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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release December 14, 2011

Defense authorization bill would slash FY2012 funding
for new plutonium lab at Los Alamos

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

Today the House approved the House-Senate conference version of the fiscal year (FY) 2012 Defense Authorization Act (report, pdf).

In a significant change of direction, the bill authorizes only 63% of the requested funds for the proposed additional plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), slashing $100 million (M) from the $270 M proposed spending level in the project.*

In another significant change, funds authorized for nuclear "Weapons Activities" of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) total $7.274 billion (B) in the bill, about 5% less than the Administration's $7.630 B request, and close to the figure of $7.190 B proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senate approval is expected tomorrow, and President Obama is expected to sign the bill as early as Friday.

In previous versions of this bill, the House Armed Services Committee (on May 12, pdf) and the Senate Armed Services Committee (on June 17, reported to the Senate on November 15, pdf) had fully supported the Administration's funding request for NNSA Weapons Activities.  Both armed services committees also had previously proposed full funding for the CMRR project.

The House version of this legislation would have barred expenditures for retiring, dismantling, or eliminating any non-deployed nuclear weapon until the CMRR project and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Tennessee were both completed and operational and the Secretary of Energy had certified that CMRR and the LANL main plutonium facility (PF-4) could produce 80 new warhead cores ("pits") per year.

This provision (Section 1045, pp. 695ff in the conference report) has been changed to a general reporting requirement that does not reference CMRR or UPF.

The bill now features a requirement to search for redundancies and inefficiencies in the nuclear warhead complex (Section 3123, pp. 1028ff).

Nationwide, CMRR and the neighboring TA-55 Reinvestment Project (TRP, designed to upgrade PF-4 and make it safer) were the only NNSA Weapons Activities construction projects proposed for cuts from the requested amounts.  TRP was cut from $19.4 M to $10.0 M, a relatively small sum which can be covered from operating expenses.  The proposed CMRR cut is 90% of the total proposed cut in new NNSA construction, matching the approach of the House Appropriations Committee earlier in the year.  As that Committee noted at the time, a $100 M cut from proposed CMRR spending would take away the funds needed to begin CMRR-NF construction in FY2012, which they explicitly had no intention of allowing.

Study Group Director Greg Mello: "While there is plenty to be concerned about in this bill, we are pleased that the defense conferees have chosen the unjustified, provocative CMRR-NF project for a significant cut, reversing their earlier full endorsement.  It is past time for NNSA to pause the project for reconsideration, which would save over $100 million this year alone -- and many billions in future years.

"We are aware that this bill is not yet law and the appropriations committees have not been able to finalize their important work.  We hope they recognize that our real security crises cannot be addressed -- and would only be made worse -- by building additional factories for more nuclear weapons."

*See p. 1155, electronic pagination.  The proposed laboratory is called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).  It is the second building in the CMRR project, comprising 90-95% of the total CMRR cost.  The first CMRR building, the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB) is built and is being outfitted. The bill would authorize $200 M out of $300 M requested for both CMRR buildings.  Completion of RLUOB is expected to cost $30 M in FY2012, is underway, and is a priority.  We interpret the $100 M cut as applying entirely to CMRR-NF.  As far as we know, NNSA as well as House and Senate appropriators have expressed a strong desire for completing RLUOB without interruption, and we assume funds for that purpose are inviolable within the CMRR line item as a whole.


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