2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 16 Jul 2003 20:57:37 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] New Plutonium Bomb Factory May Violate Radiation Protection Standards
IEER Press Release

For further information contact:
Arjun Makhijani, 301-270-5500
Brice Smith, 301-270-5500

Potential Accidents at New Plutonium Bomb Factory Would Violate
Radiation Protection Standards for the Public

Bomb Plant Would Undermine Nuclear Test Moratorium and Test Ban Treaty
According to Independent Analysis

Proposed Large Plant Would Also Violate Internal Radiation Safety
Guidelines for Workers

Takoma Park, Maryland, July 16, 2003: More than one-fourth of the
potential accidents analyzed for a new facility designed to  manufacture
plutonium triggers for the U.S. nuclear arsenal would
violate the DOE's own guideline for radiation exposure to the public,
some by as much as 400%, according to an independent analysis of
government documents.  In addition, the accidents analyzed by the
government represent only a fraction of possible scenarios, thus
preventing any clear understanding of the overall risk posed to the
public by the facility.

These conclusions are based on a review of the May 2003 draft
Department of Energy (DOE) Environmental Impact Statement on its
proposed Modern Pit Facility (MPF) conducted by the Institute for
Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) in Takoma Park, Maryland. The
plutonium "pits" to be made at the proposed facility are the triggers
that initiate the explosion in modern multi-stage thermonuclear
warheads and are similar to the plutonium explosive in the bomb that
the United States used to destroy Nagasaki during the Second World War.

Sites under consideration for the DOE's Modern Pit Facility include
the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Carlsbad, both in New
Mexico; the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina; the Nevada
Test Site, 60 miles from Las Vegas; and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo,
Texas.  At three of these sites (LANL, Carlsbad, and the Pantex
Plant), one-third to one-half of the accidents analyzed for a plant
capable of producing 450 pits per year (ppy) would lead to exposures
in excess of the DOE guidelines for a member of the public.  The
maximum allowed exposure to a person offsite under the DOE guideline
is 25 rem, which is 50 times the annual exposure limit to the
population allowed from the normal operation of nuclear facilities.
The most serious accident considered would lead to exposures from
twice to nearly four times the DOE guideline depending upon the site.

The DOE document claims that once a specific site is chosen, it will
then determine how to bring it into compliance with the regulations.
"It is unacceptable that the DOE has proposed a facility that would
violate its own guidelines," notes Dr. Brice Smith, a research
scientist at IEER.  "Without knowing the actual exposures that the DOE
will eventually allow at each location following an accident, it is
impossible to accurately compare the risk they pose to the public."

Additionally, the DOE report analyzes only a subset of the potential
accidents that may occur at an MPF.  Because the total risk from
independent accidents is cumulative, the draft report offers no basis
for determining the actual threat to the public at any of the proposed
sights for pit production .

However, it is not just accidents at an MPF that have the potential
for serious human consequences.  "Normal operation of a 450 pit per
year facility would lead to average worker exposures in excess of the
internal DOE recommended administrative standard at nuclear
facilities," notes IEER President Dr. Arjun Makhijani.  In addition,
an examination of the data tables presented in the draft report
indicate that the DOE estimates that over a 40 year operating period
roughly 9 workers will die due to radiation induced cancer.  "This
proposed plutonium explosives factory will be dangerous for its
employees," concluded Dr. Makhijani.

The Modern Pit Facility is supposedly part of the DOE's "Stockpile
Stewardship Program" to maintain the safety and reliability of the
U.S. nuclear arsenal. But no problems that would materially affect the
reliability of plutonium pits in the current U.S. arsenal are
identified in the draft report or in the scientific literature. On the
contrary, the results of current research indicate that aging of pits
affects neither the safety nor the reliability of nuclear weapons.
"Given the remarkably consistent and positive findings of studies
concerning the lack of age-related damage in plutonium, there is no
scientific justification for the claim that pits needs to be replaced
anytime in the foreseeable future," concluded Dr. Smith.  "We have
determined from our analysis that even the 20 pit per year capacity
that the DOE hopes to have developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory
by 2007 is likely to be unnecessary, to say nothing of a massive new
facility," adds Dr. Makhijani.

In its discussion of the case for the MPF, the DOE document wraps
itself in the cloak of "classified analyses."  In response, Dr.
Makhijani noted that "following the closure of the Rocky Flats pit
production facility in 1989 due to violations of health, safety, and
environmental laws, the Department of Energy assured the public that
classified analysis proved national security was at risk if the
complex remained closed, however the country has done quite well
without Rocky Flats for over a decade."

"Given the lack of any need for the MPF to maintain the current
stockpile, the likely reason for its development will be to
manufacture new pit designs for new types of weapons," says Dr. Smith.
"The production of new weapons such as the 'mini-nuke' and the
'bunker-buster' is a dangerous drift towards usable nuclear weapons
that is in violation of U.S. commitments under the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty," adds Dr. Makhijani.  Dr. Makhijani also
noted "it is highly unlikely, given current certification procedures,
that pits of new designs would be mass manufactured for incorporation
into the U.S. arsenal unless they were fully tested."  This
consideration raises the likelihood of an end to the current U.S.
nuclear test moratorium and the collapse of the international
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The final public hearing concerning plans to construct the new pit
manufacturing  facility is scheduled for today in Washington, D.C.
Previous hearings have been held at locations near each of the five
proposed sites throughout the summer.

It is the conclusion of the IEER analysis that the "No Action
Alternative" is the correct choice and that plans for the Modern Pit
Facility should be scrapped.


IEER's comments on the Modern Pit Facility's Draft Environmental
Impact Statement can be found at <www.ieer.org/comments/mpf.html

Lisa Ledwidge
Outreach Director, United States, and Editor of Science for Democratic
Action Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER)
2104 Stevens Ave. South  |  Minneapolis, MN 55404  USA
tel. 1-612-879-7517  |  fax 1-612-879-7518  |  ieer@ieer.org  |

IEER's main office:   6935 Laurel Ave. Suite 201 |  Takoma Park, MD
20912  USA  |  tel. 1-301-270-5500  |  fax 1-301-270-3029

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