The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has already received about 35,000 comment documents, most via email, regarding the Draft Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SPEIS; DOE/EIS-0236-S4). With almost half the 90-day public comment period remaining, “We expect comments from thousands more people,” said Ted Wyka, Complex Transformation SPEIS Document Manager. NNSA published a notice of availability for the Draft SPEIS on January 11, 2008 (73 FR 2023), and the public comment period continues through April 10, 2008.
The SPEIS represents the first nationwide review of alternatives for the nuclear weapons complex in more than a decade and could affect facilities in six states. NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), proposes to continue the transformation of the nuclear weapons complex begun after the end of the Cold War in order to create a nuclear weapons infrastructure that is smaller, safer, more secure, and less expensive to operate.
“I feel a sense of urgency,” said Thomas P. D’Agostino, NNSA Administrator, in releasing the Draft SPEIS. “We must act now to adapt for the future security needs of the country, and stop pouring money into an old, Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex that is too big, too expensive, and doesn’t offer updated and safer ways of maintaining our nuclear stockpile.”
SPEIS Evaluates Programmatic and Project-Specific Alternatives
The Draft Complex Transformation SPEIS analyzes both programmatic and project-specific alternatives. (See LLQR, December 2006, page 1, and March 2007, page 3.) The programmatic alternatives involve restructuring major manufacturing and research and development (R&D) facilities that use plutonium and highly enriched uranium to produce nuclear components for the weapons stockpile. These alternatives include combinations of new and existing facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, the Nevada Test Site in Nevada, the Pantex Plant in Texas, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. The programmatic alternatives also include consolidating storage of significant quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Implementation of programmatic decisions related to these alternatives could require future site-specific NEPA review.
The most substantial change from the SPEIS as described in the notice of intent (71 FR 61731; October 19, 2006) is the addition of a “Consolidated Centers of Excellence” programmatic alternative, which includes options to locate all major manufacturing functions at either one or two of the five sites. Another major change is the addition of a qualitative discussion of a smaller nuclear weapons stockpile and lower manufacturing capability. In addition, NNSA added an alternative to produce up to 80 plutonium “pits” per year at LANL, which currently is part of NNSA’s preferred alternative. A pit is the core of a nuclear weapon.
Project-specific alternatives in the Draft Complex Transformation SPEIS include the consolidation of R&D and testing facilities for tritium R&D, high explosives R&D, hydrodynamic testing, major environmental testing, flight test operations, and other weapons support functions. These alternatives could affect operations at the five sites evaluated for programmatic alternatives (identified above) and at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and California, the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, and the Department of Defense’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. NNSA expects that implementation of decisions related to the project-specific alternatives likely would not require additional NEPA reviews.
Web Enhances Information Access
The web is an important part of NNSA’s strategy for facilitating public involvement in the Draft SPEIS. Upon approval of the Draft in December 2007, NNSA announced its plans for public participation and made the Summary of the Draft Complex Transformation SPEIS, as well as several fact sheets, available on its website (www.nnsa.doe.gov/complextransformation.htm). Also, NNSA has since posted the complete Draft SPEIS (except for a classified appendix), most reference documents, and materials prepared for the public hearings on a separate website (www.ComplexTransformationSPEIS.com). Security concerns prevented some reference documents from being made available on the web. Those have been placed in reading rooms around the country, along with a CD of those reference documents available on the web, or are available upon request.
Public Comments by Email and at Hearings
The web also is being used by organizations outside NNSA to encourage public participation in the Draft SPEIS. National and local organizations have generated thousands of email messages from individuals across the country. “We started receiving public comments by email during the first week of the comment period,” said Mr. Wyka. Comments received to date via email primarily express opposition to nuclear weapons.
During February, NNSA held public hearings in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Total participation ranged from less than 20 people to almost 400, and the number of people providing comments from a dozen to approximately 80. “We begin each hearing with an open house session. Subject matter experts are available near poster displays to answer questions,” said Mr. Wyka. “This allows for productive interaction with the public, thanks to the great support from the local site offices and contractors.”
“We follow the open house with a formal presentation on the draft SPEIS and then provide an opportunity for everyone to offer oral comments on the record.” Many commentors have stated their opposition to nuclear weapons production, while others have supported NNSA’s proposals. Public hearings continue through March in Nevada, New Mexico, California, and Washington, DC.
NNSA anticipated a large number of comment documents, after having received more than 33,000 during the scoping period last year. Mr. Wyka explained that he prepared by working with computer support staff to ensure that a large volume of email could be received efficiently and by establishing a team early to review public comments. The team includes a core group to coordinate and integrate the review, as well as headquarters and site staff with expertise in technical and policy questions. “We systematically log receipt of each comment document and have begun sorting them for review,” said Mr. Wyka. “We will consider each comment individually and collectively and take the appropriate action, such as improving the analyses or making factual corrections.”
For additional information, contact Ted Wyka at email@example.com or 202-586-3519.