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Bulletin #136: Appropriations bill slashes funding for new plutonium lab at Los Alamos, disallows construction in FY2012

December 16, 2011

Dear friends --

Thank you very much for your support of, and solidarity with, our efforts to prevent construction of this massive facility.  This new delay in construction, which will last until at least October 1 of next year, comes on top of the more than year's delay created by our first lawsuit, now under appeal in the Tenth Circuit. 

With your financial assistance, volunteer work, and moral support, we have given hundreds of briefings on Capitol Hill about this project.  These conversations have helped Congress and its advisory bodies understand some of the key issues involved, and have improved our own understanding. 

Your support has been crucial in our successful litigation as well -- successful even though we formally lost our first case (so far).  NNSA's "victory" in that first litigation, which was filed on the eve of construction, was Pyrrhic, as is now evident. 

Normally, it would be unseemly and wrong to crow over an accomplishment, especially a mere delay -- which is all this is, at the moment.  But it is our perception that many people are discouraged and have lost faith in their ability to affect political outcomes. 

In this case, if we discount, as we should, the New START treaty as any kind of positive accomplishment -- the extravagant political costs of ratifying that treaty far exceeded its benefits, as we warned they would from early 2009 onwards -- the delay described below can be fairly described as one of the few concrete policy accomplishments of the entire arms control and disarmament community in the United States over the past couple of years. 

Many practical lessons could be drawn from this case.  There will be time for that later.  We must now press on, deepening and broadening our efforts not just to stop this monstrosity but to help build a just, sustainable society.  We can do that, to paraphrase some remarks by Gary Snyder in another context, by letting others do it. 

Thank you again for your support,
Greg, Trish, and all the Los Alamos Study Group

"If you need to feel hope, you're courting despair, and if you court despair you will stop working. So try to wean yourself from this need to have hope. Try to have faith instead, to do what you can, and stop worrying about whether or not you're effective...Worry about what is possible for you to do, which is always greater than you imagine."
    -- Oscar Romero

For immediate release December 16, 2011

Appropriations bill slashes funding for new plutonium lab at Los Alamos,
disallows construction, in FY2012

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

Last night, House and Senate conferees issued their "megabus" appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2012 (link is to managers' report, pdf, for Division B, Energy and Water Development).  (The entire bill and its accompanying report can be found at the House Rules Committee web site.)  This bill is almost certain to pass both houses of Congress today or tomorrow and be signed by the President right away.

In parallel to the Defense Authorization Act already sent to the President, but with greater weight and import, the bill appropriates only 63% of the requested funds for the proposed additional plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), slashing $100 million (M) from the $270 M proposed spending level in the project.

Funds appropriated for nuclear "Weapons Activities" of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) total $7.23 billion (B) in the bill, about 5% less than the Administration's $7.630 B request and a 5% increase over FY2011.

As regards CMRR the conference bill follows the approach of the House Appropriations Committee's June 15 markup.

Again exactly in parallel to the FY2012 Defense Authorization Act, CMRR and the neighboring TA-55 Reinvestment Project (TRP, designed to upgrade PF-4 and make it safer) were the only NNSA Weapons Activities construction projects cut.  TRP was cut from $19.4 M to $10.0 M, a relatively small sum which can be covered from operating expenses.  The proposed CMRR cut is 90% of the total proposed cut in new NNSA construction.

NNSA's other proposed massive project, the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), slated to be built at the Y-12 Nuclear Security Site in Tennessee, was not cut at all.

In addition, NNSA must now prepare a new report on "maintaining pit manufacturing capability to meet [actual] stockpile needs" within three months of passage of this legislation (p. 69).  In other words, NNSA's prior approach to pit manufacturing must now be reexamined, presumably in light of alternatives.

Study Group Director Greg Mello: "The decision to cut back spending on the proposed additional plutonium facility at Los Alamos, and to delay construction for at least one year, is now a consensus in Congress.  It has bicameral, bipartisan support in all four relevant committees and will pass both houses.  We are very pleased that Congress has substantially agreed with our analysis regarding the need to delay this project, and has also endorsed our call to reexamine alternatives for managing pit production.  We have listed a number of possible alternatives and look forward to discussing them with NNSA and Congress.  We believe no new facilities are needed.

"NNSA should now pause design of this project, already a "mega-boondoggle," which would save taxpayers over $100 million this year alone and many billions of dollars later, should it ever be built and operated.  NNSA could legally use some of its CMRR line-item funding to pursue the study of reasonable CMRR alternatives, as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires, which NNSA has never done.  Those alternatives must include a No Action alternative to CMRR-NF, which again, illegally, NNSA has never examined.  NNSA has already squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on this project and it should stop, now.

"It is important that all the relevant committees have shown a preference for fulling funding UPF instead of CMRR, and have targeted virtually all their proposed cuts to NNSA's infrastructure "modernization" programs on CMRR.  The Army Corps of Engineers has warned NNSA, in a closely-held report, that attempting to construct both these projects simultaneously risks turning both projects into fiascoes.

"These actions also can be read as showing that Congress is in no mood to pursue a risky "design-build" process for a multi-billion-dollar, one-of-a-kind plutonium facility in a high-seismicity location.  That idea was nuts, and thankfully Congress appears to see that.

"New Mexico politicians should be aware that, according to NNSA and LANL, the CMRR-NF project would create very few jobs for New Mexicans, and no permanent jobs at all.  The temporary jobs it would create would come at an extravagant cost to taxpayers (pdf).

"The American people yearn for new priorities that will stabilize their lives, which are increasingly precarious, and provide real hope for their children's generation.  Virtually everyone knows that our real security crises cannot be addressed, and would only be made worse, by building additional factories for more nuclear weapons.  NNSA must manage its existing facilities better and more safely, prune back the grossly oversized weapons labs, and admit that we must now downscale our nuclear arsenals."


See p. 70, electronic pagination.  The proposed laboratory is called the "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility" (CMRR-NF).  It is the second building in the CMRR project, comprising 90-95% of the total estimated CMRR cost.  The first CMRR building, the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB) is built and is being outfitted. The bill appropriates $200 M out of $300 M requested for both CMRR buildings.  Completion of RLUOB is expected to cost $30 M in FY2012, is underway, and is a priority.  We interpret the $100 M cut as applying entirely to CMRR-NF.  As far as we know, NNSA as well as House and Senate appropriators have expressed a strong desire to complete RLUOB without interruption, and we assume funds for that purpose are inviolable within the CMRR line item as a whole.

It is very likely that authorization conferees had access to this appropriations conference report as they finalized their own legislation.


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