Monday, February 13, 2012

Guest Op Ed #2 by Greg Mello: CMRR-NF De-funded in the Light of New Economic Realities

JustGive to LASG
 Follow TrishABQ on Twitter Follow us on Twitter 

For immediate release 2/13/12 1:20 pm MST
NNSA delays proposed plutonium warhead plant "for at least five years"
Existing facilities are adequate if better managed
Cost savings $1.8 billion in next five years, billions more after that
Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 (office) or 505-577-8563 (mobile)
Peter Neils, 505-243-2546 (office) or 505-259-5437 (mobile)
Willem Malten 505-920-1277 (Santa Fe)
As part of its fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today proposes to delay, "for at least five years," all spending on a proposed $4 to $6 billion (B) plutonium facility to be located in Los Alamos, New Mexico. 

This facility, called the "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility," or "CMRR-NF," has been the flagship U.S. nuclear warhead infrastructure project and the first priority of the NNSA's program of weapons complex modernization for the past decade. 

The project has been under development since 2001 and will have absorbed a total of $994 million by the end of the present fiscal year, unless Congress halts current-year outlays.  These funds have been used primarily for design, and also for construction of a multi-function support facility for the proposed new building, now indefinitely delayed. 

Background on the project can be found at, especially in these references:
Further background, including a partial chronology of recent events, can be found in our Bulletin of last night.  (We will also send out another more detailed bulletin tonight, with further background information and interpretation.  We encourage interested parties to subscribe -- just send a blank email to the previous link).

NNSA's FY2013 Budget Request (pdf) requests zero (0) dollars for this project in FY2013 (p. 188) and requests $35 million (M) to replace the storage functions of this facility.  NNSA's rationale for this indefinite deferral is as follows (p. 185).

NNSA has designed CMRR Nuclear Facility for the following stockpile missions: plutonium chemistry, plutonium physics, and storage of special nuclear materials. Construction has not begun on the CMRR Nuclear Facility. NNSA has determined, in consultation with the national laboratories, that existing infrastructure in the nuclear complex has the inherent capacity to provide adequate support for plutonium chemistry, plutonium physics, and special nuclear materials. NNSA proposes deferring CMRR Nuclear Facility construction for at least five years. Studies are ongoing to determine long‐term requirements. Instead of the CMRR Nuclear Facility, NNSA will maximize use of existing facilities and relocate some nuclear materials. Estimated cost avoidance from FY 2013 to FY 2017 totals approximately $1.8 billion.

In place of the CMRR Nuclear Facility for plutonium chemistry, NNSA will maximize use of the recently constructed Radiological Laboratory and Utility Office Building that will be fully equipped in April 2012, approximately one year ahead of schedule. In place of CMRR Nuclear Facility for plutonium physics, NNSA has options to share workload between other existing plutonium‐capable facilities at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.

In place of CMRR Nuclear Facility for nuclear material storage, the budget request includes $35 million to accelerate actions that process, package, and dispose of excess nuclear material and reduce material at risk in the plutonium facility at Los Alamos. If additional space for special nuclear material is required, NNSA can stage plutonium for future program use in the Device Assembly Facility in Nevada. The Office of Secure Transportation Asset will execute shipments as needed.
NNSA warhead budget request for its nuclear "Weapons Activities" budget line does not propose an overall decline but rather an increase of 5.0% or $363 M, from $7,214 M to $7,577 M, which is likely to be a significant real (inflation-adjusted) increase as well as a current-dollar increase. 

Curiously, detailed project data sheets for most NNSA infrastructure projects are absent from this budget request, as is any attempt to project spending in future years ("Future Years National Security Program").  Placeholders based on inflation rates from the proposed FY2013 levels are shown, with the disclaimer that these numbers are not based on program needs.  These data omissions may be unprecedented. 

NNSA, in the face of withering congressional criticism, had previously announced its intent to terminate another proposed plutonium facility, also after an expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars with no final design to show for it, the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility (PDCF) at NNSA's Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. 

Study Group Director Greg Mello:

"We welcome NNSA's understanding that its plutonium warhead programs can be managed within existing buildings, an alternative we have been recommending for years.  We hope that this change of heart augurs a deeper programmatic reexamination and a very aggressive effort to end the poor performance by NNSA's contractors, in this case Los Alamos National Security (LANS), which has contributed to a great waste of taxpayer money.  In that light we also welcome NNSA's announcement of late last week that it would make public its evaluations of its site contractors. 

