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Senate Panel Moves to Maintain Funding for Los Alamos Plutonium Lab

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week moved to allow $150 million in fiscal 2013 funds for a new plutonium facility planned at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, countering an Obama administration plan to suspend spending for the project, the Albuquerque Journal reported (see GSN, May 25).

The panel's defense authorization bill would mandate completion of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project by 2024, though U.S. government personnel have contended reaching the milestone before 2028 would be unnecessary. The legislation would limit project spending at $3.7 billion.

Last month, Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives backed plans to suspend spending on the project, 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 (see GSN, April 27). The replacement plant is projected to cost up to $6 billion, according to a previous report (see GSN, Feb. 21). The Obama administration is seeking to delay the facility by five years.

The Senate panel's move on Thursday was intended to "second guess the combined wisdom of several agencies" on the plan, said Greg Mello, who heads the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), though, on Friday said “there is no disagreement on the need to make sure LANL remains the nation’s center for plutonium technology and research.”

“The Obama administration has said it is committed to ensuring that Los Alamos National Laboratory has a state-of-the-art plutonium facility,” Bingaman said. “There are competing visions in Congress and the administration about us getting on track to replace the aging CMR building.”

The project's schedule and expense are the sources of remaining concerns, the senator said. “I will be working with my colleagues on the committees of jurisdiction to ensure the funding is in place to maintain all critical, near-term operations at LANL and for meeting the lab’s long-term needs,” he said (Albuquerque Journal, May 27).

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