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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the name of the firm representing the coalition. It is the South Carolina Environmental Law Project.
SANTA FE – A coalition of nuclear safety and social justice groups, including several based in New Mexico, have notified federal agencies of their intent to sue over plans to accelerate production of the triggering devices used in nuclear weapons at Los Alamos National Laboratory and South Carolina’s Savannah River Site.
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Tewa Women United and Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE) are among nine groups being represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, according to a letter sent by the law center to the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration officials on Tuesday.
A news release says that the law center is prepared to file a lawsuit on behalf of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment under the National Environmental Protection Act within the next 60 days if the decision to advance production of plutonium pits at LANL and SRS isn’t revisited.
In 2018, Congress enacted a policy that tasked the two facilities with producing 80 pits per year by 2030 as the United States works to expand its nuclear weapons capacity.
A spokesperson with the NNSA, which falls under the DOE, said the administration does not comment on proposed or pending litigation.
Last year, the NNSA said it had determined it already had sufficient information to go ahead with the plan.
“NNSA has both programmatic and site-specific environmental impact statements covering pit production activities designed to provide NNSA the flexibility to adapt decisions as needed in response to national security requirements,” it said.
The administration added that, in 2019, the NNSA published a supplemental analysis of the 2008 review and determined that increasing pit production at the programmatic level “does not constitute a substantial change from actions analyzed previously and there were no significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns.”
Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said spending more on nuclear weapons is like throwing good money after bad.
“Instead of maintaining the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, NNSA may actually undermine it because all future pit production is for speculative new-design nuclear weapons,” he said in a statement. “This is a colossal and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money on top of already wasted taxpayers’ money.”
Specifically, the groups are calling for a comprehensive environmental impact review to be conducted on plans to ramp up production of the nuclear bomb cores at the two sites.
“It is incumbent on your agencies to implement President Biden’s recent Executive Order of January 27, 2021, in which he declares the U.S. policy addressing environmental justice,” states the letter from the law project to the DOE and the NNSA.
The letter quotes Biden’s order, which states federal agencies “shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions” and “to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities.”
Beata Tsosie, Environmental Health and Justice Program coordinator for Tewa Women United, said the voice of Indigenous people should be heard. Several pueblos are within a 50-mile radius of Los Alamos.
“It is clear that communities impacted by nuclear colonialism need healing, strength and restorative justice. We know that the environmental violence our land-based and Native peoples, ecologies and waters continue to endure from nuclear contamination will not end until the harm stops,” Tsosie said.
HOPE founder Marian Naranjo added, “The Los Alamos National Lab is located on a geographically unsafe area for the work that transpires there, a place that is, and has been considered, sacred to Pueblo People since time immemorial.”
According to the letter from environmental law project attorney Leslie Lenhardt, the groups have communicated with the agencies over the past two years about the “obvious basis” for a nationwide programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS.
“The plans of DOE and NNSA to expand this production program will saddle the already burdened communities represented by these groups with a significant amount of nuclear waste and pollution that is in complete contravention to the President’s Executive Order,” the letter states.
The letter states that a supplemental analysis on pit production at LANL “waves aside” environmental justice concerns and falsely concludes that pit production will not have an adverse impact on low-income minority groups.
“One of the critical problems with refusing to prepare a PEIS is that the public is either ignorant, or being provided misinformation about the breadth of the planned project,” the letter states. It goes on to say that there are still unresolved safety issues at LANL and that it’s unclear where the radioactive waste produced through pit production will be disposed.
“If your agencies continue to refuse to undertake this statutorily required task of preparing a PEIS, we will have no choice but to file the action,” the letter concludes.