Thursday, October 25, 2007

Step away from the plutonium

Los Alamos Reporter staff report that Chairman A.J. Eggenberger of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board sent an October 23, 2007 letter to the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, observing:
"The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) current plan for sustained manufacturing of plutonium pits, essential to national security, relies on continued operation of the 55-year-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board believes that continued operation of the CMR facility in its current condition poses significant risks to workers and the public.”
The letter goes on to observe “serious vulnerabilities” at the CMR including “the lack of robust building confinement to prevent a release of radioactivity during an accident” and “the identification of a seismic fault under two wings and the susceptibility of all the wings to structural collapse due to ground motion from a 500-year return period earthquake.”

Loyal readers will recall from July the Los Alamos National Laboratory “celebration” of the production of the first plutonium “pit” certified for use in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile since 1989 and our curiosity at the time about why new pit production is necessary now. Tuesday’s letter from the Defense Nuclear Safety Board underscores the need for critical thinking about the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the importance of including potential dangers to human life and health in public consideration of this important policy issue.

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