Thursday, May 26, 2011

National Ignition Facility Project

According to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is the government’s attempt to create "a miniature star on earth" to push the envelope on nuclear weapons design. If you ask me it sounds more like something on Dr. Evil’s “to do” list, maybe after “sharks with laser beams attached to their heads.” When originally proposed in 1994, the project was intended to advance nuclear weapons design, provide additional capability for nuclear weapons effects tests, and develop inertial fusion energy. While the cost of this $7 billion science experiment is alarmingly high, the real problem is its representation of our country’s priorities regarding nuclear weapons.

Although the experiment is being sold as the solution to the world’s energy crisis, it is above all else a nuclear weapons advancement project. Skeptics of the ‘energy solution’ claim that the National Ignition Facility is highly unlikely to lead to a practical energy source, let alone one that could be competitive with renewable energy technologies. Critics even go as far to say that the project is essentially “busy work,” in other words, a plan to keep nuclear weapons design teams at Livermore and increase notoriety for the laboratory.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kansas City Plant Project

Since 2001 the Bannister Federal Complex in Kansas City, Missouri has been on the radar of the EPA, Nuclear Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility and several other environmental justice groups. Unfortunately for the mega-complex, its notoriety stems from countless health violations and lawless action, not exemplary service. In 2008 the National Nuclear Security Administration recognized the need for a new Kansas City Plant, a key federal facility that manufactures components for nuclear weapons.

While the proposal to build a new safer facility is supported by the local community, the method of operation and ownership has been widely disputed. The Department of Energy has decided to turn over possession of the new federal plant to local municipality and private developer, CenterPoint Zimmer. Sound harmless? It is if you don’t pay taxes. Because of local ownership, the Kansas City Plant production costs will be left out of the NNSA annual budget and are exempt from congressional review. According to the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, the new facility will cost taxpayers $1.2 billion in lease payments over the next 20 years.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Uranium Processing Facility

The expansion of the Cold War-era Uranium Processing Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the third, “Most Dangerous and Budget-Busting Project,” on the Department of Energy’s agenda. While the original proposal was estimated to cost around $600 million in 2005, scheduling delays and construction conflicts have prolonged the expansion and tacked on additional costs making it the most expensive bomb plant in history. To make matters worse the NNSA said that it won’t have a definitive price tag until the facility’s design is 90 percent complete.

Monday, May 23, 2011

National Nuclear Security Administration Releases New Strategic Plan

Breaking News: So I had to interrupt the series about the Department of Energy’s, “Nine Most Budget Busting Projects,” because this was just too hot not to print. Just recently I walked into Rick’s office and found him reading the 2011 Strategic Plan published by the National Nuclear Security Administration. When I saw the front cover on his computer screen I was almost positive that he had just ordered “Armageddon” on Netflix, but with Bruce Willis nowhere to be found I soon realized that this was the title page of the updated Strategic Plan that outlines our country’s new national security priorities.

Have you ever played that picture game, “What doesn’t belong?” You know, the one where you look at a photo and have to identify the object that doesn’t fit with the rest of the picture? I’m pretty sure that game was the inspiration for the cover of the 2011 Strategic Plan. On first glance your eyes are drawn to the massive earth sitting in front of a waving American flag. Ok so far, right? But then you notice the strategically placed atomic blast right smack dab in the center of the photo. In an additional irony, the vision on the opening page emphatically states “to make the world a safer place.”

As the first NNSA Strategic Plan released since 2004, the report offers several key goals for the coming decade. The objectives set out to reduce nuclear dangers, manage the nuclear weapons stockpile and advance nuclear propulsion, modernize the NNSA infrastructure, and strengthen the science, technology and engineering base. Throughout the report the five goals are often accompanied by the phrase, “safe, secure, and effective nuclear stockpile.” The only problem here is that weapons of mass destruction are not safe or secure, and what does effective mean? Effective at causing severe devastation to civilization? Effective at emitting thermal radiation that causes flash blindness and skin burns? Effective at igniting entire cities and towns?

One segment of the plan that is particularly unsettling is in regards to the Life Extension Programs. While these plans claim to ensure that the nuclear stockpile is safe and reliable, what they actually do is increase the power and destructiveness of existing warheads. For example, the 2008 Life Extension proposal for the W76 warhead was so extensive that it resulted in an entirely new type of bomb. When Congress realized that “Life Extension Program,” was essentially another name for upgrade, it denied funding for two of the Department of Energy’s new nuclear weapons.

