Morning Briefing - April 27, 2020
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April 27, 2020

N.M. Senators Back Short Extension of Environmental Review for Los Alamos Pits

By ExchangeMonitor

New Mexico’s delegation to the U.S. Senate last week asked the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to further delay into mid-June the public comment period on an environmental review of pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (both D-N.M.). wrote to NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty on April 22. The Santa Fe-based anti-nuclear activist group Nuclear Watch New Mexico was the first to share the text of the letter.

In their missive, the senators said the NNSA should allow comments on a draft supplement analysis of pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory beyond May 8: the date to which the agency previously agreed to extend the comment period, in part because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent challenges facing individuals, businesses and local and pueblo governments alike require modified timelines to permit adequate public comment,” Heinrich and Udall wrote. “Accordingly, we request that NNSA extend the public comment period on the draft Supplement Analysis to June 19.”

Pits are the plutonium cores of nuclear weapons. The NNSA, in the teeth of the viral outbreak, is advancing plans to build a plutonium pit-manufacturing complex at Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. The agency wants to start production at Los Alamos in 2024 at 10 pits per year. By 2030 its annual output is expected to reach 80 pits: 30 at Los Alamos and 50 at Savannah River. 

The pits initially will be for W87-1 style warheads to be used aboard future Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Environmental and anti-nuclear groups, which oppose the pit plan from about every angle, have pressed the NNSA to slow the ongoing environmental reviews of the planned factories at Los Alamos and Savannah River. Last week, the anti-nuclear Savannah River Site Watch said the NNSA agreed to extend the comment period about the planned South Carolina pit plant to June 15 from May 18.