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"Forget the Rest" blog

Recent op-eds on the proposed $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory from other organizations.

"Shifting Nuclear Boondoggles to the Pentagon Won't Make Them Any Less of a Boondoggle," POGO blog, Mia Steinle, investigator, Project on Government Oversight, May 25, 2012.

A Senate Armed Services Committee press release indicates that the Senate will require the NNSA to use $150 million in FY 2013 on CMRR-NF—even though congressional appropriators and the White House zeroed out funding for that project. We hear from inside sources that the NNSA may have to take these funds elsewhere. It may find the money from previous years’ unused balances. Or this may open up the possibility of NNSA taking funds away from other nuclear projects, which would surely invite fierce opposition from the directors of NNSA’s other nuclear weapons laboratories who don’t want to see their projects lose money.

This funding battle rages on, and we can only hope that the Senate recognizes that shuffling around oversight and money isn’t the solution to these nuclear boondoggles. It’s time to stop throwing away taxpayer dollars at facilities we don’t need.

"Gutting START; Re-Starting a Nuclear Arms Race," Counterpunch, Robert Alvarez, Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, May 17, 2012.

Section 2804 requires: ”that the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) project, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) project, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and any nuclear facility of the NNSA initiated on or after October 1, 2013 that is estimated to cost more than $1.0 billion (and is intended to be primarily utilized to support NNSAs nuclear weapons activities), be treated as military construction projects.

Furthermore, this section would authorize, as military construction, the CMRR project in the amount of $3.5 billion and the UPF project in the amount of $4.2 billion.

"Why does Rep. Mike Turner want nuke lab?" The Hill's Congress Blog, Nickolas Roth, Center for International and Security Studies, and Danielle Brian, Project on Government Oversight, May 15, 2012.

In addition to requiring construction, the Turner amendments also would prevent NNSA or the Pentagon from considering less expensive plutonium sustainment strategies that do not include construction of the CMRR. This bizarre attempt to prevent consideration of a more cost-effective alternative to CMRR is such a bad idea that earlier this year, members of his own party criticized NNSA for doing the exact same thing. The House FY 2013 Energy and Water bill noted that, “By not fully considering all available options [to CMRR], millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for work which will not be needed until a much later date.”

We support an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that will be offered this week by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to eliminate FY 2013 funding for CMRR. Rep. Markey’s proposal will strike sections from the bill that require the completion of the proposed facility and forbid Congress from funding less expensive alternatives.

"Posturing on Plutonium," Huffington Post, William Hartung, Director, Arms and Security Project, Center for International Policy, May 15, 2012.

The Obama administration took an important first step by zeroing out funding for the CMRR facility in this year's budget proposal, a position that was supported by the House Energy and Water Subcommittee, which has primary jurisdiction over the Department of Energy's nuclear warhead complex. But this sensible step was too much to bear for Rep. Turner and his allies like House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard P. "Buck" McKeon -- an arms industry booster who never met a weapons system he didn't like. If they had their way, we would expand our ability to build nuclear weapons and sustain it for decades, if not centuries, to come. Needless to say, this is not the greatest example to be setting when we're trying to persuade countries like Iran to forgo development of their own nuclear weapons.

"Why Spend Money on an Unneeded Facility?" Roll Call, Stephen Young, senior analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists, May 15, 2012.

Existing facilities can take on the work planned for the replacement nuclear facility to keep U.S. nuclear weapons reliable. In particular, Los Alamos has a brand new radiological lab where much of the analytical work to maintain the stockpile could be conducted. Thanks to a fresh look at nuclear material safety standards, researchers can safely work with four times more plutonium than they had originally planned. Meanwhile, an underutilized federal weapons complex building in Nevada could provide more than enough storage space for radioactive materials.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there is no need for the United States to increase pit production. Looking ahead two decades, the only plausible rationale to increase pit production capacity above the current level would be to support the upcoming life extension programs for W78 and W88 warheads. The decision on whether new pits will be necessary, however, is not scheduled until 2021. And even if the two warheads do need new pits, the existing plutonium facility at Los Alamos could expand production without building the replacement nuclear facility.

Any of these options would be far cheaper than building the replacement nuclear facility. As of 2010, the cost estimate was as much as $6 billion, when the design was only 45 percent complete. The actual cost would likely be significantly higher.

"A False Connection: New START and nuclear weapons complex modernization," Switchboard, Jonathan McLaughlin, Natural Resources Defense Council, May 14, 2012.

Given its highly questionable mission and skyrocketing costs, deferring this facility [CMRR-NF] by five years is an ideal way to trim defense spending to within the parameters of the BCA cap. It won’t be needed for decades, if ever. Unfortunately, the HASC doesn’t seem persuaded by this argument, and restored $160 million in funding for CMRR-NF. For strategic and budgetary reasons, this funding should be removed as the NDAA moves through Congress.

"Protect New START, Don’t Hold Treaty Hostage to Budget Battles," Defense News, Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina, Arms Control Association, May 13, 2012.

With cost estimates for CMRR skyrocketing from $600 million to $6 billion, the delay is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have “inherent capacity” to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA. CMRR deferral will not compromise NNSA’s ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile.

"Taking us backwards on nuclear spending," The Hill's Congress Blog, Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs, Ploughshares Fund, May 9, 2012.

Take, for example, the Cold War era plutonium production facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, known as the CMRR.  Good-government watchdog groups consistently identify this facility as the poster child for waste in the nuclear weapons complex. The facility is simply not needed to maintain an effective and safe nuclear arsenal. The nuclear labs can efficiently meet the program’s essential missions with current facilities – sparing CMRR’s lifetime $6 billion expense.

"Project At LANL Is Epitome Of Waste, Instead of pushing for completion, Heinrich should support cleanup," Albuquerque Journal, Susan Gordon, Director, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Apr 16, 2012.

Rep. Martin Heinrich’s recent call for funding the CMRR illustrates how little he knows about what actually goes on across the nuclear weapons complex. The Government Accounting Office has reported that many of the Energy Department’s projects are financially out of control and poorly managed. Now suddenly, when faced with budget constraints, the ability to continue to do their mission without the CMRR is achievable at a fraction of the cost of the CMRR – an estimated $6 billion. After the five-year deferment, the need and mission of the CMRR will be evaluated. With shrinking stockpiles, it is unlikely that the U.S. will ever need a facility the size and cost proposed for the CMRR.

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