188 US-60, Panhandle, TX 79068 hello@peacefarm.us

Nuclear fallout ignores state lines: Lon Burnam and Istra Fuhrmann

EL PASO TIMES / Lon Burnam and Istra Fuhrmann – Guest columnists

Early in the morning of July 16, 1945, native El Pasoan Barbara Kent was thrown out of her bunk bed at dance camp.

Just 13 years of age, she had traveled to Ruidoso, New Mexico, to learn ballet, unwittingly only a short distance from the site of the first nuclear weapons test. After the explosion awakened her, she says the camp owner came running in to tell the young girls to head outside, where the sky had turned from dark to blindingly bright.

Barbara Kent describes playing in pleasantly warm snow improbably falling in July, grabbing it in her hands and rubbing it on her face. Decades later, she realized that this “snow” had been radioactive fallout from the atomic blast. Today, she is the only survivor from the camp – all the other girls passed away from cancers before the age of 30.

El Paso is less than 150 miles from the epicenter of the nuclear bomb detonation known as the Trinity Test. While Kent happened to be in New Mexico that day, she was not the only Texan exposed to dangerous radiation levels. According to U.S. Census data, between 100,000-130,000 people lived in El Paso during the blast. Nuclear fallout from the explosion settled over thousands of square miles and exposed locals to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than what is currently allowed.

Crowds gather around a monument marking ground zero of the first atomic explosion in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. The site, known as Trinity Site, is opened to the public twice a year.

Unfortunately, many of our state’s lawmakers in Congress do not see radiation exposure as a Texas issue. They have not treated the problem with the urgency it is due. It’s time to acknowledge this historical wrong and compensate Texans and New Mexicans suffering from life-threatening illnesses due to nuclear weapons activities.

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Texas is one step closer to housing tons of nuclear waste. What that means for DFW


Outside of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Arlington office on Monday, a dozen protesters spoke out against what they saw as the inevitable: The commission was going to approve a federal permit to transport high-level nuclear waste through Dallas-Fort Worth on its way to a West Texas facility.

Hours later, that prediction came true. After years of debate and legal filings, the NRC granted a license to Interim Storage Partners, which seeks to build an “interim storage facility” for high-level nuclear waste, also known as spent nuclear fuel, in Andrews, Texas.

“We truly want to emphasize that we’ve expected to lose this round,” said Lon Burnam, who has organized several protests as the chair of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness. “And we are ready for the next round, which will be just as important.”

Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists is partnering with Orano USA to expand an existing plant in Andrews with hopes of holding up to 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste at the facility. Each expansion phase will require an amendment to the permit along with additional safety and environmental reviews, according to the NRC.

Under the terms of the current permit, up to 5,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste and about 231 metric tons of low-level radioactive waste can be stored for 40 years at the facility near the Texas-New Mexico border. The waste could be held there until it’s moved to a permanent repository, which does not currently exist and continues to be a key issue for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The waste poses potentially harmful effects to humans and only decreases in radioactivity through decay, which can take hundreds of thousands of years, according to the NRC, which regulates nuclear power plants and the storage and disposal of waste.

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Texas bans storage of highly radioactive waste, but a West Texas facility may get a license from the feds anyway

The new law may soon be in conflict with federal regulators. A decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on one company’s license could come as early as Monday.

BY ERIN DOUGLAS SEPT. 10, 2021 texastribune.org

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday night signed a bill into law that attempts to block a plan to store highly radioactive nuclear waste at a site in West Texas.

House Bill 7 effectively bans highly radioactive materials from coming to Texas, targeting one company’s plan to build such a facility near the New Mexico border in Andrews County.

But, the new state law may soon be in conflict with federal regulators. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is advancing the company’s application for a license to allow the high-level nuclear waste to Texas, and a decision from the federal agency could come as early as Monday, a spokesperson with the commission said.

For years, environmental and consumer advocates have protested a proposal by a West Texas company, Waste Control Specialists, to build with a partner an interim storage site for high-level nuclear waste, which is mostly spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants. Waste Control Specialists has been disposing of the nation’s low-level nuclear waste, including tools, building materials and protective clothing exposed to radioactivity, for a decade in Andrews County.

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Texas Legislature votes against nuclear waste dumping in rare bipartisan agreement

“These strong bipartisan votes are a clear message from the Texas Legislature to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that when it comes to storage of deadly radioactive waste in Texas, we don’t want it. We hope the bill will provide the safety protections Texans need and prevent unnecessary transportation risks nationwide.”

SEED Coalition Director Karen Hadden.

ORIGINALLY BY: Erin Coulehan KTSM News Sep 7, 2021

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The Texas Legislature voted against dumping nuclear waste in West Texas.

Members of the Texas Legislature demonstrated staunch opposition to the storage of high-level radioactive waste in West Texas in an almost unanimous vote. 

