DOE Plans to Remove 225,000 Cubic Yards of Soil Below Proposed CMRR Nuclear Facility

March 5, 2010

The Department of Energy (DOE) revealed at the semi-annual public meeting for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project on March 3rd that it plans to remove 225,000 cubic yards of soil from the location of the proposed Nuclear Facility. There are two phases to the CMRR Project. The first is an already constructed Radiological Laboratory, Utility and Office Building. The second is the proposed Nuclear Facility with the capacity to manufacture 125 plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons per year. Together the buildings are estimated to be 600,000 square feet.

The excavation would be approximately 350 feet wide by 350 feet long and 50 feet deep. DOE representatives stated that they would refill the excavated area with "lean" concrete, which does not contain any stones or aggregate.

Since it began in earnest in 2002, seismic questions have plagued the Project planning. Most recently, Congress required the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to review the design and certify that it would meet seismic requirements. Last August, the Board completed the certification process.

In its proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget, the Obama Administration asked for $225 million for the CMRR Project. About $170 million would be used for design so that the Nuclear Facility could withstand an earthquake.

It is important to remember that in 2003, the estimated cost for the entire Project was $600 million. Now the estimate is $4.5 billion - a seven-fold increase. The estimated cost includes a contingency fund, or as DOE officials named it, "an amount of fidelity," that contains over $780 million for possible increased construction costs.

At the meeting Wednesday, Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, asked about recent statements in the local press by Don Winchell, the DOE manager at LANL, that the CMRR Nuclear Facility is needed for non-proliferation programs. Coghlan questioned those statements. He noted that the only so-called nonproliferation program that is likely to handle sizable quantities of plutonium is designing plutonium fuel rods for commercial nuclear power plants. Coghlan contended that because it would introduce bomb-making plutonium to commercial markets, the program actually encourages proliferation.

This was the ninth in a series of meetings, which are the result of a 2005 settlement agreement between the Interested Parties, a network of non-governmental organizations, including CCNS, the New Mexico Environment Department, DOE and LANL about a state air emissions permit for the CMRR.

Catholic Sisters Joan Brown and Marlene Perrotte submitted written comments, in which they said, "We as a civilization are past the nuclear weapons paradigm as warfare. ... We are sabotaging our children's future by polluting our water, air and soil with toxins that last for thousands of years."

To learn more about the semi-annual meetings and transcripts, please visit:

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