WASHINGTON (April 26, 2012)—There is no need for the United States to begin building the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The Obama administration’s recent decision to delay construction of the facility for at least five years makes sense, the report concluded.
The administration has stated that it postponed construction of the CMRR-NF in Los Alamos, New Mexico, because of budgetary constraints, but the UCS report “The CMRR-Nuclear Facility: Why a Delay Makes Sense,” demonstrates that there are benefits to a delay.
“Plans for this facility were hatched long before the New START arms reduction agreement with Russia,” said Stephen Young, co-author of the study and a senior analyst in UCS’s Global Security Program. “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.”
One of the main justifications for building the CMRR-NF is to bolster U.S. capacity to produce plutonium “pits,” the fissile material core of modern nuclear weapons. Looking ahead two decades, the UCS report found that the only plausible need to increase pit production capacity above the current level would be to support the upcoming life extension programs for W78 and W88 warheads. It is not clear that either warhead will use a new pit, however, and the administration has not reached a decision on that question. Even if the two warheads do use new pits, the report found, an existing facility at Los Alamos could produce them.
Another rationale for building the facility is to perform technical analysis required to sustain the stockpile. The report concluded that another Los Alamos facility could handle that responsibility.
“The administration’s decision to delay this facility is fundamentally sound,” said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-author of the report and co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program. “Critics who disagree would waste billions of dollars on a facility that is not needed.”
Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee supported the administration’s decision, finding that delaying the CMRR-NF “will not adversely impact sustainment of the stockpile in the near term since alternatives are available.”
Today, both the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the CMRR-NF decision. The Senate is expected to support the administration, but Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, Republican leader of the House committee, opposes the decision and may seek to restore funding for the facility in the National Defense Authorization Act. Restoring funding for the facility, however, would be overruled if the appropriations process does not also fund construction.