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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release 4/26/12

Senate Proposes $160 Million Alternative to $6 Billion Plutonium Project

New alternative, like old, lacks environmental impact statement (EIS),
green group says as federal court date looms

Contractor submits secret plan for $100 million/year for itself to implement plan

Nuke agency holding $200 million in unspent balances on indefinitely-deferred project


Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

Thomas Hnasko, Hinkle Law Firm 505-982-4554 or 505-660-3397

Peter Neils 505-259-5437

Willem Malten, 505-920-1277

Today the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee released a top-line summary of its fiscal year (FY) 2013 Energy and Water appropriations bill, which contains among other things the proposed appropriation for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), including its nuclear “Weapons Activities” budget line. 

An audio recording of the markup session has been posted on the Subcommittee website. 

The bill provides $11.511 billion (B), $511 million (M) above FY2012, for NNSA, including $7.577 B ($363 M above FY2012) for Weapons Activities.  The Administration had requested $11.536 B and $7.577 B for these accounts.  The subcommittee thus provided almost exactly the amounts the Administration had requested, although the amounts allocated to specific programs are certain to differ. 

This past winter the Administration, which has spoken with a single voice on the matter, deferred for at least five years implementation of the proposed circa $6 B Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), its highest infrastructure priority for many years, a massive laboratory, storage, and processing facility for plutonium to be built at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).   

In her opening statement today, Senator Feinstein said:

The bill also addresses a major area of concern: a five-year delay in building a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  To maintain pit manufacturing capabilities, and begin implementing an alternative plutonium strategy, the bill would provide $160 million to make upgrades to existing facilities, and better assess the reliability of the nation’s current pit inventory. 

The Administration requested no money for the CMRR project this year.  The Los Alamos Study Group has confirmed from government sources that there is at present over $200 M in unspent balances in the CMRR project.  Sources in government agree that approximately $120 M of these funds are current available for reprogramming within the Energy and Water bill, which funds all the programs of the Department of Energy (DOE) as well as water, harbor, and flood control projects in three agencies. 

The House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee rescinded $65 million in these prior-year balances (see bill here).  The Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor reported this morning that this committee would apply these funds to accelerate work on safety improvements to LANL’s main plutonium facility (PF-4) ($30 million) and to begin cleaning out the PF-4 vault ($35 million). 

Study Group director Greg Mello: “We are pleased to see that the two appropriations subcommittees, as well as all relevant parties in the Administration, have chosen to indefinitely delay the unnecessary and wasteful CMRR-NF project.  They appear so far to have chosen infrastructure alternatives we suggested.  Previous LANL estimates suggest that the capital cost of the alternatives suggested by the Senate – $160 M – is of the same magnitude as a single year’s operating cost in the $6 B CMRR-NF, if were ever built. 

“There are still big problems, however.  The first is that NNSA has no environmental impact statement (EIS) that includes or addresses its new plutonium plan under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  This will be an issue in oral argument on May 9 in our case before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which has already received NNSA’s February announcement of a new plan.  We have argued, and will argue, that NNSA, like any other federal agency cannot implement its plan without an applicable and adequate EIS.  NNSA must follow the nation’s environmental laws.  Had NNSA followed NEPA to begin with, over half a billion dollars in unnecessary appropriations could have been avoided, LANL workers and the public would be safer today, and NNSA would be a decade ahead in implementing a better plutonium strategy.

“We do not know the details of this strategy, where the devil – especially in the case of plutonium – resides.   We do not know the policy assumptions which underlie it. 

“Also, NNSA has asked the contractor which stands to gain or lose most – LANS – to be the one to draft the plan.  This is a blatant conflict of interest and is prima facie reason to void the plan, whatever it says, and start over.” 

The Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor reported this morning that the draft plan has been written but will not be released to the public in its entirety.  A redacted version is possibly under development.  The trade journal reports that LANS estimates that the new plan will involve about $100 M in expenses at LANL, and presumably additional tens of millions elsewhere. 

In other news, the DOE Inspector General (IG) has released a report suggesting that there are about $437 M in prior-year unresolved subcontract costs at LANL.  The IG identified about $2 M in questionable costs in FY2008 and FY2009.  We do not fully understand this report but have long been are aware of large-scale questionable subcontractor billings at LANL from FY2008 and before. 


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