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Some details were uncovered in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s reprogramming request after $120 million was returned to Washington from the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.
According to the Nuclear Weapons and Material Monitor, the NNSA said that approximately $20-$25 million would be spent on start-up activities at the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building, while $20-$30 million would go to purchase additional analytical chemistry equipment for RLUOB. The request was made Sept. 13.
The trade publication went on to report that another $20-$25 million would go toward relocating analytical chemistry sample management/preparatory capabilities from the existing CMR facility to the lab’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4), and $20-$30 million would be needed to relocate material characterization equipment from CMR to PF-4. In addition, NNSA said it would need $15-$25 million to build a tunnel between PF-4 and the RLUOB.
“It should be noted that these activities will maintain near-term continuity of capabilities for plutonium support functions and represent the first phase of work that will complement future potential equipment procurements that may be needed to increase pit production capacity in PF-4,” the NNSA said in the request. “The reprogramming allows for initial investments in the infrastructure at LANL that will enable all future production scenarios while minimizing impacts to ongoing operations.”
The publication also reported that the Senate Armed Service Committee would support the NNSA plan “for an alternative plutonium sustainment strategy with a catch that the agency use part of the money to keep the deferred CMRR-NF facility alive.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote a letter to the acting DOE deputy chief financial officer Joanne Choi and said the panel views the NNSA’s CMRR deferral as a cancellation. The trade publication reported that a similar letter is in the works from the House Armed Services Committee.
Levin said in his letter that coupled with the $800 million to $1.13 billion estimated cost of the alternate plutonium strategy, the five-year delay would drive the facility’s price tag up to between $5.6 billion and $7.2 billion.
Current estimates have the cost of the CMRR-NF at $3.7 billion and $5.8 billion. Levin is quoted in the letter as saying, “The sheer size of this cost escalation could lead to an inability to construct the CMRR-NF as proposed by the NNSA five years from now, an unacceptable worst case scenario that leaves our nation worse off in its ability to conduct plutonium science and engineering at Los Alamos.”
The NNSA Los Alamos Site Office las week conducted what it said would be the final meeting with interested parties on the CMRR project. And during that meeting, lab official Chuck Fong detailed the wrapping up of the project as the NNSA continued with its plans to defer CMRR-NF for five years.
Senior analyst Stephen Young of Washington had an interesting take on the situation in his column that appeared in the blog “All Things Nuclear.”
“The supporters of CMRR are in a distinct minority. It is the House and Senate authorizing committees alone that support building the facility. The administration, including the Pentagon, the NNSA, the weapons labs, and the Congressional appropriations committees all support the delay.
“If I were a betting man, I’d side with the appropriators and the Pentagon, as that is a fairly powerful combination that usually gets its way. But the final word is not yet spoken, and will undoubtedly await Congressional approval of the alternative plutonium plan.”