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NNSA: No more LANL explanations required

SANTA FE, N.M. — The National Nuclear Security Administration will not heed the call by New Mexico’s congressional delegation to explain a supplemental analysis of a 2008 environmental impact study the NNSA says is sufficient for it to go ahead with plans to accelerate the production of triggering devices for nuclear warheads at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The NNSA’s recent review of the 12-year-old site-wide study released last week concluded that even taking into consideration expanded plutonium pit production at LANL, further analysis “is not required” under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Congress in 2018 enacted a policy to increase plutonium pit production at LANL to at least 30 a year. The plan calls for $13 billion in spending at LANL over the next 10 years.

Anti-nuclear advocates argue that the expansion of LANL’s mission is significant enough to warrant a new Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement. They also point to a number of safety breaches that have occurred at LANL over the years and environmental damage that has already been done, including a chromium plume that threatens the groundwater supply.

In a joint statement from U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, all Democrats, the delegation said the NEPA process was important in ensuring worker, community and environmental safety. They urged the NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, to undertake a “robust public engagement process” to explain its findings.

“Northern New Mexico has had to deal with decades of environmental cleanup from past activities and the burden is fully on DOE to justify its decisions to the public to ensure confidence – and take the public input they have received seriously,” they said in the statement.

In response, an NNSA spokesperson said the agency has already engaged the public “and there is no further public engagement planned on the results of the analysis.”

“Additionally, NNSA has met both the letter and the spirit of NEPA requirements throughout the process,” the statement said. “With regards to public engagement, we shared a draft Supplement Analysis and extended the public comment period to accept feedback.”

New Mexico’s congressional delegation had called for a 45-day extension of the comment period due to the pandemic. The NNSA did extend the deadline, but only by 15 days.

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