|"Forget the Rest" blog|
Job Cuts at Los Alamos?
September 21, 2007
The jobs that could be lost due to budget cuts at LANL are primarily if not exclusively due to possible declines in the (nuclear) “Weapons Activities” (WA) budget line for fiscal year 2008.
Most of the jobs in question are plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production-related jobs. Thus in practical terms today’s rally to “save LANL jobs” is mostly a rally to save plutonium pit production related jobs. The organizers and participants may or may not know this.
Committing the County, the region, and the state to a new Rocky Flats-like pit plant, when no such plant is needed anywhere, even to maintain a huge nuclear arsenal for many decades, is a dramatic policy choice with profoundly negative regional, national, and international implications of all kinds.
A few details about the budget process
The appropriations process is not an orderly one this year, since the Senate has not passed a appropriations bill for nuclear weapons and the White House threatens to veto appropriations bills with spending levels greater than the President’s request, which is true for both the House bill and the Senate markup. Some kind of continuing resolution is virtually certain, whether temporary or year-long. It could be based on current-year funding, House-proposed funding (6% lower than this year’s in weapons activities overall and about 10-20% lower at LANL), or some other formula. The Senate has not passed the appropriations bill for nuclear warhead work so its committee markup remains only a recommendation pending debate, possible modification, and approval by the whole Senate.
We believe the portion of the difference between the House bill and the Senate markup for LANL that is due entirely to policy differences concerning pit production is about $250 million (M). This is composed of a $106 M difference in pit manufacturing and certification operating funds, apparently all at LANL, a $96 M difference in funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research and Replacement (CMRR) project funds at LANL, and a $50 M difference in the Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrades Project (NMSSUP) funds. We believe there is no justification for these two capital projects apart from LANL’s expanding pit production mission and indeed apart from the RRW (Reliable Replacement Warhead) program (also cut to zero by the House), which would design the pits to be made at LANL’s TA-55.
So it appears that more than half the difference between the House bill as passed and the Senate markup can be attributed to the House's efforts to keep LANL from rushing into becoming this nation's new "right-sized" Rocky Flats. This is much more than a “jobs” issue.
Ironies about today’s rally
The first irony is that Ron Dolin, a co-organizer of the rally, spoke out against pit production during his campaign:
Dolin said an equally large issue looming on the horizon is whether or not Los Alamos will remain a research institute or become a Rocky Flats-like bomb factory.
"This issue has implications not only to residents of Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Santa Fe Counties, but to all of New Mexico," he said. "The reason our government runs enormous deficits and unimaginable national debt is the same reason Los Alamos is now in crisis. Will Los Alamos continue to be the world's premier research institute or will it become a bomb-making factory on a slow march toward closure? Will we retain and recruit top scientist and engineers, or will we diminish in stature?"
Most of the LANL jobs Mr. Dolin says he wants to save are part of a mission he previously said he does not support.
The second irony is that this rally seems to be Republican-Party led. The only congressperson in the House that concretely tried to restore funding in weapons activities was Tom Udall, Dolin's Democratic primary opponent. Udall did all he could but his effort failed and seems to have backfired.
The third irony is that nothing creates overhead like plutonium, with its intense security, safety, waste management, and management superstructure. High overhead is crushing science at LANL.
About $145 M of these plutonium-related jobs are in construction projects. If it is science that is to be saved, construction is not science. Neither, for that matter, is the $106 M in pit manufacturing funding in question. These priorities destroy science jobs, not make them.
The problem is not confined to 2008. After 2008 these plutonium-related construction projects would continue and grow and are to be joined by other big plutonium-related projects. The CMRR and NMSSUP will together cost about $2 billion – as of past May, the cost of the CMRR nuclear facility had already doubled over the February 2007 estimate. The TA-55 Reinvestment Project will also be very expensive; add to that the Pit Radiography Facility, various waste management capital projects (in part driven by the pit mission), and the pervasive overhead it all requires, and it adds up to a lot of money. These gigabuck projects will eat into science, not add onto it.
The final irony is that if this is a rally to “save science” at LANL, it is a rally to continue the preferments of a very well-off group of people. Los Alamos County is the wealthiest county in the U.S., supported by taxpayers far less on the basis of objective merit than by a kind of welfare dispensed as political pork, a case of “welfare for the rich.” David Hobson (R-OH), ranking member of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee and one of the architects of the budget cuts in question, has said:
I spent much of my time…traveling to many DOE facilities…I saw hundreds of staff dedicating their professional lives to our national defense…I also saw a weapons complex that could be viewed as a jobs program for Ph.Ds – the ultimate in white-collar welfare…where business practices were two decades behind the times (April 11, 2004).
In our experience Hobson’s assessment is correct. We believe that the best scale for LANL is one that is much smaller than LANL today, quite apart from our disarmament agenda.
LANL’s federal managers as well as our congressional delegation can be seriously faulted for their collective failure to plan how to use potential lab downsizing as an economic opportunity for the region – which it could be. The region’s political and community leaders must look, urgently, outside LANL to build a diverse and sustainable economy and an improved quality of life. If we do not, national and global trends are poised to exacerbate the region’s existing problems, undermining the security of most households even further.
 "Reactions to LANS' projected belt-tightening roll in," Carol Clark, Los Alamos Monitor, 9/28/06.