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April 25, 2012

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Bulletin #148 Part I: CMRR update

Next time: Study Group 20th anniversary; “no barriers: only connect”

Dear friends –

It’s been a while since our last substantive bulletin.  (A few folks in New York and later in Albuquerque have gotten interim updates in public talks like this one.)  Needless to say we’ve been beavering away.  We also got in a week’s much-needed vacation in late March. 

I met again last week with senior congressional staff, Administration officials, and colleagues in Washington.  While there I also attended a couple of recent hearings on the weapons complex, to gauge the depth and quality of manure being spread by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) weapons labs and their stooges.  (I am sorry if this blunt language offends; the reality is worse.)

Our filings in the Tenth Circuit in Denver are now complete (here’s our final brief, pdf).  Oral argument is scheduled for May 9.  What we believe to be supervening new evidence is now before the Court, namely that NNSA has now chosen to implement alternatives never analyzed in any environmental impact statement, rejecting its own supplemental EIS that was the basis of its defense and of the lower court’s decision.

As far as we can tell, the indefinite deferral of CMRR-NF has been the only concrete disarmament accomplishment, in terms of actual U.S. policy change, of the U.S. nonprofit community and its (agenda-setting) foundation funders over the past four years at least. 

Ratification of New START, which some might consider an accomplishment (and as we warned long before it was begun and have frequently stated since), dramatically ramped up budgetary and policy commitments to nuclear weapons, reinforcing and maintaining their importance in U.S. security policy and making the whole process of disarmament just that much more difficult and delayed.

In stopping CMRR-NF, the Study Group was actively opposed by several members of the arms control and disarmament community.  The rest were silent.  No one in that community opposed the project – in part because it was necessary for New START ratification.  Very little foundation funding was available to us during this period, and we have none today.  All the heavy lifting has been done by grassroots donors and volunteers, and our attorneys. 

Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  This widely-quoted statement may seem like a cliché, but too many people pass over the words small, group, thoughtful, and committed.  Somehow people imagine that “large” can substitute for any or all of the other qualities she mentioned.  It doesn’t.  

Reception on May 11 for our departing intern Mika Armenta

Our outstanding University of New Mexico intern Mika, an honors student majoring in international relations and psychology, has been remarkably productive in the short time she has been with us.  One recent project involved updating our news media files, a good initial source for people who might be interested in the Study Group or the issues we have worked on.  

The UNM semester is drawing to a close, and we will be holding a public reception for Mika, and an open house for the Study Group, from 3:00 – 5:00 pm on May 11 at our World Headquarters in Albuquerque (2901 Summit Place NE).  If you live in our near Albuquerque, please come meet Mika and wish her well.  She has done outstanding work for us and hopes to return as a volunteer next year. 

Brief update on CMRR and related issues

First and freshest, see yesterday’s (4/24/12) press release: Senate Proposes $160 Million Alternative to $6 Billion Plutonium Project.

Details of the Administration’s new plan are not yet available.  This memo (pdf) outlines the gist of them.  It was surreptitiously supplied to Congress as an integral (but undisclosed) part of NNSA’s plans for fiscal year (FY) 2013 (an example of the growth of de facto secrecy in this Administration).  NNSA has asked Los Alamos National Security (LANS), which runs LANL and stands to gain or lose hundreds of millions if not billions on this decision, to draft its own plan, which was briefed to NNSA last Friday.  As noted above, the Senate believes this plan’s capital costs are $160 million (M) but details of that estimate are also not yet available. 

Further details – spun wherever possible to serve the financial interests of LANS, a privately-held, for-profit corporation that lavishes huge salaries and bonuses on its senior employees – were provided in LANL Director Charlie McMillan’s Senate testimony last week (pdf). 

NNSA has stated it plans to abandon the old CMR building by 2019.  In fact NNSA abandoned most of the building a long time ago.  Soon enough NNSA will have only one small program in one part of one CMR wing.   

More:

  • The temporary demise of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has been a front-and-center concern in repeated congressional hearings this winter and spring.  This is visible in the transcripts, but in person the atmosphere has been simultaneously boring, at times tense, and generally disgusting.

  • NNSA has told Congress that our lawsuit was the reason CMRR-NF was not built.

