Is the plan to increase production of nuclear bomb materials at Los Alamos National Labs something to worry about or are some activists just being nuclear ninnies?
By Simon McCormack
New Mexico nuclear watchdog groups are concerned that Los Alamos is moving one step further in becoming the nation’s permanent site for nuclear bomb pit production.
The “pit” is essentially the heart or trigger of a nuclear bomb, and although pits are already being produced at Los Alamos National Labs (LANL), a new proposal would quadruple the number of pits produced in a year.
A preliminary draft of a “Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Operations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory” issued by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) includes plans to increase pit production from 20 to 80 per year at LANL. The NNSA is a nuclear weapons agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.
Over the last two years, Congress has repeatedly voted down proposals to build a modern pit-building facility capable of producing up to 450 pits per year. In past proposals, the site of the proposed facility would not have been at Los Alamos. “That’s a victory for the good guys but it has a negative boomerang effect on Los Alamos,” says Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. “Because Congress rejected funding for that plant, it will increase the pressure on Los Alamos to become the nation’s permanent pit-production site.”
Coghlan notes that New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici has supported the idea of having the NNSA look into expanding the mission of Los Alamos’ plutonium lab. Domenici’s office was contacted but did not have comments prepared come press time.
No other noteworthy New Mexican politician has weighed in on the proposal. Communications director for the New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED), Marissa Stone, says the NMED is awaiting a final draft of the impact statement before it comments further on the matter.
Others are not waiting to make their opinions heard. Sue Dayton, executive director of Citizen Action New Mexico, notes the previous impact statement for the proposed modern pit facility predicted that over the course of four years, between nine and 10 workers would contract fatal cancer, due to “radiological materials.” Dayton also says that many citizens have voiced concern to her about the prospect of small amounts of nuclear contaminates floating down the Rio Grande into Albuquerque. Dayton raises macro-level concerns as well. “The U.S. is telling other countries that they can’t produce nuclear weapons while we’re increasing their production at home,” Dayton says.
Several representatives at LANL could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Let your opinion on the NNSA’s proposal be known. You have until Sept. 5 to submit your comments to Los Alamos National Labs at: LANL_SWEIS@doeal.gov or by conventional mail at: 528 35th Street, Los Alamos, N.M., 87544. Visit Nuke Watch online at: www.nukewatch.org.
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