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For immediate release May 7, 2013

Latest plan for Los Alamos plutonium facilities involves construction of underground factory "modules"

Plan replaces 10-year effort to build massive plutonium facility, abandoned after more than $500 million spent

New fission cores ("pits") said needed for new warheads for new missiles, subs, bombers

NNSA costs to rise indefinitely

Green group launches campaign to halt what it calls the "Modular Pit Facility" and "Obama nuclear surge"

Press conference tomorrow: New Mexico State Capitol Rotunda, Noon, May 7, 2013

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-577-8563

Albuquerque and Santa Fe -- After more than a year since a halt to new funding was announced for a proposed massive plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), a few details about the latest plan to construct a large-scale "pit" factory complex have begun to emerge.

The previous plan was anchored by the proposed "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility" (CMRR-NF), a roughly 400,000 sq. ft. semi-underground facility which by November 2010 was estimated to cost $5.86 billion (B).  (Site photo and layout here; extensive background here; our best references here, pdf.) 

Initial CMRR-NF cost estimates submitted to Congress in 2005 were about one-tenth as much as this (and were even lower when Congress first committed to the project) (p. 3 here, pdf). 

The new plan replaces the ambitions once held for CMRR-NF, which was indefinitely deferred in February 2012 after more than $500 million (M) was spent on the project. 

LANL Director Charles McMillan has stated (and again in testimony today, pdf) that the "big box" CMRR-NF is now less desirable than the new "modular" approach, and may be impossible to ever build.

Details of the new plan have emerged in a number of documents (being gathered at this web page -- a work in progress).

The most recent details come from an April 8, 2013 letter (pdf, the must-read link in this press release) to House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman "Buck" McKeon from Administrator Neile Miller of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Frank Kendall, Chairman of the Nuclear Weapons Council and Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

It is now clear that the "interim" "plutonium sustainment" plan of last year is but the first part of a much larger, multibillion dollar plan spanning approximately two decades, which could easily exceed CMRR-NF in final scope, cost, and possibly in size. 

The new plan aims not just to replace the capabilities once envisioned for Technical Area (TA-) 55 with CMRR-NF but also to supplement or replace some the most dangerous and demanding capabilities of LANL's large main plutonium facility (PF-4). 

This year's plan is certainly much larger than the merely "interim" plan vaguely sketched in various LANL presentations last year (for example here and here, both pdf) in pit production capacity, physical scale, environmental disruption, cost, and duration. 

Last year's "interim" plan was said to cost approximately $1 B at LANL (estimates vary with date), plus additional sums at other NNSA sites -- the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Pantex.  The interim plan, which contains long-term elements aimed at higher capacity, would be jump-started using $120 million (M) in leftover CMRR-NF funds, which were requested last September via a reprogramming request (pdf) to Congress.  Comments from this organization on the interim plan can be found here, here, here, here, and here

The April 8 Miller/Kendall letter partially responds to the HASC questions of October 1, 2012

The new "modular" pit facility plan includes everything in the "interim plan" plus construction of underground laboratory and production "modules" connected by "tunnels" to PF-4 and the new Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB), plus "recapitalization" of PF-4.

Like the CMRR-NF plan, it relies on other new facilities for handling liquid and solid radioactive waste, which are soon to break ground under other congressional line items, and an upgraded security perimeter (work on which was temporarily halted last year due to cost overruns, shoddy work, and lack of disclosure of mounting problems).  (NNSA had previously issued a stop-work order on the design of the troubled liquid waste treatment facility as well.)

Tunnel design and construction are part of the "interim" plan. 

The Bush Administration “Modern Pit Facility” proposal of 2003 included a “TA-55 Upgrade Option” which was not dissimilar to this plan. 

Capitol Hill sources familiar with the plan say briefings have discussed "six to eight" underground laboratory modules.

The interim plan, which the April 8 letter admits need not involve the expensive tunnel, focuses on acquiring a 10 pit per year production capacity by 2019 and a 30 pit per year production capacity by 2021. 

The April 8 letter claims there is a 2008 Nuclear Weapons Council requirement to achieve an eventual capacity of 50-80 pits per year; the deadline or timeframe for acquiring this higher capacity is said to be 2030.  (Senior Pentagon and White House officials have told this organization that this supposed "requirement," which was associated with the long-defunct Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) plan, is obsolete and inapplicable.  Upon information and belief, this larger pit production requirement was intentionally not mentioned in recent NNSA testimony before the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee [webcast]).  

