Senator questions DOE commitment

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LANL: Congressional delegation meets with Regional Coalition

By John Severance

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities met with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and other representatives of the New Mexico Congressional delegation Friday in Santa Fe to discuss budget cuts at the lab.

After the meeting, Bingaman released a letter that he sent to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, requesting a meeting to discuss the deferment of the CMRR project and the news that LANL was instituting a workforce reduction program that would eliminate 400 to 800 jobs.

In the letter, Bingaman wrote, “What is the long-term commitment by DOE and NNSA to the future of Los Alamos Laboratory? The CMRR Project was part of an overall strategy for the nuclear weapons complex that ensured a viable and coherent plan at each of the major laboratories that are part of that complex.

“With funding cuts that are hitting Los Alamos National Laboratory especially hard, I think there are broader issues of program balance and technical capability that need to be addressed now before irreversible damage to the laboratory’s technical base occurs.”

Council chair Sharon Stover and Rep. Jim Hall (R-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Sandoval Counties) attended the meeting and they said they liked what they heard from the Congressional delegation.

“It was good to talk,” Stover said. “It was impressive all the community leaders came together in 24 hours notice. The sentiment we tried to express was that we were worried about the long-term health and vitality of the lab. We are concerned about LANL’s future.”

“I thought it went well,” Hall added.

Stover, Hall and the rest of the coalition will be going to Washington March 6 to call on various Congressional committees to discuss the budget implications.

Bingaman’s spokesperson Jude McCartin said in a phone call Saturday that the senator wants everybody to get the same information from the Congressional delegation as well as the people going to Washington in support of the lab.

On Feb. 16, Chu testified at the hearing in Washington that the Energy Department had plans to move ahead with the design of the CMRR project to 90 percent.

“Because of the budget constraints ... we have to look at all the other projects and we felt we could not simply start CMRR and the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge,” Chu said during a Senate committee hearing that was archived on the DOE website. “We felt there was a more compelling reason to begin with that the UPF site at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.”

Bingaman said during that same hearing that Chu was dodging questions about CMRR’s future.

“The truth is we don’t know at this point whether there is a case to be made that they are making a mistake here,” Bingaman said. “Clearly, the projected cost of this facility has grown enormously, and I’m sure that’s one reason they’ve decided not to go forward with it as this point.”

Lujan, meanwhile, also released a letter Friday that he wrote to NNSA administrator Thomas D’Agostino.
Here is one of the excerpts:

“Should you be unable to reconsider the lab’s workforce reduction, please consider the lab’s role in its surrounding region.  LANL is more than just the largest employer in Northern New Mexico, it is one of the fundamental supports for the region’s economy and social institutions, contributing more than $2 billion to New Mexico’s economy,” Lujan wrote.

“The impacts of the lab and its thousands of employees, contractors, and students are felt throughout the state and shape New Mexico’s businesses, schools, governments, and people.  As severance packages for voluntarily departing employees are devised, please be cognizant of the following considerations:  First, many lab employees have worked for the lab and our nation’s national security enterprise for decades and deserve to be compensated for their loyal service.

“Severance packages for voluntary separation must recognize these workers’ allegiance to the lab’s work by honoring the lab’s full pension benefit and offering the most fair, generous and attractive severance possible.  Second, these employees have built up a vast technological expertise that could have broader applications to new business ventures or employment opportunities.  In addition to the financial elements of the package, I urge you to work in coordination with the lab and the Department of Energy Tech Transfer Coordinator to provide incentives and support for lab employees who plan to leave the lab and initiate new start up businesses.”