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"Forget the Rest" blog

End funding for the CMRR Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos

The proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) is an unnecessary $4.2 billion (B) boon to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico that will help keep LANL business booming well into the future -- not just business in general but nuclear weapons production in particular.

It is a real and symbolic provocation that will undermine global efforts toward disarmament and non-proliferation.

A Modern “Pit” Factory

The CMRR project is said to replace the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, an old structure that the laboratory has partially abandoned. The CMR was (and is) LANL's biggest all-purpose industrial-scale chemistry laboratory, capable of pilot production and of handling radioactive materials of all kinds. It has unique facilities which will not be replaced by CMRR (e.g. hot cells for remote handling of radioactive materials).

The “replacement” part of the CMRR name is deceptive in other ways too, given that the scope of the new facility includes a storage vault for 6 metric tons (6,000 kilograms) of plutonium, which would about triple LANL's inventory. Next door, but sharing the same security perimeter, is the existing Plutonium Facility, which contains all the necessary equipment and technology for assembling large quantities of plutonium warhead cores, known as “pits.” If funded, this project would fulfill George W. Bush’s plan to build a “modern” pit facility, capable of turning out large numbers of pits for new warheads in short order, at a rate NNSA documents suggest would be 125 pits/year, surging to 200 pits/year if necessary.

Construction began on the first and smaller of two buildings in the CMRR project in January 2006. It will be complete in 2013. Current projections estimate that the Nuclear Facility will be complete in 2022.

During the Bush Administration, project funding rose slowly. House members in particular were aware that the big buildup seemed to be at cross purposes with dwindling needs and international treaties, and questioned its overall rationale. House appropriators resisted and then denied administration funding requests, but the project was kept alive by the Senate, particularly by Republican Sen. Pete Domenici’s influence in conference committee negotiations.

Nuclear Rearmament

When the Obama administration submitted its budget proposal this year, the funding request for CMRR-NF more than doubled to $225 million (M) from the $97 million it obtained in 2009. Another increase, to $305 M, is expected for 2012.

The overall project has been marked by escalating costs -- eightfold since the project's initiation -- and by an unsettling new seismic assessment that requires extraordinary compensatory measures. If built, CMRR would become the largest public project in New Mexico history by about a factor of ten.

To add to the folly, the additional pit manufacturing capability is no longer needed, because the existing spare pit inventory provides thousands of usable backups to the decreasing stockpile. All these pits will last until at least the last decades of the century. Without CMRR-NF, LANL already has a significant pit manufacturing capability, which has been only loosely managed because there is no demand for the product. Among the sane and sensible ways to cut the federal budget, cutting the CMRR-NF is one of the best, on behalf of our country and the world.

If we do build CMRR-NF, don’t ask where the money went for the schools we need, or the climate- and business-saving infrastructure, or the health and elder-care. We will have buried our hopes for a better future in a pit on a mesa in New Mexico.

Note on CMRR costs (4/19/10): Today we realized we had been misinterpreting National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) estimated CMRR costs since February. We gave these as $5 billion (B) for the CMRR project as a whole and $4.2 B for the Nuclear Facility. NNSA's current estimates are actually $4.2 B for the project as a whole and $3.4 B for the Nuclear Facility. Our estimates for the whole project include $400 million for dismantlement and disposal of the CMR building, which is a mid-range figure escalated to today's dollars from NNSA's prior estimates. All NNSA's estimates are still preliminary and will remain so until at least 2012. 

Although our data is incomplete, it appears the current estimated cost of the CMRR project is equal to all cumulative spending at Site Y and LASL, in constant 2010 dollars, from 1943 through 1954 (11 years). During this period atomic bombs were first developed, tested, and produced (all stockpile pits were produced at Los Alamos up to 1949), three plutonium facilities were built in Los Alamos to support these activities (Building D, DP Site, and CMR), fission bombs were rapidly miniaturized, and the first hydrogen bombs were developed, tested, and deployed. 

The cost of all the plutonium-related facility upgrades presently underway is somewhat more than CMRR costs and is roughly equal to all cumulative Los Alamos spending for its first 13 years, from 1943 to 1956.

LASG archive on plutonium pit production and related issues - A print media history of the public debate about plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nov 1989 - Dec 2006.

