Monday, February 13, 2012

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

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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."

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