While being narrowly correct, LANL PR man Kevin Roark is misleading when he claims [in a June 25, Letter to the Editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper] that plutonium pit production will not take place in the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR). What he fails to disclose is that the Lab is not building just one facility, but instead is creating an integrated manufacturing complex for expanded production for which the CMRR is absolutely key. This complex will consist of LANL’s existing production facility “PF-4” with ~$300 million in upgrades; CMRR’s already completed first phase, the $400 million “Rad Lab”; and the future $4 billion CMRR “Nuclear Facility,” now being debated.
The Nuclear Facility will be literally next door to PF-4 and linked to it via underground tunnel. While pits are physically manufactured in PF-4’s glovebox lines, the Nuclear Facility’s central missions of “materials characterization” and “analytical chemistry” are essential operations that ensure “weapons-grade” plutonium and pit production quality control. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s own documents show that the Nuclear Facility is being specifically sized to support expanded production of up to 80 pits per year, quadruple LANL’s currently approved rate. It is also planned to have a vault for up to six metric tons of “special nuclear materials,” capable of storing around 1,000 pits.
Roark must think that New Mexicans are naïve enough to accept the Lab’s claims that the CMRR is all about “science” even as LANL becomes more and more a production site. Sadly, this is only part and parcel of the substantial rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex, which will also include a new $3.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee and a new privately financed Kansas City Plant for production of the 1,000’s of nonnuclear components that go into a nuclear weapon.
Many New Mexicans hoped for serious mission diversification at Los Alamos, which some $5 billion sunk into its plutonium infrastructure will almost certainly shut the door on. Schools in Santa Fe and all across the country are being closed due to lack of funding. Nevertheless, our government is preparing to spend some $10 billion to build new production plants even as we are purportedly working toward the declared long-term national security goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. To get there, citizens need to push the politicians to meet the needs of everyday people, not those of the vested nuclear weaponeers.