Stimulus package could speed LANL cleanup

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By Roger Snodgrass

There are some differences with special significance locally in the two versions of the stimulus package that is coming together in Washington.


The House passed an $816 million version of the measure on Wednesday, containing $500 million for nuclear waste cleanup, one of the most obvious sources of extra funds at legacy nuclear weapons sites, like Los Alamos, which has struggled with funding shortages in recent years.


Meanwhile, the Senate version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan included a whopping $6.4 billion that is directed at the environmental cleanup of former weapon production sites. Another piece is targeted for infrastructure in the nuclear weapons complex managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration.


“Although it is difficult to predict how much of DOE’s portion of the recovery package will be directed at our labs, the measure contains $1 billion for NNSA infrastructure upgrades,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman said this morning. “Our state will undoubtedly benefit from some of that funding,”


The House bill passed without any Republican support. The Senate Committee version passed by a 21-9 vote, which included some votes by the minority.


Neither version contained a breakout of how much would go to LANL’s cleanup projects, or any of the other Department of Energy sites where these tasks are underway.


“These projects will be of limited duration aimed at decreasing the overall site footprint and reducing recurring annual costs,” according to a summary document prepared by the Senate Committee on Appropriations. That version passed on Tuesday.


“This work will move toward decreasing the footprint at some sites by up to 90 percent.”


The language in the Senate bill says the bulk of the funds would be available through the next fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2010.


The note on cleanup in the Senate committee’s description stated that the work “will free up these lands for other economic purposes,” a goal with special relevance in Los Alamos, where a scarcity of land is generally blamed as a major constraint on economic development.


The Senate makes a case for spending the extra money now, by saying the $6.4 billion would save taxpayers $8 billion in life cycle cost savings. Another advantage is there are existing contracts through which these extra funds can be channeled, “assuring the timely impact of the funding,” as the Committee’s statement noted.


A few other items may have relevance for the laboratory, although not specifically mentioned.


The Senate-passed version of the package contains $1.9 billion for basic research in the physical sciences including high-energy physics, nuclear physics and fusion energy sciences and improvements to DOE laboratories and scientific facilities. This item includes $400 million for the new Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy, for “high risk, high-payoff research into energy sources and energy efficiency.


DARPA-E would be DOE’s version of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


The House bill contains $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research, among other DOE-related projects. Another $2.4 billion is available for carbon capture and sequestration technology, another area in which LANL is currently doing research.