In the following op-ed, ANA Director Susan Gordon argues that Rep. Martin Heinrich is not acting in New Mexico's best interest when advocating for funding a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos. Gordon states that what New Mexico really needs is funding to clean up Los Alamos' legacy of radioactive and toxic waste.
May 16, 2012
By Susan Gordon
From the Albuquerque Journal
More than a decade late and 10 times more expensive than originally forecast, the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement mega-building at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is a textbook example of how Congress misspends the taxpayers’ dollars.
The main mission for the facility originally would have been to support expanded production of plutonium pits – the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. Today, however, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex, has determined that it does not need the new CMRR.
In fact, NNSA states in its fiscal 2012 Congressional Budget Request that it “has determined, in consultation with the national laboratories, that existing infrastructure in the nuclear complex has inherent capacity to provide adequate support for these missions.”
This is quite a change from previous pleas from NNSA that the CMRR was essential and critical to the nuclear weapons enterprise. This turnaround raised many questions during a recent hearing in D.C. NNSA crying wolf about the nuclear weapons complex doesn’t match up with reality.
Currently “deferred,” there is now an effort in Congress to fund the facility even after it has been deemed unnecessary. The apparent motive is a combination of Cold War ideology and old-fashioned pork barrel politics. But the Cold War is long over, and the facility would bring precious little to our state.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation should pay attention.
Rep. Martin Heinrich’s recent call for funding the CMRR illustrates how little he knows about what actually goes on across the nuclear weapons complex. The Government Accounting Office has reported that many of the Energy Department’s projects are financially out of control and poorly managed. Now suddenly, when faced with budget constraints, the ability to continue to do their mission without the CMRR is achievable at a fraction of the cost of the CMRR – an estimated $6 billion. After the five-year deferment, the need and mission of the CMRR will be evaluated. With shrinking stockpiles, it is unlikely that the U.S. will ever need a facility the size and cost proposed for the CMRR.
Meanwhile, NNSA’s own Environmental Impact Statement determined that the facility would not create a single new permanent job in New Mexico. It did predict an average of 420 temporary construction jobs over nine years but said those jobs “would have little or no noticeable impact on the socioeconomic conditions” of northern New Mexico. What would create a thousand well-paid jobs would be funding for comprehensive cleanup of the Lab’s immense inventory of buried radioactive and hazardous wastes.
Heinrich needs to learn what the issues are for all New Mexicans if he wants to represent us in the U.S. Senate. New Mexico has already paid a high price for the development of nuclear weapons. Uranium and mining in the state has cost the lives of hundreds of workers and left tailings that are leaching into water supplies. New Mexico hosts the only operating deep geologic repository for nuclear waste near Carlsbad. Radioactive wastes arrive daily from across the country to be deposited in the Waste Isolation Pilot Project. WIPP has not yet finished its mission, but Heinrich is supporting legislation that breaks the promise made by the federal government that only nuclear weapons waste would be deposited in the salt caverns.
Los Alamos National Laboratory has played a leading role in developing nuclear weapons and accumulated tons of contaminated waste dumped in the ground and stored on the surface. This contamination is seeping into the canyons and flowing into the Rio Grande, the source of drinking water for many communities.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation should be calling for increased funding to clean up the toxic and radioactive contamination in our state left by nuclear weapons production. That effort, whose need is not in doubt, would take decades and require billions of dollars, creating stable jobs while simultaneously improving the health and safety of our health and environment.