"The CMRR project has been a fiasco from the get-go.  In the beginning, NNSA and LANL -- then run solely by the University of California -- proposed CMRR structures which even the most cursory examination revealed could never be built.  The construction materials specified in environmental documents could not have built a shed, much less a fortified, seismically-sound nuclear facility to hold and protect several tons of plutonium.  As the project developed, NNSA and its contractors kept the bad news from Congress, as they always do, until the last moment, which generated huge (tenfold and greater) cost increases before the design even began to firm up.  At this point, after spending $665 M on the Nuclear Facility, NNSA had not even decided which major design concept to follow -- deeply-buried or shallow construction -- and is very far from a completed design. 

"The CMRR Nuclear Facility has never been, and will never be, needed to fulfill all of NNSA's missions. 

"Right now, NNSA is spending between one-half and one million dollars per day to design a facility which is highly unlikely to ever be built -- and if it were, much of the design would need to be redone anyway.  Congress should end this unnecessary waste.

"Had NNSA and LANS actually reformed its management of its existing LANL vault, as we had suggested (and as had others in government), the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars could have been avoided.

"There needs to be a congressional investigation of how exactly the perennial bad management within NNSA has been allowed to persist, and what to do about it.  The heroes in this story are the professional staff in Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon, who did their jobs.

"What now needs to happen is a broader discussion of priorities.  We spend far too much on nuclear weapons, not just because we have too many of them but also because our so-called "stewardship" of them has been designed to maximize, not minimize, spending in many program elements.  At the labs in particular, there is abundant wasteful overhead, non-value-added work of all kinds, "vaporware" posing as science, and grandiose ideas that make no sense, of which CMRR-NF was one.  In addition to this "pure" waste, there is waste associated with needless warhead modernization, which "churns" the warhead complex for highly dubious reasons.  Beyond that, we have the waste embodied in superfluous warheads and delivery systems, which deliver no extra "value" even under the "nuclear deterrence" paradigm, which we believe to be destructive, absurd, and immoral in any case.  Today's budget is a very tentative beginning at the deeper reforms we need.  Failing those reforms, the nuclear warhead enterprise will eventually suffocate from its excessive privatization and its extremely high internal rate of inflation for the actual services rendered."

^ back to top2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200

Guest Op-Ed by Greg Mello: The CMRR-Nuclear Facility is in trouble

JustGive to LASG
 Follow TrishABQ on Twitter Follow us on Twitter 

Send a blank email to subscribe or unsubscribe to these bulletins.
Forward to anyone interested.  Contribute.  Contact us.
February 12, 2012

