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SF’s call to halt plutonium pit program will not affect LA

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By Tris DeRoma

In the Nov. 1 Los Alamos Monitor article titled “SF’s call to halt plutonium pit program will not affect LA,” the article should have read "provisions in it that support requests for more federal dollars."​

The Santa Fe Council passed a resolution Oct. 25 calling for Los Alamos National Laboratory to halt plutonium pit manufacturing and that the New Mexico Environment Department and the lab modify a 2016 consent order that governs the cleanup of legacy waste.

“As emphasized through this resolution, prioritizing cleanup and safety will have a direct impact on the City of Santa Fe and northern (New Mexico) communities by doing right for past and historic legacy contamination, as well as recent nuclear criticality safety incidents at LANL,” said Santa Fe Councilor Renee D. Villarreal.

LANL officials declined to comment Tuesday about the resolution.

Los Alamos County Chairman David Izraelevitz said Santa Fe’s resolution does not affect the county’s relationship with the lab.

“Every community has the right to express their opinion through their local government.  This does not affect our relationships with the laboratory the DOE or other agencies,” Izraelevitz said.

Izraelevitz also said encouraging dialogue with LANL in any form should be encouraged.

“We have our own relationship with the different entities involved. Continued conversations between LANL and the surrounding communities like the resolution suggests are important. The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities has been an important mechanism for these types of conversations and for highlighting these types of issues,“ Izraelevitz said.

The resolution calls for “additional characterization of legacy nuclear wastes, increased cleanup funding, and significant additional safety training, and suspend any planned expanded plutonium pit production until safety issues are resolved…”

The resolution, sponsored by Villarreal and four others councilors, is concerned with what it says are “giant loopholes” in the agreement regarding the cleanup of legacy waste generated by the lab. The agreement defines legacy waste as waste that was generated by the lab before 1979.

The resolution claims LANL can avoid any cleanup of legacy waste it’s ordered to do in the agreement simply by claiming it’s too difficult or costly.

The timeline for the cleanup ends in 2040, with a goal of 5,000 cubic meters of legacy waste to be shipped out of LANL to federal waste disposal facilities. Villarreal and others are concerned that the agreement is ignoring at least “30 times” that much legacy waste – waste LANL allegedly intends to cap and bury in special pits on the property designed for long-term storage.

Villarreal said that with a stronger agreement, the regional economies would be stimulated through increased cleanup.

“Regional economic development would be stimulated through comprehensive cleanup of the lab,” Villarreal said. “That would be a win-win for northern New Mexicans, permanently protecting the environment and our water resources while providing hundreds of high-paying jobs.”

She also said a modified consent order would secure more federal dollars for cleanup.

NMED Spokesperson Allison Majure said the 2016 consent order between the state and LANL already has provisions in it that suppors more federal dollars for cleanup.

“We do agree that there is a need for increased federal cleanup dollars at LANL. The 2016 Consent Order serves as a stronger tool for substantiating federal budget requests for greater cleanup funds by demonstrating tangible, measurable performance that is organized by achievable annual cleanup campaigns,” Majure said. “The earlier approach of setting 10-year deadlines proved less compelling for funding requests, as we saw federal cleanup funds drop to $189 (million) under the former Consent Order.”

Majure also said the 2016 order has stiffer penalties than the previous one and offered for those with concerns to come to the December 2017 cleanup progress summit.

“In addition, the 2016 Consent Order requires that stipulated penalties for potential non-performance, be paid from a separate federal appropriation whenever possible.  In years past, assessing penalties against LANL meant reducing the cleanup funds for existing work,” Majure said. “Per the 2016 Consent Order, we invite the public to join us for this year’s DOE/LANS/NMED Annual Planning meeting to review cleanup performance and priorities, tentatively scheduled for December 2017.“  

The resolution’s authors also want to bring a halt to LANL’s plutonium pit manufacturing program. Besides safety concerns, authors of the resolution said they have independent data backing up their belief that the nation’s nuclear stockpile has enough plutonium pits. The pits are used as triggers for nuclear weapons. The lab has plans to start producing more and more nuclear pits, with the ultimate goal of manufacturing 80 pits a year by 2027.

“Independent experts outside of the Department of Defense have found that all plutonium pits, including those created when the existing nuclear stockpile was created over the last 60 years, have reliable lifetimes of a century or more, arguing that expanded production of plutonium pits is unnecessary,” the resolution said.

Environmental and nuclear safety organization Nuclear Watch provided advice to  resolution’s authors.

Nuclear Watch Executive Director Jay Coghlan said they would like to see more communities in the region pass similar resolutions, with a goal to get LANL and the state to listen to their concerns. Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales is the chairman the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, a coalition that represents the community’s interests in relation to the LANL.

“Other local governments may pass resolutions similar to that just passed by the City of Santa Fe. Perhaps this could persuade the Regional Coalition to actively advocate for enhanced nuclear safety before plutonium pit production is expanded, and genuine, comprehensive cleanup that could truly drive regional economic development,” Coghlan said in a written statement.