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"Forget the Rest" blog

LANL to unveil proposed plutonium project to Española business community Wednesday

Huge $3.4 billion bunker-like manufacturing annex to dwarf cost of all public projects in state’s history except interstate highways

Contact: Greg Mello, Darwin BondGraham, 505-265-1200
Willem Malten, 505-920-1277

June 15, 2010

Albuquerque, N.M. – On Wednesday June 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will host a semi-public meeting at the Santa Claran Hotel (464 N Riverside Dr.), in Española regarding the lab’s planned construction projects. 
 
At issue tomorrow is a costly, hazardous and highly controversial semi-underground building known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF, or here, the “New Nuclear Facility”).  Considerable further information about the project, both technical and popular, can be found here.  
 
Many people have told us the meeting is oversubscribed and LANL cannot offer them entrance.  Opportunities for answering questions in the meeting may be limited.  For those who cannot get in or who do not feel their questions have been answered by LANL, the Study Group will offer a teach-in about New Nuclear Facility outside the hotel, to be led by Dr. Darwin BondGraham, Greg Mello, Willem Malten, and other speakers.  We will try to answer all questions to the best of our ability and will provide plenty of time to do so. 
 
According to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the privatized nuclear weapons complex including LANL, the purpose of the New Nuclear Facility is as follows:
 
Operating in an integrated fashion with the existing PF-4 facility, the CMRR NF will provide the capability to produce plutonium pits for the nuclear weapon stockpile. ..This combined capability of the CMRR-NF and PF-4 would include flexibility to produce plutonium pits for some (but not all) legacy warheads as well as preserving the option to produce a new pit type in the event production of a Reliable Replacement Warhead [or other replacement warhead] is approved in the future. [1]
 
Or, as the White House has put it more simply, “This facility will be used to manufacture the central core of nuclear weapons, known as the ‘pit.’” [2] 
 
By the end of next fiscal year (FY2011), NNSA will have no active pit production mission.  There is a large surplus of pits and/or extra warheads for every U.S. nuclear delivery system, and all these pits will last essentially forever in current planning terms.  The only reasons to make more pits in the during the lifetime of the proposed new building appear to be: 1) to make pits of new kinds; or 2) to make more pits of existing kinds to put in different warheads; or 3) to “practice” making pits on a relatively large scale.
 
The 10-fold cost increase and decade-long delay experienced so far by the New Nuclear Facility have increased the range of reasonable alternatives to the project. 
 
It is possible the building may never be finished, because it may be too ambitious and extravagant for our hard-pressed economy and federal budget. 
 
The CMRR has had a stop-and-go relationship with Congress since it began drawing its first development funds eight years ago, and might not have been continued were it not for the advocacy of Senator Domenici.  Serious design problems have arisen related to seismicity and building safety.  The project still doesn’t have a formal budget, schedule or even a preliminary design. 
 
Yet if authorization and funding are obtained this year, the project may begin the initial phases of construction next year, including excavation of a 125 ft deep pit and initial emplacement of 225,000 cubic yards of concrete to replace a thick layer of unconsolidated volcanic ash. 
 
This meeting marks the beginning of a new phase in communicating with surrounding communities about this project.  It is anticipated that the project will be marketed to the community for the construction and related jobs it will provide, which LANL has stated will be in the range of 300 workers in the project’s peak years.

Study Group Director Greg Mello: “This is not just a meeting about a huge new proposed plutonium facility, but the beginning of a debate that’s being forced on us about the future of New Mexico.  
 
“It’s a debate we can’t shirk because of the enormous scale of the project, its particularly absurd nature, and its timing, coming just when we must need to invest in a new productive future, moving away from scarce and terribly polluting fossil fuels to a future based on renewable energy. 
 
“Many of us wonder if there is likely to be another three or four billion dollars in federal money for other new infrastructure initiatives in New Mexico, like wind turbines and solar generation.  We wonder what the loyalties of our congressional delegation will be, if building a giant bunker becomes the biggest construction project in the state for the next decade.” 
 
The project will have significant environment impacts, including tens of thousands of heavy truck trips, gravel mining, over 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide generation from making concrete (more than the annual generation of some small countries), and other impacts.

***ENDS***

[1] >From NNSA’s FY2009 congressional budget request, Vol. 1, p. 301, available at http://www.cfo.doe.gov/.

[2] Office of Management and Budget, “passback” guidance to NNSA for its FY2009 budget.  Study Group files.


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