Associated Press
Sunday, January 31, 2021

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The Santa Fe County Commission wants Los Alamos National Laboratory to conduct a site-wide environmental review of the potential effects of ramping up production of the plutonium cores used in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The commission on Tuesday approved a resolution outlining its wishes. It comes as the lab plans to increase production to 30 cores per year by 2026.

The last site-wide review at the northern New Mexico lab was done 13 years ago, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear stockpile, determined last year that an updated review wasn’t need because there was already sufficient information.

But Santa Fe Commissioner Anna Hansen said it’s unconscionable that the nuclear agency and the U.S. Energy Department are ignoring the demands of elected officials and the public for a new analysis.

“County commissioners are charged with the protection of the health and safety of their citizens,” she said. “And doing a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement is just a basic protection of constituents, citizens of Santa Fe County, to protect them from what may or may not happen in Los Alamos.”

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico spoke in support of the resolution during Tuesday’s meeting. He said the review needs to consider the safety concerns that could result from wildfires in the area. He pointed to the Cerro Grande blaze in 2000 that forced the evacuation of Los Alamos and the temporary closure of the national lab.

That fire also brought to the forefront concerns about radioactive waste that was stored on lab property and potential contamination if the barrels were destroyed or damaged.

“It’s good for both the public and the lab,” he said of a review. “I don’t think they should be viewed as against the laboratory. It’s simply following federal law.”

The resolution delineates some of the safety issues the lab has experienced over the years. For example, nuclear regulator officials reported in 2017 that the lab didn’t meet critical safety expectations. That same year, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board found lab workers were possibly exposed to lethal doses of radiation.

In 2014, an inappropriately packed drum of radioactive waste from the lab ruptured and forced the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad for three years.

“These dramatic developments remind us that a new LANL SWEIS, with full public participation is required before any of the expansion plans are considered,” Hansen said.

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