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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release, 12:30 pm June 14, 2011

House Appropriations Committee may slash $100 million from huge proposed plutonium facility at Los Alamos– final vote tomorrow

Republican-led committee may seek to hold back LANL project pending resolution of major issues

House poised to limit cost of Obama-led nuclear weapons “surge,” citing budget restrictions, management problems

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 office or 505-577-8563 cell, mid-afternoon and evening

Albuquerque – The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) today released its draft Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (pdf) and associated report (pdf), prepared by the HAC’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee and approved by that subcommittee on June 2. On that day the Subcommittee published a summary table (pdf) of its overall priorities in relation to those of the Administration as well as an overview of its priorities, but details were not available until today.

The full HAC will take up this proposed legislation tomorrow at 9:30 am EDT (video and audio available).

The Obama Administration, through the agency of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) which manages the nation’s nuclear stockpile as well as the DoD, has sought large increases in nuclear weapons spending (pdf). (See the chart in this press release for historical context.) At LANL these proposed increases were to be unprecedented since the Manhattan Project and were pushed through Congress on an “emergency” basis in order to buy Republican Senate votes for New START ratification, which occurred on December 22, 2010.

NNSA’s most recent budget request (pdf) included $300 million for fiscal year (FY) 2012 for the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The official current (rough) estimate for CMRR-NF is $4.7 to $5.8 billion (B) (pdf), but a senior government official recently warned Study Group Director Greg Mello that costs, if past experience with major construction projects is any guide, could rise much higher still.

The draft Energy and Water bill would cut CMRR-NF heavily and hold back any construction until October 2012 at the earliest.

Project 04–D–125, Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR), Los Alamos National Laboratory.—The Committee recommends $200,000,000, $100,000,000 below the budget request. The Committee fully supports the Administration’s plans to modernize the infrastructure, but intends to closely review the funding requests for new investments to ensure those plans adhere to good project management practices. The latest funding profile provided to the Committee indicates that over half the funding requested for the Nuclear Facility would be used to start early construction activities. The recommendation will support the full request for design activities, but does not provide the additional funding to support early construction. The NNSA is not prepared to award that project milestone since it must first resolve major seismic issues with its design, complete its work to revalidate which capabilities are needed, and make a decision on its contracting and acquisition strategies. (p. 131)

This $100 million (M) cut is 90% of all the Committee’s proposed cuts in NNSA construction, meaning that House Appropriations is almost uniquely targeting CMRR-NF among all proposed NNSA construction for cuts. The Committee would also hold back a proposed new transuranic nuclear waste facility at LANL.

NNSA had requested $270.1 M for CMRR-NF specifically, the balance of the proposed $300 M CMRR budget line being allocated to completing the first CMRR building, the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB). So the $100 M cut would amount to 37% of the proposed CMRR-NF budget for FY2012.

Overall, the Committee would slash $498 M from the Obama request for NNSA nuclear Weapons Activities, adding only 3% in FY2012 to the FY2011 enacted budget, a 6.6% cut from Obama’s warhead request. Considering inflation, nuclear warhead spending would not rise.

The ascendency of budget concerns in the Republican-led House meant that the Committee was given only 84% of what Obama asked for Energy and Water programs overall. Relatively speaking, the Committee protected the nuclear weapons establishment – but not CMRR-NF.

Mello, who traveled to Washington in late May to meet for a week with members of Congress and their staff concerning this facility and related issues, remarked, “Many people in Washington are looking closely at the rising costs and the unresolved design and management issues of CMRR-NF. Given these concerns, this proposed cutback and delay in construction are hardly a surprise. They are however a welcome relief from the rush-to-failure approach we see in this project, which lacks clarity about overall mission need, specific requirements, design concept, and just about everything else. NNSA has very good alternatives which do not build this building, and they need to look closely at them.”

“More broadly, appropriators are concerned that the departments of Energy and Defense are not fully considering the cost and programmatic implications of NNSA modernization, or considering the full range of alternatives available:

‘It is incumbent upon the experts at the NNSA to provide a range of options which would meet defense requirements and to ensure that a range of alternatives are considered, taking into account the DOE resource implications of each alternative.’ (p. 83)

These are our concerns – and what we ask – as well.”

In the fall of 2010 NNSA was poised to initiate subcontracting (pdf, see p. 170) for the first stages of CMRR-NF construction (here is the whole project schedule, pdf), but LANL pulled all references to construction from its web site and held back all construction subcontracting during the course of litigation filed by the Los Alamos Study Group under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After the Study Group’s lawsuit was filed the NNSA initiated a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) process, which is currently underway. Citing the SEIS and the lack of construction, Judge Herrera dismissed the Study Group’s lawsuit on May 23. The Study Group is currently considering an appeal to the 10th Circuit, and other legal options.


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