The 2011 Strategic Plan does have some redeeming initiatives. In addition to improved nuclear safeguards, the plan seeks to secure the most vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide by 2013. However, such a monumental task would require international cooperation and a greater commitment from the United States to reduce (not improve) our nuclear stockpile. The release of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Strategic Plan illustrates the need for an increased dedication to a nuclear free world. Please take a moment to check out our Action Alert Network and help us cut the 2012 Nuclear Weapons Budget!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement Project

While CMRR stands for Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement project, I think a more appropriate title would be the Costing Massive Resources and Redundancy project. The Department of Energy’s proposal to build a new large scale nuclear facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is not only ten times costlier than originally announced, but it’s also planned to be constructed on the side of a dormant volcano. Now I’m no seismologist, but I am almost positive that a plutonium facility sitting on top of an earthquake-prone area is not a recipe for success.

According to the Department of Energy’s proposal, the CMRR project will be carried out in a three phase assignment which will ultimately replace the fifty-year old facility responsible for building plutonium pits. The plutonium pit refers to the core of an implosion weapon that is responsible for detonation when compressed by explosives. Because of the radiation emitted from these pits, over half of the former facility has been shut down due to severe contamination, yet another warning sign that makes one question the safety and practicality of the project.

Currently, construction costs for the CMRR project total around $5.86 billion and operations are expected to begin in Fiscal Year 2023. That being said, it is important to note that this same project has been in the works for over a decade. Scheduling delays have wasted valuable resources, time, and manpower on a project that continues to be vulnerable to natural disasters as years pass. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability finds that $3 billion have already been added to program costs since 2008 due to increasing concerns over seismic activity.

Another cause of concern for the Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement Project is the issue of nuclear waste. As it stands, the new site is planned to be 32,000 square feet larger than the current facility. Such a vast expansion is excessive and increases the risk for improper waste disposal and nuclear proliferation. Need a second opinion?

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, sums up the Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement Project quite nicely. He says, “We should be cleaning up, not building up new production plants that will produce yet more radioactive and toxic wastes. We should be following a conservative curatorship program that prudently maintains the stockpile, saves American taxpayers dollars, and demonstrates leadership toward the nuclear weapons-free world that global security truly needs.” Well put Jay, well put.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nuclear Reality Check

There is a reason why nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen claims that the best way to prevent further nuclear energy is to be a capitalist. With projected spending as high as ten times the anticipated amount, the price of nuclear energy production has gone from excessive to downright absurd. While the nuclear industry remains reliant upon government loans and ratepayer dollars to fund upcoming projects, the concern for public safety and the risks of proliferation have been grossly overlooked.

Recently the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a non-profit advocating openness and transparency in the nuclear industry, released an alarming report entitled, "Nuclear Reality Check: The U.S Department of Energy’s Most Dangerous Budget-Busting Projects." In addition to reviewing nine of the Department of Energy’s most costly and environmentally hazardous nuclear projects, the report also urges Congress to think twice before providing the Department of Energy’s full $29.5 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2012.

Among the nine proposed projects are those dealing with the production of MOX, a highly toxic mixed-oxide fuel made with weapons-grade plutonium, while others reveal the soaring costs of construction of new weapons research and production facilities - plans that clearly contradict President Obama’s vision for a world free of nuclear weapons. In fact, one might find it strange that several of the proposed projects actually support the manufacturing of nuclear weapons and processing of fissile material rather than oppose it.

So what exactly are these monumentally expensive and harmful programs on the Department of Energy’s agenda? Wonder no more! Over the next several posts I will discuss each of the high risk proposals and illustrate how they will not only compromise the money in our pockets, but also our health and safety. The first step to change is awareness, so stay tuned to learn more about the following programs.

Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project
Uranium Processing Facility
A New Kansas City Plant
National Ignition Facility
B61-12 Nuclear Warhead Life Extension Program
W78 Nuclear Warhead Life Extension Program
Mixed Oxide Plutonium Fuel Fabrication Facility
Nuclear Reactor Loan Guarantees
Waste Treatment Plant

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