to be so used;
the Kansas City Plant; and
The decision to build this building, by the way, is a connected action under NEPA.
A strong interpretation of the SORT treaty, in which pits released from the deployed stockpile are simply re-named “surplus,” would even more clearly remove any need for new construction, and save bundles of money in other parts of the stockpile management program as well.  To assert that PF-4 and other existing buildings cannot meet this mission need without analysis, as in the notice of intent, does not rise to the legally required standard.
Uranium pits, such as for the 620 high-yield B83
bombs in the arsenal today, may have been made at the Y-12 Plant in
The Kaiser-Hill contract amount for 1997 until
expected closure in 2006 is $7 billion, including everything (Leroy
 To oversimplify, in January of 1991, DOE released its recommendations for a reconfigured weapon complex, called “Complex-21.” After a firestorm of protest, this plan was withdrawn in favor of a smaller version, which also
was withdrawn. Individual
projects and programs were then advanced over the next few years,
some of which were protested and/or litigated. Some (not all) of these projects were drawn
together for environmental analysis in the Stockpile Stewardship and
Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SSM PEIS)
of 1996, which was also litigated.
The pit production portion of the SSM program has not been
successfully started at
Congressional Research Service,
 See for example “Ballistic Missiles and Weapons of Mass Destruction: What is the Threat? What Should Be Done?,” Steve Fetter, International Security, Vol. 16, No. 1, Summer 1991.
 See for example Nuclear Weapons and International Law in the Post Cold War World, Charles J. Moxley, Jr. , Austin & Winfield, Publishers, 2000.
 Rob Nelson, “Low Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons,” Science and Global Security, provides part of the picture 10:1-20, 2002.
 Nuclear weapon free zones cover most of the southern hemisphere.
 The text of the treaty is available at http://www.unog.ch/disarm/distreat/npt.pdf.
 Available at http://www.lasg.org/worldfrm_a.html.
Available at http://www.acronym.org.uk/npt/npt18.htm#poa. For initial press reaction see "5 Atom
Powers Agree to Scrap Arsenals", International Herald Tribune,
 These and other stockpile details are as estimated by the Natural Resources Defense Council. They are available in pertinent detail at http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/020213a.asp
This is a large subject; the “45-60” year minimum
is quoted from two official laboratory sources by the Congressional
Research Service, “Nuclear Warhead ‘Pit’ Production Issues,” by Jonathan
Thus, crucial primary-stage components
that were initially subject to concern have been shown through the
SSP [stockpile stewardship program] to be robust as they age. Indeed,
there is now consensus among specialists that the Pu
pits in the
(Physics Today, December 2000, 53:12, on line at http://www.physicstoday.org/pt/vol-53/iss-12/p44.html.)
 Stockpile history is from Chuck Hansen, “Swords of Armageddon,” Chukelea Publications, current update.
See, for example, James Tyler, “Innovative Warhead
Design ‘Pit Reuse’,” presentation to the National Security Panel of
the Galvin Panel, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), [date
– 1993?]. See also
 Mello, op. cit.
Ray Kidder, "Maintaining the
and the next two citations are found in Mello,
 Medalia, op. cit.
 Available from the Study Group.
There is about 59,600 sq. ft. of Category I laboratory
space in PF-4, TA-55, of which 15,300 were to be directly dedicated
to pit production (see: “Alternatives for Increasing the Nuclear Materials
Processing Space at
James Sterngold, “Resurgence for nuclear labs: scientists designing
weapons for terror war, planning underground tests,” San Francisco Chronicle,
 Los Alamos Science, [date1, date2]
 While not specific to this treaty, see the stockpile reduction option in: Greg Mello, Bill Weida, and Andy Lichterman, “The Stockpile Stewardship Charade,” Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 1999, National Academy of Sciences, at http://www.nap.edu/issues/15.3/mello.htm.