NNSA to Prepare Environmental Impact Statement for LANL

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced recently that it will release an environmental impact statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in late 2005. The statement is being prepared as a supplement to the last statement, which was finalized by NNSA in 1999.

The statement is required under the National Environmental Policy Act to analyze the potential environmental, health, safety and socioeconomic impacts of LANL on surrounding communities. NNSA reviewed the entire LANL complex and its future missions and decided in the 1999 statement to expand operations there. This included expanding the nuclear waste disposal capacity at Area G, LANL's low-level radioactive waste dump, and increasing plutonium pit production at Technical Area-55.

However, NNSA proposes that the 2005 statement not review the entire LANL complex, but instead specific areas of LANL that have undergone major changes over the last five years or have been developed since the 1999 statement.

Activists are concerned that as a result, the 2005 statement will be incomplete and will not adequately reflect the changes to the complex since 1999. They note that the Cerro Grande fire, which swept the area after the 1999 statement, has changed the environmental impacts of LANL operations on surrounding communities. For example, the fire has resulted in the highest off-site releases of radioactivity in storm water runoff from LANL since the 1950s and 60s.

Also, the 2005 statement will include the Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility at LANL, although the impacts of its operations have yet to be analyzed by an environmental impact statement. Opponents of the BSL-3 are concerned that the 2005 statement may supercede the process established by the National Environmental Policy Act that requires that each new facility be analyzed in the context of an environmental impact statement or assessment. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said, "This supplemental study is deeply flawed because it assumes that the inherent risks of handling pathogens, such as plague and anthrax, are part of existing lab-wide risks before public environmental review has even begun."

Further, the 1999 statement included no provisions for cleanup of the LANL complex. However, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) released a draft Order on Consent recently that requires LANL to investigate and clean up contaminant sources site-wide. Activists argue that in order to adequately address NMED's order, NNSA must prepare a statement for the entire complex.

Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "NNSA must recognize that the Order on Consent will change the face not only of current, but also future, contaminant production and emission at LANL. Therefore, a new statement must consider the Order on Consent in relation to every LANL facility, regardless of its current or future missions. CCNS requests that NNSA prepare a site-wide statement rather than wasting energy and resources on an inadequate supplement."

There will be a public meeting on the scope of the 2005 statement on Wednesday, January 19 at 6 p.m. at Pablo Roybal Elementary School in Pojoaque. For more information, please call (505) 986-1973.

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