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"Forget the Rest" blog

October 13, 2011

Nuclear Weapons Agency Reports Prior Decision to Build Huge Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos Still On Track

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200; Willem Malten, 505-920-1277; Peter Neils, 505-259-5437

Albuquerque -- Today the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) issued an "amended" "Record of Decision" to build the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), expected to cost $4 to $6 billion. 

The ROD is the formal completion of the most recent environmental review of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), called the "Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement" or SEIS. 

NNSA issued the ROD without having settled on a construction concept for the facility, and without a firm project schedule or cost estimate.  Approximately $458 million has been appropriated for the project so far, not including construction and outfitting of the "RLUOB" support building, which is expected to cost $363 million and to be first occupied late next year.  (RLUOB stands for "Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building"). 

Study Group Director Mello: "Instead of a true beginning, this mis-named "decision" to construct CMRR-NF may be the high water mark for the project, the beginning of the end.  Many decisionmakers know there isn't enough money to build CMRR simultaneously with a more important project in Tennessee unless both are slowed and made much more expensive in the process.  The two together comprise 85% of NNSA's construction budget for the decade.  If the projects proceed simultaneously, everything else NNSA is doing will suffer. 

"This project isn't necessary to maintain any warhead in today's arsenal, whether deployed or in reserve.  Neither can the country afford to maintain such a huge nuclear arsenal in the first place, since the delivery systems are wearing out and very expensive to replace. 

"By the time CMRR-NF would be finished, almost the whole arsenal will have passed through life extension programs that give each warhead or bomb another 30 or so years of shelf life.  So even for people who think all these nuclear weapons make important contributions to our security, what's the point?  Not one plutonium pit has ever been used in a life extension program to date, and none are approved for the future for such programs.  It is a building in search of a mission. 

"Over the course of the past 8 years, this building has gotten ten times more expensive and it has shrunk to one fifth the useful area inside.  It is also now a decade late.  And it's expensive -- very.  At $6 billion it would cost as much as the total constant-dollar cost of all the buildings and programs in Los Alamos for the first decade and a half, from 1943 to 1957. 

"All you folks who don't like big government, take note: CMRR is ten times as costly as any prior government construction project in the history of the state.  It also makes no economically useful infrastructure, attracts no private capital, trains nobody in anything useful for our economy, and produces no goods and services for sale (we hope).  It is a purely socialist endeavor, the pure Soviet, Cold War model.  At $1,000,000 per job created, it's an economic disaster in waiting. 

"It is not just unaffordable in itself, but it is also emblematic of the unaffordability of nuclear weapons in a time of fiscal, economic, environmental, and social crisis.  It is profoundly nostalgic, and as long as it proceeds it will be an anchor preventing New Mexico's economy from evolving, keeping us in the World War II and Cold War economy. It will mark us as a place of, and for, pollution, not amenity. 

"We do not anticipate that this project will succeed, in the end.  It's truly a 'bunker to nowhere.'  We are now in a kind of fiscal 'Indian Summer;' the real frosts of deficit reduction have not started to hit.  NNSA would be wise to put this project on the shelf for now, quite apart from the question of its ultimate merit."


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