Dear friends –
It’s been a busy three weeks for us since our last bulletin.  We’ve sent me (Greg) to Washington D.C. twice, where I’ve had some meetings on and around Capitol Hill, and to New York for other meetings.  As always, we learn in the process.
On Tuesday night I will take the red-eye back to D.C. again for the balance of the week.  It is a critical moment in nuclear history.  Not to put too fine a point on the matter, the experience and perspectives we bring are unique and not otherwise available in Washington.  It is important for us to bring those perspectives to our colleagues in government, the contracting community, and the arms control community at this pivotal time.
Before we get into the details, all of us at the Study Group would like to thank each of you for your truly marvelous support. The gist of this email can be simply stated: we have not let you down.  We are winning.  In another day we will all know more.
1. The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) is in deep trouble
Tomorrow the executive branch will release its proposed budget for all federal functions for fiscal year (FY) 2013, including the Department of Energy (DOE) and its nuclear sub-agency the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
We are pleased to report that a large majority of decisionmakers in government reject the notion of building the CMRR-NF at this time.  Tomorrow’s budget will reflect that working consensus in one way or another.
I think many of these parties also understand that this facility is not needed for NNSA’s missions – and it is not affordable.
This is not an Obama-led “nuclear disarmament” decision.  This decision has nothing to do with disarmament.  CMRR-NF is being rejected, for now, on very strong factual and management grounds by the Pentagon, DOE, and NNSA itself, among many others.  Basically these are the same reasons we’ve provided in what are by now hundreds of briefings on and around Capitol Hill.  You can find most of them in this detailed paper from last May.
We haven’t asked, and haven’t needed to know, the details of NNSA’s announcement.  We will all find that out together, tomorrow.
Let’s look back over last twenty months of this project and our involvement with it.
On June 10, 2010, Rick Holmes, LANL CMRR Division Leader, gave a presentation at an Energy Technology and Environmental Business Association (ETEBA) meeting in which he stated that CMRR-NF construction would begin in FY2011, then just three months away.
On June 16, NNSA and LANL held a “Construction Forum” in Espanola for potential contractors, at which LANL’s Deputy Associate Director John Bretzke stated that by year’s end, 100 craft personnel would be working on CMRR-NF construction.
On July 1, we wrote to DOE Secretary Steven Chu and NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino (pdf), threatening litigation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) if the project was not halted for proper environmental review.
The reply from DOE and NNSA, signed by Deputy NNSA Administrator Donald Cook, was underwhelming, offering nothing but a paper study of whether a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) might be needed as the project proceeded.  The study, as it turned out, recommended against a SEIS.
On August 16, we filed our first lawsuit (pdf) in this matter.
On October 1, DOE issued a Notice of Intent to prepare a SEIS.
Three days later on October 4, DOE and NNSA filed a motion to dismiss our lawsuit (pdf), which included an affidavit from Donald Cook (pdf) stating that NNSA would suspend all planned construction until the completion of the new SEIS process.
NNSA in fact did stop the planned construction.  By early November, NNSA had suspended nearly a dozen procurements(pdf) for which LANL had begun releasing information over the previous month, including excavation for the facility, construction of a lay-down yard, relocation of utilities, and procurement of an array of specialized nuclear equipment for the CMRR-NF building itself.
Over the ensuring year we continued litigation – and conducted dozens of briefings in Washington, armed with detailed analysis of CMRR-NF and related pit production issues that we had generated over the preceding months.
The judge never gave us a trial on the merits of our case, or the formal ability to gather evidence.  After a two-day preliminary hearing in April, where we were supported by courtroom testimony from Frank von Hippel and, prior to this, by affidavits from von Hippel, retired Sandia Vice President Bob Peurifoy, and several others, our (first) case was dismissed(pdf) on May 23, as I was preparing to brief appropriators and others in Washington.
Whatever relief this belated and Pyrrhic victory may have engendered among project advocates did not last long.  On June 15 the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee proposed slashing funding for the project and barring constructionfor the duration of the coming fiscal year.  Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) spoke openly of NNSA “slush funds” and his committee targeted CMRR-NF for cuts – ten times more cuts than all other infrastructure projects combined.  The House voted with the Committee.
We did not rest.  In July, we filed a Notice of Appeal and Docketing Statement, and on August 31, we filed our opening brief(pdf) and supporting evidence (nearly a foot thick) in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver.  The Tenth Circuit denied Defendants’ motion for dismissal and recommended our case for oral argument (pdf), a decision which reverberated in the White House.  We await a courtroom date.
Meanwhile the vacuous SEIS process, which explicitly considered no alternatives to the project, finally concluded on October 18, 2011 with an Amended Record of Decision.  The sole value of the SEIS was to shock even us with much greater expected environmental impacts than we had known about in selected areas (e.g. water and electricity usage, now several multiples higher, excavation, and number of technical areas affected).
