House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner wants to force the United States to invest in a multi-billion dollar nuclear weapons research facility that it does not need, the $6+ billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The primary purpose of the CMRR-NF is to increase the capacity of the United States to produce the plutonium cores for nuclear weapons. During House Armed Services Committee’s May 9 markup of the defense bill, Turner successfully introduced two amendments that would take construction of the CMRR-NF out of the hands of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which says it can’t afford the facility and does not need it now, and require the Defense Department to build and pay for it. The amendments would also prevent NNSA or the Pentagon from considering less expensive plutonium sustainment strategies that do not include construction of the CMRR…
If DOD believed it essential to spend $6 billion on the CMRR, it already had the opportunity to chip in the money. Decisions about how to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile are made by both DOD and NNSA through an entity called the Nuclear Weapons Council. In fact, as stated in Turner’s amendment, DOD already transfers billions of dollars to NNSA for projects it deems important. It is clear that DOD, in conjunction with NNSA, already decided that they could not afford to build the CMRR and adequately fund or manage other high priority nuclear modernization activities. They also concluded that CMRR is not needed now since other alternatives to sustain essential U.S. plutonium capabilities exist. In documents explaining the FY 2013 budget request, the Office of Management and Budget stated, “NNSA has determined in consultation with the national laboratories that existing infrastructure in the nuclear complex has the inherent capacity to provide adequate support for these missions. Therefore, NNSA proposes deferring CMRR construction for at least five years.”
Turner’s amendments claim that the only way “to create and sustain the capability to produce plutonium pits for nuclear weapons, and to ensure sufficient plutonium pit capacity, to respond to technical challenges in the existing nuclear weapons stockpile or geopolitical” is via construction of the CMRR. But the CMRR-NF is not a prerequisite for producing plutonium pits. In fact, the United States has been producing plutonium pits on a small scale for much of the past decade and has thousands of pits in storage from dismantled weapons. As NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino testified to the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee earlier this year “we are not hampered by saying the nation has to have a capability right now to make 50 or 80 pits per year in order to take care of the stockpile.”
Turner’s attempt to prevent consideration of more cost-effective alternative to CMRR is such a bad idea that, earlier this year, members of his own party criticized NNSA for doing the exact same thing. The House FY 2013 Energy and Water bill noted that, “By not fully considering all available options [to CMRR], millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for work which will not be needed until a much later date.” Both the House and Senate appropriations committees supported the administration’s decision to delay construction of the facility.
Additionally, Turner’s amendments would establish a completely unrealistic timetable for construction. If Turner’s provisions were to be codified into law later this year, the CMRR project, which is winding down, would then have to be restarted and transferred to DOD. From a simple logistics standpoint, the process of transferring construction, determining the source of funding for the project within DOD, and completing other essential changes, would undoubtedly delay the completion date of the facility beyond 2024 and drive up the cost.
Remind me again why Congressman Turner wants a nuclear facility that DOD and NNSA say they cannot currently afford, do not currently need, and the construction of which would squeeze out higher-priority nuclear modernization and defense activities?