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Santa Fe New Mexican

Los Alamos Lab's CMRR-NF project would send wrong message to world

By Willem Malten


There is a new monument being built in New Mexico that was compared by Sen. Jeff Bingaman's spokeswoman to the Taj Mahal[1]. It goes by the acronym CMRR-NF, the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility.

This project, gone largely unnoticed by the public and national media, would require 24,000 cement trucks[2] to careen up "the Hill" to Los Alamos to dump their carbon-intensive cement-earth mixtures to erect a very specialized edifice, able to withstand a magnitude 7 earthquake right underneath its footings.

The initial costs were estimated to be about $600 million[3], but that was just a start. After consultation between Washington and its corporate masters (Bechtel in particular) cost estimates have skyrocketed to about $4.5 billion going on $5 billion, outdating all previous National Environment Policy Act studies and environmental impact statements — and yet those costs may still just be a start. Completion date is projected somewhere deep into the future — opening not before 2022.

Once completed, the CMRR-NF will be a blunt-boxed monstrosity devoid of any imagination. It will be a basic bunker about 10 times the size of a large supermarket, or about 270,000 square feet. This largely underground space is mostly taken up by vaults, utilities (no less than 71,500 square feet of utilities) and walls, but there is a small inner sanctum: about 8 percent of the total footprint, or 22,500 square feet will be dedicated to highly secretive plutonium laboratories.

This stark isolation is meant to provide a conducive environment for a new generation of weaponeers, who are encouraged to visualize new strategic uses for new designer nuclear weapons: smaller, with multiple warheads and more accurate targeting; new delivery systems; deeper penetration, etc.

Obama's solemn declarations in Prague about a nuclear-free world are starting to sound hollow. This late spring, during a fresh round of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty hearings at the United Nations in New York, representatives from all over will start hearing about the newly planned CMRR-NF, the largest new investment in nuclear weapons worldwide.

Regardless of the possibility of scaling down the quantities of weapons in the arsenal, and regardless of the possible signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty, the message that America sends with the construction of the CMRR-NF is clear: The CMRR-NF allows the production of new types of nuclear weapons. That is a clear message. The go-ahead of the CMRR-NF building sends a strong signal about the depth of commitment the U.S. will have to a nuclear weapons future.

Building the CMRR-NF would not just damage the reputation of Obama, it would damage the credibility of the U.S. and its role in the world. Perhaps most importantly, it would damage a growing military chorus that wants to adopt a strategy of increased security through non-proliferation, and a de-emphasis of the role of nuclear weapons.

CMRR-NF is the opposite of that approach. The CMRR-NF is the incarnation of everything that is wrong with continued proliferation and the societal detriment and sacrifice that it brings.

Willem Malten lives in Santa Fe, where is an activist in the areas of local food security (the Northern New Mexico Organic Wheat Project) and nuclear disarmament. He is the founder of Cloud Cliff Bakery.

[1] In an Apr. 15, 1999 Albuquerque Journal article, "Bingaman Seeks Funds for Design of Weapons Facility," Sen. Bingaman's spokeswoman, Kristen Ludecke, said "This would not be a Taj Majal, but a scaled-down, streamlined facility ..." (pdf).

[2] The 24,000 trucks is the near-worst-case scenario as calculated, for concrete components of all kinds (sand, gravel, cement).  We don't know that this many will be required.  Gravel and cement, yes.  Sand is the unknown at the moment.

[3] Initial costs were estimated at $350-500 million, but this did not include so-called "Other Project Costs" and it did not include demolition of the old CMR building, which was not a part of the project then and may not be part of the project in the future either, as NNSA warned this year.  From here (pdf),

The CMRR Project was first submitted to Congress for funding in February, 2002 as a subproject within the FY2003 Project Engineering and Design (PED), Project 03-D-103.[4]   Formal “mission need” for the CMRR project as a whole (Critical Decision 0, “CD-0”) was approved on July 16, 2002.

In that first congressional budget request, NNSA estimated physical construction would begin in the second quarter (2Q) of FY2005.  Total Estimated Cost (TEC) for both buildings was projected to be $350-500 M (average: $425 M).  Total design services were expected to cost $55 M, 13% of TPC. 

So $600 M is a bit generous to NNSA.  They low-balled worse than that.

[4] DOE FY2003 CBR, Weapons Activities, Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities, e-page 42, at

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