A plutonium pit is the heart and trigger of a nuclear bomb. Production involves the extensive processing and handling of extremely hazardous and radioactive materials. In 2018, the federal government called for producing at least 80 pits per year by 2030, including 30 or more at Los Alamos and 50 or more at the Savannah River Site.
The new plutonium pits are intended for the W87-1, a controversial new warhead under development at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Its novel design will necessitate new pits and require all of the cores manufactured at both production sites through 2038 or later, according to government documents.
Tri-Valley CAREs, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and Savannah River Site Watch have reached out to DOE and NNSA on more than six occasions since 2019 over the legal requirement for a nationwide programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS, and public hearings before expanding the production of plutonium pits in NM and SC. On March 22, 2021 government lawyers sent a final letter of refusal to undertake the necessary environmental review.
Joining as a co-plaintiff in today’s lawsuit is the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, founded by Queen Quet, the Chieftess and head of state for the Gullah/Geechee Nation. The acclaimed South Carolina Environmental Law Project is representing the four organizations.
The litigation seeks to force the government to involve the public in the review and decision-making process and to evaluate the environmental impacts of the significantly altered pit production plan, including the environmental justice implications for the many underserved communities that are located near these facilities. A PDF of the Complaint is at https://bit.ly/3y93yUW and also linked below.
Leslie Lenhardt, staff attorney for the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, said, “It is imperative that NNSA correct glaring environmental-review deficiencies and conduct a thorough programmatic EIS on the impacts of pit production across the DOE complex.”
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “NNSA has tried four times to expand plutonium pit bomb core production, but failed each time due to overwhelming citizen opposition. NNSA is now cutting the public out by refusing to complete nation-wide review of expanded pit production for controversial new-design nuclear weapons. We file this lawsuit to enforce the legal right of citizens to speak out on the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars that will be squandered in the new nuclear arms race.”
Tom Clements, director of SRS watch, in Columbia, S.C., said, “DOE’s rushed planning to unnecessarily expand nuclear bomb production has already resulted in a massive cost increase and significant delays in the SRS plutonium bomb plant. While more delays and cost increases appear likely, it is essential that DOE slow down and comply with requisite environmental laws before jumping into ill-conceived plans to expand plutonium pit production which would be a key part of a dangerous new nuclear arms race.”
Marylia Kelley, of Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, Calif, charged “NNSA’s refusal to undertake a programmatic review of its pit production plan is intended to allow the agency to dodge analysis of reasonable alternatives. For example, LLNL’s W87-1 design is driving both the schedule and ‘need’ for expanded pit production. The warhead’s novel design features are elective; a refurbishment option could meet stockpile requirements without necessitating expanded pit production. NNSA is robbing the public of its right to comment on alternatives, yet those of us in frontline communities will bear the brunt of this refusal. It is workers and the public who will suffer the risks of accidents, spills, leaks, radioactive exposures, and the production and transportation of plutonium wastes.”