Budget Forced Delay of Los Alamos Plutonium Lab: DOE Secretary

Spending restrictions forced the Obama administration to slash funding for a plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Thursday (see GSN, Feb. 14).

The Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration plans a five-year delay in construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement site, which would supplant a decades-old facility that provides analytical chemistry and other research services for production of plutonium nuclear-weapon cores at Los Alamos. The replacement plant is now estimated to cost up to $6 billion.

"Because of the budget constraints ... we have to look at all the other projects and we felt we could not simply start CMRR and the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge," the Albuquerque Journal quoted Chu as saying during a Senate committee hearing. "We felt there was more compelling reason to begin with that" UPF site at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.

A senior NNSA official last week said the deterioration of an existing Y-12 facility for processing weapon-grade uranium demanded that the Uranium Processing Facility take precedence. The administration is seeking $340 million for the project in the budget year that begins on Oct. 1.

Some observers have said the budget decision spells the end for the Los Alamos plutonium facility. Chu, though, said his department intends to move ahead with design of the site to 90 percent.

"That's very prudent because for a number of reasons, before you start construction it is best to have most of it designed," he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said Chu skirted his questions about the plutonium project but that he would continue to pursue the matter.

"The truth is we don't know at this point whether there is a case to be made that they are making a mistake here," the lawmaker said. "Clearly, the projected cost of this facility has grown enormously, and I'm sure that's one reason they've decided not to go forward with it as this point" (Coleman/Fleck, Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 17).

February 21, 2012
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Spending restrictions forced the Obama administration to slash funding for a plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Thursday.

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