Plan B is in the works for CMRR

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LANL: Details remain elusive on the project

By John Severance

Apparently, there are plans in the works for an alternative solution to the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility, which was deferred for five years by the administration.

So what is Plan B exactly?

The public is not sure yet.

According to the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, the NNSA plans to use an existing facility at Los Alamos, the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building, as well as Lawrence Livermore’s Superblock Facility and the Device Assembly Facility (DAF) at the Nevada National Security Site, and Los Alamos was expected to analyze several key components of the project during a 60-day study.

That includes closing out design of the CMRR-NF, phasing out usage of the current Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building by 2019, increasing the use of the RLUOB, moving material between the RLUOB and the lab’s existing Plutonium Facility, exploring options with other sites, and decreasing the amount of nuclear material in the Plutonium Facility through the use of the DAF.

Last week in Washington, the Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee released a summary of FY 2013 appropriations bill.

The bill provides $11.511 billion for NNSA, including $7.577 billion for weapons activities.

In her opening statement during the subcommittee hearing, Senator Diane Feinstein said, “The bill also addresses a major area of concern: a five-year delay in building a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  To maintain pit manufacturing capabilities, and begin implementing an alternative plutonium strategy, the bill would provide $160 million to make upgrades to existing facilities, and better assess the reliability of the nation’s current pit inventory.”

Steve Fong of the Los Alamos Site Office and Rick Holmes, the CMRR project leader, were asked about the alternative at a meeting Wednesday night at Fuller Lodge.

Fong said, “That is out of the scope of this project.”

There is more than $200 million in unspent balances and the Los Alamos Study Group says its government sources are saying that $120 million of these funds are currently available for reprogramming within the Energy and Water bill.

The House Energy and Water Development Subcommitte rescinded $65 million in these prior-years’ balances.  The Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor reported this week that this committee would apply the funds to accelerate work on safety improvements to LANL’s main plutonium facility (PF-4) ($30 million) and to begin cleaning out the PF-4 vault ($35 million).

“We are pleased to see that the two appropriations subcommittees, as well as all relevant parties in the Administration, have chosen to indefinitely delay the unnecessary and wasteful CMRR-NF project,” Mello said. “They appear so far to have chosen infrastructure alternatives we suggested. Previous LANL estimates suggest that the capital cost of the alternatives suggested by the Senate – $160 M – is of the same magnitude as a single year’s operating cost in the $6 B CMRR-NF, if were ever built.”

Mello said there are problems though.

“The first is that NNSA has no environmental impact statement (EIS) that includes or addresses its new plutonium plan under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  This will be an issue in oral argument on May 9 in our case before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which has already received NNSA’s February announcement of a new plan,” Mello said.

Jay Coghlan from New Mexico Nuclear Watch said no one should worry about an environmental impact statement right now.

“The project is dead,” Coghlan said. “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

Mello said, “NNSA must follow the nation’s environmental laws.  Had NNSA followed NEPA to begin with, over half a billion dollars in unnecessary appropriations could have been avoided, LANL workers and the public would be safer today, and NNSA would be a decade ahead in implementing a better plutonium strategy. We do not know the details of this strategy, where the devil – especially in the case of plutonium – resides. We do not know the policy assumptions, which underlie it.”

The nuclear weapons trade publication, meanwhile, reported that the draft plan has been written but will not be released to the public in its entirety.  A redacted version is possibly under development.  The trade journal reports that LANS estimates that the new plan will involve about $100 million in expenses at LANL, and presumably additional tens of millions elsewhere.

Watch next week for more coverage on the NNSA and lab budget battles in Washington.