DOE Must Design for a Minimum 8.0 Magnitude Earthquake for the Proposed CMRR-Nuclear Facility at LANL

July 8, 2011

Robert H. Gilkeson, Registered Geologist, conducted additional intensive research about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements for calculating seismic risk for nuclear facilities, which the Department of Energy (DOE) adopted. Nevertheless, DOE failed to follow the 1997 NRC requirements for the 40 square mile Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) site, and specifically for the proposed four-floor Super Walmart-sized, $6 billion Nuclear Facility, as part of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project. The proposed Nuclear Facility is part of the Obama Administration's $180 billion plan to "modernize" the nuclear weapons facilities across the country.

In 1997, the NRC called together a Senior Seismic Hazard Advisory Committee, funded by DOE, NRC and Electric Power Research Institute, to create requirements for seismic hazard analysis at nuclear facilities. Examples of the requirements include the location of buried active faults close to the proposed Nuclear Facility, accurate knowledge of the fault geometry in a three-dimensional form, and the use of similar or analog earthquake sites to determine the maximum magnitude of potential earthquakes in the Pajarito Fault System at the LANL site. One additional requirement is for situations where there is a geologic record of increasing seismic activity into the future, such as the youthful Pajarito Fault System. In such circumstances, NRC requires the addition of one-half earthquake magnitude be added to the analog earthquake.

In new intensive research, Gilkeson found that DOE used a 1959 earthquake near Yellowstone National Park, known as the Hebgen Lake earthquake, as an analog for the Pajarito Fault System. Both locations are near supervolcanos and are youthful fault systems. The United States Geologic Service reported that Hebgen Lake earthquake ranged up to 7.5 Richter magnitude. Adding one-half magnitude earthquake would result in the need to design the proposed Nuclear Facility to a minimum of an 8.0 earthquake. This has not been done. The minimum 8.0 magnitude earthquake is greater than 20 times more powerful than that currently used by DOE for the design of the proposed Nuclear Facility.

This week Gilkeson and CCNS provided additional comments about the NRC requirements to DOE for the draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Nuclear Facility. [If you would like to receive the comments, please email]

Gilkeson said, "The draft supplemental environment impact statement must be retracted by the Department of Energy because it is incomplete, inadequate, underestimates and misrepresents the seismic hazard at the proposed CMRR Nuclear Facility. DOE must perform the field studies that are identified as important by the LANL scientists in 1995, 2007 and 2009 in order to calculate the seismic hazard. No more taxpayer money should be spent on the design of the CMRR Nuclear Facility until there is accurate knowledge of the seismic hazard."

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