NNSA Holds Meeting on Scope of LANL Environmental Impact Statement

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently held a public meeting to discuss the scope of the Supplemental Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement currently being prepared for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Elizabeth Withers, of NNSA, outlined the reasons for preparing the supplemental statement. Withers argued that changes to the LANL site merit a supplemental statement, including the Cerro Grande fire and LANL property transfers to Los Alamos County and neighboring San Ildefonso Pueblo. Further, several new facilities will be added to the list of key LANL facilities and some will be removed. Also, Withers outlined projects that LANL considers to be progressing, including the Biosafety Level 3 laboratory.

The supplemental statement will update a previous statement that was released in 1999 and advocated expanded operations at LANL, including increased waste disposal at Area G, LANL's low-level radioactive waste dump, and increased plutonium pit production at Technical Area-55. The supplemental statement may include these as an alternative for LANL's future without further discussion.

Also, the supplemental statement will include upgrades to the radiography facility and the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility as priorities in the coming years. The radiography facility examines components of nuclear weapons using x-rays in order to ensure their efficiency. The Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility collects and processes liquid waste before its being discharged to Mortandad Canyon. The facility is currently experiencing waste management problems, due to a leak in one of its primary storage tanks that LANL discovered more than a year ago.

NNSA may also examine the environmental impacts related to the decontaminating and decommissioning of Technical Area (TA) 18, which Withers said may occur. TA-18 was closed recently due to public pressure as a result of a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report that found it to be unsafe and insecure. Decontamination and decommissioning of the facility would likely produce thousands of tons of potentially radioactive and hazardous waste that must be properly disposed. Previous analysis did not include the impacts of decommissioning and decontaminating TA-18, therefore they would have to be included in the supplemental statement and analyzed independently in an environmental impact statement.

NNSA anticipates that a draft supplemental statement will be released in September 2005. NNSA has contracted Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to prepare the draft supplemental statement. SAIC is involved in the development of the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository, which has been proposed despite protest by the State of Nevada and the U.S. Congress due to its apparently faulty scientific foundations.

Activists are concerned that there will be no discussion of the purpose and need for the mission work performed at LANL, particularly nuclear weapons design and production. NNSA argues that LANL's mission work is unlikely to change in coming years, despite Congressional concerns about excessive funding allocations to weapons production and international concerns about new weapons development in the U.S.

Penny McMullen, of the Loretto Community, said, "...The majority of LANL's work is related to nuclear weapons. It is immoral to continue developing nuclear weapons while demanding that other nations follow the Non-Proliferation Treaty."

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