CMRR meetings grind to a halt

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Lab: Opposition groups want one more sit-down

By John Severance

The folks in charge of building the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility are acting like the project will be deferred for five years.


That may be the case or maybe not.

The House and Senate Armed Service Committees put funding in for the project for the FY13 budget, but a continuing resolution passed by Congress last week earmarked no funding for the CMRR-NF.

In fact, Steve Fong of the Los Alamos Site Office who helped run the project said $120 million of the $200 million in funding earmarked for the project has returned to Washington.

Fong made the statement at a semi-annual public meeting that was required by a settlement agreement brokered by the New Mexico Environment Department between a coalition of six activist groups and the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Fong then announced this would be the final meeting.

That did not sit to well with some of the activists.

“We don’t believe these meetings should end,” said Joni Arends from Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety in Santa Fe. “We need to get everybody to the table and have a discussion about this.”

“NNSA/LANL believe that they are no longer bound by the settlement agreement to hold these semi-annual public meetings since the CMRR-Nuclear Facility is now deferred,” Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan said, “We disagree since it is not outright canceled. At a minimum, we are aiming for at least one more public meeting in March 2013, which is conveniently after the election and the FY 2014 budget release and presumably whatever federal budget resolution there is for the second half of FY 2013.”

As for the status of the CMRR-NF, Fong said “by systems, design will progress to a logical freezing point. And project activities will then be cataloged to preserve the investment and the majority of the activities will be complete this fall.

The calendar year 2013 will be used to close out contracts, which are mostly administrative issues.”

Fong went on to say that 34 of 62 design scope books have been issued and they have finalized the model for 29 of 34 areas and there has been a lot of work done to stabilize the construction site of the NF.

According to graphs presented by Fong, there are only about 50 people working on the project and the project staff will be totally disbanded by December. In March 2012, there were close to 3,000 project activities.

Fong said NNSA headquarters in Washington will be responsible for any re-start actions.

Fong concluded his talk by saying, “we are closing down and thank you for your interest over the years.”
The Interested Parties also had a chance to make a presentation.

Scott Kovac of NukeWatch N.M., who made the presentation, estimated design costs of the now-deferred CMRR-NF at $475 million. Fong said that was around $50 million too high.

Kovac also brought up issues such as the proposed schedule to execute revised plutonium strategy and the use of existing facilities to implement that strategy as requested by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

Other nuggets of information that came out of the meeting:
•   Fong said  it would take a considerable amount of the time to reconstitute the design team after receiving renewed funding, perhaps a full year to a year and a half.  
• Fong said the CMRR-NF was still at Critical Decision 1 and estimates the project was at 95 percent design completion (up from previously stated 90 percent), which would lead to a Critical Decision 2 to go ahead with the CMRR-NF. Fong did not say what percentage of design completion the CMRR-NF is now.
• Fong estimated that the Shallow Excavation option was $20-30 million cheaper than the Deep Excavation option.
•  A tunnel between the already constructed CMRR Phase I “Rad Lab” and PF-4, LANL’s existing plutonium pit production facility, has not yet been designed, much less built (the tunnel was going to be between the Nuclear Facility and PF-4). But a “spur out” for the tunnel was built when the Rad Lab was constructed.
• It will take two years to bring the Rad Lab up to full operations under its administrative limit of 8.4 grams Pu-239 equivalent. After that NNSA may raise the Rad Lab’s administrative limit to 26 grams Pu-239 equivalent (as senior NNSA officials have testified), but there is currently no on-the-ground movement toward that end in the Rad Lab.

Coghlan said Wednesday he believes the project will be deferred.

“The general tenor of NNSA Los Alamos Site Office officials is very much that this is a deferral, not a cancellation of the CMRR-Nuclear Facility, and that they are going to get back to it in five years. They maintain that the CMRR-Nuclear Facility mission need is still there,” Coghlan said.

“To permanently kill the CMRR Nuclear Facility, I think we need to puncture DoD’s often stated (but not explained or justified) requirement to maintain a capability for producing 50-80 plutonium pits per year.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, though, was a little more confident in the project’s demise.

“I don’t think the project will be starting again in five years,” Mello said. “I am hoping we can move on to other priorities and invest that kind of money for national security.”