LANL Project an Unsafe Taxpayer Boondoggle
By Peter Neils
Los Alamos Study Group
The Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility project at Los Alamos National Laboratory is finally achieving national visibility. A recent New York Times’ editorial singled it out as an unnecessary and wasteful project that ought not be pursued.
Some in Congress, and elsewhere in government, are wondering if it is not only unnecessary, but unaffordable as well.
In 2009, the new Obama administration initially agreed with many who thought that this project needed a fundamental reassessment, given its dramatic cost increases, improved understanding of tenuous seismic conditions at the site, and the vanishing need for plutonium “pit” production that had previously justified the project.
This Trojan horse was scoped in 2001 as a relatively modest $375 million replacement of the old CMR building with capability to store and handle 900 grams of plutonium at a time. By 2003 its requirements had grown to include storage for 6 metric tons of plutonium, with 300 kilograms on the shop floor at a time.
It subsequently morphed, with no environmental review, to twice the original size and, at the top end of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s steadily escalating cost range, over 16 times its original cost.
The building would be “the nation’s storehouse” of plutonium, located directly above approximately 40 percent of all the wetlands on lab property.
Highlighted as the “#1 Boondoggle of 2009” by Newsmax. com, this questionably justified hole in the ground still has no final design, construction cost or estimated life cycle cost; this after spending nearly half a billion dollars, more than the total cost of the original project, on planning.
A deficiency in any one of these should be enough to give any responsible congressman or senator pause before proceeding with it, more so those who take their public trust seriously.
Yet, not the building’s constantly evolving mission, not NNSA’s abandonment of DOE project development guide lines, nor even blatant violations of the National Environmental Policy Act have shaken our congressional delegation’s dedication to it.
There are alternatives to this project — cheaper, simpler, better ones — and that is why we have sued to force NNSA to consider them. It’s the law under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Assuming construction costs of $4 billion to $6 billion over nine years, and using NNSA’s figure of an average of 420 construction jobs/year, that’s an investment of $1 million to 1.6 million per job/year. Many of these jobs would be filled by highly skilled, out-ofstate, certified nuclear facility workers, not New Mexicans.
According to NNSA it will result in no net gain in permanent jobs.
In contrast to this boondoggle, why not invest that half billion dollars/year over the next decade in programs would that incentivize renewable energy projects and energy conservation initiatives, for once investing in the future of this state? Such revised priorities could create tens of thousands of new, well-paying careers for New Mexicans while moving America toward energy independence.
One might ask, is it New Mexicans whom our delegation represents, or the contractors that run the labs?
This project, the most costly single construction project in New Mexico’s history, should be reconsidered. A single letter from a congressman or senator could do it.
Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, as well as Reps. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, who pride themselves on their environmental credentials, are deaf to sensible critiques of the project from their constituents. Rep. Steve Pearce who identifies himself with fiscally responsible government, is, in spite of our present difficult economic circumstances, silent.
To request an investigation into reasonable alternatives to the CMRR-NF would be responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars, and while it may be almost unprecedented to turn away wasteful pork-barrel spending in one’s state, in this case it would distinguish them as advocates of good governance.