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July 16, 2003

Brice Smith, Ph.D and Arjun Makhijani Ph.D.

Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, Maryland.

The following are the comments on the Draft Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Stockpile Stewardship and Management for a Modern Pit Facility, henceforth referred to as the Draft SPEIS, on behalf of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. Based upon the analysis and comments presented below, it is our conclusion that the preferred option should be the “No Action Alternative”. This conclusion is based on an analysis of non-proliferation, health, and environmental considerations, as well as on issues related to plutonium aging. These comments contain specific recommendations regarding the issues that we believe the final SPEIS should address in detail that are not covered or are improperly covered in the draft SPEIS.

Summary of Recommendations for the Final SPEIS

It is our conclusion that the Draft SPEIS is deficient in many respects and that the final SPEIS should include at the minimum:

  • a detailed discussion of the expected distribution of radiation doses to the workforce at an MPF for each of the proposed production levels including the dose for the most exposed worker, the standard deviation of the distribution, and the mathematical model used for the calculations
  • a clear discussion in the text of the overall risks for fatal cancers in the entire workforce due to normal operation of the facility over its projected operational lifetime
  • a detailed discussion of the proposed safety features that would be incorporated to bring the facilities into compliance with the DOE guidelines limiting exposures to the offsite population in the event of an accident. (As the Draft SPEIS stands, there are a total of eight accident scenarios at three sites that would violate the exposure limits for the most exposed member of the public.)
  • a thorough discussion of the cumulative risk associated with all potential accidents and not merely of a small subset of such accidents as is currently presented
  • a greatly expanded discussion of the impact to workers directly involved in facility accidents including the number of workers likely to be involved for each scenario and a best and worst cases analysis of their exposures
  • a discussion of site specific natural disasters that would affect both the likelihood and consequences of accidents at an MPF. Of particular concern if the potential for a serious wild fire to occur at the proposed Los Alamos National Laboratory site
  • an analysis of the impact an MPF and the associated construction of new pit designs for new nuclear weapons will have on U.S. non-proliferation and disarmament obligations (specifically those relating to the NPT and the CTBT), as well as on global security in the context of such concerns as “loose nukes”
  • a detailed analysis of the environmental and human impacts that would be associated with the increased likelihood of nuclear testing that would proceed any large scale production of new pit designs
  • and finally, a discussion of the environmental and human impacts that would accompany the increased potential for use of nuclear weapons that would follow construction of pits for new tactical nuclear weapons.

In addition, it is essential that the final SPEIS specify all elements of the reasoning behind the supposed need for the MPF instead of hiding behind a cloak of “classified analyses”. Knowing the specific rational for the facility is vital to allowing the public to accurately gauge for itself the validity of the government’s arguments. In particular, far greater detail is required in the final impact statement regarding the scientific basis for claims relating to DOE/NNSA concerns regarding the aging of plutonium. The discussion in the final SPEIS of these arguments must provide the specific evidence not only for any potential effects of aging on the materials properties of the plutonium itself (including references to peer reviewed literature), but also for the potential of any such changes to degrade the performance, reliability, or safety of the associated weapons over the timescale appropriate to decisions regarding the Modern Pit Facility.

Plutonium Aging and Remanufacturing

The DOE/NNSA has based a significant portion of the need for such a facility on the putative requirement for replacing aging pits in the current nuclear arsenal. Our review of the draft SPEIS shows that the DOE/NNAS rationale for remanufacturing pits to replace those currently in the stockpile contains several points that are contradictory, misleading, or factually incorrect. There is no scientific basis for a decision to build an MPF for the purpose of replacing pits in the current arsenal.

To begin with, Section 2.1 (“Introduction and Need For a Modern Pit Facility”) contains the alarmist and false claim that “today, the United States is the only nuclear weapons power without the capability to manufacture plutonium pits suitable for use in the nuclear weapons stockpile” [page 2-1]. In fact, this statement is directly contradicted by information from the Los Alamos News Service. Following the successful manufacturing of the Qual-1 pit for the W88 warhead at the TA-55 facility, the news service noted that “Los Alamos National Laboratory has successfully made the first nuclear weapons pit in 14 years that meets specifications for use in the U.S. stockpile” [1]. This blatant contradiction of the claim in the environmental impact statement is all the more troubling given that the Draft SPEIS is dated May 2003 while all 42 processes required to make a certifiable pit were fully qualified by December 2002 and Los Alamos had already successfully created Qual-1 by April 2003 [1].

