POGO: CMRR funding should be slashed

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Lab: Report raises many questions about the project

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) took a stick to the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility in its latest report released this week.

The main premise of the report is that Congress and the administration should stop funding of the CMRR, which is projected to cost between $3.7 billion and $5.8 billion.

The report came up with the following recommendations:

• The administration and DOE should cancel CMRR-NF and zero out funding for the project in the upcoming budget.

• If the administration and DOE fail to act, Congress should cancel funding for CMRR-NF in its next appropriations bill.

• NNSA should continue using existing facilities, at LANL and elsewhere, in the nuclear weapons complex to meet credible nuclear modernization requirements.

• Congress should amend Section 3114 of the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, “Notification of cost overruns for certain Department of Energy projects,” to reflect the stronger provisions in the current Nunn-McCurdy Act in order to improve the oversight of major cost overruns and schedule delays at the DOE.

• Congress should require independent cost estimates of major DOE construction projects at an early milestone in those programs so there is more realism in estimating the costs of those projects.

Spokesperson Toni Chiri said the NNSA would not be commenting on the POGO report.

“Now is the time to stop the design and construction of CMRR-NF. As mounting cost estimates over the past decade have proven, the cost of this facility is likely to increase significantly before it is completed,” the report states.

“… In light of the government’s desire to reduce the U.S. deficit, a project of this magnitude that lacks a coherent justification is especially untenable. DOE and NNSA have failed to justify the need for an industrial-scale nuclear facility with a massive plutonium vault, particularly when the United States’ demands for pit production have significantly evaporated over recent years and will likely continue to do so.

“The ratification of New START signifies a drawdown of nuclear weapons and a future that includes a smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal. Experts—many of whom are former nuclear laboratory officials—agree that the scale of CMRR-NF is not aligned with current U.S. nuclear strategy. Rather than forcing taxpayers to bear the financial burden of constructing an expensive nuclear facility with an obsolete mission, the Administration and Congress should eliminate funding for the CMRR-NF immediately.”

POGO enlisted the help of Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group and Nickolas Roth, the center of Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in formulating the report.
Mello said in an email he has just returned to New Mexico after a series of meetings in Washington.

“ While most of what transpired on that trip and previous ones must remain confidential, I can report that the tide within the national security branches of government has turned strongly against this project last year.  That tide is now running at the full.  This project now has very few remaining friends, and if present trends continue, it will end,” Mello said.

 Here is the executive summary of the report:

• A growing body of scientific and policy experts challenge the need for the CMRR-NF.
The House Appropriations Committee recommended that construction of CMRR-NF be delayed, noting in a report for the fiscal year 2008 budget, “The CMRR facility has no coherent mission to justify it unless the decision is made to begin an aggressive new nuclear warhead design and pit production mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

• A former Sandia National Laboratories vice president, Bob Peurifoy, said in an affidavit about CMRR-NF, “Nowhere have I found a concise, objective description justifying its need…the Nuclear Facility might just sit there with nothing to do.”

• Former chair of the State Department’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Advisory Board and member of the highly respected JASON advisory group, Dr. Richard Garwin, said of CMRR-NF before a House appropriations committee, “I would suggest that one look at doing without the nuclear facility.”

• CMRR-NF is counter to the U.S. government’s commitment to shrinking its nuclear arsenal through the New START agreement and the President’s strategic guidance for a “smaller nuclear force.” The entire CMRR was originally supposed to cost taxpayers $375 million, but the estimated costs for the CMRR-NF alone have now ballooned to an estimated $3.7 billion to $5.9 billion.

• The facility is unlikely to have any significant impact on job creation in the LANL region, creating no new permanent jobs.

• DOE and NNSA have failed to seriously consider less expensive alternatives to building CMRR-NF. They dismissed one plan largely on the basis that employees would have to “travel by vehicle” between two buildings that are about one mile apart.

• Many of the planned functions for CMRR-NF could be carried out at existing facilities in the nuclear weapons complex at a lower cost to taxpayers.

• CMRR-NF will not be fully operational until at least 2023, by which time most nuclear warheads will have gone through the Life Extension Program.