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"Forget the Rest" blog
July 30, 2010

Honorable Senator John Kerry, c/o John Phillips
Honorable Senator Richard Lugar, c/o Chris Geeslin
Honorable Senator Bob Corker, c/o Paul Palagyi
Honorable Senator Johnny Isakson, c/o Joan Kirchner
Honorable Senator Jim Risch, c/o Chris Socha
Honorable Senator Jim DeMint, c/o Matt Hoskins
Honorable Senator John Barrasso, c/o Bryn Stewart
Honorable Senator Roger Wicker, c/o Susan Sweat
Honorable Senator James Inhoff, c/o Ryan Jackson
Honorable Senator Jon Kyl, c/o Elizabeth Maier
Honorable Senator John McCain, c/o Rebecca Tallent
Honorable Senator Jeff Bingaman, c/o Jon Epstein

Re:      Pending litigation facing the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)

I am writing to inform you of the environmental litigation we are bringing pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regarding CMRR-NF at LANL.  We seek declaratory and injunctive relief to enforce NEPA while the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) writes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this facility.  We hope to file in early August.

Further details about the pending litigation are available here (pdf) and broader background about CMRR-NF is available here

Our complaint will seek an injunction to prohibit all detailed design and construction until an EIS is prepared, as 40 CFR 1506.1 and other laws require.  NNSA prepared an EIS in 2003 for a simpler nuclear facility concept that was substantially different from, and had dramatically fewer expected environmental impacts than, the project being proposed today.  Subsequently to 2003 NNSA greatly expanded the scale, scope, cost, and geographic footprint of the proposed project while adding numerous additional buildings and project elements that were not part of the original proposal, significantly expanding environmental impact. 

The expected cost of this facility has increased by a factor of approximately 10 since it was first proposed.  Construction is expected to begin next year, two or more years prior to the production of a defensible cost estimate and completion of preliminary design, in violation of standing Department of Energy (DOE) project management orders.  To get around these orders, the project is being segmented into sequential pieces. 

NNSA has been on the project management “Watch List” of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for the past 19 years.  On July 6th the Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro wrote Deputy DOE Secretary Dan Poneman, saying among other things that,

…NNSA lacks the management information necessary to make cost-benefit decisions on infrastructure investment…DOE’s lack of strong policy and guidance on independent cost estimating has resulted in DOE effectively ceding a significant portion of the cost estimating process to its contractors…Without credible cost estimates, DOE does not have a sound basis for making decisions on how to most effectively manage its portfolio of projects. 

We agree.  It is long past time for NNSA to re-examine CMRR-NF mission requirements and compare more frugal, less environmentally impactful, and smarter alternatives which could be implemented more quickly and surely, with less management risk, than the present design.  Now is the time to do that, before construction begins.  CMRR-NF completion has already been delayed by 11 years. 

Overall, NNSA is beginning several multi-billion programs and capital projects more or less contemporaneously.  There is, in our view, little likelihood that all these big projects can be completed on time and on budget.  In our view, most of these projects contain elements of grandiosity and many of them are not necessary in their present excessive form to maintain a reliable, safe, and secure nuclear arsenal indefinitely. 

Indeed, NNSA’s present course, especially if pit reuse (or, worse, pit replacement) warheads are pursued, will undermine confidence in the name of increasing theoretical performance margin, safety, or security.  These technical matters are beyond the scope of this letter but I would be happy to discuss them with your staff at any agreeable time. 

What is essential to understand right now is that NNSA is pursuing an overly-ambitious program that is leading to, and will almost certainly lead to further, fiascos; that spending more money over the coming decade will not prevent these fiascos but rather just widen their scope and make them more intense; and that “modernization” has to be smart and not just big.  NNSA desperately needs a new conservatism about warhead design, facilities, and spending.  The laboratories, especially, are writing NNSA's work plan excessively.  The two physics labs are the twin epicenters of gross and self-serving waste.  

A severe fiscal crisis is upon us all, and we believe it will only get worse from here on out.  I have advised NNSA to seek “off-ramps” from its most grandiose ambitions, to protect itself.  The CMRR-NF always was one such grandiose project, despite being low-balled in the early years.  That inherent grandiosity is now becoming apparent. 

I urge you to look more deeply into this project, among others, before committing the NNSA and the country to it. 


Greg Mello, Executive Director

Los Alamos Study Group

--   Greg Mello * Los Alamos Study Group *  2901 Summit Place NE * Albuquerque, NM 87106  505-265-1200 voice * 505-577-8563 cell * 505-265-1207 fax    
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2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200