Court Vacates Uranium Processing Facility Key Decisions

Judge Pamela Reeves, Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, declared the Department of Energy (DOE), and its semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), in violation of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) and vacated key decisions regarding NNSA’s enriched uranium operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, noted, “With this ruling the NNSA no longer has any legal authority to continue construction of the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant.”

Reeves’ 104-page well researched ruling declares “the 2016 Supplement Analysis, the 2016 Amended Record of Decision (ROD), the 2018 Supplement Analysis…are vacated.”  The 2016 Amended ROD was prepared by NNSA to “reflect its decision to implement a revised approach for meeting enriched uranium requirements, by upgrading existing [enriched uranium] processing buildings and constructing a new Uranium Processing Facility.”  2016 Y-12 Amended ROD

The 2016 Amended ROD was the first formal statement of NNSA’s plan to separate its single-structure “big box” Uranium Processing Facility design into multiple buildings and to continue using two out-of-compliance facilities for enriched uranium operations for at least twenty more years.

Reeves ruled on a lawsuit brought by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance , Nuclear Watch New Mexico , the Natural Resources Defense Council , and several individual plaintiffs challenging the federal government’s environmental analysis for its nuclear weapons operations in Oak Ridge.  Nick Lawton, of the public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC, represented the plaintiffs.

After reviewing the decision, Lawton said, “In holding the NNSA accountable for its failure to seriously consider new information on seismic hazards, the court recognized the seriousness of this case. We are pleased that the court is requiring the agency to prepare a new, more specific consideration of earthquake risks, and we encourage the agency to come into compliance with NEPA by fully disclosing these serious risks and by properly involving the public in any ongoing decision-making process.”

Reeves rejected two of the plaintiff’s claims but validated their argument that new earthquake data, published in 2014, must be considered in NNSA’s environmental analysis.

Dismissing one of the government’s arguments—that its analysis of potential seismic impacts was sufficient—Reeves wrote, “Y-12 is located in a populous and quickly growing part of the country. Within the range of possible NEPA cases that might come through this courthouse, the Court is hard-pressed to imagine a more dramatic hypothetical than this, where it must contemplate what might occur if a major earthquake struck a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility located in a major population center.”

The court ruling also points out the crucial role the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board plays in monitoring safety issues at Y-12 and across the nuclear weapons complex.  Since last year, the DOE has worked to reduce the Safety Board’s access to some nuclear facilities, even issuing a revised Order to limit the information available to the Board and restricting whom the Board can and cannot speak to directly.

Hutchinson noted, “The court relied, as we did, on the excellent work of the Safety Board in coming to an understanding of the issues surrounding the safety of the old buildings in Oak Ridge.  We urge the Department of Energy to abandon its efforts to constrain the oversight powers of the Board. The Board has always been scrupulous about adhering to its limited mandate, and it has also been a window into the world of DOE. This case shows why we need that transparency—it’s the last line of accountability we have left.”

The decision may also have serious ramifications for NNSA’s efforts to expand nuclear weapons production at other sites, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Jay Coghlan, director of co-plaintiff Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Uranium and plutonium components manufacturing are two sides of the same coin of expanding nuclear weapons production for a new global arms race. The Department of Energy should take this court ruling against its Uranium Processing Facility as a warning that it must also comply with [NEPA] requirements while ill-advisedly expanding the production of plutonium pits, the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons.”

  1. Thursday, September 26th – Sunday, September 29th – Tewa Women United’s 23rd Gathering for Mother Earth.
  2.  Monday, September 30th – Comments due about the “WIPP Forever” Strategic Plan.  Sample public comments you can use are available at
    Strategic Plan individual letter 091719
  3. Monday, September 30th Community Meeting from 6 to 8 pm at the Loma Colorado Library, 755 Loma Colorado Blvd NE, in Rio Rancho, about the brine wells and infrastructure in Rio West and Rio Rancho – West Mesa. The sites have been contaminated and there are health and safety issues. The radioactivity is caused by Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, called NORM. The Common Ground Community Trust will give a presentation about the contamination issue, the infrastructure of new roads, and what residents will be facing in the future. There are potential impacts to the ABQ Basin. This is a call to action! For more information, email
  4. Saturday, October 5th – Trinity Site open.  Join the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (“Trinity Downwinders”) for a peaceful demonstration at the Stallion Gate on State Hwy. 380. 
  5. Thursday, October 24th – Wednesday, October 30th – Worldwide Count the Nuclear Weapons Money.  Let’s organize some events in New Mexico! For more information:

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