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The Republic

Budget bill approved by House cuts spending for nuke lab, prohibits construction

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS * First Posted: December 16, 2011 - 4:44 pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The compromise budget bill approved by the U.S. House Friday slashes funding for and prohibits any site preparation work on a controversial new $6 billion nuclear facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The spending bill appropriates $200 million for the project this fiscal year, $100 million less than the administration had requested. It also notes that "no construction activities are funded for the project this year," and calls for a new report on the country's capability for manufacturing so-called pits, or the cores that power nuclear weapons.

Watchdogs hailed the budget action as a sign Congress was backing it's calls for the National Nuclear Security Administration to slow down on plans to build the facility.

"We are very pleased that Congress has substantially agreed with our analysis regarding the need to delay this project, and has also endorsed our call to re-examine alternatives for managing pit production," Greg Mello, head of the Los Alamos Study Group, said in a statement. His group has filed two lawsuits seeking to force NNSA to study alternatives to CMRR.

Lab officials say the proposed new lab — called the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility, or CMRR — is needed to replace a 1940s-era facility that is beyond renovation yet crucial to supporting its mission as the primary center for maintaining and developing the country's stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Although the facility has been in the planning stages for years, increased scrutiny has been placed on the lab in recent years as its price tag has shot up in response to what has been discovered to be a greater potential for a major earthquake along the fault lines that run under LANL.

Mello said the budget bill indicates "Congress is in no mood to pursue a risky 'design-build' process for a multibillion-dollar, one-of-a-kind plutonium facility in a high-seismicity location."

"That idea was nuts, and thankfully Congress appears to see that," he said.

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