HASC wants CMRR decision reassessed

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Lab: Project has been deferred by NNSA and administration

By The Staff

The deferred Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement project at LANL still has some fans in Washington.

And most of them are on the House Armed Services Committee in addition to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

According to the trade publication Nuclear Materials Monitor, the HASC is not ready to approve the National Nuclear Security Administration’s request to reprogram $120 million for an alternate plutonium strategy.

In fact, the HASC is insistent that there should be widespread changes in management across the weapons complex.

The trade publication and the Los Alamos Study Group obtained a letter from HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to DOE Deputy Chief Financial Officer Joanne Choi, which took offense with the decision to defer construction of the CMRR-NF. That decision prompted DOE to ask the government to reprogram funds to pursue an alternative plutonium strategy.

In his letter, McKeon called the deferral “hasty” with “poorly understood” impacts that are based on “only the most rudimentary and preliminary analysis,” McKeon urged the Administration — “at the highest levels ”— to reassess the decision to defer the CMRR-NF and consider broader management reforms.

This is how the $120 million would be divvied up in the alternative plutonium strategy:
• Provide for accelerated readiness and operational start-up activities for the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building, which completed equipment installation almost one year ahead of schedule (approximately $20M to $25M).
• Procure additional Analytical Chemistry equipment for RLUOB to increase utilization of laboratory space (any potential additional equipment identified as a Major Item of Equipment will adhere to the appropriate notification requirements before procurement begins (approximately $20 million to $30 million)
• Accelerate the relocation of AC sample management/preparatory capabilities from the existing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building to Plutonium Facility (approximately $20 million to $25 million). Relocate Material Characterization equipment from CMR to PF-4 consistent with ongoing execution of plans to exit CMR (approximately $20 million to $30 million)
• Design a cost-effective material transfer system between RLUOB and PF-4 (approximately. $15 million to $25 million).

“The committee supports the goal of a responsive and modern nuclear infrastructure and believes a 5+ year deferral of CMRR-NF is a mistake with grave implications for the future of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and overall national security policy,” McKeon wrote. “Modern plutonium science capabilities and the pit production they support are essential for an uncertain future.”

In his letter, McKeon made 12 requests of the NNSA and LANL concerning the CMRR-NF and alternative plutonium strategy.
• Detailed cost estimates for the alternative strategy and the cost of deferring construction of CMRR-NF;
• A description of how the alternative strategy would help the lab produce 30 pits per year and the risk to warhead refurbishment efforts if that rate can’t be achieved;
• Risk mitigation plans for if 30 pits are unable to be produced a year or the reuse of pits proves impractical for any future warhead refurbishment efforts;
• A detailed plan to confirm pit reuse is viable for future life extension programs;
• A detailed plan using pit replacement if pit reuse is found to be impractical;
• A description of the deferral of CMRR-NF on pit production capacity and how that might impact life extension options;
• Details of how the $120 million reprogramming request would be spent;
• Details on the consequences of deferring the W78 and W88 life extension programs;
• An explanation of the decision to shut down the CMRR-NF project without Congressional approval;
• Cost and schedule estimates for immediately reconstituting the CMRR-NF project team;
• Details on analysis conducted before Feb. 13, 2012, that supports the CMRR-NF deferral decision; and
• Funding from FY2014 to FY2018 that would be needed if CMRR-NF was restarted.

“Fundamentally, NNSA’s path forward for sustaining robust plutonium capabilities is little more than a conceptual aspiration. The committee has been provided with negligible details on all aspects of this plan—and it appear NNSA had few such details itself when the CMRR-NF deferral decision was made,” McKeon wrote.

“There is no legal barrier that bars NNSA from spending FY2013 funds as it chooses over the next six months under the Continuing Resolution without any further congressional action, assuming it does so in compliance with other laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act. Leftover CMRR-NF funds, which apparently total about $120 million, can be reclaimed in FY2014 appropriations. We advocate returning those funds to the Treasury.  Construction of CMRR-NF is not necessary, feasible, or appropriate. NNSA’s Weapons Activities account is bloated with wasteful programs, and the country has far more urgent needs,” Los Alamos Study Group director Greg Mello said.