New Mexico Slammed by Three Concurrent DOE NEPA Processes

February 25, 2011

The Department of Energy (DOE) is concurrently releasing three sets of lengthy National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents for bringing more waste to New Mexico; for constructing a nuclear facility; and for upgrading a biological safety laboratory for working on live biological agents that cause disease. All three proposals may have impacts at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

This week DOE released its draft environmental impact statement for the disposal of Greater-than-Class C low-level waste, which despite its name, is highly radioactive and often requires extra shielding. Alternatives include using deep geologic disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located east of Carlsbad; near surface facilities near WIPP; or at the LANL Area G dump. Public hearings in New Mexico will begin in Carlsbad on April 26th; in Albuquerque on April 27th; and in Pojoaque on April 28th. The deadline for written public comments is June 27th.

In March, DOE plans to release its draft environmental impact statement for the construction of the Nuclear Facility at LANL. It is a key facility for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project, which has escalated in costs from $600 million to more than $6 billion in a seven-year time frame.

In March, DOE also has plans to release a draft environmental impact statement for the Biological Safety Laboratory at LANL, also known as the BSL-3. The public meetings for the scope of the environmental impact statement were held in late 2005. Public scoping comments made over five years ago serve as the basis for the draft statement. Public health, environmental and anti-nuclear activists disagree with DOE. They wrote a letter to DOE Secretary Chu requesting that new scoping hearings be held because up-to-date information must be incorporated into the analyses.

For example, in 2009, the Government Accountability Office released a report entitled, "High-Containment Laboratories - National Strategy for Oversight is Needed." The report identified issues about the proliferation of high-containment laboratories working with dangerous biological pathogens. They called special attention to the possibility of deliberate or accidental release of biological agents, which could have disastrous consequences by exposing workers and the public to dangerous pathogens.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "In 2008, two environmental impact statements for expanded operations at DOE sites in New Mexico were released concurrently for public comment. NGOs and community members were overwhelmed by the amount of work required to provide informed public comments. Please contact your representatives and tell them that poor planning on DOE's part should not place extra burdens on New Mexicans. Ask your representatives to tell DOE that each environmental impact statement process should be complete in itself without overlapping another one."

Back to News Index