Much of the urgency that the Draft SPEIS associates with the need for a decision on a large scale pit production facility is justified by what they call a “prudent risk management approach to assure readiness to support the stockpile” in light of “uncertainties in the effects of pit aging past the design life” [page 2-2]. However, the appendix to the Draft SPEIS acknowledges that “to date, only minor age induced changes have been observed and there is no direct evidence that these affect pit performance, reliability, and safety” [page G-58] (emphasis added). It goes on to conclude that “evaluation of the oldest samples of plutonium metal, both metal of the oldest absolute age (40 years) as well as the oldest samples most directly comparable to the enduring stockpile (25 years) have shown predictably stable behavior… Based on this assessment, current estimates of the minimum age for replacement of pits is between 45 and 60 years” [page G-64] (emphasis added).

Even these relatively long lifetimes are, in fact, quite conservative estimates given the current state of plutonium science. For instance Richard Garwin, a scientist who has been involved with the design and testing of nuclear weapons since the 1950’s and is now Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that “the United States has experience with pits on the order of 30 years old, which show no signs of deterioration, and the general feeling from recent inspections and from aging experiments done with higher Pu-238 content (87 year half-life vs. 24,000 for Pu-239) is that current pits are not expected to deteriorate for 60-90 years or more[2] (emphasis added). Dr. Garwin’s conclusion was echoed in a 1999 study by the JASON program that found “pit lifetimes are now discussed as 60 to 90 years” [3].

The scientific facts about plutonium pit aging that are emerging provide no evidence for the need for pit replacement. We discuss what is currently known starting with the programs underway that include “an evaluation of accelerated aging alloys” [page 2-3].

In May of 2000 the first batch of plutonium spiked with 7.5% Pu-238 was created at Livermore’s Plutonium Facility [4]. Plutonium-238, like the isotope used to make nuclear weapons, plutonium-239, emits an alpha particle in the process of radioactive decay. But the half-life of plutonium 238 is about 270 times shorter than that of plutonium-239. In other words, the same weight of plutonium-238 produces about 270 times more alpha particles (and correspondingly more heat) in a given time. This is the physical basis of accelerated aging experiments.

On May 13, 2002 the first samples of spike plutonium were cast into ingots at Los Alamos [5]. These samples will accumulate self-radiation damage at a rate approximately 16 times that of the unspiked samples in an attempt to examine aging at a greatly increased rate. The results of these experiments will be available in 2006 well before any decision on the MPF is required even by the most conservative estimates of warhead aging. While we have significant questions about the ability of these experiments to accurately represent the buildup of actual age related damage given such facts as the increased internal temperature and oxidation rate of the spiked samples [6], knowing the results of these experiments is viewed at high levels within the weapons laboratories and the U.S. government as being absolutely essential to any decision on the need or timing of a large scale pit production facility.

For example, Joe Martz, manager of Los Alamos Enhanced Surveillance Program, has said that “intelligent experiments such as this will inform the policy community so that decisions about the future, larger scale manufacturing can accurately assess the environmental and fiscal costs” [5]. Tom Shepp, head of the Lawrence Livermore portion of the accelerated aging experiments, noted that they “are working to protect the health of the stockpile by providing advance warning of manufacturing and aging defects” and that in this context “NNSA especially wants to know whether they will need to build a facility for manufacturing new pits” [4].

In light of these statements, making a decision on whether an MPF is needed before these experiments are completed and the analyses are published and discussed would violate the reasons that have been given for the substantial sums of taxpayer dollars that have been invested in these experiments. While any aging produced by samples spiked with plutonium 238 that indicates significant deterioration of pits would have to be assessed for its validity for plutonium-239, there is no question that a failure of the spiked sample experiments to show significant aging related effects on reliability would confirm what is already known from other studies of unspiked plutonium aging.

We now examine more closely the detailed claims made in the Draft SPEIS about the nature and the extent of plutonium aging. To begin with, the environmental impact statement rules out corrosion as a source of concern and acknowledges that “the life limiting mechanisms of plutonium aging are understood to result from self-irradiation” [page 2-3]. It then goes on to discuss two specific types of radiation damage that it claims are important to a decision on the need for an MPF. First, it notes that “of primary concern is the accumulation of helium within the material; how helium build-up changes with time, and how it affects the plutonium properties – in particular the plutonium density” [page 2-3]. However, the only additional mention of helium damage in the Draft SPEIS notes that “the helium-induced changes are very small, and if they continue to increase at the predicted rate, will not affect weapon performance for pits in excess of 60 years” [page G-61]. It also points out that “we have yet to observe the onset of void swelling” [page G-60] which is one of the potential consequences of helium buildup in the material.

