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For Immediate Release 7/20/12 -- Apologies for duplicates
Eight Senators Beg Administration to Build Plutonium Warhead Facility at LANL – against Wishes of DoD, Military, NNSA, and DOE
Los Alamos Study Group: Senate letter and Defense Authorization Act as reported from Senate Armed Services Committee rest on gross factual misrepresentations, not just policy differences
Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 office, 505-577-8563 mobile
Albuquerque, NM – In a June 29, 2012 letter (pdf) to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Leon Panetta (that only became available today), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and seven other senators, including one Democrat (Ben Nelson of Nebraska), requested resurrection of the now-deferred Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).
CMRR-NF is a 2002-vintage proposal for an additional plutonium warhead facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which informed parties now expect to cost in the neighborhood of $4-8 billion. No authoritative cost estimate is available from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) or any other source.
As part of the deferral of the project, NNSA has re-thought its mission requirements and will continue to study these over the next several years, as the Los Alamos Study Group has long suggested.
During the development of this year’s budget, DoD and all other cognizant national security agencies, as well as the three weapons laboratories, agreed that CMRR-NF should be placed in mothballs at the end of the present fiscal year (September 30, 2012) in favor of a near-term plutonium sustainment alternative (pdf). A subsequent Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) memorandum codified this consensus (pdf) in a public document. (What is the NWC?)
The Administration requested no funding for the project in February, and both appropriations committees have zeroed out the project’s funding for FY13, concurring with deferral for at least five years for further study as requested. CMRR-NF advocates in the House, such as representatives Michael Turner (R-OH) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) of the House Armed Services Committee, chose not to offer an amendment to fund CMRR-NF in floor action on the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which has now passed the House.
Senator Reid recently said no appropriations bills will be brought to the Senate floor until after the elections given the disparity in funding allowances between the two houses and the heated election-year climate.
The House and Senate armed services committee versions of the FY13 Defense Authorization Act authorized CMRR-NF construction but they cannot provide funds. The House version has passed the House. The Senate version has not been brought to the floor and may or may not be brought until after the election. The Administration has threatened to veto the House bill (pdf) over sections containing CMRR-NF provisions.
Links to legislation and a comparative analysis of the authorization bills (pdf) are available from the Study Group, as is a detailed critique of the Senate’s CMRR-NF provisions (pdf, with earlier format errors corrected).
In December 2009 Senator Kyl was joined by 40 other senators in a letter warning President Obama that New START would not receive their support unless it was accompanied by an aggressive program of warhead and facility modernization. Negotiations with Kyl in late 2010 shaped the Administration’s proposed modernization program, which was announced that November. In February 2011, the Administration requested funding along those lines, but Congress provided a smaller funding increase. This year’s NNSA budget request (pdf) followed Congress’ 2011 lead. NNSA, faced with significant cost overruns in all its major projects, discovered there were practical alternatives to CMRR-NF and postponed the project indefinitely. NNSA Deputy Administrator Don Cook has testified (see p. 7 here, pdf) that CMRR-NF capabilities are not needed prior to 2028.
Of the letter’s signatories, senators Kyl, Lieberman, and Nelson are retiring this year.
Senators Kyl, Corker, and Isakson do not have Armed Services or Appropriations committee assignments.
Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello: “Given the letter’s reliance on decisions made in the Senate Armed Services Committee, the absence of Chairman Levin’s signature is notable. So is the absence of Senator Sessions’ signature.”
Sessions is the Ranking Member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which has responsibility for the NNSA – and the Committee’s CMRR-NF policies.
“With only eight senators, three of whom are just months from retirement, this letter is a relatively weak showing for Senator Kyl. In 2009 he could get 41 signatures, including all the Senate’s Republicans.
“It’s very likely that most of the letter’s signatories don’t even know that the military and DoD do not want this facility built right now – that in their studied opinion it threatens other NNSA operations and deliverables.
“Certainly some effort by Senator Kyl was expected, and true to form this is an amalgam of mistaken information, election-year politicking, and thinly-veiled threat.
“Kyl is widely thought to be advised by old friends at the Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the contractor which runs LANL and the main financial beneficiary of the CMRR-NF project. He has been the most visible nuclear hawk in the Senate as far as the weapons laboratories are concerned for many years.
“What’s not known to us is the role being played by Senator Bingaman. In February of this year he was clearly upset that CMRR-NF was not included in the President’s budget and has vowed to inject himself into this matter.
“Most importantly, this letter – like the Senate bill – is based on and contains false information. Detailed examination of the many false statements in the Senate bill and accompanying Report are provided here (pdf). This letter includes a few of the same misconceptions. Here are some examples:
“There is no question that all this false information comes directly, or indirectly, from LANS, which lobbies extensively in its own financial interests.”