The Texas Senate approved House Bill 7 (HB 7), which cleared the House by a margin of 119-3 marking a rare moment of bipartisan agreement at the state Capitol. 

The bill implements a ban on high-level radioactive waste that includes spent nuclear fuel in Texas.

The legislation sought to demonstrate opposition to a pending license application before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and directed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to deny state permits for the project.

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Protesting Nuclear Weapons in New Mexico

On Friday, August 6th, Peace Farm members Lon Burnam and Sophia Stroud took part in the weekly protest with several other groups in Santa Fe against LANL signing a 10-year lease (for the former Descartes building) to establish itself “permanently” in Santa Fe. The protest is held Every Friday from noon to 1 pm at the corner of Guadalupe and W. Alameda.

If you’re able to, please JOIN Veterans for Peace, CCNS, Nuclear Watch NM, and others in the future! Banners are available but please also bring a sign.

The Secret ‘White Trains’ That Carried Nuclear Weapons Around the U.S.

For as long as the United States has had nuclear weapons, officials have struggled with how to transport the destructive technology.

The epicenter of nuclear transit was the Pantex Plant, about 17 miles outside of downtown Amarillo, Texas, a maze-like complex of dozens of buildings located on 10,000 acres of land. Amarillo was the final destination for almost all of America’s nuclear trains and the Pantex Plant was the nation’s only assembly point for nuclear weapons, a role it maintains to this day.

BRIANNA NOFIL | UPDATED: MAY 6, 2021, ORIGINAL: MAY 31, 2018 history.com

At first glance, the job posting looks like a standard help-wanted ad for a cross-country trucker. Up to three weeks a month on the road in an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, traveling through the contiguous 48 states. Risks include inclement weather, around-the-clock travel, and potentially adverse environmental conditions. But then the fine print: Candidates should have “experience in performing high-risk armed tactical security work…and maneuvering against a hostile adversary.”

The U.S. government is hiring “Nuclear Materials Couriers.” Since the 1950s, this team of federal agents, most of them ex-military, has been tasked with ferrying America’s roughly 6,000 nuclear warheads and extensive supply of nuclear materials across the roads and highways of the United States. America’s nuclear facilities are spread out throughout the country, on over 2.4 million acres of federal real estate, overseen by the Department of Energy (DOE)—a labyrinth of a system the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called “highly scattered and fragmented…with few enforceable rules.”

Some sites are for assembly, some are for active weapons, some are for chemicals, some are for mechanical parts. What this means in practice is that nuclear materials have to move around—a lot.

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Opinion: Officials should deny interim storage of high-level waste in Andrews

Lon Burnam, Karen Hadden and Kevin Kamps | Aug. 6, 2021 Midland Reporter Telegram (MRT) mrt.com

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) may soon approve Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) license application to store 40,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste above ground in Andrews County at Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive waste dump site, located near the Ogallala Aquifer.

The NRC has published the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Safety Evaluation Report. NRC commissioners will then vote on ISP’s license application, and they are clearly in favor. In legal proceedings, NRC staff and judges have ignored numerous safety and health-related concerns that were backed up by expert witnesses.  

The NRC has behaved similarly in the Holtec International proceeding, which is just a few months behind ISPs. Holtec is targeting a site between Hobbs, New Mexico, and Carlsbad, New Mexico. Its plan is to store up to 173,600 tons of high-level radioactive waste about 40 miles from the WCS location. The Permian Basin could become a very high-risk radioactive waste sacrifice zone, threatening all other businesses, industries and agriculture in the region.

Nuclear waste from both U.S. coasts would be dumped on the southwest. Ninety percent of reactors are in the eastern half of the U.S., but California Democrats, including Congressman Mike Levin, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein are leading efforts to dump on Texas and New Mexico. They want the waste out of Southern California and don’t care how it leaves or where it goes as long as it is out of their backyard.

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“Pantex Completes Warhead Program”

MISLEADING ARTICLE TITLE in print in Amarillo Globe News on Sunday, following an official statement made July 13, 2021: https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/articles/nnsa-completes-first-production-unit-w88-alteration-370

Pantex did not “complete” a warhead program. It merely produced the “First Production Unit.”

“This major milestone for DOE/NNSA, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Nation was achieved one month ahead of schedule…”

Not mentioned is that the B61 Life Extension Program and this W88 “Alteration” together experienced a 2-year $800 million delay over a new off-the shelf $5 capacitor that was belatedly deemed not long-lived enough to be war reserve.

“The W88 Alt 370 is a crucial part of Nation’s strategy for the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad, and a testament to the Enterprise’s ability to execute major modernization programs. As we continue to modernize the stockpile, the successes and lessons learned from this program will bolster our future warhead activities to provide a safe, secure, and reliable deterrent.”