These conclusions are echoed in the scientific literature. For instance, Raymond Jeanloz, executive director of the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California Berkeley, points out that “annealing processes, perhaps related to those countering the crystal-structure disordering, appear to counteract radiation induced damage and mitigate the initial buildup of He quite effectively” [7]. In addition, theoretical studies of the behavior of helium within the plutonium lattice have concluded that “at 300 K [80 oF], there are no bubbles in the interior” [8].

The second self-irradiation effect that is explicitly mentioned by the Draft SPEIS is related to the stability of the delta-phase (one of the many possible lattice configurations for plutonium), and the maintenance of long-range order over time. While addressing the conclusions of Dr. Jeanloz relating to improved crystalline order with age in delta-phase plutonium [7], the environmental impact statement notes that “unfortunately, recent local-structure measurements by the weapons laboratories have demonstrated the immense complexity of local atomic arrangements in the crystalline plutonium lattice and increased delta-phase stability with aging cannot be assumed” [page 2-3].

However, the appendix to the Draft SPEIS admits that delta-phase plutonium alloy “will not transform to thermodynamically stable phases in the time frame of thousands of years” [page G-63] and that “there has been no evidence of this phase transformation occurring in weapon material” [page G-63]. Recent studies at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that delta-plutonium held at -118 oC (-180 oF) for nearly 17 minutes formed alpha-plutonium precipitates that were only 20 µm long by 2 µm wide [9]. This corresponds to a total area of just 4×10-11 square meters per precipitate even following exposure to these extreme conditions.

In addition to the metastability discussed above, it has also been observed that newly created samples of delta-plutonium alloys display local deviations from the ideal face centered cubic lattice configuration. However, using an experimental technique that is sensitive to the local structure of materials, Steven Conradson, a researcher with the Materials Science and Technology Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, discovered that this anomaly actually disappears with aging, indicating that the material is becoming more ordered over time. In particular, he concluded that an “increase in the concentration of additives [plutonium decay products] drives the material to the right along the local structure phase diagram (Fig 5.) [not included] until it is in the stable regime” [10]. He then went on in the article to discuss the likely physical mechanisms responsible for this increased ordering of delta-plutonium with age. The first is that the internal energy deposited in the plutonium due to self-irradiation “opens the possibility of annealing processes that could indeed result in a more ordered material” [10]. The second is that, compared to the other lattice configurations plutonium may adopt, the ideal face centered cubic structure most easily accommodates the introduction of local strain caused by the buildup of decay products with time and will thus be mechanically favored.

Finally, a 2001 paper reporting on the findings of researchers in the Materials Science and Technology Division and the Nuclear Materials Division at LANL echoed the conclusions of Dr. Conradson by noting that self-irradiation has been found “to promote the formation of the homogeneous stable δ local structure from the heterogeneous metastable one” [11]. The authors went on to say that, in regards to their current work, “the question then, is whether aging in α-Pu would amorphize the structure or, as in δ-Pu, it results in self-annealing and the preservation of long- and short-range order” [11].

Thus, available evidence in the scientific literature as well as in the appendix to the impact statement itself offer no basis for the stated aging-related concerns. In fact, in each case the available evidence points to the conclusion that neither of the two aging mechanisms discussed in the Draft SPEIS poses any threat to the stockpile for the foreseeable future. Given the age of current stockpile warheads, the existing commitments for future force structures, the existence of accelerated aging studies soon to be completed by the national labs, and the remarkably consistent and positive findings of all current studies concerning self-irradiation damage in plutonium, it is our opinion that there is no scientifically sound justification for building an MPF with respect to the maintenance of the current stockpile.

Thus, available evidence in the scientific literature as well as in the appendix to the impact statement itself offer no basis for the stated aging-related concerns. In fact, in each case the available evidence points to the conclusion that neither of the two aging mechanisms discussed in the Draft SPEIS poses any threat to the stockpile for the foreseeable future. Given the age of current stockpile warheads, the existing commitments for future force structures, the existence of accelerated aging studies soon to be completed by the national labs, and the remarkably consistent and positive findings of all current studies concerning self-irradiation damage in plutonium, it is our opinion that there is no scientifically sound justification for building an MPF with respect to the maintenance of the current stockpile.

