Wednesday, December 01, 2010
LANL Has $6.4 Billion Disarmament Question
By Peter Neils, President
Los Alamos Study Group
In a press release dated November 17th, the Obama administration states that: "President Obama has made an extraordinary commitment to ensure the modernization of our nuclear infrastructure, which had been neglected for years before he took office."
The narrative of reversing years of neglect is at the core of much of Mr. Obama's drive to invest tens of billions of dollars in the nation's nuclear weapon's infrastructure. Yet, one might ask, what is the source this "neglect"?
The short answer is it is the deferral of routine facility maintenance and upgrades, not a lack of money, as the press release captioned above would lead one to believe, since funding for the complex has essentially doubled since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
How can facility deterioration occur in that fiscal environment if not through conscious managerial neglect? Could it be that administrators are "running to failure" buildings that might otherwise be depended on for many more years of service in an effort to get new buildings? It would seem possible for the most technologically advanced institution in history to be capable of building structures that can be serviceable more than 50 years.
Los Alamos National Laboratory had, circa 2000, a comprehensive plan to upgrade the existing Chemical and Metallurgical Research facility to extend its working life well into the future. Then one day someone, or some group of folks, said something like; "Heck, what'd really be cool is a slick new building to promote the mission and attract new talent..." and the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Replacement (CMRR) facility Boondoggle Express was off and running.
Initially paraded out at around $350 million, today's best estimate, with no cost basis yet on the horizon, is $6.4 billion. In other words, if this were your ultimate fantasy, never-before-attempted custom home, initially quoted at $1,000,000, the estimated cost would now be $18,285,714 (a cost overrun of a factor of 18), but don't convert your construction loans to a mortgage yet... it's still not finished! And this is just one part of Mr. Obama's nuclear dream.
So what does this "extraordinary commitment" by Mr. Obama really mean?
Is it, as many suggest, an effort to gin up Republican support for the new START treaty, the cost of which few in the arms control community appear prepared to concede now clearly outweighs the benefits by any rational analysis? Further, the president could hardly send a more conflicting signal to our international colleagues; "We need to spend an additional eighty billion dollars to ensure the reliability of our nuclear stockpile so we can go ahead and dismantle it. ..." Say what?
Alternately, perhaps he never really meant to pursue disarmament in a serious way to begin with. As the Los Alamos Study Group has previously observed, recently joined by columnist James P. Rubin in a Nov. 21 op-ed in the New York Times (Farewell to the Age of the Treaty), most, if not all, of Mr. Obama's stated nuclear agenda could be achieved through domestic legislation and executive action. This would require a simple majority in Congress, not 67 very expensive votes in the Senate, if disarmament actually were the president's long-term goal.
So ... do Democrats really want to take logical, practical, substantive (as opposed to rhetorical) steps toward disarmament any more than Republicans? That is the $80 billion question.
Many of the liberal supporters of Mr. Obama's nuclear agenda — nominally arms control advocates — occasionally promote conversion of Los Alamos to pursuits they see as more benign, a favorite being alternative energy research.
Paradoxically, they now are working for, and getting, conversion, but it is from a nuclear research facility to a nuclear manufacturing facility. Does their zeal for ratification of the new START treaty blind them to the broader implications of their effort?