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NRC postpones weapons nuke waste meeting
UPI
August 30, 2006
By Ben Lando

U.S. nuclear regulators have postponed a Thursday meeting with the U.S. Energy Department in an ongoing dispute over the disposal of nuclear weapons waste.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified the Energy Department Wednesday that it would delay Thursday’s meeting because it didn’t meet the required 10-day public notification of open meetings.

The sit-down was requested by the Energy Department to air and resolve complaints it has over the NRC’s proposed guidelines for how to dispose of a portion of nuclear waste from U.S. nuclear weapons manufacturing, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

At issue is how much oversight the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year 2005 gave the NRC over the Energy Department’s plans to determine whether the waste at two facilities is high- or low-level radioactive byproduct.

The Energy Department wants the negotiations to be private, but NRC Chairman Dale Klein has said it should now be in the sphere of public debate because Energy Department complaints were made part of the pubic comment of NRC’s proposed Standard Review Plan, instead of internally.

The Standard Review Plan is the NRC’s proposed guidelines for “consultation and monitoring” of the Energy Department’s disposal plan, McIntyre wrote in an e-mail to United Press International.

A new meeting date has not been set.

Fort Wayne (IN) News-Sentinel
Posted on Wed, Aug. 30, 2006
Associated Press

Owner says no huge bomb test at southern Indiana quarry

MITCHELL, Ind. – A southern Indiana limestone quarry will not be used by the U.S. military as the testing site for a powerful new bomb intended to penetrate solid rock formations, a congressman and the site’s owner said.

Rogers Group’s Mitchell Quarry about 30 miles south of Bloomington had been mentioned as a possible site for a test, named “Divine Strake,” that involves detonating 700 tons of explosives.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has declined to say whether the site was under consideration for the test, but Greg Gould, a vice president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Rogers Group, said no immense military bomb blasts would take place there.

“We do not intend to have any blast beyond what we typically have for our mining operations,” Gould said. “Rogers Group has not been in contact with the DTRA about Divine Strake, and we do not expect to be.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said Tuesday he had been told by the agency that the Divine Strake test would not be conducted in Indiana.

The test had at first been planned for June at the Nevada Test Site as part of an effort to design a weapon that can destroy bunkers in which a country might store nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

Environmentalists and some residents had objected to moving the Divine Strake test to southern Indiana. The military has confirmed testing up to 1.5 tons of explosives at the Mitchell Quarry in detonations between July 2004 and March 2005.

Mitchell Mayor Morris Chastain said he was relieved by word that the quarry would not be the large bomb test site.

‘Science complex’ raises funding, compliance questions
Los Alamos Monitor
ROGER SNODGRASS
June 23, 2006

Los Alamos National Laboratory is turning to the U.S. Postal Service for help in arranging third-party financing for a planned new science complex on Two-Mile Mesa, near the main administrative area.

According to an official planning document, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Nuke Watch New Mexico, the laboratory signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USPS in February 2004 to assist in the project.

In its announcement, Nuke Watch charged that the funding scheme was a “back-door” gimmick that sidestepped the congressional appropriation process for a major project.

“There has never been any kind of attempt to hide any part of this complex idea,” laboratory spokesperson Kevin Roark said Thursday. “We’ve been talking about this lease-back idea for a long time.”

Roark contradicted the FY06 Ten-Year Site Plan on one point. “The most current information I have is that the MOU has not been signed,” he said. “We’re still in negotiations with the post office.”

A story in the Monitor from June 2004 reported plans to build the 400,000-square-foot complex to house some 1,300 scientists and other
employees, “using a novel third-party financing initiative.”

The involvement of the postal service, not specified at the time, is considered a straightforward matter from the lab’s perspective.

“The post office happens to be an expert in third party financing. They do this all the time,” Roark said.

Nuke Watch raised another question about the project’s compliance with the federal requirements for environmental impact assessments, saying the group could find no indication that the project has been properly analyzed.

“The lab needs to be constantly reminded of its legal obligations to follow the letter and spirit of the National Environmental Protection Act,” said Coghlan, director of the public interest organization based in Santa Fe.

Nuke Watch New Mexico has been particularly watchful about the environmental impacts of new buildings at the laboratory. A California federal suit in which they participated against a plan to operate Biosafety laboratories at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National laboratories, caused significant delays at both sites.

The Los Alamos BSL-3 remains unoccupied after more than two years, because of the litigation and NNSA’s subsequent decision that a separate environmental impact analysis was needed.

In response to Nuke Watch’s objection about an environmental process for the science complex, Roark corrected an error reported earlier, that the project had been included in a “2004 Site-wide environmental impact statement.”

Asked again Thursday about the matter, he said it would be included in a forthcoming 2006 site-wide impact statement.

Last year, under pressure from local environmental groups, the federal managers of the laboratory changed direction on a required environmental review and decided to prepare a new site-wide environmental statement, rather than a supplement, as they proposed at first.

The last SWEIS was issued in January 1999.

The lab is currently processing the new site-wide environmental impact review. A draft assessment is expected to be released in the near future.

In the LANL site plan, one classified building and one unclassified building were envisioned for the Los Alamos Science Complex along with ample parking.

The buildings were to provide workspace for radiological facilities, bioscience, the theoretical division, earth and environmental sciences, the institute for geophysics and planetary physics, the center for non-linear studies, and other piece of the directorate, according to information provided at that time.

The buildings projected in the site plan last September were intended for occupation by the former Strategic Science division, but under
reorganization by the new management, Los Alamos National Security LLC, the organization has been recast with slightly different components as the principal directorate of Science, Technology and Engineering.

Coghlan said Nuke Watch has been trying to obtain the two most recent versions of the laboratory’s ten-year plan through FOIA since December 23, 2004.

