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Nuclear Facility Plan Can Proceed Over Legal Snag

(CN) - A New Mexico judge has recommended dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged rebuilding a chemistry lab for nuclear research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The National Nuclear Security Administration had studied the potential environmental impact for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility, part of a plan to replace a nuclear chemistry building that was more than 60 years old. But the Los Alamos Study Group challenged the agency over adequacy of its statement, claiming that the current proposal had changed too much since an environmental impact statement was issued in 2003.

The new lab would be a nuclear facility allowing for research of level-2 hazardous materials, which includes the potential of significant danger if an accident were to occur.

After consideration of new geologic information relating to seismic activity, the administration voluntarily initiated a supplemental environmental impact statement process. This would involve input from government agencies and the public, including groups such as the plaintiff.

As a supplemental impact statement was already underway, Magistrate Judge Alan Torgerson ruled that it would be premature to order a new one. Torgerson also declined to recommend an injunction, as the project is still in the planning phases and any final decisions are still far down the line.

The judge's ruling, a recommendation to a New Mexico federal court, cites the principle of "prudential mootness." In other words, since the government already decided to take different actions since the Los Alamos Study Group filed suit, the lawsuit no longer has meaning.

"Plaintiff will have ample opportunity to renew its complaint if it finds it necessary when the SEIS is filed and before any construction begins," Torgerson wrote in recommending full dismissal of the current lawsuit.

Construction of the nuclear facility represents the second phase of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project; the first phase resulted in completion of an office building in 2008.

Although a website for the project states that the nuclear facility is expected to be completed in 2013, Torgerson's filing says that the facility is not expected to go operational until 2022.

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