Court Requires Federal Government to Take a Hard Look at Seismic Risks to Nuclear Weapons Facility

Today, the U.S. District  Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee issued a ruling in favor of our clients, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance and Nuclear Watch New Mexico, as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council, finding that the Department of Energy (“DOE”) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (“NNSA”) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) by failing to take a hard look at serious seismic risks to aging, dilapidated nuclear weapons facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The NNSA had previously decided to continue enriching uranium for nuclear weapons in facilities originally built during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War, while rejecting calls for the agency to seriously consider new information showing increased risks of large earthquakes that could damage or even destroy these buildings, potentially causing a catastrophic release of nuclear and toxic contamination. Recognizing the fundamental importance of our clients’ claims, the court found it was “hard-pressed to imagine a more dramatic hypothetical than this, where it must contemplate what might occur if a major earthquake struck a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility located in a major population center.” Reasoning that the NNSA “blatantly disregarded” its own regulations in dismissing our clients’ serious concerns about seismic risks, the Court vacated the NNSA’s decisions and NEPA analyses and remanded the issue to the agency for a more thorough evaluation of these risks.