By MIA STEINLE
Ten years into the planning process, opposition is ramping up against a proposed nuclear facility in New Mexico--and not just from the usual suspects. Ever-vigilant of how the government is spending taxpayer dollars, we here at POGO have repeatedly voiced our opposition to the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility(CMRR-NF), a facility with little justification and a price tag now estimated at $3.7 to $5.8 billion. This October, in a review of the nation’s “bloated nuclear weapons budget,” The New York Times editorial page echoed our recommendation to stop construction on CMRR-NF. And today, The American Conservative published a damning article by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, which highlights the controversy behind the mammoth facility, “which has never been the subject of a public congressional hearing or passionate floor speech—much less a heated debate on cable TV or talk radio.”
Largely flying under the radar of the general public since its inception as a $375-million facility in 2001, CMRR-NF has been championed by politicians like Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and has been the foe of organizations like the Los Alamos Study Group and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico.
While the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—the semi-autonomous branch of the Department of Energy that oversees nuclear weapons—blames rising costs on safety and seismic concerns (the facility is going to be built near a fault line and a volcano), CMRR-NF isn’t simply replacing an older facility. It’s also facilitating the increased production of nuclear weapon components called “pits.” As the article notes, a new treaty with Russia, in fact, calls for fewer nuclear weapons in America’s future:
Critics say the entire landscape of nuclear-weapons production has changed since CMRR-NF was conceived—all in the direction of reducing the nuclear stockpile—yet every adjustment in the facility’s blueprints has resulted in more capacity to store plutonium and build additional pits.
While CMRR-NF is clearly a candidate to be cut from the already tight U.S. budget (as POGO’s own Peter Stockton notes in the article, the facility is “a huge waste of money.”), critics have found that arguing against the facility is difficult when legislators can’t understand the NNSA’s “intimidating scientific and technical jargon,” and are wary of halting construction after so much planning has been done (the facility’s design, by the way, is only 45 percent complete, meaning current cost estimates aren’t even based on a finished design). Still, with more and more outlets—from non-partisan groups and from groups all across the political spectrum—laying out the case against CMRR-NF so clearly, it’s becoming harder to claim ignorance of this nuclear “monster.”
Mia Steinle is a POGO Investigator.