Watchdogs dispute plutonium shipment proposal

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NNSA > Claims no such proposal exists

By John Severance

Nuclear watchdog groups met in Livermore, Calif., this week to discuss a federal proposal they say would allow the transport weapons-grade plutonium from Los Alamos to California.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan, who was on the panel, said he and Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Marylia Kelley were in Washington D.C. to discuss the plan with Don Cook, the head of NNSA Defense Programs.

“We stand behind the fact this plan indeed exists, which NNSA now seems to be backpedaling from,” Coghlan said.
Kelley told the San Jose Mercury News that although no plan has been formalized, the idea has been discussed by U.S. Department of Energy officials and in documents from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“There’s no question that this is the proposal,” Kelly told the newspaper. “What would be the fair thing to say is that the final decision hasn’t been made.”

NNSA spokesman Joshua McConaha said such a plan does not exist for now.

“Safety and security are the top priorities of NNSA, and they always will be.  In September, the NNSA completed the removal of all Security Category I and II special nuclear material, which requires the highest level of security, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” McConaha said.  “This highly successful effort was undertaken to improve security and reduce overall operating costs at LLNL.  The project was completed ahead of schedule and within budget while maintaining full compliance with safety and environmental laws and procedures.

“NNSA has no plans to return Security Category I/II material such as pits and secondary assemblies containing SNM to LLNL. Should it become necessary to revisit this decision, NNSA would only do so after carefully evaluating the policy and program implications of such a change. This would include the necessary safety, security and National Environmental Policy Act studies and evaluations.”

Coghlan, meanwhile, stated his case to those at the meeting.

“I pointed out that the real purpose of shipping plutonium pits to Livermore Lab was to keep it in the nuclear weapons game,” Coghlan said. “I urged the locals here in Livermore to fight that plan, and that although it needs quick and decisive organizing work it should be a fairly easy win because the federal government itself is in conflict over continued pit shipments given LLNL’s loss of Security Category I/II designation.”

“I further pointed out that in combination with the spectacular failure of the National Ignition Facility and its increasing irrelevancy to the Stockpile Stewardship Program that over time this was an unprecedented opportunity to peel one of the nuclear design laboratories out of the nuclear weapons complex. That this was the right thing to do given the nation’s fiscal constraints and the long but certain road to a future world free of nuclear weapons. “

Scott Yundt, staff attorney for Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, which sponsored the forum, told the San Jose newspaper that if the NNSA decides to move plutonium to Livermore from Los Alamos that it would have to conduct a full NEPA report, otherwise the group would pursue “judicial action.”