New Nuclear Weapons Facility: “Gateway to a Bleak and Hopeless World”

[The National Nuclear Security Administration] has advanced a “new paradigm” of nuclear weapons management. … which is really just the old Cold War revived. [The] CMRR-NF is a required gateway to that bleak and hopeless world.
– Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group

A nuclear “pit,” as regular readers of Focal Points know, is the heart of a nuclear weapon where the chain reaction occurs. The fight to halt the construction of a facility that’s instrumental in their manufacture is finally experiencing some success and the media, including mainstream, has been noticing. By way of background, an excerpt from a recent post of ours about the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility (CMRR-NF ) follows.

To Focal Points’ surprise, the New York Times addressed the facility in an editorial on October 29 titled The Bloated Nuclear Budget, which began:

Twenty years after the end of the cold war, the United States still has about 2,500 nuclear weapons deployed and 2,600 more as backup. The Obama administration, in an attempt to mollify Congressional Republicans, has also committed to modernizing an already hugely expensive complex of nuclear labs and production facilities. [But the] country does not need to maintain this large an arsenal. … President Obama [should speed up] already negotiated reductions in deployed weapons and committing to further cuts, unilaterally if necessary.

Including

Halt construction of the new plutonium storage facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Costs have increased tenfold, and there are serious safety questions about the location — along a fault line and near an active volcano. Savings: $2.9 billion.

Greg Mello is the executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, which is leading the charge to block the CMRR-NF, via the courts. The LASG is both appealing the dismissal of its case which sought a new Environmental Impact Statement (under the National Environmental Policy Act) to address those seismic concerns and is filing a second lawsuit to the same end.

Not long after singling out the CMRR-NF for condemnation, the Times provided Mello with space for an op-ed of his own. He points out that the present plutonium facility at Los Alamos

… which has about twice the space inside as the proposed one, already has a high-capacity manufacturing line that takes up just a third of the building. Why does the nuclear administration need to produce more pits, let alone at a faster rate? Scientists agree that the existing stock of pits will last a century or so without replacement.

Then the American Conservative ran a story about the CMRR-NF. Kelley Beaucar Vlahos reports.

It hasn’t been built yet—in fact, the designs aren’t even finished after 10 years. But the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) has been soaking up taxpayer money all the same as the scope of the project has metastasized.

“The country doesn’t have money to pour into an unnecessary, giant boondoggle that has grown beyond all original expectations,” charges Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group. … There is no doubt that the budget-cutting imperative is clashing with the old way of doing business on Capitol Hill, as pet projects and earmarks come under more scrutiny than ever. … That includes CMRR-NF, which has never been the subject of a public congressional hearing or passionate floor speech—much less a heated debate on cable TV or talk radio—but has been controversial nonetheless.

Finally, some good news, as relayed in the latest LASG newsletter.

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Judicial District ruled … in favor of the Los Alamos Study Group on a motion by the Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting dismissal of the Study Group’s appeal of a May 2011 decision by a New Mexico federal district court which allowed the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to continue working toward building [the CMRR-NF].

The Study Group had claimed, and still claims in this appeal and in a second lawsuit filed in New Mexico federal court, that NNSA and DOE have never written an applicable environmental impact statement (EIS) for the facility … that the agencies involved are violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and that the project is proceeding illegally and must be halted while an applicable EIS is written. … In a separate positive ruling yesterday for Study Group in their second NEPA case in New Mexico federal court, the court denied DOJ’s attempt to transfer the new case to the Honorable Judith Herrera, who had ruled against the Study Group in the first case, the case now under appeal.

Then, on Monday, December 5, the Associated Press addressed the CMRR-NF in an article titled Debate over $6B Los Alamos nuke lab.

Questions continue to swirl about exactly what kind of nuclear and plutonium research will be done there, whether the lab is really necessary, and — perhaps most important — will it be safe, or could it become New Mexico’s equivalent of Japan’s Fukushima?

As federal officials prepare the final design plans for the controversial and very expensive lab, increased scrutiny is being placed on what in recent years has been discovered to be a greater potential for a major earthquake along the fault lines that have carved out the stunning gorges, canyons and valleys that surround the premier U.S. nuclear weapons facility in northern New Mexico.

It’s beginning to look as if the nuclear weapons-industrial complex has overreached with the CMRR-NF. We’ll give Mello the last word.

NNSA has advanced a “new paradigm” of nuclear weapons management, so far without White House endorsement, which aims at repeated upgrades and replacements to nuclear weapons on an accelerated schedule. If accepted, this “new paradigm” … – which is really just the old Cold War revived – could serve as a potent narrative supporting a new arms race with Russia, a possibility which is never far away. CMRR-NF is a required gateway to that bleak and hopeless world.