ANA Presents Comments on Proposed Modern Plutonium Pit Production Facility

* The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (or ANA) this week presented comments on the proposed modern plutonium pit production facility at a public meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss the scope of the proposal. ANA's criticisms of the proposed facility included the faulty public process used by the Department of Energy (or DOE), underreported facility costs, and potential risks to health and the environment posed by the facility.

ANA is a network of 32 organizations working on the issues of waste, public health and environmental effects of DOE's nuclear weapons complex. Colorado's Rocky Flats Plant was formerly the home of a pit production facility until it was forced to close following a federal raid in 1989. No pits have been produced since then, although an interim production facility is operating at Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL), which is expected to produce 20 pits per year beginning in 2004. DOE claims that, because the effects of plutonium aging are unknown, a new facility is necessary to produce replacement pits for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. Savannah River Site, Nevada Test Site, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, LANL and Pantex are all being considered as proposed locations.

However, ANA claims that, due to DOE's withholding of key documents and classifying of others, DOE has not adequately argued the need for the facility. For example, DOE released no information regarding the screening criteria for the potential sites, although the sites' screening analyses are not classified. Jim Bridgman, ANA's Program Director, said, "ANA [has] noticed this administration, including the DOE, take several steps backwards, away from openness and participation."

ANA questions the need for a new facility, particularly considering that the U.S. "is awash in plutonium and pits" and scientific evidence has shown that plutonium actually grows more stable with age. Bridgman pointed out that even DOE has admitted that no aging problems have been found in pits up to 30 years of age. ANA criticized the speculative nature of DOE's argument for the facility, saying, "It is highly irresponsible for DOE to use the most unlikely scenarios as a justification for a new facility."

Also, ANA claims that DOE has underreported potential costs of the facility by half. Bridgman reminded DOE that future cleanup of the facility must be factored into overall cost estimates. For example, cleanup at Rocky Flats is expected to cost as much as $7 billion. Bridgman said, "...The production of plutonium pits is an extremely messy business and eventual decontamination will inevitably be a costly affair."

Further, ANA is concerned about possible effects the facility would have on public health and the environment, not only in the community in which it may be located, but also in those communities located downwind and downstream. Bridgman said, "...As we consider this new facility, we have to ask ourselves, does the threat warrant subjecting our people and environment to additional suffering and damage?"

A public scoping meeting to discuss the facility's possible location at LANL will be held on Thursday, October 24th at 7:00 p.m. at the Duane W. Smith Auditorium in Los Alamos. For more information, please contact CCNS.

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