The DOE/NNSA has a capacity to make certified pits at LANL that is expected to reach 20 pits per year by 2007. As we have shown above, the facts that have emerged from decades of experience with plutonium and the especially intensive studies of aging issues that have been done as part of the Stockpile Stewardship Program provide no serious evidence that even a 20 pit per year capacity is needed. Indeed, there is no reason at the present time to conclude that replacement of pits for aging reasons will be needed for the foreseeable future. All the evidence supports in the direction of the “No Action Alternative” for the final SPEIS.

Human Health and Safety

The previous section discussed our conclusion that no legitimate need for the MPF has been presented with regards to the maintenance of the current stockpile weapons. Given the serious flaws in the case justifying the need for a pit production facility, the treatment of all adverse health impacts that will result from its operation must be greatly expanded given the enormous burden of proof that should be associated with knowingly placing individuals at risk.

First, more information needs to be given about the distribution of expected doses to the working population under each of the proposed alternatives. Currently the Draft SPEIS states that “at all MPF sites, the average individual dose to a worker would be 290 mrem/yr for the 125 ppy [pit per year] facility, 390 mrem/yr for the 250 ppy facility, and 510 mrem/yr for the 450 ppy facility” [page 3-33]. Significantly, even from just the average exposures we note that the 450 pit per year facility would in fact violate the internal DOE administrative standard for nuclear facilities which states that “design criteria be established to limit individual worker doses below 0.25 millirem per hour (500 millirem TEDE per year)” [12]. However, simply knowing the average is not sufficient to accurately examine the full impact of such a facility given that some workers not directly involved with the production are likely to receive far smaller doses while others may receive far greater doses. If the full distribution is not provided, then at the very least the final environmental impact statement should include in the text an estimate for the annual dose to the most exposed worker and the standard deviation of the dose distribution for the entire population in order to more accurately represent the impact of facility operations on its workforce. The specific probability distribution assumed in the calculation also needs to be specified in the final SPEIS.

These considerations of dose distributions are intimately connected to the stated fatal cancer risk to the working population at the proposed facilities. In Table 3.5.1-1 “Summary of Environmental Impacts”, the risk to the entire worker population is given as 0.22 per year for the 450 pit per year option [page 3-39] which works out to nearly 9 cancers deaths over a 40 year operating period for the facility, and this is just from normal operation. If the facility is run on double shifts the Draft SPEIS notes that all “adverse health impacts to MPF workers would be approximately double” [page 5-49], and therefore this number would jump to 18 deaths.

The fact that, even barring a single accident in 40 years, this facility is estimated to create more cancer fatalities by the DOE/NNSA itself requires a clear and thorough discussion in the body of the text. Instead the Draft SPEIS resorts to describing the risk to an individual worker without stating the estimated consequences to the population of workers [page 3-33].

We have been dismayed that the DOE/NNSA has dismissed the estimated cancer fatalities as a “statistical contortion” after the DOE’s own estimates of expected cancer fatalities among the worker population received national publicity in a New York Times article [13]. The final SPEIS should contain a clear discussion of individual as well as population cancer risks.

Another important deficiency of the environmental impact statement’s treatment of human health effects is that at three of the proposed sites (Los Alamos, Pantex, and Carlsbad), there are postulated accidents that violate the Department of Energy’s 25 rem exposure guideline for “a member of the public at the nearest site boundary” [page 5-57]. The Draft SPEIS deals with this by noting that “following the ROD and selection of a site, additional NEPA action would be taken that would identify specific mitigating features that would be incorporated in the MPF design to ensure compliance with DOE exposure guidelines” [page 5-57].

Given the asymmetry among the sites and the difficultly in designing safety features that would function effectively in the event of a beyond design basis earthquake (one of the accident scenarios considered), it is important that specific proposals be presented in this document for bringing an MPF into compliance with DOE safety regulations in order to allow for a more accurate comparison of the various proposed locations. Further, the Draft SPEIS contains no information as to the cumulative risk associated with accidents at an MPF. The final SPEIS should remedy this problem.

The environmental impact statement admits that “the accidents listed in these tables were selected from a wide spectrum of accidents” [page 5-55] (emphasis added) and justifies this narrowing of the list to just six types by claiming that “in the event that any other accident that was not evaluated in this EIS were to occur, its impacts on workers and the public would be expected to be within the range of the impacts evaluated” [page 5-55]. This argument, however, carries no information as to number of non-analyzed accidents with large risks compared to relatively small risks.

