Plans for U.S. New Nukes Discovered

LANL Tritium Wastewater Spill

New Mexico Environment Department Rejects LANL's Final Audit Report for WIPP Waste

* In a Defense Department document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Western States Legal Foundation based in Oakland, California it was discovered that United States government scientists are studying plans to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons that would destroy targets buried deep underground.

The document states that this year scientists plan to show how deep-penetrating bombs can work using a tunnel facility at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. A high-tech laser, called the National Ignition Facility, which is under construction at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, will also be used in the experiments. According to Western States Legal Foundation's statement, the U.S. is planning to conduct laser-fireball experiments to understand how blasts react in the air inside a tunnel. The multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded Livermore Lab laser project has recently been in the news for running heavily over budget and dropping behind schedule. A Department of Energy, or DOE, official commented that the work at the Nevada Test Site focuses on non-nuclear, conventional weapons. Andrew Lichterman, a Foundation Program Director, expressed grave concerns that the stockpile stewardship program, which government officials claim is for checking and maintaining the aging nuclear arsenal without full-scale weapons tests, is really a cover to develop new nuclear weapons. If this is true, the new wave of weapons research may start an arms race that, "blurs the threshold between conventional and nuclear warfare and runs contrary to the commitment made by the United States and many other parties to the (Nuclear) Non-Proliferation Treaty. [The government's] goal in 2001 is to demonstrate nuclear weapons in defeating deep structures." Lichterman said. The Foundation's Executive Director, Jacqueline Cabasso (pronounced Ka-basso), said the government documents "provide clear and convincing evidence that the stockpile stewardship program is being used to explore new kinds of nuclear weapons designs that would be more usable than existing weapons, a blatant violation of U.S. treaty obligations. It's almost like the United States is speaking with two voices here, and those two voices are completely incompatible," she said.

* On Thursday, January 4, 2001, about 50 gallons of partially treated radioactive wastewater overflowed a wastewater holding tank at the Technical Area 21 tritium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, or LANL. The area surrounding the holding tank was fenced for several years because of the high soil contamination levels from Laboratory operations dating back to the 1950s. This area has been "cleaned up" several times and is slated for another round of remediation this summer. The wastewater contained tritium at levels that are significantly higher than the drinking water standard of 20,000 picoCuries per liter.

According to a New Mexico Environment Department staff member, credit should be given to the LANL employee who discovered the overflow and acted quickly to prevent the further spread of contamination.

* Citing inadequacy in addressing all the required Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, Hazardous Waste permitting elements, the New Mexico Environment Department rejected LANL's Final Audit Report for incompleteness. Approval of the report by the Environment Department is needed in order for LANL to begin sending waste to the WIPP again. LANL has not shipped waste to WIPP since September 1999 and claimed that it was prepared to ship waste, but according to the Environment Department, it is not.

A recurring problem with the audit process at LANL, and at other DOE sites shipping waste to WIPP is that the Environment Department has commented that the corrective action reports that spell out the problems found in preparing the waste for shipment are not addressed or corrected during the audit process. This problem reflects the complex-wide problems DOE is having shipping waste to WIPP.


Back to News Index