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Last Bush nuclear weapons budget seeks end-run on weapons programs, ignores congressional direction

Estimated cost of Los Alamos plutonium “pit” factory has more than quadrupled to over $2 billion; total not even estimated

February 4, 2008

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200, 505-577-8563 cell

Albuquerque – Today the Bush Administration Energy Department released its proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2009.  Among other noteworthy aspects, this budget, in our view:

  • Continues design and construction of a modern plutonium warhead core (“pit”) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  This factory complex is the flagship of the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) proposed "Complex Transformation" plan, not yet fully vetted in the environmental impact statement process.  The complex is to be composed of the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility (there are two buildings in this project), four other new construction projects at LANL, and extensive upgrades of the existing LANL plutonium facility.  The CMRR “radiological laboratory, utility, and office building” (estimated at $164 million) is currently under construction; the CMRR Nuclear Facility (NF), which “initial estimates” say will cost “above $2,000,000,000,” is still in preliminary design.  The project was initially sold to Congress at a cost of $500 million for both CMRR buildings, less than one-fourth of the current estimate for the CMRR NF alone.[1]  Total estimated cost of major LANL plutonium-related construction projects now approach $3 billion.  The House of Representatives has zeroed funding for the CMRR project three times and heavily cut funding twice.  Horse-trading late last year in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill funded the project at about 86% of the request.

  • Cobbles together some $40 M in funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) and closely allied design and “advanced certification” projects, despite congressional direction to end the RRW project 7 weeks ago.  Congress can be faulted for providing vague direction and creating a redundant, if not illogical budget line for FY2008 (“Advanced Certification”), but once again National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has exploited such an opening for its own purposes.  The NNSA, which administers the nation’s nuclear weapons program, indicated a few weeks ago it would attempt to continue the RRW despite congressional direction, and today has made good on that promise.  NNSA is also proceeding with manufacturing capacity for RRW components in other program and construction budget lines.

  • Essentially ignores congressional direction to lay a foundation of a new nuclear policy and strategic posture prior to proceeding with significant new infrastructure and programmatic commitments.

  • Reveals, in subtle ways, NNSA’s commitment to innovation in the nuclear stockpile.  For example, for the first time NNSA says it may in the future change pits as it services and upgrades weapons in its “Life Extension Programs” (see p. 94, op. cit.).

  • By essentially re-submitting last year’s budget, at approximately the same overall spending level updated with new tweaks, the DOE may be seeking further compromises from Congress, both within NNSA Weapons Activities and between Weapons Activities and other major DOE programs.  We are hearing rumors from generally reliable sources that DOE was able to parlay its RRW program into nuclear power loan guarantees in negotiations in late 2007; we are not sure if this occurred but we find it highly plausible. 

***ENDS, FOR NOW***

[1]See: Department of Energy (DOE) Congressional Budget Request for FY2009, Volume 1 (NNSA), pp. 298 ff, at http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/09budget/Start.htm#Detailed%20Budget%20Justifications.

-- 
Greg Mello * Los Alamos Study Group * www.lasg.org
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

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