The documents received were marked “Official Use Only” and “May be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act,” as “privileged information.”

“We got a 40 percent redacted version in November 2005,” he said. “We subsequently filed an appeal to the DOE office of hearings and appeals.”

That appeal was ruled non-existent.

“In a twist,” Coghlan said, “rather than denying it, they said your appeal doesn’t exist because the Albuquerque office gave you what they thought you wanted.”

Nuke Watch then began litigation to obtain the material, and NNSA released unredacted versions on June 19.

Cold War Relic in Pieces, but Next Generation Looms
Washington Post
June 29, 2006
By Walter Pincus

The Bush administration is expected to announce today that it has dismantled the last of the most powerful nuclear missile warheads left over from the Cold War.

At the same time, however, a Senate subcommittee has added $10 million to next year’s budget to fund a design competition for the second warhead in a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has increased by 50 percent the rate at which it is dismantling older weapons in the nuclear stockpile, which has about 5,000 weapons.

But Congress and the administration are pressing ahead with the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, which will guarantee production in the next decade of fewer but more reliable and secure nuclear warheads and bombs.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said yesterday that his Appropriations subcommittee had added $35 million to the fiscal 2007 budget “to accelerate the RRW design activities, including $10 million to initiate a second RRW design competition.”

The panel’s draft report says the second RRW design is proposed “to ensure that our strategic forces have at least two different certified RRW warheads” as a hedge against failure in any one system.

The nation’s two nuclear weapons design centers, the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, are competing to design the first RRW. The nuclear security agency is scheduled to make a choice late this year. A second RRW design competition may provide an opportunity to the losing lab.

The warhead at the center of today’s announcement, the W-56, was put into operation in 1963 atop the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It had the explosive power of 1.2 megatons or “roughly 100 times greater” than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, according to Thomas B. Cochran, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear program.

The W-56 was retired in 1991, when the last Minuteman II ICBMs were taken out of their silos during the George H.W. Bush administration. However, it was not until 1999 that the government started dismantling the first W-56, a slow and precise process because of aging parts and nuclear materials, according to NNSA Deputy Administrator Thomas P. D’Agostino.

“It takes anywhere from a few weeks to a month for each warhead if there are no problems,” D’Agostino said. He noted that “they are difficult to take apart because they were not designed to be dismantled.”

At the peak, about 1,000 W-56 warheads existed. In 1986, when the warhead was more than 20 years old, a partial test was conducted and it was found to be still reliable.

D’Agostino said NNSA is planning to put more emphasis on dismantling retired nuclear weapons, a process that in the past decade has provided a steady amount of work for the Pantex facility outside Amarillo, Tex., where weapons are assembled and disassembled. Up to now, the programs to refurbish operational warheads have used up almost all the operating space at the facility. But with that program declining, dismantling of retired weapons can increase.

In another step related to reduction of operational weapons, the subcommittee cut $82 million from the budget because the Defense Department has decided that it will not continue a program that would have extended the life of W-80 nuclear warheads carried by several hundred submarine- and air-launched cruise missiles.

Senator offers plan to store nuclear waste
Proposal rests on temporary sites
June 28, 2006
By Steve Tetreault

WASHINGTON — The government would store nuclear waste at temporary sites for as long as 25 years while it worked to overcome delays in the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada under a plan offered by the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., on Tuesday advanced a nuclear waste management plan he said would break a logjam in which thousands of tons of used nuclear fuel have accumulated at power plants. Plant operators have sued the Department of Energy for not taking the material away as promised.

“This provision is intended to provide a medium-term solution for spent nuclear fuel,” said Domenici, a nuclear power advocate in Congress.

Domenici said the plan “will not impact Yucca Mountain,” where the department has faced problems and delays. Nuclear waste would be consolidated at state or regional sites for 25 years or until a Yucca Mountain repository could be opened or waste-reprocessing technologies could be commercialized.

The sites would be on federal land or on property obtained from willing sellers, he said. Nevada and Utah would be exempted.

Domenici said a new target date for Yucca Mountain was 2018, “which may happen or may not happen.” He did not explain how the date was reached.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., negotiated the measure with Domenici. Reid said he signed off on it after concluding it would be “Yucca-neutral.”

He said it could buy time for the development of possible alternatives. “This measure will give us time to study the problem of nuclear waste and work towards a solution that is safe and viable,” he said.

Reid has argued that to transport nuclear waste is unsafe, and he has introduced a bill to keep it stored at power plants. He suggested that much of the waste might not move far or at all if DOE can gain agreements with utilities.

More than 50,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored at plants in 39 states.

Under the plan, the government would take ownership of nuclear waste stored at eight decommissioned plants and keep it there.

The Department of Energy had no comment. A spokesman said officials received the bill Tuesday.

Frank “Skip” Bowman, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the nuclear industry was reviewing the interim storage provisions.

But Robert List, a former Nevada governor who represents NEI as a consultant in the state, said the interim storage plans “do not delay the Yucca Mountain project.”

“Nevadans should not be deceived into believing that the temporary storage facilities, if built, would in any way slow down or stop the development of the Yucca Mountain facility,” List said in a statement.

The proposal adds a layer of complication to problems of nuclear waste storage and will get a chilly reception from state leaders, said Charles Pray, a nuclear adviser to the governor of Maine and co-leader of a pro-Yucca Mountain task force, which consists of utility regulators and community groups.

“I would find it amazing to find any governor who would step forward and say they would be willing to provide a temporary repository for the next 25 years,” Pray said.

Also, if the plan comes to votes in the House and Senate, lawmakers would be asked to keep nuclear waste within their states for decades, after they voted four years ago to move it to Yucca Mountain, he said.