LASG header
Follow TrishABQ on Twitter Follow us
"Forget the Rest" blog


Re: Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) plutonium capital projects, specifically the evolving Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project (04-D-125) and the possible "Plutonium Modular Approach" (PMA)

August 12, 2016

Dear colleagues --

We hope you find the above GAO report, our summary and press release, and these three news articles to be of interest. The report is well worth reading in detail. The full scope and import of the issues presented may take a few hours to sink in.

We are somewhat jaded as regards NNSA's (and especially LANL's) shortcomings. Still, we were shocked by some of GAO's findings.

We could not cover all the problems we see in NNSA's approach in our one-day press release.

CMRR and PMA, which GAO examined, comprise only part of a largely-uncoordinated pastiche of plutonium-related line-item construction projects and program-funded capital investments at LANL.

We hope; a) the Administration will not request funding for any "Plutonium Modular Approach" (PMA) line item; or should one be submitted b) that Congress will reject any such request, .

The CMRR project also needs to be fundamentally re-thought before proceeding further. NNSA has already wasted $495 million on one cancelled CMRR subproject and the cost of the Radiological Laboratory has exploded.

GAO did not examine the deeper, as-yet-unresolved issues involved with pit production -- as in, why is pit production for the stockpile necessary or desirable at all in the present time-frame? Only "Interoperable Warhead One" (IW-1) requires such production, and IW-1 is, for good reasons, unsupported by the Navy. Please see NNSA: Pit Sources for Life Extension Programs (2015). Upon information and belief, surveillance findings show that no stockpile warhead or bomb requires new pits for the foreseeable future.

In plutonium pit manufacturing, an irrational quest for greater capacity can threaten basic capability, which is one way of describing the decade-long rolling crisis we see in LANL's plutonium programs today. Or is it only one decade?

The armed services committees have written arbitrarily-early production requirements. This does not help create rational programs and investments. The requirement to demonstrate a "50-80" pit per year production rate by 2027 is an arbitrary four years earlier than the 2031 requirement from DoD (see "Assessment of Nuclear Weapon Pit Production Requirements, report from Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel to HASC, Jan 16, 2014). Four years is a major, costly, risky acceleration.

The DoD requirement is itself arbitrary, resting primarily on representations by LANL of the capacity of LANL facilities assuming the subsequently-cancelled CMRR-NF, and not on stockpile requirements. (See the frank explanations by Linton Brooks and John Harvey at electronic pages 67-71 in, which are print pages 5-9 in Medalia, Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Nuclear Weapon “Pit” Production Options for Congress.”)

In light of this week's GAO report, it appears that the amendment offered by Rep. Garamendi in May (colleague letter, video) to block further investment in expanding pit production at LANL, supported by 126 Democrats, was well-founded. NNSA's $6+ billion "plan-of-many-pieces" is not really ready for prime time -- and doesn't need to be.

For the past decade, we at the Study Group have been continuously concerned with the safety basis, management, and adequacy of investments at LANL's main plutonium facility (PF-4). That facility, which all future plans require, lacks (for example) a reliable, safety-class fire protection water supply, a safety-class ventilation system, and closure on the adequacy of seismic structural upgrades.

I will be coming to Washington the week of August 22 to discuss these and other nuclear weapons issues with interested parties.

Thank you for your attention; call or write if you have any questions or suggestions.

Greg Mello

^ back to top

2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200

home page calendar contact contribute