Ohio Rep. pushes funding move

-A A +A

CMRR: Opponents say effort doomed to fail

By John Severance

More details have emerged from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) after it marked up the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) when it comes to the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) submitted two amendments. The first of them would appropriate $160 million to the CMRR-NF for FY2013.  That’s $60 million more than HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) recommended in his mark-up on Monday.

A couple of weeks ago, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee provided zero funding for CMRR-NR in its FY 2013 bill. 

The amendment would also ensure that no funds could be appropriated for “any activities associated with a plutonium strategy for the [NNSA] that does not include achieving full operational capacity of (CMRR-NF) by fiscal year 2024.”

Turner’s second amendment would treat the construction of NNSA nuclear facilities as Department of Defense “military construction projects.” It specifically includes CMRR-NF, and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF).

Under the amendment, the NNSA would retain some authority, but Congressional authority would likely transfer in both chambers from the Subcommittees on Energy and Water Appropriations (which oversee nuclear weapons funding) to the Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations.  

“It’s really too early to comment right now,” said lab spokesman Fred DeSousa. “We have not seen the amendments and they still have not passed the full House, let alone Congress.”

Many in the nuclear watchdog community believe the amendments will not get through Congress.

“It will pass the House but I don’t think it will pass Congress as a whole,” said Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan. “The other element I question is whether the Pentagon will like it. 

“Everybody can piss and moan about the CMRR. But what Turner amendment #1 does in effect is to earmark all of that money for construction of the CMRR-Nuclear Facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y12 Plant near Oak Ridge, TN.

“This might be a big wedge issue between DoD and NNSA because that money was to be also used for Life Extension Programs (LEPs) of existing nuclear weapons. DoD will likely be far more interested in the end product of refurbished nuclear weapons than it is in the facilities that will produce them.

“Further, the CMRR-NF and UPF aren’t scheduled to be completed until 2022 at the earliest, after currently proposed LEPs are either finished or already substantially underway.”

The Project on Government Oversight wrote the following in one of its releases.

“Some members, such as Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), put up a good argument against Turner during the mark-up, as has Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on the floor in the past. The NDAA is on the floor before the full House next week, and we hope the majority of the House will stand up in opposition to funding CMRR-NF and to Turner’s attempt to facilitate a Pentagon power-grab. Congress needs to restore the zero on this money pit.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group also weighed in on the Turner amendments.

“Reviving CMRR-NF anytime soon appears to be a long shot, but there is surely more going on than meets the eye,” Mello said.   Defense budgets and programs are beginning to tighten, as the reality of the country’s fiscal limitations under current policies begins to sink in and the date creeps closer to sequestration under the Budget Control Act. Competing defense interests want to get as many marbles as possible before the game shuts down.
“The House Armed Services Committee can try to throw all the money they want at CMRR-NF, but that won’t create a genuine need for the project, change the geology of Los Alamos, lower the cost of the building, or put more money in the Treasury.  

The lab, meanwhile, continues to take its cue from the NNSA.

Back in February, NNSA deputy administrator Donald Cook issued a memo to LASO Site Office manager Kevin Smith and LANL director Charlie McMillan, regarding the CMRR project..

Cook wanted Smith and McMillan to substantially complete the design of the CMRR nuclear facility by the end of FY2012 and they are planning to have zero funding for the next five years as the project was deferred by the Obama Admininistration..

NNSA spokesperson Toni Chiri said last week the lab is making progress regarding Cook’s directive.

 “Los Alamos is working through a number of complex variables to meet Dr. Cook’s direction,” Chiri said. “This is obviously a challenging task for the lab to plan a revised enterprise-wide facility strategy, and still meet mission requirements.  While we are in the early stages of transition, we believe the team is making good progress.”