Activist Groups Present Comments on Modern Pit Facility

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (or NNSA) recently held a scoping hearing for the draft environmental impact statement (or EIS) they will be preparing for a modern plutonium pit facility. The hearing was held near Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL), which is considered by NNSA to be the best of five possible sites for the facility. Several watchdog groups commented on NNSA's proposal, including its questionable need, flawed public process, and the environmental effects of the facility.

The pit is the plutonium trigger of nuclear weapons. The proposed facility would be capable of producing 500 pits per year, which is comparable to historic Cold War rates. The Department of Energy (or DOE) claims that no stockpile-certified pits have been produced since 1989 when Rocky Flats was closed because of violations of environmental laws. A production facility was then located at LANL.

Many questioned the legality of the proposal, stating that it is contrary to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (or CTB), and the soon-to-be-ratified Strategic Offensive Nuclear Reduction Treaty (or SORT). The SORT will reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia to 2,000 each by 2013, which is contradictory to the aim of the proposed pit facility. While the SORT would reduce the U.S. weapons stockpile, the pit facility would be creating more weapons. Also, some questioned whether the proposed facility would be used for designing new nuclear weapons, contrary to the CTB Treaty.

NNSA argues that the facility is meant to produce pits to replace those that are aging. NNSA says that, because the affects of age on plutonium pits are questionable, they are planning for when the existing pits may no longer be useable. However, many scientists believe that pits in fact become more stable over time, saying, "[P]lutonium pits in the U.S. stockpile are stable over periods of at least 50-60 years, with the most recent studies suggesting a far longer period."

Many groups also claimed that DOE and NNSA are exercising a faulty public process and requested that scoping meetings be held downwind and downstream of the proposed facility because, in the past, NNSA and LANL have not conducted thorough analyses of the effects of some LANL activities on surrounding communities. LANL's recent environmental analysis of the bio-safety level-3 laboratory neglected to include the demographics of Rio Arriba County, thereby skewing the cultural makeup of the communities surrounding LANL. Therefore, commentors requested that scoping hearings be held in neighboring communities, including the Pueblos, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Española, and Taos.

CCNS raised concerns about the use of water at LANL, requesting information about the source of the water that would be used at the facility, and how the facility might increase contamination issues in the Rio Grande. Considering the recent severe drought conditions in New Mexico, CCNS is particularly concerned about the amount of water that would be necessary for construction and the estimated lifetime water usage of the facility.

Activists believe that NNSA should be focused on cleanup at LANL, rather than new facilities that will use more water, create more waste, and challenge international treaties. Comments on the scope of the draft EIS are due November 22, 2002.

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