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Nuclear Pit Boondoggle at Los Alamos Temporarily Scuttled

By Russ Wellen, February 14, 2012

The new budget for fiscal year 2013 (which begins on October 1) just released, reports Chris Schneidmiller for Global Security Newswire, calls for the

Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration to receive $11.5 billion. … just shy of 5 percent above the amount allocated in the current budget … The budget would provide $7.6 billion for NNSA efforts to "maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent." 

The other $2.5 billion … 

… is proposed for NNSA initiatives to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related materials. [Nonproliferation, in other words. -- RW] That amount, if approved, would constitute a $163 million boost from the amount allocated for this year.

All in all …

… the administration is seeking $372 million less for weapons programs than it had anticipated requesting as of 2011. 

Most encouraging of all:

The administration aims to freeze development of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement complex at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which would conduct work on materials such as plutonium employed in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. … Under the proposal, funding for the Los Alamos site … estimated to cost up to $6 … would be cut by $165 million and building would be pushed back by no less than five years.

This is the infamous plutonium pit -- the living, breathing heart of a nuclear warhead -- facility about which I frequently post. Much of the credit for inserting this major blip into the United States nuclear weapons-industrial complex goes to the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG). Among their protracted efforts to halt the CMRR-NF has been incessant lobbying on Capitol Hill and two separate lawsuits it has filed against the Department of Energy on the grounds that the planned facility is not environmentally safe.

Another factor in the CMRR-NF's delay is an economic climate that makes even Republicans open to the idea of defense cuts. The Pentagon, meanwhile (or elements thereof), with its unique talent for sensing the opportunity in any crisis, stands ready and willing to re-allocate money to weapons systems it can actually use, instead of just brandish (as with nuclear deterrence).

In one of its press releases on this development, LASG Executive Director Greg Mello reminds us of the extent to which the CMRR-NF is a boondoggle. 

The CMRR project has been a fiasco from the get-go. In the beginning, [the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Los Alamos National Laboratory] proposed CMRR structures which even the most cursory examination revealed could never be built. The construction materials specified in environmental documents could not have built a shed, much less a fortified, seismically-sound nuclear facility to hold and protect several tons of plutonium. As the project developed, NNSA and its contractors kept the bad news from Congress, as they always do, until the last moment. … Right now, NNSA is spending between one-half and one million dollars per day to design a facility which is highly unlikely to ever be built -- and if it were, much of the design would need to be redone anyway.

In the LASG's most recent bulletin, Mello also reminds us:

This is not an Obama-led “nuclear disarmament” decision. This decision has nothing to do with disarmament. CMRR-NF is being rejected, for now, on very strong factual and management grounds by the Pentagon, DOE, and NNSA itself, among many others.  

The postponement of CMRR-NF certainly doesn't kill, but it at least clips the wings of two birds with one stone: the United States nuclear-weapons program and any future nuclear-weapons boondoggles.


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