Both WIPP and LANL Proposed Locations for New Modern Pit Production Facility

* Two New Mexico Department of Energy (or DOE) sites are included on a list of five potential sites for a new modern plutonium pit production facility. The list includes the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL). The National Nuclear Security Administration (or NNSA) announced last week its intent to prepare a Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the facility. The proposed facility would be the first to manufacture plutonium pits since Colorado's Rocky Flats plant closed in 1989, due to violations of environmental laws.

The pit is the plutonium-based trigger that generates the fission energy to stimulate modern thermonuclear weapons. DOE claims that the modern pit production facility is necessary to produce replacement triggers for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. NNSA claims that of particular concern is the agency's inability to predict the problems that might emerge as pits age.

LANL was chosen as the location for an interim pit production facility that is expected to produce 20 pits per year beginning in 2007. However, DOE claims that "classified analyses indicate that this capability will not suffice to maintain, long-term, the nuclear deterrent that is the cornerstone of the U.S. national security policy." A permanent facility is expected to be operational in 2020 and cost upwards of $4 billion.

The Nevada Test Site, the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, and the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina, are also being considering for the permanent facility. New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has vocalized his support of WIPP, but not of LANL, as the permanent location, saying that the 1,500 jobs that the facility is expected to generate will support the economy around Carlsbad. He said, "I am glad that NNSA is taking a good look at Eddy County because it increasingly understands and appreciates nuclear technologies." Carlsbad's Mayor Bob Forrest, who also led the effort to site WIPP near Carlsbad, says that the facility would "be a tremendous asset to the city."

LANL representatives declined to say whether LANL would actively lobby for the permanent facility. However, Domenici said, "It is unlikely that a large manufacturing facility would be a good match to the research focus at [LANL]."

Many activists believe that neither WIPP nor LANL is a serious contender. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said, "[WIPP] has no production capability, and I think it is highly unlikely that DOE would start from scratch. I also think that it won't be LANL because the University of California, [LANL's managing contractor], wants to maintain the appearance of being 'clean', or, [no longer] involved in production." Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, added, "... Since the U.S. has at least 20,000 pits, enough to obliterate the world a dozen times, no new bomb plant is needed at any site."

There will be a series of public scoping meetings to discuss the proposal, including meetings on October 10th in Carlsbad and October 24th in Los Alamos. CCNS encourages New Mexicans to attend these meetings and vocalize their opposition to the plan. For more information, please see CCNS's Events page.

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