September 8, 2011
Bulletin #128: Senate funders would (re-)start
construction of $6 billion plutonium fortress in Los
Alamos but cut back next year's budget somewhat
Dear Study Group friends and colleagues –
As promised, here's the news. It is decidedly mixed.
The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) in a 29-to-1 vote
approved the Energy
and Water markup (pdf) for fiscal year (FY) 2012 proposed by the
Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on Tuesday.
While professing to favor postponing construction of the
actual new plutonium facility itself until it is 90% designed (which
the SAC hopes would occur at this time next year, for which purpose
it would appropriate $125 million), the SAC would also provide $40
million (M) for initial construction, which could start as
early as next month, and another $40 M for the purchase of
specialized equipment (e.g. plutonium vault doors,
specialized nuclear air-handling equipment).
In all, the SAC would allocate $35 M for equipment
installation in the first of the two Chemistry and Metallurgy
Research Replacement (CMRR) buildings (the Radiological Laboratory,
Utility, and Office Building, RLUOB), and another $205 million for
the CMRR Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).
Here is the table sent in Bulletin #127 with the missing cells
Nuclear “Weapons Activities” markups (in millions
of dollars, as of 9/6/11)
FY2012 House (approved by House)
FY2012 SEWD (not yet approved by Senate)
Change from FY2011
Change from FY 2012 Request
CMRR (includes RLUOB + NF, both buildings)
Change from FY 2012 Request
-100.00 in early construction funds; no FY2012 CMRR-NF
-60; initial construction ($40 M) and initial equipment
procurement ($40 M) allowed
Our regional journalists were admirably on top of the
The Journal article repeats a factual error made by Chairwoman
Feinstein, in which she claimed the "nuclear posture review"
and "discussions about the new START treaty" somehow forced
the committee to fund the nuclear weapons priorities it did.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs
the subcommittee, said the budget increases approved by the committee
should be sufficient to meet national security needs.
increase follows the highest priorities identified in the nuclear
posture review and developed during the discussions about the new
START treaty,” Feinstein said at the hearing.
pointed out that much of the weapons modernization spending is
mandated by treaties or existing federal law, highlighting spending
for new nuclear materials buildings at Los Alamos and at Oak Ridge in
Feinstein, who has opposed efforts to expand
America’s nuclear weapons capabilities in the past, noted that
the mandatory weapons spending erodes money for other projects.
have to point out this is mandatory spending,” she said. “The
increases in security spending come at the expense of nondefense
water and energy projects.”
In other words, "the White House and Senate Republicans made
me do it."
Funding and building CMRR is a
negotiated outcome, and no kind of legal requirement or "mandate."
Newspapers should not allow Ms. Feinstein to
get away with this sort of misrepresentation. It happens all
I believe, in her case, that she really
does want to do the right thing at some level, but there is a system
or net of passivity that runs from the White House, to her, to her
hard-working personal and committee staff, and on to journalists and
It was a Republican majority in the House who
said, in the corresponding
report that has now passed the House as a whole (pdf, discussed here),
Project 04–D–125, Chemistry and Metallurgy
Research Replacement (CMRR), Los Alamos National Laboratory.—The
Committee recommends $200,000,000, $100,000,000 below the budget
request. The Committee fully supports the Administration’s
plans to modernize the infrastructure, but intends to closely review
the funding requests for new investments to ensure those plans adhere
to good project management practices. The latest funding profile
provided to the Committee indicates that over half the funding
requested for the Nuclear Facility would be used to start early
construction activities. The recommendation will support the full
request for design activities, but does not provide the additional
funding to support early construction. The NNSA is not prepared to
award that project milestone since it must first resolve major
seismic issues with its design, complete its work to revalidate which
capabilities are needed, and make a decision on its contracting and
acquisition strategies. (p. 131)
So while Republicans are asking these and other fundamental
questions about CMRR-NF in the House, Democrats are not. To
their credit, Senate Democrats are asking a host of
tough questions about the ambitious and provocative B61 life
extension project (LEP), as the Journal's article points out.
But let's go with Ms. Feinstein for a moment. The Journal:
Feinstein, who has opposed efforts to expand America’s
nuclear weapons capabilities in the past, noted that the mandatory
weapons spending [sic] erodes money for other projects.
have to point out this is mandatory spending,” she said. [sic] 'The increases in security spending come at the expense of
nondefense water and energy projects.”
Roger Snodgrass's article includes another quote to the same
effect, which is even more poignant:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, co-chair of the energy
subcommittee that passed the funding blueprint Tuesday, agreed.
"Essentially, the large nuclear mandate [again, sic] drives
down the money for everything else, and it's wrong," she said.
"It bumps right up against the rest of energy, ARPA-E and the
Office of Science." ARPA-E is a fund for advanced research
on energy issues.
Yes, nuclear weapons sure do cut into the energy budget. The
proposed budget for CMRR for FY2012 ($240 million) is three times
the proposed national total for wind research ($80 M). It
is seven times the proposed national figure for geothermal
research ($34 M). It is almost as much as the amount
proposed solar energy research ($290 M). It is
more than weatherization assistance nationally ($174 M) and
also more than cleanup at LANL ($185 M).
the national budget for construction of levees and other similar Army
Corps projects have been drastically slashed, from $2.2 billion in
2008 to $1.6 billion this year, "despite a huge backlog of
projects and significant flooding since Katrina" as Senator
Landrieu's plea for help was paraphrased in the New Mexican.
So you see what Ms. Feinstein is talking about.
Somehow we have got to get our Democrats -- decent people,
but not very courageous -- to do more than just complain.
Feinstein, Bingaman -- these are very powerful people. A clear
word from either one could change these priorities quite a bit --
including halting CMRR-NF.
The problem is that they are
not hearing clear words from us.
Mello, for the Study Group