CMRR faces possible budget cut

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House Appropriation Committee recommends a $100 million reduction in funding next year

By John Severance

The House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to cut $100 million in FY 12 funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The committee recommended allocating $200 million for the project, 33 percent below the budget request.

It’s nowhere near a done deal.

The Energy and Water appropriation bill must now be passed by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration.

In his report, subcommittee chairman Rodney Freylinghuysen (R-NJ) said the National Nuclear Security Administration has a lot of work to do.

Freylinghuysen wrote, “The Committee fully supports the Administration’s plans to modernize the infrastructure, but intends to closely review the funding requests for new investments to ensure those plans adhere to good project management practices. The latest funding profile provided to the Committee indicates that over half the funding requested for the Nuclear Facility would be used to start early construction activities.

“The recommendation will support the full request for design activities, but does not provide the additional funding to support early construction. The NNSA is not prepared to award that project milestone since it must first resolve major seismic issues with its design, complete its work to revalidate which capabilities are needed, and make a decision on its contracting and acquisition strategies.”

NNSA spokesperson Damien LaVera said in an email: “We are not in a position to comment on draft recommendations from Congressional committees. As you know, this is just one step in a long process that will lead to the passing of a budget.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group praised the Congressional committee’s work.

“The committee product was unusually detailed and thoughtful,” Mello said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Even though we don’t agree with it in every way, they asked a lot of good questions and are really doing the oversight job they are supposed to be doing. The country and the taxpayers will be better off because of it. The question is whether the Senate will continue its usual role of undoing the more detailed work the house has been doing.”

Last month, U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera dismissed the lawsuit brought last August by the Los Alamos Study Group against the NNSA and Department of Energy. The lawsuit sought to compel the NNSA and DOE to pause design and construction of the CMRR project to prepare an environmental impact statement that examined alternatives to the project.

Herrera based her opinion on the Supplemental EIS (SEIS) that was submitted by the NNSA and DOE for the CMRR project ruling that it was sufficient enough.

In the report to the committee, Freylinghuysen said the NNSA needs to proceed with its modernization activities in a responsible manner and that the committee is “seriously concerned with the recent cost growth for construction” of the CMRR project.

The current price tag of the CMRR Nuclear Facility is estimated to come in between $3.7 billion and $5.8 billion.

“These are conceptually replacement facilities to make operations more safe and efficient, but construction will also enable the reconstitution of certain production capabilities that have been lost but are needed to meet the needs of an aging stockpile, “Freylinghuysen wrote.  “Many gaps remain in the planning efforts, and basic capability requirements and acquisition strategies continue to be re-evaluated. Modernization will take several years and the considerable number of variables still at play argues against an excessively aggressive funding curve.

“The construction of the new major facilities must not force out available modernization funding for the rest of the nuclear security enterprise. Therefore, the committee supports the adoption of cost reduction strategies to make construction more affordable and to curb continued cost escalation. Further, these projects will be closely monitored to ensure that prudent project management practices are followed, and the committee is prepared to make adjustments to the funding profiles to ensure that taxpayer funds are not wasted.”

The lab conducted four public meetings last month in regard to the CMRR SEIS in Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Espanola. The lab also hosted an informal meeting in Taos earlier this month.

The comment period remains open until June 29 and emails can be sent to NEPALASO@doeal.gov.

The committee also recommended no funding for construction of the TRU Waste Facilities at LANL

“The project yet to obtain a permit from the State of New Mexico and does not meet the necessary requirements to start construction activities according to the Department’s  project management instructions.”

The committee did recommend $19.4 million to be spent on the TA-55 Reinvestment Project at the lab.