Concerning “testament,” see above referenced capacitor providing a concrete example of the danger of introducing new components into the already extensively tested stockpile. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And why produce a new-design W93 that can’t be tested for the Navy when its W88 warhead is just beginning a major “Alteration” and its W76 just finished a major Life Extension Program? The untested W93 could lower confidence in stockpile reliability, or worse yet prompt the U.S. back into testing.

Read full article below

“The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) successfully completed the system-level First Production Unit for the W88 Alteration (Alt) 370 at the Pantex Plant July 1, 2021.

The W88 Alt 370 is a major warhead acquisition program that ensures the future viability of the sea-launched ballistic missile strategic deterrent. This major milestone for DOE/NNSA, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Nation was achieved one month ahead of schedule after more than 11 years of design, development, qualification, and component production.

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These activists think they have solution to Texas’ nuclear waste problem

June 8, 2021 | Midland Reporter-Telegram Caitlin Randle, crandle@mrt.com

Two activists have met with Midland leaders, including representatives from Fasken Oil and Ranch, County Com­missioner Randy Prude and U.S. Rep. August Pfluger, to discuss what they see as the solution to Texas’ nuclear waste problem.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing an application for a high-level nuclear waste site in Andrews County that critics have argued would open the Permian Basin up for a potential terrorist attack, as well as the risk of a leak when the waste is transported by train through Midland County.

Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear and Lon Burnam of Public Citizen [member of the Peace Farm board] are trying to put pressure on government to invest in what they believe is the safest way to store nuclear Waste – hardened onsite storage.

“It’s much better designed containers with much better designed systems, fabricated well to last for as long as it’s going to be needed to contain this stuff from the living environment, which is forever,” Kamps said.

Kamps and Burnam worked on the defeat of Rep. Brooks Landgraf’ s House Bill 2692, which aimed to ban the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Texas. However; as noted in a letter from Rep. Tom Craddick to House Committee on Environmental Regulation members, the bill didn’t have the power to ban waste because storage sites are decided at the federal level.

Burnam called the bill a Trojan horse, “This Bill pretended to do something that it couldn’t do,” he said, noting the bill would have also given a tax-break to Interim Storage Partners, the company seeking to build a waste storage site in Andrews County.

A better solution, according to Kamps and Burnam, is to pass legislation at the federal level relating to hardened onsite storage, a concept first described by Dr. Gordon Thompson of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in 2003.

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Modernization: The Mainspring of NNSA FY 2022 Budget Request in the Form of Ballooning SRS Pit Costs

By Sophia Stroud

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s detailed fiscal year 2022 budget request was (partially) unveiled last week on Friday, May 28, in the evening before a long holiday weekend. The Biden Administration’s total NNSA FY22 budget request is just under $20 billion, requesting of $15.48 billion for NNSA “Total Weapons Activities” and following suit with Trump’s excessive nuclear weapons budget of $15.35 billion that Congress appropriated for FY 2021.

Of particular note in the budget request is that it will cost more than double what the National Nuclear Security Administration had previously estimated for the total of DOE’s Plutonium Bomb Plant construction at Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The facility would be a converted production plant for the fabrication of plutonium “pits,” the triggers for nuclear warheads. The cost for the plant has ballooned from the previous estimate of $4.6 billion to a now staggering $11.1 billion. What’s more, the schedule for the facility’s initial operation has slipped up to five years. The plans for the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant have already run far over budget and fallen behind schedule, and “these troubling and potentially debilitating developments foreshadow problems to come to the challenging pit-production project,” according to the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch.

The construction plans for the new Savannah River Plutonium Bomb Plant involve “repurposing” the failed plutonium fuel (MOX) building at SRS, a project which has already cost taxpayers a wasted $8 billion. The NNSA’s previous cost estimate of $4.6 billion came in 2018, before the project’s critical decision-1 (CD-1) review, conducted just last winter and submitted to NNSA headquarters in Washington D.C. recently this April. This new breath-taking $11.1 billion figure comes weeks before a key decision will be made on the planning for the facility through CD-1. Further, this new cost is based on the design of the facility being only 30% complete, when 90% design completion in not expected until “CD [Critical Decision]-2/3 approval in FY23-24.” (PDF page 211). Given these factors on top of DOE’s extremely poor track record in managing complex and costly construction projects (illustrated clearly with the MOX debacle), it is fully expected that the pit plant cost will increase over time and that the schedule for the project will continue to slip. There is also some significant concern regarding the necessity of the entire project.

“DOE and DOD have so far refused to reassess the supposed need for the costly weapons system and the need for new plutonium pits on its warhead. Over 15,000 pits are in storage at DOE’s Pantex site in Texas and experts have stated that they “have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years as regards aging of plutonium.” (JASON “Pit Lifetime” report to NNSA, January 2007)”

Savannah River Site Watch
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