When the net risk posed by the facility is calculated by summing the individual risks from each independent accident type, the contribution of the non-analyzed accidents could be quite significant. For instance, the next four most serious accidents considered in the Draft SPEIS have a total risk of fatal cancer in the offsite population that is on average 17% of that for the most serious accident (i.e. a feed casting furnace explosion). Given that these risks will vary from site to site and that the DOE does, in fact, provided a variety of other site-specific analyses within this Draft SPEIS, the lack of it in this context is potentially misleading. It is therefore vital that the final environmental impact statement provide a complete accounting of all postulated accidents and discuss the total risk associated with each proposed location.

Finally, there is essentially no attempt made to consider the impact an accident is likely to have on workers directly involved. For each proposed location the Draft SPEIS simply mentions that “for all of the accidents, there is a potential for injury or death to involved workers in the vicinity of the accident” and then goes on to state that the “prediction of potential health effects becomes increasingly difficult to quantify as the distance between the accident location and the receptor decreases” [page 5-60]. The document then switches to a discussion of the evaluation and isolation areas that will be provided for the workers in the event of an accident. Given the likely serious consequences of each accident type to the workers directly involved, far greater care must be given to these sections. At the very least, an analysis of the number of workers that would be considered “involved” in each accident scenario under ordinary operating conditions must be presented along with a best and worst case result for the radiation and chemical hazards that they would be exposed to.

Considering the fact that human beings will be placed in potential mortal danger from a variety of types of accident, this task no matter how “difficult” must be undertaken before any clear picture of the actual impact from the MPF facility can develop.

Site Specific Accidents

Finally, we will discuss the importance of performing a more detailed site specific accident analysis rather than using the same six generic accident types at each location. This is particularly important because accidents at the various proposed plants may begin due to “internal initiators” such as equipment failures or human error, “external initiators” such as plane or vehicle crashes or nearby explosions, or “natural phenomena initiators” [page 5-54].

In particular, it is our opinion that analyzing natural phenomena as accident initiators requires far greater care and candor than is currently given to the topic in the Draft SPEIS. Of particular concern is the potential for serious wild fires to occur at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

In Appendix C, the Draft SPEIS notes that the “natural phenomena events that were considered include earthquake, tornado, high winds, flooding, wild fires, snow, and ice” [page C-5]. However, Tables C.4-1 through C.4-3 only discuss a single such event, namely a beyond evaluation basis earthquake that causes a loss of confinement and sparks a fire in multiple areas. The stated justification for narrowing the analysis to this single accident type was that it had the “potential for causing the release of radioactive materials that would bound other natural phenomena events” [page C-5]. This argument, however, ignores the contribution of the accident’s likelihood to the calculation of overall risk as well as the possibility for indirect effects, such as the loss of electrical power or forced evacuations, to increase the likelihood or severity of associated accidents.

To a first approximation, the risk of an accident may be estimated by multiplying its consequences by the probability that it will occur. While a major earthquake may in fact have the most serious consequences of all the natural disasters considered with regards to the release plutonium, its probability (10-5 per year [page 5-56]) is quite small. Given this definition of risk, it is important to have more detailed information about both the consequences and probabilities associated with a wider variety of natural phenomena, with a particular focus on events that are known to be likely to occur at any of the potential sites for the proposed MPF.

As mentioned, of particular concern is the potential for wild fires at LANL. Over the past 26 years the area surrounding Los Alamos has experienced a total of six serious fires. In June of 1977, the La Mesa Fire burned nearly 15,000 acres of Bandelier National Monument as well as southern parts of Los Alamos National Laboratory “leaving a fire scar that is still clearly visible today” [14]. The Laboratory was again threatened in April 1996 when the Dome Fire burned more than 16,500 acres coming right up to the southern edge of the laboratory. Following the Dome Fire in 1996, there were three significant fires in the next four years. There was the 1997 Lummis Fire in Bandelier National Monument, the 1998 Oso Fire in the Santa Clara Pueblo, and the 2000 Guaje Canyon Fire in the Santa Fe National Forest. Finally, in May of 2000, the Cerro Grande Fire began and quickly became the largest wildfire ever recorded in New Mexico’s history. Started as a controlled burn in the Bandelier National Monument on May 4 it was classified a wildfire by the following day. In the “Land Use and Visual Resources” section, the Draft SPEIS notes that the Cerro Grande fire burned 7,684 acres, or nearly one-fourth of Los Alamos National Laboratory, destroying 45 structures and damaging an additional 67 [page 4-6]. The environmental impact statement, however, fails to mention that in addition to these 112 buildings, miles of power lines were destroyed and that the fire came close to facilities that contained nuclear materials and high explosives. Nor does it mention that the Laboratory was forced to shut down on May 8 and that it did not reopen for nearly two weeks [14], or that at one point the LANL Emergency Operations Center was overtaken by the fire and found itself “in the midst of some very hot flames” [15]. The Cerro Grande Fire, after burning a total of 43,150 acres, was finally declared extinguished on July 20, nearly two and a half months after it began.

