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Study Group's first suit to be heard in appeals

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By John Severance

A federal appeals court has agreed to consider the Los Alamos Study Group’s lawsuit to halt construction of a new $6 billion plutonium lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver Tuesday agreed to consider the merits of the appeal by the Los Alamos Study Group. The group filed a lawsuit last year to halt development of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement nuclear facility. The group alleged the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration violated federal law by failing to do a new environmental impact statement after changing the design for the project to address seismic and other safety concerns.

NNSA spokesperson Toni Chiri was not available for comment, but typically, NNSA does not comment on pending litigation matters.

A federal judge in Albuquerque in June threw out the group’s lawsuit. But Study Group leader Greg Mello appealed.

“This is good news -- very positive for us.” said Mello.  “The Tenth Circuit has decided to hear our appeal and the federal agencies, which we believe are grossly violating NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), must now explain themselves before a panel of senior judges in Denver.”

Mello and the Study Group have since filed a second lawsuit in New Mexico federal court. And in a separate ruling yesterday, the court denied an attempt to transfer a second case to Judge Judith Herrera, who had ruled against the Study Group in the first case. 

“Regardless of this, NNSA and DOE cannot decide to build this or any project without first producing an applicable EIS (Environmental Impact Statement),” Mello said. “Federal agencies cannot spend hundreds of millions of dollars implementing the first part of a project and then, and only when challenged, decide to write an alternative-free, post-hoc environmental report.  Such practices, should they be allowed, would effectively eliminate NEPA.”  

Officials at Los Alamos have since begun moving forward with the project, issuing a Record of Decision a couple of months ago.

LANL submits
modification requests

In other news, LANL has submitted two major permit modification requests to the New Mexico Environment Department. One permit modification request, dated July 19, 2011, requests authorization to operate two high explosive open detonation units, one at Technical Area (TA)-36-8 and the other at TA-39-6.

The second permit modification request, dated August 18, 2011, requests authorization to construct and operate a new hazardous waste container storage unit at TA-63. This unit is referred to as the Transuranic Waste Facility.