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"Forget the Rest" blog

SF New Mexican

Letters to the Editor
June 25, 2010
Greg Mello

LANL management is lying about CMRR. Enough is enough. Throw the bums out.

There is a two-decade history of intentional LANL misinformation -- lying -- regarding plutonium pit production and related LANL infrastructure projects. Many years ago a LANL public relations director quit in disgust, once she realized she had been fed misinformation by her superiors about LANL's then-pending pit production mission. When she took the job, she had [told] her LANL bosses, "I will not lie for you." So her job came to a predictable end. LANL is built on lies.

What Kevin is saying just isn't true. LANL management knows and approves of those lies, evidently. This is useful to know. LANL pays people to lie, when lying appears necessary to current management objectives. This is apparently one of those times. It's been going on since 1943.

Over the past few years, the only place I have seen the narrative that CMRR's primary purpose is anything other than the manufacturing of plutonium warhead cores (pits) is in presentations to the NM news media and public. In Washington, DC, a much plainer truth is evident.

Here's the White House take on the subject from a couple of years ago:

"NNSA Funding for Nuclear Weapons’ Cores: The DOE/NNSA is requesting funding in FY 2009 for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project. This facility will be used to manufacture the central core of nuclear weapons, known as the "pit." The DOE/NNSA has assumed a future production rate of 50 – 80 pits per year at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, consistent with their preferred alternative for complex transformation. Currently there is no formal agreement between DOE and DOD on production requirements, and thus no firm basis for setting a facility production capacity requirement. This requirement is the major cost driver for the facility."

Here's Congress, in this case the House Appropriations Committee: "The CMRR facility has no coherent mission to justify it unless the decision is made to begin an aggressive new nuclear warhead design and pit production mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory."

Such quotes could be multiplied by dozens more, spanning many years, but these should suffice. Kevin is lying.

Congress and the Administration aren't buying a circa $5 billion plutonium complex at LANL, which includes a half-dozen capital projects, including the $3.4 billion CMRR Nuclear Facility, for "research," or for "the science of actinide elements," or for "maintaining and certifying the U.S. nuclear stockpile while sustaining the moratorium on nuclear testing," or for "counter-terrorism, nuclear forensics, and nonproliferation."

LANL already has a very large plutonium facility, which is currently being upgraded and renovated for the purpose of pit production as well as the purposes Mr. Roark mentions and others. LANL also has an additional big, brand-new, state-of-the-art plutonium laboratory,currently being outfitted, for research, testing, and analytical chemistry involving smaller samples. Lawrence Livermore also a large, heavy-duty plutonium facility, currently surplus to NNSA's needs for heavy plutonium space, which is doing, and which could do, most of these nice, fuzzy missions. In addition, NNSA is also building additional huge plutonium processing and storage facilities in South Carolina, roughly $8 billion worth. NNSA has still other facilities that could store large quantities of plutonium indefinitely, and so does DoD. Additional plutonium-capable labs are available at other NNSA sites, too numerous to mention, for work with smaller samples.

The main purpose of the proposed new plutonium grotto at LANL is to create the capability to produce large numbers of plutonium pits on short notice. LANL can already make pits at a very high rate, if NNSA chose to do so, but there would have to be some rearrangement of equipment and programs -- a bit more remodeling than is already going on. It couldn't be done quickly and it would require a real national mission. With the CMRR Nuclear Facility, LANL could do everything at once, and far more smoothly and quickly, once the anticipated years of shake-down and tune-up are past, come 2023 or so.

Since there is a large surfeit of long-lived, certified pits for each and every delivery system, the only purpose of making pits is to make them for different warheads than are presently in the arsenal. There is, however, no confident path to certification of these warheads in the absence of nuclear testing.

The main strategic idea of the corporations which run LANL and Livermore is to manipulate the ideology of nuclear hawks to create highly-lucrative uncertainty in various forms about the future of the stockpile. These two laboratories are far and away less honest than other sites in the warhead complex, though none of the contractors are all THAT honest. Keeping the whole Cold War machine running at a fairly high tilt is a scam, a big scam, in which CMRR Nuclear Facility is only a part. The gargantuan waste involved is self-justified by the twin ideas that a) unless the U.S. actually conducts "end-to-end" design and production of nuclear weapons, this country will unilaterally disarm, and b) that big investment in nuclear weapons is big proof of nuclear prowess. Spending money and enriching contractors is nuclear deterrence itself, que no?

The idea that "CMRR will better protect the health and safety of workers, the public, and the environment, compared with the facility it replaces" is not really true. The reverse is just as true, or more so. LANL had a funded program to improve the safety of its existing CMR facility, which it halted in order to build the new facility. Meanwhile half the existing facility has been abandoned as surplus to NNSA's needs. By the time the new CMRR Nuclear Facility is finished, if it is ever finished, at least 22 years will have elapsed since LANL cut funding for safety improvements at the existing CMR building. Safety improvements at other facilities have also lagged while LANL focuses on new construction.

With the new facilities, LANL will be adding higher levels of pit production. But pit production isn't necessary for the stockpile and wouldn't be attempted without big new facilities. Will the world and New Mexico be "safer" with or without large-scale pit production? The answer is almost certainly "without." The notion that the CMRR Nuclear Facility will make us safer is just another self-serving lie.

In the final analysis, LANL does not operate in the public interest. It operates in its own interest, i.e. in the interest of folks like billionaires Riley and Stephen Bechtel, David Washington, and others who own controlling interests in the privately-held, for-profit corporation that runs LANL, LANS. Virtually the same people also run Livermore.

LANS is a predatory corporation, increasingly so. Saturn-like, it's even eating its own science -- hard to compete in science, of course -- in favor of profits and a high-maintenance plutonium maquiladora. There is little accountability from the organs of government and civil society.

I therefore suggest it is time for the good old New Mexican [to] rise from its slumber and call for the resignation of LANL senior management. We have paid the price for LANL's lies in our poor economic and social development, as well as in our environment. Throw the bums out.

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