NNSA Budget Cuts Los Alamos Facility

By Davenport, Kelsey | Arms Control Today, March 2012 | Go to article overview

NNSA Budget Cuts Los Alamos Facility


Davenport, Kelsey, Arms Control Today


The Obama administration zeroed out funding for construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR) at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in its fiscal year 2013 budget request and announced it would delay work on the facility for at least five years.

According to the budget request, the delay will save $1.8 billion from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2017.

The purpose of the CMRR is to support increased production capability of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons and perform technical analysis on nuclear materials. Funding for the new Los Alamos facility falls into the section of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget dealing with weapons activities, which include operating and maintaining the infrastructure and facilities necessary to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Despite the cut in CMRR funding, the weapons activities request of nearly $7.6 billion is five percent above the amount that Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2012. The $7.6 billion budget is, however, $53 million less than the fiscal year 2012 request for NNSA weapons activities.

Sequencing CMRR and UPF

The CMRR cut is a result of the NNSA's decision to sequence construction of two new facilities at its national laboratories. Because of fiscal constraints, the NNSA said in the budget request, it will prioritize completion of the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee and delay the CMRR. According to the NNSA's budget justification document, the UPF will "provide new facilities and equipment to consolidate all [enriched uranium] operations at Y-12."

The CMRR construction can be deferred because existing facilities at the national laboratories have the "inherent capacity to provide adequate support" for plutonium activities, the document said. In a Feb. 13 video, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said that the NNSA had adjusted its plutonium strategy and would utilize existing facilities to "ensure uninterrupted plutonium operations" while focusing funding on other key modernization projects. During a conference call with reporters that day, D'Agostino emphasized that the decision was a deferral rather than a cancellation.

For fiscal year 2012, Congress appropriated $200 million for the CMRR, $100 million less than the administration's budget request. The 2012 budget request's future-year projections estimated a $300 million request for the CMRR in fiscal year 2013 and $350 million per year in fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016. Total project costs for the CMRR already have increased markedly since 2004. At that time, the NNSA estimated that the CMRR would cost $660 million; current estimates place the cost closer to $6 billion.

As a result of the decision to sequence construction of the CMRR and UPF, the NNSA budget request reflects an accelerated building schedule for the Tennessee facility. For fiscal year 2013, the administration requests $340 million for UPF construction and project engineering and design, a $180 million increase over the enacted funding for 2012. The request is also a $150 million increase over what the 2012 budget request estimated for UPF funding for 2013. …

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