NNSA Proposes 24 New Structures at LANL With No Environmental Impact Statement

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently proposed constructing up to 24 new structures at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) without completing a full environmental impact statement for the project. Rather, they released a 63-page environmental assessment for the project, which would replace and consolidate the entire Two-Mile Mesa Complex.

The Two-Mile Mesa Complex is the location of LANL's Dynamic Experimentation Division (DX). According to LANL's Site-wide Environmental Impact Statement, DX performs dynamic experiments to study properties of and enhance understanding of the basic physics of the state and motion of materials used in nuclear weapons. These include manufacturing high explosives components for nuclear weapons, performing explosives testing, characterizing high explosives and developing surveillance of systems for detonation of explosives. DX uses natural and depleted uranium, highly enriched uranium, plutonium metal, beryllium, mercury and other hazardous metals and solvents in its testing. DX currently consists of 49 buildings on 10 Technical Areas throughout the LANL complex.

NNSA argues that it is necessary to replace these buildings as many of them are deteriorating due to age and no longer meet commercial standards for shops and office facilities. They propose consolidating the facilities on four adjacent Technical Areas and vacating and demolishing the 200,000 square feet of existing building space.

However, as Thomas Starke, of LANL said, LANL has been having difficulties receiving funding for the demolition of vacated buildings. Activists are concerned that, if such difficulties exist, LANL may just leave these contaminated buildings on their respective sites in lieu of adequate cleanup. The Assessment makes no mention of cleanup of existing sites where open-air detonations have occurred for the past six decades. The Assessment proposes disposing of the demolition waste appropriately. It says that demolition of these buildings will create 820 cubic meters of contaminated debris, including that which is contaminated with asbestos, lead, high explosives material and plutonium. Transportation of this waste to appropriate facilities would require 165 truckloads per year.

The proposed location of the new DX facilities would be closer to the Los Alamos town site than the former DX facilities. Furthermore, the proposed location is within 1,000 feet of several earthquake fault lines. The Assessment claims that there is only a 1 in 10,000 per year chance of seismic activity at the site and does not evaluate the effects of earthquake activity.

Activists are concerned about the limited 21-day comment period for the Assessment considering that the replacement DX facilities have been planned for more than five years.

Additionally, the Assessment claims that there will be no impact from operations of DX on air quality, water quality or human health, although they will be detonating radioactive materials. Activists are concerned that the findings may be skewed by the limited Assessment. Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "The 10-year, $70 to $110 million breadth of this project is considered a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act and merits a full Environmental Impact Statement. We strongly urge NNSA to complete one immediately."

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