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LANL Lab Could Get Funded

By Journal Staff on Sun, May 27, 2012

Funding for a multi-billion dollar new plutonium laboratory at Los Alamos, axed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month, may be restored, at least if members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services have their way.

The committee completed its “markup,” or review, of the National Defense Authorization Act that funds the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy’s national security programs for the next fiscal year on Thursday. The committee wants to restore about $150 million in fiscal 2013 spending for a replacement of the antiquated Chemistry and Materials Research building at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Senate committee would also require that the CMR replacement building be operational by 2024 – four years earlier than federal officials have argued will be necessary. Cost of the project would also be capped at $3.7 billion under the committee’s proposal.

A coalition of House Democrats and Republicans in late April agreed to zero out the project, a move that has the support of President Barack Obama.

In House hearings in April, officials representing the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Pentagon and the Department of Energy all testified that the CMR replacement project could be deferred for at least five years. About $450 million has already been spent for project design work.

Greg Mello, of the Los Alamos Study Group, said in a press release Friday that the Senate committee was trying to “second guess the combined wisdom of several agencies” on the subject of the CMR replacement. The contradictory requirements for the project the committee inserted in the appropriations bill are “creating chaos” as well as wasting money, Mello said.

The Study Group has sued to halt the CMR replacement project.

But New Mexico’s ranking Sen. Jeff Bingaman said Friday that “there is no disagreement on the need to make sure LANL remains the nation’s center for plutonium technology and research."

“The Obama administration has said it is committed to ensuring that Los Alamos National Laboratory has a state-of-the-art plutonium facility,” Bingaman said. “There are competing visions in Congress and the administration about us getting on track to replace the aging CMR building.”

The outstanding questions are about timing and cost of the project, Bingaman said. “I will be working with my colleagues on the committees of jurisdiction to ensure the funding is in place to maintain all critical, near-term operations at LANL and for meeting the lab’s long-term needs.”

Despite killing funding for the CMR project, the spending plan that left the House in April would increase nuclear weapons spending by 4 percent in fiscal 2013, with Sandia National Laboratories reaping the most benefit from the increase. Los Alamos, which anticipates budget reductions in next year’s budget, has already cut more than 500 jobs.


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