By DANA LIEBELSON
The U.S. is pouring billions of dollars into a proposed Department of Energy (DOE) facility in New Mexico that would increase nuclear weapons production. Given that President Obama pointed to the nuclear arsenal as a source of budget cuts last week, there isn’t a better time to eliminate funding for this irresponsible money pit: the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).
CMRR-NF was first conceived a decade ago with the intention of replacing an existing Los Alamos National Laboratory Facility. But its mission has expanded to enable the increased production of plutonium pits, which form the core of nuclear warheads—even though experts doubt the need for increased pit production.
In short, CMRR-NF’s mission, cost, and design have spiraled of control. POGO has published a report outlining why the facility needs to be cut. Here are the top eight reasons:
1. CMRR-NF is a massive money pit: its estimated price tag has climbed from $375 million to $3.7 to $5.9 billion.
Only 45 percent of the design of CMRR-NF has been completed, and the facility is not expected to be fully functional until 2023. Even if it’s completed on time, the maintenance budget for CMRR-NF will cost an additional $93 million to $148 million per year. Given that the Department of Defense needs to find at least $450 billion in budget cuts, it makes zero sense to pour this kind of money into an unnecessary project.
2. Many of the planned functions for CMRR-NF could be carried out at existing U.S. nuclear weapons facilities at a lower cost to taxpayers.
DOE’s massive Device Assembly Facility in Nevada could provide the sort of ample, secure plutonium storage space that CMRR-NF promises. What’s more, DOE’s Pantex Plant in Texas is home to a stockpile of at least 14,000 pits, some of which could be refurbished and reused, instead of increasing pit production at Plutonium Facility 4—one of the results of building CMRR-NF.
Former Sandia Laboratories Vice President Bob Peurifoy said it best: “[P]it production enabled by CMRR-NF is not needed to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons for decades to come…as a result, the Nuclear Facility might just sit there with nothing to do.”
3. CMRR-NF undermines the U.S. commitment to shrink its nuclear arsenal through the New START Treaty.
In February, 2011, the U.S. ratified the New START Treaty, which calls for the U.S. to draw down the number of its deployed strategic deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 over the first seven years of the treaty. CMRR–NF, in contrast, includes a vault capable of holding the amount of plutonium in 1,500 warheads. The numbers don’t add up—CMRR-NF undermines the New START Treaty.
4. CMRR-NF is a project without a cause
CMRR-NF is supposed to be a replacement for the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building—but it has new, costly capabilities the DOE has yet to justify. When considering the FY 2008 budget, the House Appropriations Committee recommended that construction of CMRR-NF be delayed because it has “no coherent mission.”
5. The facility is unlikely to have any significant impact on job creation in the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) region.
So far, the war-chant of the 2012 presidential campaigns has been “jobs, jobs, jobs.” But CMRR-NF is a multi-billion dollar project that would create only a few hundred temporary construction jobs. This would have “little or no noticeable socioeconomic impact” on the LANL region, according to a report by the DOE.
6. CMRR-NF could be vulnerable to an earthquake.
Given the catastrophic earthquake at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, seismic concerns about nuclear facilities cannot be cast aside. Data show that the risk of a major earthquake occurring at LANL is considerably higher than previously thought.
7. DOE is relying on a strategy that would involve designing and constructing CMRR-NF at the same time.
DOE is relying on design-build strategy for CMRR-NF, in which design and construction occur concurrently, with one contractor overseeing both stages. This strategy might work for home improvement projects, but with DOE’s previous projects, it has led to technological failures, delays, and huge cost increases.
8. DOE has a track record of dumping taxpayer dollars into wasteful projects.
DOE is behind two other behemoths of overspending: the $4.86 billion Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site; and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), which is estimated to cost between $6.5 to $7.5 billion, and will most likely require further exorbitant design changes. Given the billion-dollar waste of these past projects, CMRR-NF doesn’t seem like a promising investment.
You can read more about the CMRR-NF facility in the new POGO report, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Energy Department Plans to Waste Billions of Dollars on Unneeded Los Alamos Lab Facility.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.