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"Forget the Rest" blog

July 17, 2011

Bulletin #121: Study Group to host discussion Tuesday evening, July 19th, in Los Alamos regarding proposed plutonium facility

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Dear friends and colleagues --

1. Study Group to host discussion Tuesday evening in Los Alamos regarding proposed plutonium facility

We would like to invite you to a public discussion Tuesday evening regarding the "ins and outs" of the proposed giant plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  We will meet in the main room at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos, at 2132 Central Avenue, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.  I and other members of the Los Alamos Study Group will answer questions about the proposed huge new plutonium facility -- the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) -- at LANL. 

Our panel of speakers will include:

  • Willem Malten;
  • Me, Greg Mello; and
  • Gilbert Sanchez

There may be one or two others as well (depending on the timeliness of an airplane flight, in one case).

We hope you will come, with your questions and your own perspectives.  Your questions will help shape the public dialogue. 

As readers of these bulletins understand, this is a $6 billion project (more or less) at the present time.  (It might be less if the National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] attempts to trim the scope of the project, or more if costs continue to increase or if one includes supporting construction in the total).  As such it is about six times the financial scale of the original Manhattan Project investment in New Mexico, and about equal to what LANL has said is the capital value of the entire laboratory.  This estimated cost is about ten times the cost of any other government infrastructure project in the history of New Mexico, except the Interstate Highways. 

There are people in government who believe the ultimate capital cost of this project, should it continue, would be closer to $8 to 10 billion when all is said and done.  I am beginning to believe such large numbers are possible, for reasons I will explain. 

NNSA has declined to make an official appearance.  Their excuse is that we are suing them.  Of course that could be our excuse not to participate as well, but we want to be accountable to the public -- especially to the community of Los Alamos, from which we aim to help take billions of dollars in local spending. 

(The project, if fully pursued, will generate more than $400 million in gross receipts taxes and will create many upper-middle-class incomes and not a few millionaires, I am sure.  About 420 construction workers also would be employed, on average.  No long-term new LANL employment is expected. )

In fact, NNSA and LANS have an uninterrupted 10+ year record of unwillingness to discuss any issue in any forum we have proposed -- in any forum they do not control.  Sad but true.

We are not interested in any kind of shallow "point-scoring" discussion, or in any kind of public posturing.  We work closely with (and that means against, sometimes) all three branches of the federal government.  We are looking for the truth of the matter, nothing more -- and nothing less.  We want to get at some of the deeper issues regarding CMRR-NF.  Which issues discussed will depend in part on the audience -- which we hope will include some of you. 

For my part, in addition to answering questions I will present on: a) why it would be better not to build CMRR-NF; b) why it ought not to be built now; and c) on some of the "macro" changes affecting the feasibility of this project -- why it may never be completed even if the Obama White House and other policymakers retain their attachment to it.  

2. We will post filings in our Appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals as they are filed, here

3. Last Friday the Republican-led House cut $1.1 billion (B) from Obama's proposed NNSA budget for FY2012, including a $498 million cut from Obama's proposed nuclear "Weapons Activities" budget line. 

Most of the details we provided in Bulletin #118 (House Appropriations Committee slashes $100 million from huge proposed plutonium facility at Los Alamos, June 15, 2011) are still more or less the same.  It is significant that the Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Freylinghuysen (R-NJ) specifically mentioned the savings available from capital projects "that are not ready to move forward."  He was referring specifically to CMRR-NF, since 90% of the cuts the Subcommittee proposed in that category were cuts to CMRR-NF.  

The bill now goes to the Senate, which will not take up spending bills until the budget impasse is resolved, and after the August recess.  The Senate is unlikely to be functional enough to pass appropriations bills in the remaining month of the fiscal year, meaning that the fate of these cuts will be resolved in a continuing resolution or in omnibus legislation, either of which would be conditioned by the new fiscal conservatism (if that's what you call it), the precise nature of which is now under heated discussion. 

4. The Army Corps of Engineers, working with two consulting firms, has warned NNSA of some of the dangers of proceeding with CMRR-NF and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Tennessee concurrently.   

We will talk about this some on Tuesday evening.  The pricetag for UPF, according to the Corps, may now reach as high as $7.5 B, and "[s]ignificant cost growth of either project [UPF and CMRR-NF] may result in a situation where constructing both projects with currently anticipated scopes is not feasible due to NNSA funding constraints."  As we have discussed in detail, UPF is a much higher priority project to NNSA.  Or at least it ought to be.  (NNSA has a habit of prioritizing projects backwards in order to force Congress to fund all its proposals rather than just the better-justified ones.  This is currently occurring at the Savannah River Site with respect to two large projects there, which are being built in reverse order, for precisely that reason, as some in government have explained to me.) 

5.  Now is the time to speak to your friends about helping the Study Group financially. 

It's easy, and it's important.  So many people ask, "What can I do?"  Most of us have few resources, but all of us have friends who do.  Trips to Washington, DC cost money (not that much, but some); litigation costs money (sometimes a surprisingly lot of money).  Our voice is unique in this fray; it is uniquely experienced, and it has been uniquely effective.  Our litigation halted CMRR-NF construction contracting (LANS took the pending bid announcement down just before the bidding process was to begin) and required the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) as fig-leaf compliance.  By the time the SEIS is completed a year will have passed, a very important year.  As I will explain on Tuesday, the tide has begun to shift further in our favor.  We need your help to bring this project to an end. 

Most national funders are afraid to touch this project, as it is a favorite of Barack Obama's.  We really need you -- and your friends.  Right now I am not going to tell you all the ways you can waste your time and money in "feel-good" pseudo-politics.  They are legion. 


Greg Mello and Trish Williams-Mello

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