In the immediate wake of the Cerro Grande Fire, LANL meteorologist Jeff Baars performed a detailed analysis of historical data to determine the joint probability of strong winds and High to Very High fire danger. His analysis concluded that “a major fire moving up to the edge of the laboratory is not only credible but likely,” and that such a fire could be expected to occur approximately once every 10 years [16]. Thus, the probability that a wild fire will occur that could threaten a pit production facility and associated supporting structures located at Los Alamos could be nearly a thousand times greater than that associated with the earthquake considered in the Draft SPEIS. In fact, for the last two summers LANL has been forced to close all lab controlled wilderness areas to non-work related activities due to “extreme fire danger, lingering severe drought conditions, pine beetle infestation and lack of available fire fighting resources” [17]. Given the high probability of a wild fire occurring, a detailed analysis of its effects on the proposed pit production facility, waste storage facilities, and associated material transportation equipment should clearly be included for the Los Alamos alternative.

In addition to these considerations, wild fires are known to create a wide variety of damage and disruption to LANL operations that must be carefully analyzed for their impact on the likelihood and consequences of all other internally and externally initiated accidents. Examples of non-direct fire damage and disruption that are of particular concern are the loss of primary and secondary power supplies to vital fire suppression, climate regulation, and material isolation equipment, the ignition of nearby explosions, and most importantly, the potential inability of trained operations and emergency response personnel to access the pit production facility for extended periods of time. Additionally, wild fires will change many of the assumptions associated with the calculations of the human impact for each of the accidents considered. The most important of these changes are the increased proximity and number of non-radiation workers that would be present to fight the fire, and the highly perturbed weather conditions associated with a serious fire including increased wind speed and the increased mobility of particulate matter carried by the smoke. For example, during the Cerro Grande Fire “the plume of smoke could clearly be seen in satellite photos and crossed a four-state area into western Kansas” [14].

Given the high probability and widespread impact of a wild fire with respect to the safety of any pit production facility at Los Alamos National Lab, it is important that far greater detail be given to this “natural phenomena event” in Section 5.2.10 of the Draft SPEIS. It is our opinion that an informed decision as to the relative impact of the proposed MPF at the various sites cannot be made without this additional information.

New Weapons Designs and the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Before proceeding with our analysis of non-proliferation issues, it is important to note that the reliance of the Draft SPEIS on “classified analyses” [page 1-1] raises many questions as to the ability of the pubic to accurately gauge for itself the need for pit production. In fact, nearly this identical argument was used in the wake of the closure of Rocky Flats following an FBI raid that shut the facility down for pervasive violations of health, safety, and environmental laws. According to the New York Times, when asked about the Energy Department’s stated urgency to reopen pit production at Rocky Flats, then Secretary of Energy Watkins “used an argument that his department had not used since the mid-1980’s: National security requires a prompt reopening of the plant but the reasons cannot be publicly discussed because they are classified” [18].

In fact, Rocky Flats was never restarted and the country did quite well without it. It is essential therefore that all of the elements of the reasoning behind the need for the MPF should be fully published especially as the stated reasons are either not persuasive or potentially dangerous or both.

The evidence that we have cited and our analysis of it shows that aging of pits in the current U.S. arsenal is not a persuasive reason for building an MPF. The principal motivation appears to be the creation of a capability to mass manufacture entirely new nuclear weapons that require pits of new designs. For instance, the overview of the Draft SPEIS states that

While a small interim capacity is currently being established at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), classified analyses indicate projected capacity requirements (number of pits to be produced over a period of time), and agility (ability to rapidly change production of one pit type to another, ability to simultaneously produce multiple pit types, or the flexibility to produce pits of a new design in a timely manner) necessary for long-term support of the stockpile will require a long-term pit production capability. [page 1-1] (emphasis added)

Therefore, it is surprising that the conclusion of the official analysis regarding U.S. obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states that “the Proposed Action in this EIS, which would enable NNSA to maintain the reliability of the enduring stockpile until the ultimate goals of the NPT are attained, is consistent with the NPT” [page 2-8]. At no point in this section is new weapons development mentioned, nor is the likely international reaction to such development considered.