Not long after the AROD, and doubtless eager to create a show of momentum, NNSA quietly approached congressional appropriators, asking if it would be permissible to begin construction – even though there was no explicit appropriation to do that.  The answer was no.
At this point, i.e. after the AROD, all NNSA needed to legally begin construction was an appropriation that allowed it.  Starting on August 9, even before the AROD, NNSA started the early procurement process by requesting interest in what came to be, by December 15, 43 separate procurement processes, with LANS, the LANL management contractor, reserving the top job for itself.  Most of LANL then left for its annual Christmas vacation.
By that time, parties on Capitol Hill and elsewhere had begun telling us that construction of CMRR-NF was unlikely any year soon.  The first shoe dropped on December 23, when Congress, following the lead of House appropriators, cut CMRR-NF funds by 37% and barred construction for the balance of FY2012.
Project staff returned from Christmas to face quite a different future.  Pending procurement activity declined down to nothing.  By mid-month, one LANL official told the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, “We’re not expecting funding for CMRR.”
So now the stage is now set for tomorrow’s budget release.  Today, the lab-boosting Albuquerque Journal gathered some of the current speculations under a front-page headline: “Multibillion Los Alamos Project Threatened: Budget Ax Hovers Over Earthquake-Proof Lab.”
Stay tuned.  We will send more when we know it.
2. Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), Chair of the Armed Forces Strategic Forces Subcommittee, will likely soon introduce a bill to mandate CMRR-NF construction
We don’t know precisely what this bill will say, but Rep. Turner’s 2011 “New START Implementation Act” (H.R. 1750) will doubtless be the starting point, as veteran nuclear weapons complex journalist Todd Jacobsen has pointed out.  There may be a companion Senate bill from Senator Kyl (R-AZ) & Co.
Last year H.R. 1750 had 9 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as to Turner’s own subcommittee.  It was never voted on or referred out of either committee.  Senator Kyl’s companion bill also had 9 co-sponsors but it too was never voted on in the Senate Armed Services Committee to which it was referred.   These bills died.
Nevertheless this, and potentially other damaging congressional action, could occur.  We will send out a bulletin as soon as we are aware of any such legislation.  It must be opposed, not just for the sake of CMRR-NF, which would be plenty of reason alone, but also because of the military-nuclear deal-making process in which it will play some part. 
Obviously any legislation that attempts to prevent the commander-in-chief from setting levels of armaments, or attempts to interfere with the conduct of foreign policy by this or any future President, will raise constitutional questions.  This won’t stop them.  Politically, such legislation is of a piece with the increasing paralysis of our government, caused primarily by the Republican Party and the activists associated with it who hate government.  This paralysis is itself a powerful reason our country is now in decline.
Let’s make no mistake about how serious this moment is.  We, as a country and in our various locales, are in the process of re-examining the basic priorities of government and the nature of the social contract we hold with each other and future generations, as well as our willingness to accept stewardship responsibilities for our lands and waters, and the wildlife around us.
At the same time, in our foreign policy, we are in the process of deciding whether to base our relations on continuous overt and covert war, or to struggle in good faith to find a just modus vivendi based on protecting human life.
These are very stark choices and our ability to temporize is ending.  Whatever choices we now make are going to be increasingly binding on us and others, and heavily consequential in every sphere.  There is no escape.
To us here, nuclear weapons are not just weapons.  They are quite real tokens of our readiness to commit national suicide, as well as genocide abroad.  Our changing levels of investment in all that pertains to them are an important barometer of our national insanity and the internal corruption of the state by its most corrosive elements.
3. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and 34 Democratic co-sponsors have introduced the SANE Act (“Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act of 2012”), H.R. 3974.
We have been in close communication with Rep. Markey’s office over the past two years regarding CMRR, nuclear weapons budgets and programs, and contractor accountability – and this legislation.  We support it and urge you to do so as well.
Here is a short video of Rep. Markey’s floor statement introducing the bill.
Unfortunately there are no Republican co-sponsors of this legislation.  It has no chance of passage.  It is a purely symbolic effort, but not without value for that.  As a Boston Globe article correctly notes, there is Republican support for cutting wasteful nuclear spending.
We know this first-hand, not just among appropriators, but also from several discussions in Republican offices on Capitol Hill.  We have also seen and heard the support for cutting defense and nuclear weapons in some powerful right-wing think tanks and activist shops.  We have worked with the Rio Grande Foundation and Rep. Ron Paul’s office, to pick two of these, to kill CMRR-NF.
In the Pentagon, it is widely understood that nuclear weapons cutbacks will be necessary for financial reasons, as many have noted.
Thus the principles animating this bill have more political legs than the bill itself.
