NNSA Delays Modern Pit Facility Indefinitely

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced recently that it will delay the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Modern Pit Facility indefinitely. NNSA said that the delay is due to Congressional concern about the facility's need. NNSA Director Linton Brooks said, "I believe we need to pause to respond to concerns that some [Congressional] committees have raised about its scope and timing."

The Modern Pit Facility would build up to 500 new nuclear weapons triggers per year. It was being proposed for one of five Department of Energy (DOE) sites around the nation, including Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The final Environmental Impact Statement would have selected a site for the facility.

NNSA proposed the facility last year claiming that the plutonium in the nation's current weapons stockpile may be experiencing adverse effects due to aging. However, scientific evidence indicates that this is not the case. Many scientists now believe that plutonium pits will remain safe and reliable for 60 to 90 years. Jay Coghlan, of Santa Fe-based Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said, "In many of its public pronouncements, DOE used aging effects as the boogeyman to scare Congress."

Opponents of the facility also argue that the Modern Pit Facility would violate obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in which the U.S. agreed to unequivocal nuclear disarmament. The facility was specifically proposed in order to produce nuclear weapons of new designs, which many believe would violate the NPT.

While Brooks claims that there is widespread Congressional support for the project, Congress slashed its budget in half last year. Also, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Edward Kennedy, of California and Massachusetts, offered an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have put on hold site selection for the facility. Feinstein responded to the delay, saying, "In my view, it is a complete mistake to reopen the nuclear door, so I am pleased that the [Bush] Administration has recognized - in light of Congressional concern - that consideration of a Modern Pit Facility is premature, at the least. It is my hope that this decision marks the beginning of a more measured review of the [Bush] Administration's nuclear program."

New Mexican Senator Pete Domenici, who supported the facility, said, "I am not troubled by this delay, because DOE and NNSA both know that the [U.S.] eventually needs to construct a Modern Pit Facility to maintain our nuclear stockpile." NNSA said that it will now rely on expanded manufacturing at LANL to satisfy U.S. pit requirements.

Opponents of the facility were extremely pleased with the decision. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a national network of organizations representing communities downwind and downstream of nuclear weapons facilities, said, "Considering the inevitable health and environmental risks of plutonium manufacturing, the simple lack of need for new U.S. nuclear weapons, and the message that producing additional bomb components would deliver to the rest of the world, the Modern Pit Facility is one project that America can live without."

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