By DIANA DEL MAURO | The New Mexican
June 6, 2007
Given its atomic-bomb heritage, no one is surprised that Los Alamos National Laboratory could bear the brunt of painful changes if Congress shifts funding from nuclear weapons programs to solutions for the threatening energy crisis.
But two Congressmen representing New Mexico don’t think it needs to be that way.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee elevated the priority of energy projects while approving a bill that calls for $600 million in cuts to the Department of Energy weapons program. It recommended deep budget reductions for LANL and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, but endorsed budget increases for Department of Energy laboratories in other states.
A new member of the committee, U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., applauded the bill’s intent to redirect funding toward energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. He even called it a “bold vision.” But during the voice vote Wednesday, he also expressed opposition.
“I want to ensure that as we transition the role for our national labs, the outstanding scientists at LANL are not unfairly disadvantaged in the process,” Udall said in a statement.
Udall said he got assurances from the committee’s chairman, Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., that the men would work together to create a fair competitive process for this unprecedented level of energy research funding.
But he also said in a statement that LANL must be willing to diversify its mission. “Failing to do so could risk New Mexico jobs and harm the local economy,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., accused the committee of singling out LANL. “This bill would be devastating for Los Alamos, surrounding communities and New Mexico overall,” Domenici, a ranking member of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee that funds national laboratories, said in a news release.
Los Alamos lab would lose out on $131 million for production of plutonium pits, which are triggers for nuclear weapons, according to Domenici. It also would lose $95.5 million for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project, what Domenici says is the only facility able to support the pit mission. Another $50 million in security upgrades for key nuclear facilities would be slashed, too.
Further, a $117.9 million cut to lab operations and salaries would severely undercut Sandia and LANL, Domenici said.
“The House plan would cripple that defense mission and leave our nuclear deterrent vulnerable,’” Domenici said. “It is simply unacceptable.”
Udall, in contrast, didn’t view the cuts as a threat to national security. “It comes at a time when our national weapons arsenal is reliable for decades to come, and our national security increasingly is dependent on increased energy innovation and research,” he said.
Contact Diana Del Mauro at 986-3066 or email@example.com.