One of these principles is to delay making expensive nuclear weapons commitments where it is possible to do so under today’s policies or minor variations of them.  Stockpile reductions, which will come, will have concatenating, synergistic effects on program costs.  It is important to avoid potentially needless program startups.
Another is to scale back excessive, and therefore excessively expensive, forms of nuclear deterrence.  This bill would not decrease the number of deployed U.S. strategic warheads, either now or in the future, but it would confine them to fewer delivery platforms.  It would not immediately eliminate U.S. tactical warheads and bombs, but it would eliminate nuclear cruise missile deployments immediately and then stop life extensions for tactical gravity bombs (B61 -3, -4, and -10s), which would effectively end their deployment by the end of this decade.
A third principle in the bill is to avoid needless modernization – modernization for its own (or really contractors’) sake.
The bill falls down in that it does not attack another category of waste, in many ways the most obvious, and with strong bipartisan potential: pure waste, stemming from featherbedding, production of vaporware, poorly-posed “science,” and various forms of excess overhead, all of which taken together comprise, in our view, the bulk of the workload at the two physics laboratories.
All that said, it is far more important to kill CMRR-NF (which can certainly be done) than to support this bill (which will never pass).  It is more important to prevent passage of whatever bills Rep. Turner, Sen. Kyl, and their colleagues may introduce than it is to support this bill.  We must actually cut nuclear weapons programs, and we must not let posturing and political theater, however well-intended they may be, get in the way.
It is not amusing to us that essentially all the other groups listed as supporting this bill were only recently lined up behind ratifying the New START treaty.  In the process, they joined the administration in full support of CMRR-NF and what amounted to a blank check for U.S. nuclear weapons programs.  For most of these groups this is quite a sudden reversal. 
Some of the most prominent organizations endorsing this bill remain opposed to fully ending CMRR-NF, and some have told me this.  Some of these organizations have argued vociferously and effectively in their circles against opposing CMRR-NF, in some cases for many years.
One of the features of merely symbolic legislation is that folks can sign on without fear of the consequences of actual passage.  And that’s OK, if a legislative program that will lead to concrete progress gets the lion’s share of energy and attention.
4. NNSA’s schedule for the First Production Unit (FPU) of the proposed B61-12 bomb has slipped two years.   
In part this is because NNSA still has no clear scope for this project, which would replace the B61 -3, -4, and -10 variants (all “tactical,” so-called), and the B61-7 (a high-yield strategic bomb), with a single new bomb, the proposed B61-12.   The cost has ballooned to an estimated $5.2 billion, the scope of work is shrinking we are told, and the schedule, as noted above, is slipping.
This is a big subject, meriting a discussion we cannot have here.  The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) shot off a very good letter on the subject to DoD Secretary Panetta, pointing out some of the weaknesses and contradictions in the supposed B61 mission in Europe and in the proposed “life extension project” (LEP) – which is really much more than that.    
Upon information and belief, there are no targets for these bombs.  The assumption seems to be that any hostilities that would trigger nuclear war using these bombs would take at least six months to develop, during which time some targets could be found.  Having no targets is certainly better than having targets, but the situation is absurd and grotesque, like all nuclear deterrence “missions.”
Congress has withheld $134 million from this project this fiscal year while the JASON advisory group examines the scope of the proposed project, and whether the work can even be successfully completed.
(For more please see “Nuclear Weapons: DOD and NNSA Need to Better Manage Scope of Future Refurbishments and Risks to Maintaining U.S. Commitments to NATO,” Government Accountability Office, GAO-11-381, May 2011, pdf, for starters).
This delay may cause other delays.  As described in the most recent (FY2012) Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), the proposed W78/88 LEP – for all intents and purposes a new warhead to replace the silo-based W78 and  submarine-based W88 – was to begin production when B61-12 ended.  Will the proposed replacement warhead schedule also be delayed?  Stay tuned.
5. DoD Secretary Panetta has announced that replacement submarines for the Ohio-class (Trident) ballistic missile submarines will be delayed two years.
This too merits considerable discussion, but the main thing I wanted to draw our attention to in this Bulletin is the delay itself.  The new design is taking longer than anticipated, and the project competes with other priorities for cash under the national security budget ceiling (“sequester”) set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  Under present assumptions, the first retirement from the present fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines (each with up to 24 Trident D-5 missiles armed with up to 8 warheads) would be in 2029.  The Navy wants 12 new replacement submarines with fewer missile tubes (perhaps 16).  Under the new plan, the first of these would be commissioned in 2031.
That, friends, is a long time from now.
With that pregnant remark, let’s close for tonight.
Best wishes,
Greg, Trish, and all of us at the Study Group

^ back to top2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200
StatCounter - Free Web Tracker and Counter