Senior Administration officials told us last year in response to our questions as to whether the plan actually existed or not, that this plan was "evolving."  "It lives in briefings."  Asked to review the plan, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) essentially begged off for lack of sufficient specificity.  

Study Group Director Greg Mello:

"There are as yet no firm mission requirements, no project definition, no total estimated cost, no requested line item, no analysis of alternatives, no environmental impact statement [EIS], and no schedule for this project.  Despite these deficiencies, despite wasting $500 M and ten years on the last plan, and despite NNSA’s abysmal management record, the agency now claims that hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent each year, starting right now, to get this 'non-project project' going. 

"No U.S. warhead requires new pits, so none of this is about maintaining warheads.  Pit aging is not even mentioned in the April 8 letter as a driver for this project." 

The need for new pit production is tied to these two proposed Life Extension Projects (LEPs), which congressional and administration officials have described to us as, essentially, new warheads: 

  • A proposed W78/W88 "interoperable" Air Force/Navy warhead for land-based and sea-based missiles.  Depending on the design chosen and the size of the “build,” the W78/W88 LEP might require pit production. 

  • The proposed "Long-Range Stand-Off" (LRSO) missile warhead, to go on the proposed LRSO, which would be carried by the proposed new nuclear-capable bomber fleet.  This warhead too might require pit production.

However production of these LEPs/new warheads is slated to conclude prior to the acquisition of the higher pit production rate (50-80 new pits per year) under this plan, in 2030.  In other venues, NNSA officials have provided work plans showing production of additional new types of warheads in the 2030 -2045 timeframe.  (These references will be provided tomorrow.)  


"In 1996 LANL was chosen for the pit production mission on the basis of a total estimated capital cost of $310 M (in 1995 dollars; that’s $473 M today).  This included refurbishment of PF-4 and all other capital investments necessary to achieve a 50 pit/year capacity.   At the same time, internal DOE documents recognized that no pit production was actually needed “for the foreseeable future” (see history and discussion here). 

"Since then, billions of dollars have been spent on the pit production mission and billions more have been requested.  Now we have a new plan which would build a Rube Goldberg scheme of underground foundries, bunkers, labs, and factories in an active seismic zone atop a poorly-anchored stratum of loose volcanic ash, linked to each other and with existing facilities (which would be rebuilt) by tunnels in unknown ways, to serve unknown missions at an unknown ultimate cost, to make pits that are not needed except for warheads which have not been requested, designed, tested, or certified, which nobody can use, under a nonproliferation regime (the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) that requires complete nuclear disarmament.

"We have seen many bad plans at DOE, but this one really takes the cake. 

"Not just this plan but the entire corpus of NNSA planning is very shaky.  Many false premises are suddenly under greater scrutiny, because Congress has little faith that NNSA can actually complete all the warhead and construction projects it has laid out.  Internationally, nuclear weapons modernization plans and failure to proceed with disarmament are coming under greater scrutiny, as are nuclear weapons generally.  Increasing numbers of people and states understand that the collateral damage from nuclear weapons begins long prior to any actual use of them, and it takes many forms. 

This plan and these warheads are to be funded by proposed indefinitely-extended annual increases in nuclear weapons spending at NNSA.  Upon information and belief, the forthcoming Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), now in draft, requests continued monotonic increases in the FY2019-FY2024 period. 

We know of no governmental "analysis of alternatives" to this plan.  The environmental analysis of alternatives -- which presupposes a prior management analysis -- is a fundamental requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).


"We regard these developments as outrageous, unwarranted, and indicative of a runaway nuclear weapons policy that runs counter to President Obama's rhetoric, his Nobel Prize, U.S. nonproliferation objectives, and binding treaty law.  For these reasons we are launching, on Wednesday, a local, national, and international campaign to defeat these proposals -- and to hold our local politicians accountable for promoting nuclear corporate interests instead of working to develop our communities and address far more pressing -- and less specious -- national security concerns."

We will discuss and distribute documents and information regarding these plans tomorrow.


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