NNSA Hears Comments on Proposed Replacement CMR Facility at LANL

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) held two public hearings this week to receive comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed replacement Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NNSA claims that a replacement CMR facility is necessary due to the deterioration of the 50-year old existing CMR building and the need to expand the mission of the CMR facility as outlined in the 1999 LANL Sitewide Environmental Impact Statement.

The CMR building performs analytical chemistry and materials characterization that NNSA says are critical to current nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship activities conducted at LANL. NNSA previously considered performing repairs and upgrades to the existing CMR building, which is located at Technical Area-3 (TA-3). NNSA decided that such repairs would be too expensive, costing several hundred million dollars for only part of the current building. NNSA instead proposes to spend $450 million to $900 million on a new CMR facility, to be located at either TA-55, near LANL's plutonium facility, or TA-6, which is largely undeveloped forestland.

NNSA intends to use an approach in which the design and the construction of the facility would happen concurrently. They claim that this approach could save up to $450 million, although Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, says, "LANL is notorious for cost-overruns even when it attempts to design thoroughly in advance. A design and build approach does not seem prudent, especially given all the fiscal management problems they have been having."

NNSA hopes that the new facility will be operational by 2010, and that the existing CMR building will be decommissioned by 2014. However, the draft environmental impact statement does not account for decontamination and decommissioning of the existing 550,000 square-foot CMR building, of which more than 44,000 square feet are contaminated with radioactive material.

NNSA argues that the contaminated materials will be moved to TA-54, LANL's waste storage and disposal facility. However, activists pointed out that there are already 40,000 drums of waste stored aboveground at TA-54, and the facility may not be capable of storing or disposing of the large amount of waste that would be generated by demolishing the CMR building.

Furthermore, NNSA estimates that the replacement CMR facility would generate as many as four times as much waste as the current CMR building, and fails to account for where that waste would be managed. This increase violates the Department of Energy's pollution prevention policy, which requires facilities to reduce the volume of waste they generate.

Activists are also concerned about the broader implications of expanded CMR operations, particularly when LANL is being considered as a site for the proposed Modern Pit Facility, which NNSA claims will support their stockpile stewardship program. However, many activists contend it may produce a new generation of nuclear weapons. Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "The CMR building will support the so-called stockpile stewardship program, which is developing mini-nukes and the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which are directly contrary to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which the U.S. unequivocally committed to complete nuclear disarmament."

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