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"Forget the Rest" blog

Bulletin #96: We can and must stop LANL's proposed plutonium lab, and here's how

July 16, 2010

Dear fellow New Mexicans,

On July 1 we formally notified the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) of our intent to seek a new Environmental Impact Statement, and to pursue an injunction against continued investment in LANL's proposed new plutonium lab.  Called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), this single building will cost taxpayers upwards of $3.4 billion to construct.  Its function is to drastically expand the Lab's nuclear weapons research, design, and manufacturing capabilities.  You can learn all about the CMRR-NF on our web site.  And you can read more about our intent to suit, if necessary, and DOE's response so far through the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican's coverage of our actions.

Our concerns with the proposed CMRR are multiple and grave.  Fortunately, we know that with your support we can halt this project.  In doing so we will provide space, time, and opportunity to build a better, cleaner, more just future for our state and nation.

We opposed the CMRR when it was first proposed in 2003 and did our best to show policy makers that under all reasonable scenarios this project was, and still remains, completely unnecessary.  Whether or not the United States maintains or cuts its stockpile of weapons, a pit production capability on par with what CMRR will provide is simply not needed.

We have followed the CMRR project's ballooning costs with grave concern as our nation and state deal with a worsening fiscal situation.  We have also followed the CMRR's programmatic morphing.  We remain worried that this building will help the Labs to eventually gain authorization to design and manufacture new warheads using new pit designs, a wasteful and destabilizing prospect.  Earlier this year we finally obtained enough information from DOE and its contractors to confidently determine that the increased cost, greatly expanded construction requirements, and qualitatively new environmental impacts make the CMRR-NF a different and new project from that which was originally analyzed in 2003.  (For a detailed analysis of the new project's differences from what was originally analyzed in 2003, see our letter of intent to suit, and for a brief summary of changes in the project's construction requirements and impacts see the table on page 16 of the same packet.)  This is the basis upon which we will seek an injunction if DOE refuses to recognize the facts and halt the project.  The clock is now ticking.  The truth is on our side.

Not only can we win this campaign, we must win!  Now is a critical time in which the trajectory of our state and nation's economy, and the priorities of our government will be determined.  LANL Director Michael Anastasio told the Senate exactly this when he testified in favor of the CMRR on July 16.  "We are now at a crossroads as a nation," he observed.  "The next few years will determine our approach to the stockpile for decades to come." 

Ten former directors of the weapons labs echoed this sentiment when they wrote Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Energy Secretary Steven Chu in May of this year, calling for even more greatly increased nuclear weapons spending.  According to their analysis, currently planned budget increases are "inadequate for the acquisition of the multibillion dollar plutonium research and production facilities at Los Alamos...."  Lobbyists like these for the weapons Labs seek to lock in long-term funding increases for "the stockpile," and other anachronistic federal commitments that do little to nothing to make us safer, but do a lot of damage to our economy and communities.  We must forcefully argue for something different.

Here in New Mexico the CMRR represents the biggest single piece of a larger, lengthier plan that the Lab and federal decision makers would like to yoke upon us.  Over the next ten years they hope to spend more than $180 billion of taxpayer's dollars on nuclear weapons, much of it on infrastructure or weapons design work at the labs.  This is money that could, indeed must be spent on real needs if we are to avoid further economic collapse.  This is money that could rebuild our cities and rural communities, produce clean energy, remediate the environment, and create tens of thousands of dignified jobs in New Mexico.  Or, it is money that could quite simply be saved from the waste that is synonymous with nuclear weapons.

The Lab is now mounting a very high profile PR campaign in support of the CMRR.  So far they have hosted a "community forum" on construction in Espanola, the first of several that are planned, and established a web site to tout the economic importance of the project.  Lab spokesman Kevin Roark has begun lying to the public about the CMRR's mission, writing recently in the Santa Fe New Mexican that "no pit manufacturing [is] set for CMRR."  Study Group Director Greg Mello responded by noting;

"What Kevin is saying just isn't true. LANL management knows and approves of those lies, evidently. This is useful to know. LANL pays people to lie, when lying appears necessary to current management objectives. This is apparently one of those times. It's been going on since 1943." 

Cutting through these lies and focusing in what's true is an important task as we move to stop CMRR.  One thing every New Mexican can do is educate themselves on the issues, and then help others to understand what's happening and what's at stake.  It will take a lot of effort and attention from all of us to dispel the propaganda, half-truths, and lies that the Lab's managers will lob at all of us.  They will say this project is good for the state's economy, that it creates construction jobs, and injects money through subcontracting opportunities.  They will say that the CMRR's mission is important to national security.  None of this could be further from the truth.  Many if you already know why.  If you'd like to know in more detail, don't hesitate to contact us.

The Study Group's staff and board of directors are readily available to speak and share information about our state's economic and environmental situation, and alternatives to the status quo.  Contact us if you have ideas or questions.  Take initiative with the media and in other public venues where the CMRR's merits (or complete lack thereof) will be debated.  Speak out every chance you get.  Host a discussion group and invite us to speak.  Invite us to speak at your church or club about these issues.  Contact our Senators and Congressional Representatives.  While we are capable of pressuring the DOE for a new EIS, and taking legal action if need be, the Study Group remains a small nonprofit with a budget and resources of "nano" proportions compared to the Laboratory and its corporate managers who have millions to spend on PR.

Please contribute directly by making a monetary donation through our web site.  Call Trish Williams-Mello (505-265-1200) for special arrangements or donate online here.

We cannot drive home one point enough: the CMRR is a pivot point.  It stands at the center of questions surrounding the future nuclear weapons policy in the United States, and it is one of the central pivots around which the future of New Mexico's economy will be determined.  Will the United States commit itself to nukes forever?  Will New Mexico further become a nuclear maquiladora, squandering a green and prosperous future? 

If we stop it here, there's a good chance of turning the whole ship.

Darwin BondGraham, for the Los Alamos Study Group

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