In light of the omission of a discussion of the reaction to the production of pits for new weapon types in the non-proliferation section, it is interesting to note that this issue is, however, discussed in the Draft SPEIS in another context. In the discussion of the potential for using the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility at the Savannah River Site for a MPF as well, the Draft SPEIS recognizes that “using one facility to simultaneously dispose of nuclear weapons and produce nuclear weapons components would likely raise significant concerns from Russia and the international community” [page 3-26]. It is essential that this analysis of the international community’s concerns be made more specific in the final impact statement. It is also crucial that the impacts of a decision to build an MPF on the entire range of non-proliferation and disarmament concerns, including U.S. commitments under the NPT and the test moratorium be thoroughly addressed in the final SPEIS.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty requires the United States to pursue an end to the nuclear arms race and to actually achieve complete nuclear disarmament. The United States has affirmed this obligation in the context of the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and subsequent review of NPT obligations by the parties.

NPT disarmament obligations are further reinforced by the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act which requires the government to “recognize the worldwide and long-range character of environmental problems and, where consistent with the foreign policy of the United States, lend appropriate support to initiatives, resolutions, and programs designed to maximize international cooperation in anticipating and preventing a decline in the quality of mankind’s world environment” [19].

Preventing global proliferation and a renewed multi polar arms race qualifies as “preventing a decline in the quality of mankind’s world environment”. There is already evidence that a U.S. decision to pursue new nuclear weapons development will have a destabilizing effect on arms control and non-proliferation efforts. For example, Alexander Getmanets, the deputy minister of atomic energy responsible for nuclear weapons development in Russia, has been quoted as saying : “Last January the United States proclaimed a new doctrine on weapons development with focus on new weapons, at the same time NATO is expanding to the borders of Russia, while the United States leaves itself the option of quick restitution of weapons from storage, all while developing the ABM system and new offensive nuclear potential. This all raises questions” [20].

In fact, simply looking at the consequences of the expiration of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, from which the United States unilaterally withdrew in December 2001, shows the intensity of potential international reactions. Just one day following its expiration, Russia announced that it was pulling out of the START II arms reduction treaty. According to RIA-Novosti’s Dimitry Litovkin, until “the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty, Moscow had been intending to completely eliminate by 2007 the grouping of 154 ‘heavy’ R-36 Voyevoda missiles [SS-18s] with 10 independently targetable warheads, capable of penetrating any missile defense system. Now it has decided to keep them in combat service until 2012-2015.” Litovkin went on to add that the plan to retire the rail-based SS-24s with multiple warheads, has also been halted [20].

In addition, a detailed study of current U.S. nuclear policy by the British American Security Information Council concluded that “the development of low-yield nuclear weapons would appear to Chinese analysts and policymakers as further proof of U.S. hostility” and that China’s reaction “may have a serious impact on stability in South Asia as India and Pakistan seek to maintain the regional military balance” [21].

A decision to build an MPF could also adversely impact the historic reciprocal unilateral steps that the first President Bush and President Gorbachev took in 1991 to remove essentially all tactical nuclear weapons from their arsenals. These moves were not made in pursuit of disarmament commitments, but out of a simple recognition on the part of then President Bush that the presence of tactical nuclear weapons in the Soviet arsenal at a time of economic and political instability raised the risk of “loose nukes”. Since then, the proliferation situation has in some ways become more dangerous, given that non-state groups have been shown to have ambitions to acquire and use nuclear weapons. The final SPEIS should therefore examine the direct and indirect impact of a U.S. decision to create mass manufacturing capability for new weapon types that would include weapons such as “mini-nukes” and “bunker busters” on the problem of loose nukes.

A decision to build an MPF will be seen around the world as a concrete commitment to the acquisition and maintenance of a large arsenal of nuclear weapons. This perception will be particularly strong in the context of a strategy of pre-emptive or preventive war that the Bush Administration adopted in Sept 2002 and implemented in the recent War on Iraq. It is therefore essential that the final SPEIS should discuss the increased risks of the use of nuclear weapons that might be created by a decision to build an MPF. Besides the casualties that nuclear weapons would produce, we believe that NEPA requires that the environmental impacts of the increased risks of nuclear weapons use be considered in the final SPEIS as well.