  • All parts of the Administration are in agreement and have testified that CMRR-NF is not needed for many years.  The earliest CMRR-NF or any successor project on a similar scale could open for business is now 2028.  LANL is doing its best to find a partial replacement for this income stream and has reportedly told NNSA it needs $100 M per year to not build CMRR-NF.

  • There is at this time more than $200 million (M) in appropriated unspent funds in CMRR accounts.  About half of this is being used to advance CMRR-NF design (why?).  About $120 M of this could be used for other purposes with some ease.  The House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee proposes to spend $30 M of this to accelerate safety improvements to LANL’s main plutonium facility (PF-4) and another $35 million to clean up PF-4 vaults.  In a better world, NNSA and Congress would not pay LANS for its failings, which this would do, but it is important to make PF-4 safe as soon as possible for the coming decades, because this facility is one that is needed under any conceivable policy framework – even complete disarmament.  (What are not needed are expansions and replacement facilities, in any form.)

  • Virtually all of NNSA's capital projects and major warhead programs are running over budget, behind schedule, have been downscoped, or all of the above.

  • The House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, echoing one of the central themes of our litigation, has strongly chided NNSA (pdf) for failing to consider alternatives to CMRR-NF:

While the Committee has determined these decisions [the five-year CMRR-NF delay and selection of a lower cost option for the B61 life extension program] will not adversely impact sustainment of the stockpile in the near term since alternatives are available, they have confused and muddled the path forward and ultimately reveal the lack of alternatives previously considered. By not fully considering all available options, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for work which will not be needed until a much later date….there is neither the time nor resources for pursuits which will not bear fruit for many years.

Not later than 60 days after enactment of this Act…the NNSA is…directed to prepare a report on its near-term five-year plutonium sustainment strategy as well as an assessment of alternatives for meeting enduring needs beyond the five-year timeframe according to clearly explained assumptions for capabilities, capacities, and stockpile levels.  (p. 113, emphasis added)

  • Senate appropriators have the same concerns (archived webcast here). 

Senator Feinstein: “NNSA has failed to assess alternatives before embarking on multibillion dollar projects. I know this is harsh, but if it can be -- if you can prove what's being said is not correct, I would like to hear it. NNSA has just terminated or delayed two major construction projects after spending a billion and a half dollars, only to conclude that it could use existing facilities to meet mission requirements.”

Feinstein: “Eight hundred million (dollars) has been spent over the last 10 years on design of the new facility. My understanding is that now you find you don't need it, and that the other facility is going to be used. Is that right?”

Mr. D'Agostino: “We're going -- we're going to use -- we've -- we're -- we believe we can delay, defer the decision on building the actual facility because we have flexibility as a result of this analysis, as you've correctly described.”

Senator Feinstein: “OK. And your $800 million dollars didn't do it.”

  • NNSA’s sudden decision to allow four times as much plutonium as previously planned in the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB), expected to enter service next month, the single most important change which paved the way for indefinitely deferring CMRR-NF, is based on an international nuclear industry standard published in 1996.   DOE and NNSA have widely used this standard ever since then and sources tell us it has been discussed in the CMRR context "at various times whenever CMRR-NF appeared threatened.”  Obviously NNSA’s goal was to build CMRR-NF, not to speedily meet its obligations at the lowest cost.  It is virtually certain that NNSA would have changed the mission of RLUOB once it was built in any case, since that possibility had been under study since at least 2010.  The list of NNSA’s misrepresentations to Congress (and more so the public) regarding CMRR is long.

  • There is now a growing, perhaps widespread, understanding – including in the highest levels of the Defense Department – that the pit production requirements that drove CMRR-NF originated solely in the defunct Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.  The RRW is now represented by the proposed W78/88 replacement warhead.  LANL Director McMillan has admitted in testimony that without CMRR-NF, this [new] warhead has no clear path forward.  We long recognized and wanted this outcome.  Stay tuned.

  • Republicans in the House, led by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), are likely to mount (tomorrow) a serious effort to harm the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) and further free the nuclear labs from any effective oversight whatsoever by NNSA.  Stay tuned.

Part II of this Bulletin will come tomorrow.

In solidarity,

Greg, Trish, and Mika, for the Study Group


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