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Congress yanks cash away from CMRR nuke lab

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — It will be about a year before construction can start on a new plutonium laboratory at Los Alamos after Congress pulled back funding for the project and restricted how the money can be spent.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the congressional action also raises questions about the long-term prospects for the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility.

The final congressional report said that no construction activities are funded for the CMRR-Nuclear Facility during Fiscal Year 2012.

Lab and federal documents suggest the construction to be deferred this year includes preliminary excavation work, the start of construction on a concrete plant for the massive structure and erection of the project's construction management trailers.

In all, the lab has issued at least 45 notices to potential bidders regarding possible contracting opportunities on the project, according to a review by Trish Williams-Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, which opposes the project.

In addition to construction-related opportunities, the announcements include plans for acquiring equipment for the building for fire safety systems and guard facilities.

While cutting from the administration's funding request for the nuclear facility, Congress gave full funding to a similar multibillion dollar project being built in Tennessee for work on uranium nuclear weapon parts.

That led some observers to speculate that Congress may be setting the stage for further delays in the Los Alamos plutonium lab because of concerns the agency cannot afford to work on both large projects simultaneously.

"Simultaneous construction of these projects is considered difficult to impossible by many in government," Greg Mello, of the Los Alamos Study Group, wrote in a letter to supporters this week. "Up to now at least, CMRR-NF has been the National Nuclear Security Administration's highest priority infrastructure project. Congress, authorizers and appropriators alike, and in both the House and Senate, evidently think differently, at least for the time being." The Los Alamos nuclear facility has been plagued by delays and rising costs. Even before the congressional vote to delay construction, plans called for completion in 2023, more than a decade behind the original schedule when the project was launched.