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Published on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 by Focal Points Blog / Foreign Policy in Focus
Fukushima Be Damned, Federal Court Brushes Off Seismic Nuke Risks
by Russ Wellen
Regular readers are aware of how alarmed we are by the construction of a facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico intended, in large part, to manufacture something known as plutonium pits. Before examining the latest development in attempts to halt it, first some background on the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) from recent posts.
If you're not a regular reader, you may be surprised to learn the federal government seeks to ram through a new nuclear facility that's intolerable on a number of counts.
1. Its intended purpose is to build plutonium pits -- the living, breathing heart of a nuclear weapons, where the chain reaction occurs. In other words, mad science at its most extreme.
2. Its projected cost, adjusted for inflation, may be greater than all the work done on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico during World War II.
3. The land the building will occupy is seismically, uh, challenged (subject to seismic shocks as great as those experienced at Fukushima).
A watchdog association called the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) has been spearheading efforts to stop the CMRR-NF in its tracks via a lawsuit against the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Re the objections to CMRR-NF, again from a previous post:
In the hearings Mello and Noted nuclear physicist Frank von Hippel, who, during Perestroika, helped sell the Russians on monitoring and verification (as chronicled in David Hoffman's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Dead Hand), testified. LASG's lawyer asked von Hippel why he thought a new study of alternatives to the CMRR-NF was called for? His reply (in truth, to an imaginary question: why do we need a facility that builds nuclear pits anyway?):
Also the updated U.S. Nuclear Posture Review Report mandates that
In other words
Let's hope that those who worry that the United States would run out of these infernal little internal destruction machines will rest easy now.
Also testifying was LASG executive director Greg Mello. When asked by LASG's lawyer about the CMRR-NF's estimated cost, he responded.
In fact (emphasis added)
Echoing von Hippel (or vice versa; not sure who testified first), Mello explained that the Department of Energy's science advisory group, known as JASON,
Besides which, it seems the NNSA may have bitten off more than it can chew. I'll break down the relevant paragraph of the LASG newsletter into bullet points. The NNSA is attempting to create
In the lawsuit, LASG contended that the project should not proceed without a valid, new environmental impact statement (EIS) to address seismic risks that creation of the facility at Los Alamos might incur. Apparently, the area is at risk of earthquakes as large as those that rocked Japan. Worse, the site rests on loose volcanic ash especially susceptible to shifting should an earthquake occur, which can result in fire and the release of radiation.
An EIS hasn't been worked up for the facility since 2003 and LASG believes that simply revising it in the form of a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) is woefully inadequate in light of how much plans for the facility have expanded. Unfortunately, the judge didn't agree and dismissed the lawsuit. From LASG's latest newsletter:
And which, as has been pointed out to me, began the day that the judge dismissed the suit. Of the hearings, Mello said
In the end, writes Mello:
Nor does the ruling
As I've mentioned before, the Los Alamos Study Group is manning the front lines of disarmament: the actual building of nuclear facilities. In a sense, what it's doing is trying to save the Obama administration -- and the United States -- from itself. The vast amount of money being spent on the CMRR-NF and the nature of one of its products -- the cores of nuclear weapons -- undermines any message of nonproliferation that we're trying to send to the world with initiatives such as the new START treaty. Excuse me if I repeat myself, but we're kidding ourselves if we think our disarmament double-dealing escapes the notice of a state like Iran.
© 2011 Foreign Policy in Focus
Russ Wellen holds down the "Nukes and Other WMD's" desk at the Faster Times, and writes "The Deproliferator" for Scholars & Rogues and other blogs. He is an advisor to the Madrona Institute and co-moderates Terralist.