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Bulletin #135: Toward defeat of CMRR: progress and portents

November 28, 2011

Dear friends –

We are making some progress, visibly and invisibly and by slow degrees, in halting the proposed additional plutonium facility at Los Alamos, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF)

Assuming the portents we see are accurate and not reversed, there is still a long ways to go before this particular dragon falls – so please stay with us on this, in whatever way you can. 

To our donors and volunteers over these past years – THANK YOU SO MUCH.  (More on how to help is below.) 

Since I last wrote we’ve been in the editorial pages locally and nationally:  

LANL Project an Unsafe Taxpayer Boondoggle, Albuquerque Journal, Peter Neils, Nov 27, 2011

A Nuclear Facility We Don’t Need, New York Times, Greg Mello, op-ed, Nov 14, 2011

Importantly, a national conservative magazine has thrown a harsh light on CMRR-NF and all it stands for, in a fine article that has been making the rounds in Washington:

Nuclear Money Pit, America's atomic arsenal is stuck in the Cold War era, The American Conservative, (pdf) Dec 2011

The New York Times editorial page editor renewed his earlier call for cuts in nuclear weapons spending, including halting CMRR-NF. 

You can use these articles as tools for your own outreach to friends, journalists, and political leaders.  Please do. 

We are advancing on two legal fronts as well.  Given the general paralysis in Washington on the one hand, and the momentum of this project on the other, these cases are critically important. 

In the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, we’ve briefed our response to the federal defendants’ (expected) motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff-Appellant’s Response to Federal Defendants’ Motion for Summary Disposition because of Mootness, (97KB) Nov 23, 2011

This Response is a pretty good summary of the legal issues involved, if you are interested.  We are preparing to take further action in that court (which we won’t describe here), assuming our Response is successful. 

In our new case, in New Mexico federal court, the defendants – the Department of Energy [DOE] and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – just (today) lost their bid to transfer the whole case to the Hon. Judge Herrera, who heard our first case and ruled against us. 

Characteristically, their so-called “unopposed” motion grossly misrepresented what our attorneys actually agreed to.  One wonders how the relatively honest souls at DOE and NNSA can sleep.  If you’re interested, here’s the Order and prior briefing:

Order Denying Federal Defendants' Unopposed Motion to Transfer Related Case, Doc 8, (13KB) Nov 28, 2011

Federal Defendants’ Reply in Support of Unopposed Motion to Transfer Related Case, Doc 7, (17KB) Nov 18, 2011

Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' "Unopposed" Motion to Transfer Related Case, Doc 6, (116KB) Nov 17, 2011; Exhibit A (18KB)

FEDERAL DEFENDANTS’ UNOPPOSED MOTION TO TRANSFER RELATED CASE, Doc 5, (42KB) Nov 10, 2011

We are now preparing to take further action here too. 

This is not easy for us financially, but even last year’s “loss” has ended up delaying this dangerous and wasteful project for a critical 15 months so far.  You can help these efforts with your supportive outreach on our behalf. 

Helpfully, the presses which print dollars for agencies to spend are slowly being reined in.  The “failure” of the Supercommittee created by the Budget Control Act, about which we are very happy for obvious reasons (see the good graphic here), sets in motion a potential decrease in the funds available for national security accounts over the next 9 years. 

As near as I can tell, the discretionary portion of the military budget would still eventually grow, despite these caps, from an estimated $491 billion in FY2013 – $55 billion, or about 10%, less than previously estimated – to $589 billion in FY2021.  (I derive these numbers from the Congressional Budget Office analysis here.  Several other good analyses are available for those who wish to look for them.) 

(By the way, CBO’s federal income and deficit analyses rest upon assumptions some of us consider unrealistically optimistic, for reasons offered here [pdf, slides 38-45].  The fiscal outlook is very likely bleaker than official Washington acknowledges.) 

While there have been many loud calls from the usual suspects to undo these caps (which include NNSA nuclear weapons spending), President Obama so far has said (as recently as today), that he will not entertain them. 

Many Republicans now support decreases in defense spending, as do many conservative lobbying organizations (pdf).  These organizations recognize that their deficit reduction goals cannot be met without Pentagon reform.

