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Bill authorizes planned funding for NM labs

By Michael Coleman / Journal Washington Bureau | Sun, Dec 22, 2013

Heinrich: NM plays pivotal role in U.S. defense Udall: Bill maintains "military readiness"

WASHINGTON – Legislation that maintains planned funding levels in fiscal 2014 for America’s national laboratories, including Sandia and Los Alamos in New Mexico, as well as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, is headed to President Barack Obama’s desk.

The bill, approved Friday by the Senate on a 84-15 vote, also provides for a federal land transfer to help protect White Sands Missile Range. It also advances plans to replace work on the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was scrapped by the Obama administration last year.

The legislation, which earlier cleared the House, is expected to be signed into law by Obama. While it authorizes certain spending levels, it does not provide actual appropriations, which must be approved separately by Congress.

Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill would ensure the “strength and preparedness” of New Mexico’s military installations.

“This bill upholds the quality of life of our service members and their families, and ensures that our military has the resources, training, technology and equipment to maintain its military readiness and remain at the forefront of developing new sources of energy,” Udall said.

The bill says the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration “may obligate and expend funds … for activities relating to the modular building strategy” at Los Alamos that would replace the controversial $6 billion CMRR facility the administration last year postponed for at least a half-decade.

The modular strategy, according to the bill, would include “re-purposing existing facilities and constructing a series of modular structures” to complement the existing plutonium facility at LANL.

The legislation contains language emphasizing that the B61 (bomb) Life Extension Program at Sandia and Los Alamos is a “priority” that should receive “full funding.” While not binding on Congress, the language would serve as reminder to Congress of the value of the program, Udall said.

The bill suggests a combined $537 million for B61 activities at LANL and Sandia.

White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico would get an additional 5,100 acres of land in a transfer from the Bureau of Land Management. Udall’s office said the additional land would provide “a critical safety and security buffer” to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility and the Department of Defense’s Aerospace Data Facility-Southwest, which are both tenants of White Sands Missile Range.

The bill suggests $234.7 million for nuclear waste cleanup at LANL and $219 million for cleanup at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., also touted the bill’s provisions, including one that would authorize $15 million for the production of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system in the United States.

Raytheon’s Farmington facility has the capacity to carry out work on Iron Dome. It currently assembles parts of 12 missile and munitions programs for the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.

“New Mexico is home to four military installations and tens of thousands of men and women who carry out their critical missions.,” Heinrich said. “I am proud of the pivotal role our state plays in our national security and defense, and that New Mexico remains at the forefront of cutting-edge research and development that contribute to our country’s safety.”

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