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"A bipartisan group of eight Senators wants the Obama Administration to reverse course on the deferred Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility, and they are appealing to the Department of Defense to lead the effort. In a June 29 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta obtained by NW&M Monitor, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) urged Panetta to keep the multi-billion-dollar project on pace to begin operating in 2024, taking their fight outside the National Nuclear Security Administration and to the agency’s primary nuclear weapons customer. “The current NNSA alternative strategy does not meet critical national defense mission requirements,” the Senators wrote, noting that authorizers in the House and Senate had provided funding for the project in their versions of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. “Given the recent action by the House and the Senate Armed Services Committees, there is clear support for funding and for the administration’s plan, as stated in the 1251 report, to build CMRR-NF and ‘ensure the United States can maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal over the long-term.’ ”

In February, the Administration decided to defer work on the project for at least five years as it pursues an alternative plan to meet the nation’s plutonium needs, but the move triggered backlash in Congress, especially among Republicans in the House and Senate. Some, like Corker, have suggested that the Administration’s pullback on modernization promises made during debate on the New START Treaty endangered support of future treaties, and the Senators reiterated that stance again in the letter to Panetta. “We believe that the administration should begin the necessary planning and include in the FY14 budget and beyond funding for CMRR-NF’s completion. The Department of Defense and NNSA are collectively responsible for maintaining the nuclear deterrent. We therefore urge you to work with the administration and NNSA to continue CMRR-NF design activities this year and build an out-year budget to support construction and operation by 2024,” the Senators wrote, noting that language in the final version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act was likely to require the completion of the project under that timeline.

Senators Identify Funding Possibilities

Congressional appropriators supported the Administration’s plan to defer CMRR-NF and pursue an alternative plutonium strategy, but authorizers in the House and Senate provided funding to keep the project alive in FY2013—though they differed on how that should be done, and the amount of money authorized—while prohibiting money from being spent on the Administration’s alternative plutonium plans. The Senators suggested that action should spur the Pentagon to push to revive the project, which according to previous budget projections was expected to need $300 million in FY2013, and they suggested that leftover FY2012 money and $125 million in Pentagon transfer authority included in last year’s authorization bill combined with new authorization language would provide enough money in FY2013 to revive the project.

Because project officials are wrapping up the project, about $160 million in previous appropriations remain, and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees authorized that money to be spent in FY2013 on the project. The House authorized an additional $100 million for the project, while the Senate Armed Services Committee directed the NNSA to shift $150 million in funding for the effort. In their letter, the Senators suggested that FY2012 authorization language allowing the Pentagon to move $125 million in budget authority to the NNSA would additionally help to “close the gap” in finding funding for the project. “The Senate and House Armed Services Committees have shown that, despite the challenging fiscal environment, the national security imperative for CMRRNF justifies the prioritization of this key modernization project,” the Senators wrote. “Both the SASC and the HASC direct construction of CMRR-NF while prohibiting the expenditure of funds for the hastily conceived alternative approach, which could cost in excess of $1 billion and does not meet DoD mission requirements.” —Todd Jacobson

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