DOE Considers a Ten-Fold Increase of Plutonium in CMRR Rad Lab at LANL


Runs 1/2/15 through 1/9/15

(THEME UP AND UNDER)  This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.  Here is this week’s top headline:

DOE Considers a Ten-Fold Increase of Plutonium in CMRR Rad Lab at LANL

After having successfully given itself permission to more than quadruple the amount of weapons-grade plutonium allowed in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB), the Department of Energy, through its semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, recently asked Los Alamos National Laboratory to conduct an analysis to determine if the RLUOB could hold up to 400 grams of plutonium-239.  In a memo written in late October, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, Don Cooke, requested LANL to investigate whether it would be possible to increase the amount of plutonium from 38.6 grams to 400 grams, a more than ten fold increase. Cook expects LANL to complete the review by mid-March, 2015.

There are many concerns about the NNSA proposal.  One is the lack of a public process for review and comment of the proposal.  The last time the public reviewed the amount of plutonium allowed in the RLUOB was during the 2011 environmental impact statement process for the CMRR Project.  NNSA proposed to increase the production of the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons in the CMRR from 20 to 50 to 80 per year.  And this was after President Obama announced in Prague his plan to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 2012 President Obama put the proposed Super Walmart sized CMRR Nuclear Facility on hold for five-years, essentially canceling the construction.

NNSA stated in the draft environmental statement that it would limit the amount  of plutonium in the RLUOB to 8.4 grams and would focus on characterizing and analyzing the plutonium used in the weapons.

After the environmental statement was finalized, the federal agency then gave itself permission to quadruple the amount to 38.6 grams – all without a public process as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Another concern is that the RLUOB is categorized in DOE speak as a “radiological facility,” which limits the amount of nuclear materials allowed.  Cook asked LANL to analyze whether the RLUOB could be considered a Hazard Category 3 Nuclear Facility.  Classification as a Hazard Category 3 means that computer modeling has shown that a radiation release from the facilty would have “significant localized consequences.”  The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has raised concerns about a release from plutonium operations at LANL impacting downwind and downstream communities from a seismic event.  They have not been resolved.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “CCNS has prepared sample comments for you to use to NNSA to express your concerns about the proposed ten-fold increase in the amount of plutonium allowed in the RLUOB.  Please go to our website at


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