Thursday, September 23, 2010
New Study of LANL Project Planned in Light of Lawsuit
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
Federal officials say they plan to do a new study of the environmental effects of a proposed multibillion dollar Los Alamos plutonium lab.
But a group that filed a lawsuit over the project said the new study does not go far enough, and work should be halted while an environmental review is completed.
A Justice Department attorney notified the Los Alamos Study Group in a Sept. 17 letter that it plans a new environmental study of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility.
The Study Group filed suit in August, saying the studies on which the project was based, completed in 2004, do not adequately address the changed nature of the project. Estimated costs have increased since 2004, while the need for the nuclear weapons work to be done in the lab has changed with changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, the Study Group alleges in its lawsuit.
The project would replace the lab's 55-year-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building, which federal safety auditors recently reported was "seismically fragile and poses a continuing risk to workers and the public."
Federal nuclear program managers have been trying to replace CMR for two decades, but the projects have been repeatedly delayed because of rising costs and other problems. The most recent cost estimate for the project was $4 billion.
In the Sept. 17 letter, Justice Department attorney John Tustin said the National Nuclear Security Administration has decided to complete a new "Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement" on the project.
Tustin asked the Study Group to drop its lawsuit because of the new study, but in a letter Wednesday, the organization's attorney declined.
A "supplemental" study is too limited to deal with a project that "has transmuted into an endeavor entirely different from that which was proposed and examined" when the project was first studied in the early 2000s, wrote Thomas Hnasko, the group's attorney.
Hnasko also argued the federal government needs to stop work while a new environmental study is done. Design work is currently under way, and the NNSA has asked Congress for $225 million for design work and site preparations for the project.