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Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan reportedly sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in July warning of dire consequences for the plutonium mission if sufficient funding is not secured.
According to a letter obtained by the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, McMillan cited the lack of action on a $120 million reprogramming request from the NNSA to begin work on an alternative plutonium strategy and the funding cuts included in both versions of the FY 2014 Energy and Water Appropriations bills.
Congress has not signed off on the reprogramming request, which came about when the decision was made to defer the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility.
There have been reports the lab is considering an alternative strategy based on a modular approach to maintain the nation’s plutonium capabilities.
“Los Alamos will continue to do everything possible to keep our people and programs intact should these funding reductions come to pass, but I am very worried that these FY 14 Pu program reductions will place the mission is on an unrecoverable trajectory,” McMillan reportedly wrote in the July 1 letter. “With the 2019 closure of CMR and significant underfunding of Pu infrastructure, we will simply not have the capability to produce much more than the current pit output.”
The trade publication reports that parts of the reprogramming request would go to studying that approach while other money would allow the lab to begin purchasing materials and equipment for existing facilities that will play a larger role in the plutonium strategy, which is expected to enable the lab to produce up to 30 pits by 2021.
The trade publication also reports that since McMillan sent his letter, House and Senate authorizers partially signed off on the reprogramming request, agreeing to allow the NNSA to reprogram $50 million and $60 million, respectively. But the House Appropriations Committee has not signed off, including language in this year’s appropriations bill rescinding previous approval of the reprogramming request.
“The holdup seems to be the lack of estimates for near-term work at existing facilities and the reprogramming request includes just a part of the price.”
McMillan also wrote this in the letter to Moniz.
“This increases the risk that there will be no path forward for our Pu activities once the 61-year old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility ceases programmatic operations in 2019.”
The trade publication report said that House appropriators also placed limitations on the operation of PF-4 due to seismic concerns. Senate appropriators OK’d the reprogramming request, but they did not provide money for plutonium metal processing in their version of the FY 2014 bill.
McMillan wrote, “This funding reduction, together with the funding reductions in the House, pose a very serious challenge to Los Alamos meeting our mission requirements.”
Meanwhile, the trade publication also reported the lab awarded three new contracts for cleanup activities. The winners of the new contracts, which are for environmental support services, were Navarro Research and Engineering, Portage and TerranearPMC.