Defense Board Identifies 100-Fold Increase in Risk of a LANL Plutonium Release

October 30, 2009

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has again urged the Department of Energy (DOE) to take immediate action to reduce the risk of a release of plutonium from a fire at Technical Area 55 at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) following a seismic event. This is the latest in a series of letters, reports and recommendations to DOE about the potential consequences of a release of plutonium from the Technical Area 55 Plutonium Facility following a seismic event resulting in a fire. The Board stated that the consequences to people living downwind and downstream of LANL have been underestimated by 100 times.

In a unanimous decision, the Board, which is an independent federal oversight agency established by Congress, sent a letter and recommendation to DOE Secretary Steven Chu on October 26. They asked that the recommendation be placed in the public reading room in Los Alamos.

In its recommendation, the Board recounts how LANL got to this point. They describe how Technical Area 55, the manufacturing facility for making plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, has been operating for over a decade with the same safety documents. In the meantime, DOE issued new regulations requiring updated safety documents. DOE approved LANL's new documents last December. The approvals were based on assumptions that planned upgrades to safety systems for preventing movement of plutonium manufacturing equipment during seismic activity would be made. But some upgrades would not be done for years and would not meet the requirements for predicted seismic activity. Further, in 2007 the Board reported a 50% potential increase in earth movement during a seismic event on the Pajarito Plateau.

In a written statement, LANL said, "Protecting the health and safety of our employees, the public and the environment while conducting operations all across the laboratory, particularly at the plutonium facility, [Technical Area] 55, is our primary concern."

Nevertheless, Robert H. Gilkeson, a registered geologist who has written numerous reports about LANL seismic issues, said, "The new knowledge of the latent earthquake danger at the location of Los Alamos, New Mexico is evidence that the Department of Energy has made a mistake to select LANL as the nation's primary plutonium fabrication facility for nuclear weapons. For earthquakes of record, LANL cannot provide safe weapons fabrication with plutonium or even safe storage of plutonium. The statement by NNSA that LANL operations with plutonium are currently safe is simply wrong because an earthquake that will release large amounts of deadly plutonium could occur at any time."

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "The magnitude of the impact on people living downstream and downwind of LANL keeps increasing because the problems are not being fixed. It's time for us to contact our elected officials and demand that the plutonium operations at LANL be stopped. The risks are too great for us to bear."


1. It's time to shut down plutonium operations at LANL. Please contact our elected officials and let them know that the risk is too great.

Senator Jeff Bingaman
Albuquerque office: (505) 346-6601
DC office: (202) 224-5521
Las Cruces: (505) 523-6561
Las Vegas: (505) 454-8824
Roswell: (505) 622-7113
Santa Fe office: (505) 988-6647

Senator Tom Udall
Albuquerque office: (505) 346-6791
DC office: (202) 224-6621
Las Cruces office: (505) 526-5475
Santa Fe office: (505) 988-6511

Representative Ben R. Lujan
DC office: (202) 225-6190
Santa Fe office: (505) 984-8950

Representative Martin Heinrich
Albuquerque office: (505) 346-6781
DC office: (202) 225-6316

Representative Harry Teague
DC office: (202) 225-2365
Hobbs office: (575) 392-8325

Governor Bill Richardson - former Department of Energy Secretary
Santa Fe office: (505) 476-2200

2. Ask the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to hold a public hearing in Espanola about the seismic/fire/release issues ASAP. The Board is asking for public comments. For more information, please see: or below:

[Recommendation 2009-2]
Los Alamos National Laboratory Plutonium Facility Seismic Safety.
AGENCY: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
ACTION: Notice, recommendation.


SUMMARY: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has made a recommendation to the Secretary of Energy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 2286a(a)(5) which identifies the need to execute both immediate and long-term actions that can reduce the risk posed by a seismic event at the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

DATES: Comments, data, views, or arguments concerning the recommendation are due on or before December 2, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send comments, data, views, or arguments concerning this recommendation to: Defense Nuclear Faculties Safety Board, 625 Indiana Avenue, NW., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20004-2001 or by email to and

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian Grosner or Andrew L. Thibadeau at the address above or telephone number (202-694-7000).

John E. Mansfield,
Vice Chairman.
[FR Doc. E9-26304 Filed 10-30-09; 8:45 am]


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