Future of CMRR meetings in question

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Coalition: No clear path forward in relation to CMRR outcome

By John Severance

Sometimes, the show must go on.

NNSA has decided to defer the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility for at least five years.
Activists rejoiced. Those at LANL and NNSA regrouped.

End of story, right?

Not so fast.

As part of a 2005 settlement between the Department of Energy/LANL and a coalition of community groups, a decision was reached to hold semi-annual meetings to discuss CMRR updates.

Wednesday night at Fuller Lodge there was another one of those meetings.

Steve Fong of the Los Alamos Site Office told those in attendance to expect the design deliverables to be completed by the end of the year and that the design was in “closeout mode.”

Rick Holmes, the CMRR division leader, said employees are moving into the new Radiological Lab, Utility and Office Building building, about a year ahead of schedule and that the equipment installation is forecast to come in under budget. Holmes added that the project closeout and transfer to operations will occur in the next few months.

As usual, the Interested Parties presentation was entertaining with more questions than answers.

Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico handled the presentation and pointed out that $476 million had been spent on the design phase of the CMRR facility.

Kovac also made mention of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board, which requested that LANL provide a final plan including:
• A plan to substantially complete the CMRR design by the end of FY 2012.
• A phase-out of NNSA program activities at the existing CMR building by 2019.
• Plans for continued analytical chemistry capabilities to support mission needs that include maximum use of the RLUOB.
• Capability to safely and securely move material between RLUOB and the Plutonium Facility.
• Consider options at other NNSA sites to address analytical chemistry needs.
• Maintain material characterization capabilities, using PF-4 and Building 332 at Livermore.
• Minimize nuclear material at PF-4 by processing, packaging and shipping excess materials including a plan and estimated timeline to stage bulk quantities at the Device Assembly Facility in Nevada.

After rattling off the DNFSB request for plans, Kovac asked the following question: Explain the rationale of how the RLUOB can now hold four times the plutonium that it was originally designed for?

Nobody had an answer.

Fong and Holmes said the facility was built to specifics of a 1997 standard. “We deliverd the building to the code that we have been working under,” Fong said.

Kovac then addressed a March 2012 Government Accountability Report titled “New Plutonium Research Facility May Not Meet Mission Needs.”

The report recommended that NNSA “conduct a comprehensive assessment of needed plutonium-related research, storage and environmental testing needs for nuclear weapons stockpile activities as well as other missions, currently conducted at other NNSA and DOE facilities.”

The GAO also noted that a necessary electrical system upgrade that might not be completed in time for construction activities.

Kovac then asked what the timeline for the assessment was. And also to describe the necessary electrical system upgrades and if it was still going to proceed. There were no answers to either question.

Kovac also asked more questions about the performance evaluation report and also some general ones where there were no clear answers.

Some of the questions:
• What is the current estimated cost range for the nuclear facility?
• When will the baseline estimate be released?
• What is the impact to the baseline estimate of deferring the project for at least five years?
• What are the respective cost estimates for the deep and shallow options?
• And when will the design of the nuclear facility be 90 percent complete?

Fong said the present team will not be responsible for the baseline estimate and it will be up to the next team to get the baseline design.

Fong also said there still has not been a decision on the shallow or deep excavation option.

“It could be this year,” Fong said.

Then there was the question of whether these meetings will continue.

Both sides agreed there will be discussions as to the future of the meetings.

In a letter written by Penelope McMullen and read by Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, “Loretto would not agree to an amendment to discontinue the public meetings or even to temporarily suspend them.”

Arends then asked Fong what his future plans were.

“I guess I better find another job,” Fong said.