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CMRR-NF Cancelled, but Questions Linger

The Los Alamos Study Group, a leading nuclear disarmament group in New Mexico, recently released information showing that the Department of Energy (DOE) “cancelled” plans to construct the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement – Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF). This is great news; the Project On Government Oversight has called for the cancellation of the CMRR-NF in letters to DOE and the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and in a January 2012 report.

The DOE document shows that Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman approved the cancellation of CMRR-NF on August 21, 2014. Construction of the nearly $6 billion facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had been deferred since early 2012, and LANL has been using existing facilities to fulfill its missions. The CMRR-NF would have produced and stored plutonium pits, a primary component of nuclear weapons. For years, questions arose about the need for the CMRR-NF and for increased plutonium pit production, especially since increasing pit production flies in the face of the Obama Administration’s promises to downsize the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

Despite the victory in cancelling the CMRR-NF, other questions linger about ongoing plutonium pit operations at LANL, where the plan is to upgrade facilities and build underground modular plutonium pit facilities at a total estimated cost of $4.3 billion. For example, in response to Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board concerns, LANL shut down pit production operations at its Plutonium Facility 4 (PF-4) due to nuclear criticality safety issues in June 2013. Additionally, DOE’s Pantex Plant in Texas is home to a stockpile of at least 14,000 pits, most of which could be refurbished and reused instead of increasing pit production at LANL.

Unfortunately the public is often kept in the dark about the genuine state of the weapons complex and what is and is not, in fact, needed. There must be more transparency in the government’s planned plutonium pit operations at LANL and of the consideration of alternatives. The Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories is currently looking at the national labs and opportunities to realign missions and work, and could suggest some alternatives for consideration.

POGO supports the decision to cancel the CMRR-NF, and we will push Congress to defund plutonium pit production activities. We will also promote alternatives to sinking over $4 billion into LANL and new underground facilities. Two alternatives that should be on the top of the list are terminating plutonium pit production because there are plenty of pits which could be refurbished and reused, and shifting plutonium pit functions to existing facilities at LANL or at other nuclear weapons labs facilities, at a lower cost to taxpayers.

As we witnessed with the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, there are real concerns about DOE’s plans and its decisions to move forward with unnecessary construction projects. There are too many grandiose projects that are nothing more than pork for Members of Congress and stuffing for DOE contractors rather than projects that serve genuine national security needs.

By: Scott H. Amey, J.D.
General Counsel, POGO

Scott Amey Scott Amey is General Counsel for the Project On Government Oversight. Some of Scott's investigations center on contract oversight, human trafficking, the revolving door, and ethics issues.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Nuclear Weapons Complex Oversight, Los Alamos National Lab, Waste

Authors: Scott H. Amey, J.D.

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