NNSA Releases Final Environmental Impact Statement for CMR Building Replacement

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently released the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR), which was proposed to replace the existing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which is more than 50 years old.

The CMRR would perform analytical chemistry, materials characterizations and metallurgic studies on actinides and metals. Actinides are radioactive elements with atomic numbers between 89 and 103, including uranium and plutonium. The CMRR would support current and future nuclear weapons activities at LANL and throughout the Department of Energy (DOE) complex.

NNSA received hundreds of comments questioning the need, design and environmental impact of the facility. NNSA argues that the CMRR is necessary to fulfill LANL's expanded weapons mission as outlined in the Sitewide Environmental Impact Statement of 1999. Several argued that the expanded weapons mission at LANL contradicts the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires nuclear weapons states to pursue disarmament. Therefore, according to these comments, the expanded weapons mission at the CMRR would be in violation of NPT obligations as well. NNSA dismissed the concerns by claiming that expanded missions at LANL address only the stockpile stewardship program, through which LANL monitors the safety and reliability of the nations' weapons stockpile.

Furthermore, the public questioned the adequacy of the accident analysis presented in the impact statement. Both the draft and final environmental impact statements claim that the largest threat to the CMRR would be an earthquake and consequent nuclear materials spill. The statement discounts the affects of such an accident because the CMRR would not be immediately accessible to the public.

However, as commentators pointed out, the chance of a wildfire is more likely than earthquake at LANL. Although a wildfire similar to the Cerro Grande Fire of 2000 is expected to occur within the next 10 years, NNSA argues that such an emergency would have no affect on CMRR operations. NNSA says, "The worst wildfire in the LANL-area history did not burn any of LANL's key facilities, and the risk of a fire of that severity occurring again at LANL within the next 100 years or more has been significantly reduced over the past three post-fire years of forest thinning activities." NNSA does not mention that the Cerro Grande Fire came within the fence line of LANL's Technical Area 55, the plutonium facility and proposed location of the CMRR.

The statement does not outline a construction schedule, although activists are concerned that construction may begin soon. Although NNSA had not officially decided to build the CMRR, they requested $1.7 million from DOE to begin construction in early 2004. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, says that this shows NNSA's disregard for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Coghlan said, "We ... object to ... the request for funds for actual construction, which we believe is a clear signal that ... NNSA has predetermined that it will proceed with the CMRR ... in advance of the outcome of the NEPA process...."

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