A lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration have violated a federal environmental law, and the civil complaint asks for an environmental review of the new design for the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex, the largest federal construction project in Tennessee since World War II.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by several public interest organizations—Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, and Natural Resources Defense Council of Washington, D.C.— and four people: Ed Sullivan of Oak Ridge, and Ralph Hutchison, Jack Carl Hoefer, and Linda Ewald, all of Knoxville.
The defendants are Energy Secretary James Richard “Rick” Perry and NNSA Administrator Frank G. Klotz.
The complaint alleges that the NNSA is taking, but failing to consider, grave risks with safety and the potential environmental impacts of the nation’s nuclear weapons program, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
It says the NNSA has refused to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement, or SEIS, to consider important new information about the serious vulnerability of the new design for UPF, which is supposed to be completed by 2025 for no more than $6.5 billion.
“This new design is significantly different from the one the agency chose to analyze in 2011,” the lawsuit says. “Most importantly, the NNSA decided to save money on the modernization of the aging Y-12 Complex by not building a single new building to house the entire UPF, but instead constructing several new buildings and continuing to use old and increasingly deteriorating buildings for processing nuclear weapons components. This case challenges the NNSA’s plans to implement this major change in the UPF design without considering in a NEPA analysis crucial new information about the increased odds of large earthquakes and the risk that such an earthquake may cause these decrepit buildings to collapse or even explode. This case also challenges the NNSA’s failure to consider whether the ongoing use of these old and vulnerable buildings may impede efforts to clean up extensive prior contamination, which has led to the entire Y-12 Complex being listed as a Superfund site—but never completely cleaned up—for over 25 years. The NNSA’s refusal to consider this important new information places the environment, local communities, and national security in grave peril and violates NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act.”
The plaintiffs ask the U.S. District Court to vacate, or void, a Supplement Analysis that the NNSA issued in 2016 for a site-wide environmental impact statement prepared earlier for Y-12. They also ask that the court vacate an amended record of decision that was related to the multi-building UPF and issued by the NNSA on July 12, 2016. The first record of decision to build the UPF, which was then proposed as a single building, was issued in 2011.
The plaintiffs ask that the court require a supplemental environmental impact statement or a new site-wide environmental impact statement regarding the new design for UPF.
“When the NNSA made dramatic changes to the UPF, and admitted that it intends to continue to operate dangerous, already contaminated facilities for another 20 or 30 years, they ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act,” Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Our complaint demands that the NNSA complete a supplemental environmental impact statement on the latest iteration of its flawed plans.”
On Sunday, the NNSA, which is part of DOE, said it cannot comment on pending litigation.
The press release from the public interest organizations cited a history of growing costs and called the $6.5 billion construction cost cap “increasingly uncertain,” and it objected to what the plaintiffs describe as a lack of public input and release of public information since 2011, including in a Red Team review a few years ago.
The press release said the National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to revisit any environmental analysis when its plan undergoes significant changes that might impact the environment, or when new information comes to light. It also requires public involvement throughout the process, the press release said.
“NEPA’s fundamental purposes are to ensure that agencies take a hard look at consequences before taking action and to ensure that the public has a voice in agency decisions,” said William Lawton, an attorney working on the case at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP of Washington, D.C. “Here, the NNSA has chosen to save money by continuing to rely on outdated, deteriorating buildings that run a very real risk of collapsing and releasing nuclear contamination in the event of an earthquake. The agency is putting the public at risk, and the public has a right to make sure that the government has taken the legally required hard look at those serious risks.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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