Senators join CMRR chorus

-A A +A

Funding: List of lawmakers grows in seeking answers to delay

By John Severance

New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman wrote letters Thursday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, expressing their concerns with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s decision to defer construction of the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.
The letters, dated Thursday, detail consequences of delaying the beleaguered project for five years.
The letters state:
“• First, it will adversely impact our nation’s scientific capabilities, especially in analytical chemistry and materials characterization that are central to assuring the safety, reliability and performance of the nuclear deterrent.
“• Second, as both current and former lab directors have testified, further delay will likely result in further cost escalation in the ultimate construction of the required replacement facility.
“• Third, the NNSA’s proposed alternative is a high risk option, which may not meet national security requirements for stockpile stewardship, and which will likely take 10 years to implement and cost an additional $800 million.”
Udall and Bingaman said that rather than delaying work on CMRR for the planned five years, “we believe the administration should present a more specific alternative plan and make the necessary preparation to properly design and implement it.
“Until there is a feasible alternative, the least risk option is to continue pursuing a replacement facility. In order to meet cost restrictions, we believe changes in the planned facility could reduce its price tag significantly without compromising safety, while allowing us to still meet our commitments under the New START treaty and the 2010 MOU between DOD and DOE.”
The senators concluded their letters by saying “our national labs are premiere facilities, with scientists and engineers who deserve to work in an environment where not only their work is appreciated but their safety is not at risk because of funding decisions based in Washington, D.C.”
In June, eight U.S. senators
— six Republicans, a Democrat, and an independent— wrote a letter to Panetta, urging the resurrection of the CMRR.
The senators point out that the Senate and House Armed Services Committees have shown that the “national security imperative for CMRR-NF justifies the prioritization of this key modernization project. Both the SASC and HASC direct construction of CMRR-NF while prohibiting the expenditure of funds for the hastily conceived alternative approach, which could cost in excess of $1 billion and does not meet DOD requirements. “We believe that the administration should begin the necessary planning to include in the FY14 budget and beyond funding for CMRR-NF’s completion.”
In the letter, the senators urge the administration and the National Nuclear Security Administration to continue design activities this year and build an out-year budget to support construction and operation by 2024.
They also urge the administration to work with congressional appropriators to secure funding for CMRR-NF in FY 13 and they write that the current NNSA alternative strategy does not meet critical national defense mission requirements.
The letter was signed by Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).
Back in April, LANL director Charlie McMillan gave testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the need for the CMRR –NF facility.
“CMRR-NF is not a manufacturing facility for pits. It fulfills a critical mission in supporting the analytical chemistry and metallurgy needed to certify that the plutonium used in the stockpile meets basic material requirements. The ability at CMRR-NF to quickly analyze and characterize special nuclear materials—to know where they were made, their purity, and their chemical and mechanical properties—also underpins our work for the nation in non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and treaty verification missions,” McMillan said. “Pit production occurs and will continue in Building PF-4 at Los Alamos. CMRR-NF was designed to provide needed capacity for materials characterization, waste staging and shipment, non-destructive assay, and vault storage. In the absence of CMRR-NF, the limited floor space in PF-4 must be used to address these functions, albeit at reduced levels.”