NNSA NEPA documents for CMRR

CMRR-NF Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Aug 2011

CMRR Supplement Analysis (SA), Aug 17, 2010

CMRR SA, Jan 2005

CMRR Final EIS, Nov 2003

LANL semi-annual
CMRR Public Meetings

LA-UR-13-28122, Sep 25, 2012, Vol-14

LA-UR-12-23038, Apr 25, 2012, Vol-13

LA-UR-11-06849, Sep 20, 2011, Vol-12

LA-UR-11-03155, Mar 10, 2011, Vol-11

LA-UR-10-08363, Oct 6, 2010, Vol-10

CMRR_Public_Mtg_Mar 3, 2010
audio files -
(courtesy Robin Collier, Cultural Energy)

  • introductions
  • Q&A #1
  • Q&A #2
  • Rick Holmes presentation
  • rules
  • Steve Fong presentation
  • other presentations
  • LA-UR-10-02173, Mar 2010, Vol-9

    LA-UR-10-00676, Sep 2009, Vol-8

    LA-UR-09-02749, Mar 2009, Vol-7

    LA-UR-09-00620, Sep 2008, Vol-6

    LA-UR-08-04500, Mar 2008, Vol-5

    LA-UR-08-0357, Sep 2007, Vol-4

    LA-UR-07-3583, Mar 2007, Vol-3

    LA-UR-07-0684, Sep 2006, Vol-2

    LA-UR-06-6199, Mar 2006, Vol-1

    CMRR aerial photo
    Recent LANS planning documents & briefings concerning plutonium programs
    CMRR Nuclear Facility - Litigation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
    Local Government Resolutions & Letters Requesting a new EIS
    NNSA & other federal planning & budgeting documents
    NNSA Performance Evaluation documents
    CMRR-NF Frequently Asked Questions
    Photo: LANL TA-55, Mar 2012. Plutonium Facility (PF-4) in center, CMRR Radiological Laboratory, Utility & Office Building upper left. Proposed CMRR Nuclear Facility site at upper center.
    Large photo. © LASG

    CMRR Project 2006 - 2014

    • LANL's proposed Modular Pit Facility - it grows as it goes
    • Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building
    • NNSA's Uranium Processing Facility
    • Resources on TA-55 Security System (Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrades Project - NMSSUP)
    • Plutonium Disposition


    RLUOB construction in the early stages, looking east.  The face of the excavation shown is about 40' tall.  CMRR-NF will require a pit at least three times this deep - a challenging problem on this crowded site. CMRR-NF will require many times more construction materials than the RLUOB.

    New Mexico's Largest Public Infrastructure Investments
    in Relation to Estimated CMRR Costs

    (Costs are best available; dates mostly at completion; CMRR assumed to cost $4.2B)

    Cost Then ($M)
    Cost in 2010 ($M)1
    Percent CMRR
    Elephant Butte Dam, NM
    Golden Gate Bridge, CA
    San Juan Chama Diversion
    Cochiti Dam, NM
    LANL TA-55 PF-4
    I-40 + I-25 highways, NM (treated here as one project)
    ~7.4 M/mile, 2006 dollars
    Ballpark 6,666
    Big I Interchange, Albuquerque
    San Juan Chama drinking water project, Albuquerque
    Railrunner Heavy Rail Extension to Santa Fe (incl. track lease)
    LANL DARHT (very approximate)
    SNL MESA Complex
    [1] Costs inflated to 2008 using the "Building Cost Index," from Engineering News-Record, Which began in 1923.  Elephant Butte Dam costs were inflated from 1916 to 1923 using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  CPI used from 2008 to 2010.  References are omitted here; inquire for details.

    CMRR groundbreaking

    This was the groundbreaking (January 13, 2006) for the RLUOB which when completed will account for less than 10% of the total CMRR cost.  Neither NNSA nor Congress have approved CMRR-NF construction.


    Nuclear Matters: A Practical Guide, 2008 edition, Office of the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters. (In-depth discussion of nuclear weapons written for the military. Good overview of the nuclear weapons enterprise and its terminology from the military perspective.)

    Steve Fongpit guy

    Steve Fong, NNSA CMRR project mgr, Mar. 3, 2010
    (photo courtesy Robin Collier, Cultural Energy)