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Bulletin #142: Trade journal: “massive cut” to CMRR expected

January 22, 2012

Dear friends –

On Friday the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, an authoritative trade journal, said Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) officials were bracing for a “massive cut” to the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) in the next fiscal year.  “We’re not expecting funding for CMRR [in FY2013],” explained a LANL manager.  “Right now, we’re planning to go without.

Let us hope this unnamed manager is correct.  But “go without” where?  With what funds, under that assumption?  Unfortunately it is a serious question, because projects often have unspent balances, possibly large balances, squirreled away from prior years’ appropriations. 

The article, written by veteran reporter Todd Jacobson, quotes me (Mello) as saying that the “eventual demise of CMRR-NF has been inevitable, given its lack of justification and astronomical cost.” 

Yes, failure of this project has been inevitable sooner or later.  It may fail now, prior to construction, or later during construction, or even after successful construction.   There is a huge difference, however, between “sooner” and “later.”

By far the best outcome for all parties would be to end the project now, rather than building up to a bigger fiasco later.  As I said to Jacobson,

Assuming the current rumors are true, the main thing now is to stop additional expenditures immediately, mid-year, rather than winding down the project gradually and wasting even more money.  NNSA should focus on making the existing LANL plutonium facility safe, without adding capabilities, at the same time continuing its process of abandoning CMR, which now has no remaining long-term missions.

We do not know on what the current appropriation of circa $170 million is being spent, or what it is paying for.  To our eyes it is very doubtful that the project will come anywhere near completing its design, or that it will produce a valid and enduring “baseline” by September 30.  

Yesterday the Los Alamos Monitor ran an article on the Project on Government Oversight’s (POGO’s) recent CMRR-NF report (pdf).   The NNSA had “no comment.” 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is preparing a report that bears on CMRR-NF and its missions, which may be published next month.  Stay tuned. 

To get some idea of the amount of money involved in this project, see the graph below, or pdf version here.  You can see that even though a lot of money has been spent on the project, stopping the project now would save a great deal more!  (This graph uses NNSA’s current “high end” cost estimate, which some in government consider too low.  It shows NNSA’s cost projections, where available, and arbitrarily assigns the balance of costs to finish construction by 2025.  Demolition of the old CMR building is shown as occurring concurrently.) 

Thanks, everybody.  As you can see, a great deal is happening.  We will send updates as they become available.

Best wishes,

Greg, Trish, and the Los Alamos Study Group

CMRR-NF chart

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