.News Update 12/21/07

DOE Proposes Expanded Nuclear Weapons Manufacturing at LANL

December 21, 2007

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a draft Executive Summary of its proposal to expand nuclear weapons manufacturing at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). DOE proposes to increase the annual number of plutonium pits to 80. A plutonium pit is the core of a nuclear weapon. Currently, LANL is allowed to manufacture 20 pits per year.

The proposal is part of a DOE effort to transform the nuclear weapons complex. The proposal was first announced in April 2006 and called "Complex 2030" for the year DOE envisioned it would be completed. DOE will release a draft environmental impact statement for public comment in mid-January.

Forced to scale back its original plans, DOE now expects to transform the nuclear weapons complex at LANL, Sandia National Laboratory, Nevada Test Site, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kansas City Plant, Y-12 National Security Complex, Savannah River Site and the Pantex Plant. The draft Executive Summary is available at http://nnsa.energy.gov/

After receiving over 33,000 public comments about the proposal, DOE changed the name to "Complex Transformation." The draft Summary reports "[t]he majority of the comments expressed opposition to the nuclear weapons program and U.S. national security policies. Many of the comments stated that the U.S. is violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Many of the comments stated that [DOE] should assess an additional alternative -- disarmament in compliance with the NPT -- and not design or build new nuclear weapons."

At the same time, Congress acted on the nuclear weapons budget by passing a $500 billion Omnibus Bill. The funding may result in fewer job cuts at the national laboratories located in New Mexico.

But the funding also allows for continuing construction of the first phases of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Building (CMRR) at LANL. The CMRR is a three-phase project, potentially costing over $1 billion. It was originally slated to support plutonium pit production, but now under "transformation" is proposed to take on direct pit production. Congress funded $75 million for the construction of the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building and design of the Nuclear Facility, both of which are well underway. Through September 30, 2007, LANL received over $350 million for the CMRR project. DOE plans to wait to request further funding for the construction of the Nuclear Facility until after the Complex Transformation final decisions are made.

DOE has scheduled four public hearings in New Mexico for the draft Complex Transformation environmental impact statement for March 2008. The hearings will begin on March 10 in Socorro. A second hearing will be held on March 11 at the Albuquerque Convention Center. On March 13, the final hearings will be held in Los Alamos and Santa Fe.

Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said, "DOE has always argued that pit production at LANL is needed because there are no spare pits for stockpile surveillance of the W88 warhead. However, DOE admits only one W88 pit is destructively analyzed each year. Moreover, independent experts have concluded that pits last a century or more. Therefore, increased pit production anywhere is unneeded."

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