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Heinrich presses NNSA nominee on plutonium pit plan

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By Tris DeRoma

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) Thursday pressed Undersecretary of Energy for Nuclear Security nominee Lisa Gordon-Hagerty on a National Nuclear Security Administration report that’s considering moving the Department of Energy’s plutonium pit manufacturing program out of Los Alamos.

The questioning occurred during Gordon-Hagerty’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Heinrich is a member of the committee.

Heinrich questioned why the NNSA seemed to be ignoring Congress’s most recent recommendations to keep it at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

He asked Gordon-Hagerty why the NNSA seemed to be ignoring a 2014 endorsement by the Nuclear Weapons Council and Congress of the use of a modular building strategy to update the LANL’s plutonium pit manufacturing program.

“However, recently, and you alluded to this earlier, the NNSA conducted an analysis of alternatives that totally omitted this current strategy to meet the nation’s needs, and instead compared new alternatives that Los Alamos actually abandoned years ago. Does that make sense to you, that we would analyze an old plan when we have a new plan that’s already been effectively endorsed by the NWC and Congress?” Heinrich asked.

Gordon-Hagerty replied to Heinrich that his description of the situation “did not make sense,” but also assured the senator that the NNSA will make an objective decision about LANL’s plutonium pit manufacturing program.

“I am committed, if confirmed, to take a look at all of the relevant data, current and past data, and the plutonium analysis of alternatives and commit to you that I will look at it from an objective viewpoint,” she said.
Heinrich said he was pleased to hear the response.

“It also didn’t make sense to the Department of Energy’s own independent cost estimate and program evaluation office, which thoroughly rejected both the process and the findings of that analysis,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich also expressed his frustration with the NNSA’s decision-making process in general and looked forward to working with Gordon-Hagerty on the next steps in the process.

“It has been somewhat frustrating to me that the NNSA has taken three years to get to this point only to find out we weren’t looking at the current set of alternatives,” Heinrich said. “I think that not only has that been a poor use of time, but a poor use of taxpayer dollars, and we’re looking forward to working with you to get this process back on track.”

When the NNSA’s Analysis of Alternatives report became public late last year, Heinrich, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) were dismayed to learn that NNSA’s report was considering moving the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s plutonium pit manufacturing program to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, based on the outdated recommendations.

The New Mexico Congressional delegation sent a strongly worded letter Dec. 18 to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.