US plutonium production plan likely to spur legal challenge - Albuquerque Journal

US plutonium production plan likely to spur legal challenge

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The agency that oversees the United States’ nuclear arsenal says it doesn’t need to do any broad environmental reviews of a proposal that calls for ramping up production of plutonium triggers at federal installations in New Mexico and South Carolina.

The National Nuclear Security Administration on Wednesday released a supplemental analysis related to the project, saying the determination was made after reviewing extensive documentation and public comments that were received last year.

Nuclear watchdogs, government accountability advocates and other critics argue that the decision skirts requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and a decades-old court order that included a mandate for an environmental review when the federal government embarked on plans to boost production to more than 80 of the nuclear cores a year.

A key component of every nuclear weapon, most of the plutonium cores in the stockpile were produced in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the nuclear agency.

Federal officials have set a deadline of 2030 for ramped-up core production, with work being split between Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. At stake are jobs and billions of dollars in federal funding that would be needed to revamp existing buildings or construct new factories to support the work.

The NNSA said it would prepare an environmental impact statement on core-making at Savannah River. A less extensive review is being done for Los Alamos, but watchdogs say that analysis will fall short of the nationwide public review required by such a significant proposal.

Lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment first threatened legal action last fall. They reiterated Thursday that a legal challenge is possible since the nuclear agency has declined to prepare a broader review.

“We need to find smart ways to face the world’s renewed nuclear arms race. Unnecessary expanded production of questionable plutonium bomb cores is not the way to do it,” said Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Waste New Mexico.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, Coghlan said the federal government should be considering credible alternatives to ensuring the reliability and sustainability of the nuclear arsenal rather than the rubber stamping of a “nukes forever” agenda that is funded by taxpayers.

While the NNSA’s decision comes as President Donald Trump on Thursday proposed overhauling the half-century old National Environmental Policy Act, the issues surrounding plutonium pit production have spanned multiple presidential administrations.

Elected leaders in New Mexico and South Carolina long have been jockeying for the lucrative mission. Some members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have resisted the nuclear agency’s plan, arguing that production should be centered at Los Alamos — the once-secret city in northern New Mexico where the atomic bomb was developed decades ago as part of the Manhattan Project.

The mission of producing the cores has been based at Los Alamos for years but none have been made since 2011 as the lab has been dogged by a string of safety lapses and concerns about a lack of accountability.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico criticized the Trump administration Thursday for its proposed rollbacks, saying the environmental policy act is the only law that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental and climate related consequences of federal actions. As for the plutonium project, the senior senator has yet to say whether he would support more environmental reviews.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
APS students return to classrooms Tuesday
ABQnews Seeker
Officials still dealing with effects of ... Officials still dealing with effects of cyberattack
2
Body found in rubble of charred building
ABQnews Seeker
Investigators looking through the rubble of ... Investigators looking through the rubble of a West Central Avenue office building fire Monday morning discovered a body. Albuquerque Fire Rescue crews were dispatched ...
3
Drawing history
ABQnews Seeker
Political cartoonist scorned the powerful for ... Political cartoonist scorned the powerful for 60 years
4
$600M project puts NM town at center of hydrogen ...
ABQnews Seeker
Prewitt facility could be first successful ... Prewitt facility could be first successful coal-to-hydrogen project in the nation
5
Former lobbyist finds new calling in cannabis
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque man gives up $90,000 salary ... Albuquerque man gives up $90,000 salary for local budding industry
6
Justice, sort of, is coming after deadly crash
ABQnews Seeker
Woman expected to accept plea agreement ... Woman expected to accept plea agreement over tragic incident
7
Proposal for vote of no confidence in Senate president ...
ABQnews Seeker
A proposed vote of no confidence ... A proposed vote of no confidence in Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart failed Sunday during a private caucus meeting of Senate Democrats. The ...
8
Natural resource agencies request funding boosts
ABQnews Seeker
Climate change bureau would tackle emissions Climate change bureau would tackle emissions
9
At 470 killed, traffic deaths return to the bad ...
ABQnews Seeker
Pedestrian death tally reached 99, breaking ... Pedestrian death tally reached 99, breaking record set back in '94
10
Ready or not, it's legislative session time
ABQnews Seeker
Lawmakers to tackle host of NM ... Lawmakers to tackle host of NM issues