.News Update 4/4/08

CCNS Requests DOE Issue a Stop-Work Order for CMRR

April 4, 2008

CCNS recently wrote to the Department of Energy (DOE) to urge the federal agency to immediately issue a stop-work order for the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). CCNS raised several concerns, including new seismic information.

The CMRR is a one of the DOE's most important construction projects and a cornerstone for the DOE Complex Transformation proposal, which is currently out for public review and comment. Comments are due April 10, 2008. The CMRR is designed to support the manufacturing of plutonium pit "triggers" for nuclear warheads.

Last fall, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), based in Washington, DC, sent a letter to DOE requesting that the federal agency issue a stop-work order for the CMRR. POGO raised concerns that Austin Commercial of Dallas, Texas, the contractor hired to design and build the first phase of the CMRR, was not building the facility to quality assurance standards for nuclear facilities, nor to other DOE requirements.

In its December 31, 2007 reply, DOE assured POGO that the CMRR was being constructed as a high hazard nuclear facility in compliance with all applicable requirements. Despite these assurances, CCNS recently requested that DOE issue a stop work order for CMRR construction based on new information, including a potential 50 percent increase in the g force of any seismic event in the area of the CMRR.

In the summer of 2006, DOE released a draft LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (LANL SWEIS) for public review and comment. The LANL SWEIS referenced a draft seismic report that was not available to the public. The draft seismic report was used to support statements that "the basic seismic setting and level of seismic risk is likely to remain similar to that calculated in 1985."

But last summer, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported a potential 50 percent increase in the seismic g force at LANL. This is a significant change to the risk reported in the draft 2006 LANL SWEIS.

Despite the new seismic information, the lower floors of the CMRR have been poured and the structural steel has just started to be installed for the upper floors. The structural steel is being bolted together and will be welded soon.

CCNS recently questioned DOE representatives about whether they were installing any type of seismic engineered safety features at the CMRR. One DOE oversight official from the Los Alamos Site Office said no. He explained that the contract had been let prior to the release of the new seismic reports and there was no effort to make changes based on the new information. In the letter, CCNS questioned why the construction contract does not contain change order provisions for such important public safety matters.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "We are extremely concerned about the increased seismic risk at LANL. We do not understand why it has been ignored in the CMRR construction at a time when it may be easily remedied. It appears that cost and schedule considerations are overriding compliance with quality and safety requirements."

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