NNSA issues impact statement in advance of court challenge

-A A +A

The Los Alamos Study Group wants a preliminary injunction to prohibit further funding of the CMRR. There is a hearing Wednesday in Albuquerque

By John Severance

Late Friday afternoon, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) made available online the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Nuclear Facility portion of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“The NNSA is committed to carrying out our national security missions in a safe, secure and environmentally responsible manner,” DOE spokeswoman Toni Chiri said. “The CMRR project is an important part of our effort to invest in the future, build a 21st century nuclear security enterprise, implement the President’s nuclear security agenda, and improve the way NNSA does business.

“The mission-critical capabilities provided by CMRR will support the full range of nuclear security missions, including everything from stockpile stewardship to non-proliferation to counter-terrorism.”

An Environmental Impact Statement was completed in 2003, LANL adopted an updated site-wide seismic analysis standard in 2007 and we are now issuing the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for public comment as part of effort to ensure that we are fulfilling our commitment to the community we call home,” she said.

The release of the statement comes five days before the Department of Energy and NNSA will be in an Albuquerque courtroom to battle the Los Alamos Study Group.

The study group wants a preliminary injunction to prohibit all further funding of the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility.

U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera will hear arguments from both sides Wednesday in Albuquerque.

The group’s lawsuit, filed last August, alleges the Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by preparing to build the facility without a new environmental impact statement.

The DOE contends that the new building is necessary because the current 60-year-old structure is outmoded. Lawyers for the agencies have argued the lawsuit should be dismissed. That motion is pending.

The study group, however, argues that the building’s design was changed without notice, and that the nuclear facility now bears little resemblance to the initial proposal.

“The purpose of the EIS is to provide some semblance of the National Environmental Policy Act process to the court,” said Greg Mello, who heads the study group. “It doesn’t really do that. It freely admits that the decision to build a nuclear facility is not being revisited. So what’s the point? The heart of any EIS is the analysis of alternatives but if there aren’t any then there is no real EIS.”

The CMRR would replace the 60-year-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building used for analytical chemistry and materials characterization critical to NNSA national security missions requiring nuclear materials handling, processing and fabrication including stockpile management, nonproliferation and counterterrorism.

DOE spokeswoman Toni Chiri was asked Saturday about the timing of the release of the SEIS in regard to the upcoming hearing on Wednesday.

“The notice of availability will be published next Friday but we wanted to make this available a week ahead of time,” she said. “We had to get all the documents on the website and the letters in the mail. It is a five-day week and there is only so much you can do in a day.”

The CMRR project was the subject of a 2003 Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Record of Decision to construct the two-building replacement facility came in 2004.  

The Draft SEIS analyzes three alternatives:
•No Action Alternative: Construct and operate a new CMRR-NF at Technical Area 55, adjacent to RLUOB, as analyzed in the 2003 CMRR EIS and selected in the associated 2004 Record of Decision.
•Modified CMRR-NF Alternative: Construct and operate a new CMRR-NF at TA-55, adjacent to RLUOB, with certain design and construction modifications and additional support activities. The design modifications address seismic safety, infrastructure enhancements, nuclear safety-basis requirements, and sustainable design principles. This alternative, which is NNSA’s preferred alternative, has two construction options, a Deep Excavation Option and a Shallow Excavation Option. No preferred construction option has been identified.
•Continued Use of CMR Building Alternative: NNSA would not construct a replacement facility to house the capabilities planned for the CMRR-NF, but instead would continue to perform operations in the CMR Building at Technical Area 3, with normal maintenance and component replacements at the level needed to sustain programmatic operations for as long as feasible.

The complete draft SEIS is available by clicking here.

Public hearings are scheduled May 24 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express, 60 Entrada Dr., in Los Alamos; May 25 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Santa Claran Hotel, 464 N. Riverside Dr., in Española and May 26 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Santa Fe Community College, 6401 S. Richards Ave., in Santa Fe.

“We are just following the process and we will see where it takes us,” Chiri said. “We added a modified alternative and added a deep and shallow excavation option.”

Mello, meanwhile said the NNSA’s draft SEIS is “surprisingly bad because it does not actually consider any alternatives to the project — as it freely admits.  At the same time, it says it offers two “alternatives,” both of which the agency has previously offered and all parties agree, are unsafe and unrealistic.  The analysis of alternatives, as the law says, is the “heart” of the NEPA process.  

“It really sets a new low, even for DOE.”