Clean Up, Don't Build Up! The Draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory
The National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law in 1970. The Act established national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance and enhancement of the environment. The Act provides a process for implementing these goals within federal agencies and provides a mechanism for public input and participation. The Act requires that all federal agencies prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impacts of and alternatives to major federal actions that significantly effect the environment. These are called Environmental Impact Statements. Department of Energy (DOE) sites, like Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), are required to complete such statements every 10 years.
The 1999 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory
In 1999, DOE prepared a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for LANL, the nation's largest nuclear weapons facility located approximately 25 miles northwest of Santa Fe. The SWEIS determined that there would be no adverse environmental impacts if LANL continued or expanded its research and production of nuclear weapons components. The 1999 SWEIS allowed LANL to:
Increase nuclear weapons production to 20 plutonium pits per year. The pit is the core of the modern thermonuclear weapon. Increased pit production at LANL compromises U.S. obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Expand the size of Area G, LANL's nuclear waste dump, from 60 to 90 acres. Much of the waste at Area G is buried in unlined pits, trenches and shafts and may be impacting the quality of the ground water beneath the facility.
Triple the number of explosive tests using radioactive materials that they are allowed to conduct.
Increase ten-fold the amount of tritium they are allowed to store on-site. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that travels quickly and can be absorbed by the human body as non-radioactive hydrogen.
The 1999 SWEIS also did not include any consideration of cleanup of the LANL site, despite contamination at more than 2,000 areas across the site. Further, it was only through public participation in the SWEIS process that DOE investigated the potential risks of a major wildfire at the site, such as the Cerro Grande fire, which burned more than 7,000 acres of LANL property one year later.
The 2005 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory
DOE announced in January 2005 that it will prepare a new SWEIS for LANL in order to discuss the environmental impacts of continuing and expanding nuclear weapons programs there. We believe that there are several programs and projects that DOE will propose in the SWEIS that will lead to increased production of nuclear weapons components and waste. For example, the new SWEIS may include:
The Reliable Replacement Warhead, which will produce nuclear weapons of new and modified designs that could lead to further consolidation of weapons production in the State of New Mexico.
Further expansion of plutonium pit production to as many as 80 plutonium pits per year. LANL is the only facility that produces these critical weapons components.
Plans for a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, which performs the analytical chemistry necessary to support plutonium pit production.
An upgrade for the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, which discharges 60,000 gallons per week of radioactive and hazardous liquid waste to the Mortandad Canyon system, which is above our regional aquifer and flows into the Rio Grande.
Plans to enhance the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, which is the facility that produces the highest levels of radioactive air emissions from the LANL complex.
In anticipation of the public participation process that is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, we have prepared a list of issues that we believe must be incorporated into the new draft SWEIS in order to evaluate the risk of continuing and expanded nuclear weapons programs at LANL. These include:
Evaluation of the weapons stewardship program that promotes maintenance of the nuclear weapons arsenal until such time that those weapons can be dismantled, rather than an aggressive program of preservation, improvements and new designs.
Thoroughly incorporating the New Mexico Environment Department's Order on Consent, which requires LANL to investigate and clean up contaminated areas site-wide.
Increased investigation of the effects of natural disaster on the LANL site, particularly wildfire, and a discussion of emergency preparedness in northern New Mexico.
Analysis of LANL's Bio-Safety Level 3 Laboratory, which will handle live specimens of deadly pathogens, such as anthrax, tuberculosis, smallpox and plague, as opposed to an inadequate environmental assessment.
Reduce or eliminate environmental emissions from every operating facility on-site.
A discussion of alternative missions, through which LANL could use its significant scientific resources to clean up waste and contaminants caused by years of nuclear weapons research and production and radioactive waste storage and disposal that threatens the environmental health and safety of northern New Mexicans.
Ultimately, we request that LANL decrease or eliminate production of nuclear weapons, develop effective ways to clean up contamination sources site-wide and be protective of the health and safety of surrounding communities.
The new draft SWEIS will be released soon. Your participation is necessary to ensure that these issues are addressed! If you would like to help, please sign the petition located in the sidebar.
For more information on how you can join us, call Peggy Prince at Peace Action New Mexico at 989-4812 or any of the organizations listed below.
This project is a collaborative effort of Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Loretto Community, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico and Peace Action New Mexico.