Finally, the Draft SPEIS claims that the decision to build an MPF “would be consistent with a continuing U.S. moratorium or a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty” [page 2-8], however, in our opinion, such a decision may have a significant impact on both the Nuclear Test Moratorium and the CTBT. The mounting evidence regarding the lack of a need to replace pits for aging-related considerations has already created a widespread and, in our view, entirely justified conclusion that the MPF would be built to mass manufacture pits of new configurations for new weapon designs. It is highly unlikely, given current certification procedures, that pits of new designs would be mass manufactured for incorporation into the U.S. arsenal unless they were fully tested. This conclusion has been echoed at the highest levels of the nuclear weapons establishment. For instance, Steven Younger, then Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Weapons at Los Alamos and now the Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, has written that “given current and projected scientific capabilities, it is difficult or impossible to confidently field a new, highly optimized, nuclear warhead design without nuclear testing” [22]. Therefore, we believe that a decision to build an MPF, especially in the current policy context, would inevitably increase pressures to test nuclear weapons.

It is a widely held view, shared by us, that a resumption of testing would be a blow to both the CTBT and the NPT of unprecedented and possibly fatal magnitude. The final SPEIS should contain a careful analysis of the effect of the MPF on the CTBT and the NPT in light of the procedures for certifying new weapons designs. Since the MPF would be at least partly dedicated to making pits for new weapon designs, it is essential to examine the environmental impact that would be associated with the increased risk of a resumption of nuclear testing occasioned by a decision to build the MPF. In decades past, underground testing was conducted at the Nevada Test Site under the assumption that the substantial amount of residual plutonium would not migrate significantly from the test location. Recent research, however, indicates that that assumption is dubious at best and false at worst [23]. It is thus our conclusion that a decision to build the MPF on the Nuclear Test Moratorium and the CTBT must be considered in detail in the final SPEIS for environmental reasons as well.

Given the immense importance of preventing a renewed arms race and the legal obligations of the U.S. government under both the NPT and NEPA, it is vital that a far more thorough and detailed analysis be given on the impact on non-proliferation likely to occur as a result of any decisions regarding the MPF. At the very least, this analysis must explicitly address new weapons development and its impact on global military postures in light of other related facts such as the current push to deploy a National Missile Defense, the national policy of preemptive war, and U.S. commitments under the NPT, the Nuclear Test Moratorium, and the CTBT. In addition, it should clearly distinguish between the need for and scale of pit production facilities that DOE/NNSA believes is required to maintain the existing stockpile (i.e. remanufacturing existing pit designs) and the scale required to support new weapons development. This is especially important given our own analysis that there is no scientific basis for making a decision to build a new MPF based on considerations related to aging of the current arsenal.


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  12. DOE Standard, “Radiological Control”, DOE-STD-1098-99, July 1999 ↩ Return
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  14. M. Diana Webb and Kelly Carpenter, “Los Alamos After the Cerro Grande Fire”, American Planning Association 2001 National Planning Conference, March 14, 2001 ↩ Return
  15. Statement from Richard Burick, Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations, May 12, 2000 ↩ Return
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  17. James Rickman, “Severe fire danger necessitates wildland access restrictions”, Los Alamos News Release, July 10, 2003 ↩ Return
  18. Matthew Wald, “As U.S. Struggles to Restart Colorado Bomb Plant, Critics Question Its Need”, New York Times, July 25, 1991 ↩ Return
  19. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended ↩ Return
  20. Paul Webster, “Just like old times: Russia’s old Cold Warriors couldn’t be happier with their country’s new nuclear weapons plans”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2003 ↩ Return
  21. British American Security Information Council, “Bunker Busters: Washington’s Drive for New Nuclear Weapons”, July 2002 ↩ Return
  22. Steven Younger, “Nuclear Weapons in the Twenty-First Century”, Los Alamos National Laboratory LAUR-00-2850, June 27, 2000 ↩ Return
  23. A.B. Kersting, D.W. Efurd, D.L. Finnegan, D.J. Rokop, D.K. Smith, and J.L. Thompson. “Migration of plutonium in ground water at the Nevada Test Site”, Nature 397 : 56-59 (1999) ↩ Return