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NNSA Issues Final SEIS for Nuclear Facility Part of CMRR project

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By John Severance

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced Friday it was moving forward with its plans for the nuclear facility portion of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The NNSA posted the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the DOE NEPA website.

The timing of the release of the impact statement – late Friday afternoon – did not go unnoticed by critics.

"It is unlikely that the agency will receive any significant negative publicity for such stunts, as most news reporters who cover NNSA expect such behavior,” said Greg Mello, the director of the Los Alamos Study Group.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will issue a formal Notice of Availability for the SEIS via the Federal Register, as required by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, in early September.
“DOE carefully considered suggestions, alternatives and comments offered by stakeholders through NEPA’s public input process,” said Kevin Smith, manager of NNSA’S Los Alamos Site Office. “I am confident this document contains the information and analyses needed to choose the right path forward for providing the responsive infrastructure necessary to support our nation’s nuclear security.”

The NNSA held a series of meetings throughout the state to gather public comments concerning the SEIS. And most of those comments were negative.

Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Robert H. Gilkeson issued a 43-page report in June, documenting their concerns about the project. Their basis was that there was insufficient, incorrect and misrepresented seismic information for design basis related to earthquakes and it asked DOE to retract the draft SEIS for the project.

“The data in the reports by DOE and LANL show that the maximum power of the faults is M8, a great earthquake,” Gilkeson said Saturday morning. “The hazard at the proposed CMRR Nuclear Facility is based on a maximum energy of a 7.27 earthquake, which is more than 20 times below an M8.”

The final SEIS calls for the NNSA to use the preferred alternative action to build the CMRR Nuclear Facility in the lab’s Technical Area 55 and use an approach called the Modified CMRR-NF design concept.
The press release says this is not the first time NNSA has thoroughly investigated the environmental effects of the proposed CMRR Project. It claims that LANL has conducted a new site-wide seismic analysis of the geophysical structures that underlie the lab area and NNSA has incorporated that information into the design concept.

NNSA still has some decisions to make construction-wise.

There are two construction options for the Modified CMRR-NF concept. One is the Deep Excavation Option, in which a geologic layer of material would be removed and replaced with low-slump concrete. The second is a Shallow Excavation Option in which the facility is constructed in a higher geologic layer.
NNSA will determine whether to implement the Modified CMRR-NF, and whether to use the Shallow or Deep option for construction of the planned facility. The selected option will undergo engineering analysis and independent review. A Record of Decision regarding NNSA’s decisions on the CMRR-NF is expected in October.

“We are eager to review its content, but the fact remains that it comes long after full federal commitment to the project and hundreds of millions of dollars in prior appropriations for this one specific project only,” said Mello, whose Los Alamos Study Group currently is in litigation with DOE and the NNSA.  “The SEIS is a sham.  Because of the unprecedented scale of this project we need to look beyond the specifics of this particular project to the broader implications for our government, democracy, and social contract."  

The projected cost of the project has ranged from $3.7 billion to $5.8 billion. 

Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, added, “The NNSA and

Los Alamos Lab seems to pay little heed to wasting taxpayers’ money in these hard economic times. … It would be far better if taxpayers’ monies were invested in getting Americans back to work, since the $6 billion Nuclear Facility will also produce no new permanent jobs. Instead, it will just further entrench Los Alamos into the diminishing nuclear weapons business, when now is exactly the time that the lab should be diversifying its mission for job growth.” 

The proposed CMRR project also faces another hurdle – possible budget cuts.

In June, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut $100 million in FY 12 funding for the project. The committee recommended allocating $200 million for the project, 33 percent below the budget request. The Energy and Water appropriation bill was passed by the House and was sent to the Senate for consideration.

“It’s up the Senate and the super committee,” Mello said.

The super committee was formed last month when the federal government avoided a shutdown. Part of the debt ceiling bill was that both chambers of Congress would appoint three members from each political party and they would be charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts this year. Should the super committee fail, then automatic spending cuts would go into effect that would drastically reduce defense spending.

The CMRR would replace the 60-year-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building and consolidate existing capabilities at LANL.

The full SEIS summary can be found attached with this story. The full two-volume SEIS report can be accessed by clicking here.

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NNSA-FinalSEIS_Summary-2011.pdf3.05 MB