Overall, it is not clear if calls to restore the previous growth rate of defense spending, and nuclear weapons spending, will ultimately be successful.  Right now (tomorrow) the White House must deliver its budget directions to federal agencies for the coming fiscal year, and these directions will need to include these new budget limits.  How the necessary cuts will be apportioned between agencies has been (and will continue to be) the subject of intense negotiation. 

If NNSA gets a 10% haircut from the level previously proposed for FY2013, which may or may not happen, it will be very difficult to build CMRR-NF right now.  It would certainly be foolish to try, as at least one NNSA official has acknowledged to us. 

More or less contemporaneously with the Supercommittee’s “failure,” the DOE Inspector General has issued sweeping recommendations for reform at DOE and NNSA, even including a suggestion that the latter agency be abolished. 

DOE Auditor Calls for Restructuring National Labs, Global Security Newswire, Nov 18, 2011

To say the least, sweeping reform of DOE – and NNSA – is now a legitimate subject in Washington. 

On yet another front, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) held an important hearing in Santa Fe on safety of the nuclear facilities at Los Alamos. 

Oversight board questions adequacy of LANL efforts to protect against quake, Associated Press, Nov 17, 2011

Links to the entire seven or so hours of video recorded at this hearing are here.  This was the most substantive hearing many of us have attended in many years – a very far cry from the fake “hearings” orchestrated by NNSA in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) context. 

At this hearing NNSA repeatedly refused to commit to any maximum theoretical dose to members of the public from a postulated accident anywhere, including Los Alamos, and also repeatedly refused to prioritize the funding of nuclear safety over other institutional priorities (e.g. warhead production).  It was a shameful performance. 

Like us, the DNFSB did not think the 2020 target date to create a seismically-capable active confinement ventilation system at LANL’s existing plutonium facility was adequate or convincing.  To us, in this present budget climate, “2020” means essentially “whenever” – if not actually “never.” 

To make a long story short, NNSA has been “nickel and diming” needed safety upgrades at its existing LANL plutonium facility in order to build CMRR-NF. 

There is more news, not all of it good.  NNSA has advanced a “new paradigm” of nuclear weapons management, so far without White House endorsement, which aims at repeated upgrades and replacements to nuclear weapons on an accelerated schedule.  If accepted, this “new paradigm” (see slide 20, here, pdf) – which is really just the old Cold War revived – could serve as a potent narrative supporting a new arms race with Russia, a possibility which is never far away.  CMRR-NF is a required gateway to that bleak and hopeless world. 

As you can see, a lot is happening at once.  We are doing our best to remain in close communication with senior decisionmakers and allies in Washington while at the same time vigorously pursuing injunctive relief in the courts, restarting our internship program with University of New Mexico, and providing briefings when we are asked. 

Our lawyers – primarily Tom Hnasko, Lindsay Lovejoy, and Dulcinea Hanuschak – deserve a lot of credit for our strong litigation posture.  Some of them deserve more money than we have been able to pay them so far.  All of us here hope there will be more members of the philanthropic classes, in New Mexico or elsewhere, who will join us in “occupying” the courts, the halls of Congress, and the other places we are working.  There are now far more doors open than we can even walk through, more good opportunities than there have been in years. 

Later this week some of you will be getting a “snail mail” envelope containing an updated funding appeal (pdf) and a couple of the above-cited materials.  This week’s letter updates the one we sent in August (pdf).  Together they make a good explanation of what we are about here.  We urge you to read them carefully and consider discussing them with your philanthropically-minded friends. 

If you aren’t yet, please consider becoming a Sustaining Donor (pdf – print and mail), even at the smallest level if necessary. 

To repeat what we wrote in the last Bulletin, if you don’t live in New Mexico you may wish to get organizations to which you belong to write, and get your congressperson and senators to write, the leaders of the appropriations committees to 1) cut funds for, and 2) stop the additional plutonium facility in Los Alamos.  (See, for example, this recent précis of the issues.) 

Please write:

In the House Appropriations Committee:

In the Senate Appropriations Committee:

Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY)

Chairman Dan Inouye (D-HI)

Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA)

Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS)

In the Energy and Water Development Subcommittees:

Chairman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)

Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Ranking Member Peter J. Visclosky (D-IN)

Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

If you live in New Mexico, sorry: you don’t really have a democratically-functioning congressional delegation on this topic.  The members of your delegation consider themselves to be salesmen for the labs.   

That’s it for now, and best wishes to all,

Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group


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