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Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor

Vol. 19 No. 39 • Oct 16, 2015

LANL Plutonium Modular Approach to Reach CD-0 Soon

Brian Bradley
NS&D Monitor

The modular approach to house Los Alamos National Laboratory plutonium manufacturing activities is set to reach Critical Decision 0 (approve mission need) in the imminent future, as the CD document now awaits final signature by Energy Department leadership, National Nuclear Security Administration and industry officials confirmed this week. “We have not approved Critical Decision (CD)-0 for the Plutonium Modular Approach yet,” NNSA spokeswoman Shelley Laver said by email yesterday. “After CD-0, we would develop an Analysis of Alternatives prior to CD-1 consistent with DOE Order 413.3B. We want to complete these efforts in a timely manner to meet our commitments and program needs, but it is critical to not rush these early analyses.”

The National Defense Authorization Acts for both fiscal 2013 and 2014 require that NNSA develop a new plutonium facility at LANL to replace the Chemistry Metallurgy and Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) program, which the Obama administration suspended in 2012. The modular approach would involve building smaller, separate facilities, with a much lower price tag than CMRR-NF. The fiscal 2014 bill said the modular facilities must be operational by Dec. 31, 2027.

One informed industry official criticized NNSA’s intention to conduct the AoA, citing concerns that “analysis paralysis” could hamper the modular construction timeline. “This is in direct contradiction with the commitments of the [Nuclear Weapons Council] and also stipulated by the FY13 and FY14 NDAA,” the official said by email. “The issue has been studied to death previously. Now they want to study it again to come up with the same answer.” While DOE Order 413.3B outlines AoA parameters, which the regulation states should cover planning activities including design, concept, and requirements analyses, it does not explicitly state that consideration of other sites is required.

The industry official also said DOE wants to achieve CD-1 (Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range) for the plutonium modular approach by the start of 2017, which Laver did not confirm.

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