McMillan cites CMRR fallout

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Testimony: Tough choices ensue as budgets get squeezed

By John Severance

In his testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Wednesday, Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan covered a lot of ground.

Much of his testimony had to do with the ramifications of NNSA’s decision to defer the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility for at least five years and the funding issues that seem to be plaguing the lab.

McMillan spent a great deal of time in his testimony, discussing pit reuse.

“Pit reuse has been suggested as a way to bridge the shortfall in newly-produced pits caused by delaying CMRR-NF construction. The nation has pits that are not needed in current systems. These are candidates for use in a modernized stockpile. While I am cautiously optimistic that some of these pits can be reused, two important issues must be addressed before certification for stockpile use.”

First, McMillan pointed out there needs to be continued progress to understanding the effects of pit aging. Secondly, McMillan said the system modifications that are necessary to ensure that pits designed for use with conventional explosives can be reused in modern, insensitive high explosive systems.

“Both are challenging scientific problems,” McMillan said.

 McMillan used an analogy. He said to consider using old pits in a modernized stockpile would be like taking an engine from a 1965 Mustang and installing it in a 2012 model while continuing to meet 2012 emission requirements.

“It might be possible, but not without a lot of work, not to mention impacts to the other parts under the hood. Furthermore, certifying that it would work without ever driving the car would be challenging,” McMillan said.

McMillan then went on to talk about how the lab is dealing with a $300 million projected shortfall in its budget.

“While planning in FY11 for the increases outlined in the 1251 report, LANL was prudent in hiring. Nevertheless, as FY12 began it seemed unlikely that we would see the full planned increase,” McMillan said.
In November, McMillan established the Laboratory Integrated Stewardship Council (LISC), which was charged with making financial decisions.

For FY12, LANL funding is some $300 million lower than it was in FY11. And McMillan said in the FY13 budget request, funding at LANL appears to be down another $100 million.

“These cuts made it necessary for me to make the difficult decision to move forward with a voluntary separation program to reduce our workforce. Just over a week ago more than 550 employees left the lab,” McMillan said. “Many had decades of experience in the Weapons Program. Despite succession planning, we are losing valued employees sooner than expected.”

Other highlights of his testimony include:

• Life Extension Programs “As our systems age, LEPs have become necessary to continue confidence in the safety, security, and reliability of the stockpile. It is in LEPs that we see a return on investments made in long term science. I am pleased to report that Los Alamos Life Extension activities on the W76-1 continue smoothly at the plants with Los Alamos providing technical support as needed. We will continue our engagement to monitor product quality and ensure that design intent is maintained.”

• Long Term Science: “At LANL, we have a scientific workforce that includes approximately 2,500 PhDs. They form the core of our scientific base. The weapons program directly benefits when these scientists work on challenging technical problems using tools such as DARHT, the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE), and the ASC Program. Our ability to do stockpile work today is the product of these investments.”

• Looking Ahead:

“Whether the ultimate decision is to move forward with an alternative plutonium approach, or to continue with CMRR construction, every day that we do not address the issue is a day in which our risks increase. At a minimum, we need access to the $120 million appropriated in FY12 that will remain after placing CMRR-NF in a stable state to make investments supporting a path forward. Furthermore, the $35 million already in the budget request for FY13 will be needed to accelerate PF-4 vault clean-out. Access to these funds will allow us to continue making wise investments in our plutonium capability. This includes studying a transportation system between PF-4 and RLUOB, expanded use of RLUOB, and a migration of processes from CMR to PF-4. If we are to support the LEPs necessary over the next decade, we cannot afford to postpone action to address the nation’s plutonium capability.”

• Pension Relief: In 2006. Los Alamos made major changes in its pension system. New employees are no longer able to enroll in a defined benefits pension system. Rather, they are part of a defined contribution plan. While this system no longer provides the incentive to remain at the Laboratory until retirement, it also relieves LANL of the long-term liabilities associated with a defined benefits program. The laboratory has been making contributions to the pension plan out of program funds for the last few years at well above the $100 million level.  I urge the Congress to pass the proposed changes to the Pension Protection Act (PPA) that includes a permanent “funding stabilization” provision."