NNSA to prepare Los Alamos’s fourth site-wide environmental analysis

August 23, 2022, 7:00AMNuclear News
A view of Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Photo: LANL)

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced that, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it intends to prepare a site-wide environmental impact statement (SWEIS) to analyze the potential environmental impacts for continuing operations of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the next 15 years. The SWEIS will also analyze the environmental impacts of legacy waste remediation being done by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management at the site.

Notice of the NNSA’s intent to prepare the SWEIS was published in the August 19 Federal Register with an invitation for the public to comment on the scope of analysis and to assist the agency in determining the alternatives, issues, or analyses that should be included in the SWEIS. The deadline for public comments is October 3.

The purpose: This is the fourth site-wide environmental review of LANL since 1976. The most recent SWEIS for LANL was published in 2008, and because comprehensive site-planning activities are under consideration at the laboratory, in addition to other reasons, the NNSA said that it determined it was appropriate to revisit the last SWEIS analysis.

According to the NNSA, the new statement will provide “an analysis of the potential environmental impacts from ongoing and reasonably foreseeable new and modified operations and facilities, and reasonable alternatives, to provide a basis for site-wide decision-making and to improve and coordinate agency plans, functions, programs, and resource utilization.”

The analysis will also provide an overall NEPA baseline for comparison of environmental effects of proposed future changes in programs and activities.

The alternatives: The NNSA has a preliminary set of alternatives to be evaluated in the SWEIS, including a no-action alternative, which would continue current LANL operations that support its ongoing missions; a modernizing current operations alternative, which would continue the support of existing programs and activities by updating facilities as necessary; and an expanded operations alternative that would expand operations and missions to respond to future national security challenges and meet increasing requirements.

While the 1999 and 2008 LANL SWEISes included a reduced operations alternative, the NNSA said it has not made a final decision whether to include such an alternative in its latest analysis. “For the foreseeable future, NNSA does not consider reducing operational or environmental remediation missions at LANL as reasonable,” the FR notice states. “However, the timeframe for the SWEIS analysis is approximately 15 years into the future, and NNSA recognizes that requirements, needs, opportunities, and vision may change over such a long planning horizon.”

Given the importance of LANL to U.S. national security, the NNSA does not find it reasonable to consider alternatives that would close the laboratory or transfer its operations to other sites.

The schedule: The NNSA will prepare a draft LANL SWEIS after it considers comments received during the current scoping period (ending October 3). The draft SWEIS is expected to be published in 2023. A final SWEIS will then be prepared after any comments received on the draft analysis are considered.

Written comments on the scope of the SWEIS or requests for information related to the SWEIS should be mailed to LANL SWEIS Comments, 3747 W Jemez Road, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544; or by email to LANLSWEIS@nnsa.doe.gov.

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