By MIA STEINLE
For fans of responsible nuclear weapons spending, this week has brought a lot of disappointing news from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) as it marks up the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Defying reason (and regard for taxpayer dollars) yet again, HASC approved two amendments yesterday from Representative Mike Turner (R-OH) that disregard the advice and expertise of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) regarding a troubled multi-billion dollar nuclear facility.
The first of Turner’s amendments would appropriate $160 million to the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF). That’s $60 million more than HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) recommended in his mark-up on Monday. Furthermore, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee provided zero funding for CMRR-NF in its FY 2013 bill. As we noted earlier this week, anything more than $0 is too much for this project, considering the NNSA itself said it found existing facilities to fulfill CMRR-NF’s proposed missions. What’s more, we argued:
The proposed facility would enable the U.S. to increase its production of plutonium pits, a primary component of nuclear weapons. However, as POGO wrote in a report this January, there are more than enough good reasons not to build CMRR-NF, not the least of which is the facility’s estimated cost of $3.7 to $5.9 billion. That’s a hefty price tag for a facility that the NNSA says it doesn’t need, that nuclear weapons experts agree doesn’t serve a vital purpose, and that our research shows is not needed in light of the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.
The amendment would also ensure that no funds could be appropriated for “any activities associated with a plutonium strategy for the [NNSA] that does not include achieving full operational capacity of [CMRR-NF] by fiscal year 2024.” That is, the amendment would prohibit the NNSA from seeking less expensive alternatives to CMRR-NF.
However, the NNSA has already said less expensive alternatives exist, and Turner’s second amendment appears to be a blatant attempt to resuscitate his beloved—and totally unnecessary and wasteful—CMRR-NF by distancing it from NNSA authority. The amendment would treat the construction of NNSA nuclear facilities as Department of Defense “military construction projects.” It specifically includes CMRR-NF, another costly and controversial facility called the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), and any NNSA nuclear construction project that starts after October 1, 2013, and costs more than $1 billion (which is, trust us, nearly every NNSA nuclear construction project).
Under the amendment, the NNSA would retain some authority, but congressional authority would likely transfer in both chambers from the Subcommittees on Energy and Water Appropriations (which oversee nuclear weapons funding) to the Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations. What this accomplishes is not only moving nuclear construction projects away from the agency and committees that have rightly questioned the necessity of these projects, but it also moves nuclear construction projects away from the agency and committees that have the appropriate expertise to oversee such projects. By distancing CMRR-NF from those who know this boondoggle best, Turner is hoping Congress will blindly give CMRR-NF another chance, at any cost.
Some Members, such as Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), put up a good argument against Turner during the mark-up, as has Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) on the floor in the past. The NDAA is on the floor before the full House next week, and we hope the majority of the House will stand up in opposition to funding CMRR-NF and to Turner’s attempt to facilitate a Pentagon power-grab. Congress needs to restore the zero on this money pit.
Mia Steinle is a POGO investigator.