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GOP, Democrats Could Agree on Zeroing Los Alamos Plutonium Lab Budget

A GOP-led panel's endorsement this week of an Obama administration plan to suspend spending for a new plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico hinted at potential for agreement on the matter between Republicans and Democrats, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Thursday (see GSN, April 25).

The House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee's backing of plans to defer advancement of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project by a half decade lined up with the position taken on the matter by the panel's Democratic-led Senate equivalent.

The stance shared by the panels points to possible consensus between both parties on the project's future, said Greg Mello, who heads the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group.

Still, their position contrasts with statements a number of Republican lawmakers have issued in opposition to the proposal. House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) lambasted the Obama administration earlier this month for moving to delay the plutonium site's completion.

Turner had not indicated as of Wednesday how he would respond to the House subcommittee's endorsement of the administration plan. The administration has proposed boosting overall nuclear weapons spending by 4 percent, to nearly $7.6 billion, in fiscal 2013.

The site 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 projected to cost up to $6 billion, according to a previous report (see GSN, Feb. 21; John Fleck, Albuqueque Journal, April 26).

Steps to delay the facility's completion are reasonable, according to an assessment issued on Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Plans for this facility were hatched long before the New START arms reduction agreement with Russia,” said Stephen Young, a UCS expert who helped develop the analysis. “This delay will allow the administration to take into account forthcoming changes to U.S. nuclear weapons policy and conduct a full assessment of alternatives to building the Chemistry and Metallurgy facility' (Union of Concerned Scientists release, April 26).

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