NUCLEAR WATCHDOGS CHALLENGE ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY
EARTHQUAKE ANALYSIS “NOT WHAT THE COURT ORDERED”
(Knoxville, TN) The National Nuclear Security Administration received strong pushback from citizen watchdogs in comments sent to the agency on Friday, August 14, 2020, in response to the Final Supplement Analysis (SA) prepared by the agency to analyze the risks of earthquakes on its enriched uranium operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance and Nuclear Watch New Mexico submitted comments on the Final SA urging NNSA to step back from its plan to issue an Amended Record of Decision and to prepare a Supplement to the 2011 Y-12 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement or a new SWEIS instead.
‘This is the third Supplement Analysis prepared by NNSA since 2011,” noted OREPA coordinator Ralph Hutchison. “The first two were vacated by the federal court last September as a result of our lawsuit. The judge ordered NNSA to prepare, at a minimum, a new Supplement Analysis for the Y-12 facility that included an earthquake analysis.”
The Final Supplement Analysis, released in July by NNSA, limits its environmental analysis to three facilities at Y-12 rather than consider the entire facility; it also limits consideration of impacts from an earthquake to radiological releases only and their impact on human beings only.
“This analysis falls far short of being a serious analysis of the risks to the workers, the public and the environment that would result from a serious earthquake in or near Oak Ridge. It also falls for short of the “hard look” necessary to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act,” Hutchison noted, “and it contains numerous references to the studies necessary to do a thorough analysis that will not be completed until the end of next year—2021.”
OREPA and Nuclear Watch New Mexico renewed their calls for NNSA to halt construction of the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant until they have the required legal environmental studies for the entire enriched uranium program.
“This program can’t be separated,” Hutchison said. “The UPF part of the plan depends on NNSA continuing to use, for twenty or thirty more years, the old buildings that do not meet environmental and seismic standards. These buildings are unsafe for workers and pose a significant risk to the public in the event of an earthquake.
“Why does that matter? Because the East Tennessee Seismic Zone is the second highest activity seismic zone in the country. Just in the last ten days, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake occurred in North Carolina that was felt as far away as Florida. It was the largest earthquake in more than a hundred years.
“Continuing to conduct enriched uranium operations in unsafe and unstable buildings is just gambling with Mother Nature—gambling that a serious earthquake will not happen near Oak Ridge. Surely, if we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we can not ignore nature just because we think the risk is low—especially when the consequences will be devastating.”
OREPA and NWNM are calling for a thorough environmental impact study to gauge the risks and consequences of continuing to produce nuclear weapons components in unsafe, deteriorating facilities for twenty more years on a site that is already a Superfund site.
The comments submitted to NNSA on Friday include the assessment of Dr. David Jackson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus from the University of California Los Angeles, past president of the Seismology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and Science Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. Dr. Jackson noted that NNSA “failed to address serious environmental issues that I have raised twice,” before enumerating four separate issues NNSA has refused to look at.
Pointing out that NNSA has not yet completed the actual studies that would allow it to assess the performance of the aging facilities, Jackson noted: “NNSA continues to rely on promised future engineering and seismological studies as if they were completed and their conclusions were known and validated.”
The full text of OREPA and NWNM’s comments can be found here.