Jun 26, 2007
June 26, 2007
Proposed funding safeguards many nuclear weapons programs on the chopping block
A Senate spending bill with big implications for New Mexico came out “as well as we could have hoped for,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Tuesday.
The Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Tuesday passed a $32 billion spending measure for the Department of Energy, which oversees Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, along with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The proposed funding would significantly restore many nuclear weapons programs that were on the chopping block. Now the stage is set for negotiations between the House and the Senate.
Bingaman has visited with U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chairs the Senate subcommittee that pays for energy and water projects.
The Senate version would come close to President Bush’s budget request, which is much more generous than cuts proposed by the House Appropriations Committee.
For example, the Senate version spends $6.49 billion on nuclear weapons activities nationwide, including several programs at Los Alamos. The president’s budget request was $6.5 billion and the House proposed $5.9 billion — a move that sent layoff worries into overdrive in Northern New Mexico.
Still, Bingaman noted, Bush’s budget request represents a $90 million funding cut at Los Alamos and an $80 million cut at Sandia.
Bingaman has known Dorgan since the North Dakota resident was elected to the Senate in 1992. They serve together on a separate committee, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman chairs.
“I think he was certainly receptive,” Bingaman said. “I think that the bill that the subcommittee reported today pretty closely tracks the administration’s request for funds in the areas that will impact both Los Alamos … and Sandia. I think that will still involve a cut from current year funding.”
When asked how he defended the lab, Bingaman said, “Obviously the important issue is, are they doing work that’s important for the country? And that’s the case you make, is that they are doing important work and it needs to be supported.”
The current budget at Los Alamos is about $2.1 billion. In 2006, about $1.85 billion came from the Department of Energy and the rest from agencies doing business with the lab. In comparison, the president asked for $1.83 billion in the 2008 fiscal year from the Department of Energy for the lab.
U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is the ranking minority member of Dorgan’s committee. Domenici said he felt wonderful after Tuesday’s bill was released. “The nuclear deterrent is fully covered,” Domenici said. “Science-based stockpile stewardship is recognized and funded. Los Alamos and Sandia, and for that matter, Lawrence Livermore, all got their basic budgets funded, more or less. … And a number of new programs were started that will be included in the work of the various laboratories in this year.”
Security upgrades at Los Alamos totaling $67 million were included in the Senate bill.
Bingaman noted Tuesday’s Senate numbers “are the beginning point for the negotiations with the House of Representatives.”
For weapons programs nationwide, the Senate numbers represent an increase of $213 million above the 2007 fiscal year, according to Domenici’s office.
The House numbers would be a $396 million cut to weapons programs compared to the 2007 fiscal year. The overall House bill cut weapons programs and moved more money into energy research. The Senate version spends more money than the House version.
Both sides must agree later this year before sending the bill to the president.
The Senate subcommittee fully funded a $95.5 million request for a new nuclear chemistry building, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Facility, at Los Alamos. The House eliminated that request. The Senate also suggested spending $66 million on the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which the House zeroed out. And the Senate zeroed out money for a so-called Consolidated Plutonium Center while suggesting $222 million for environmental cleanup, an increase compared to the $139 million in the president’s request.
“Domenici does some good things, such as helping to add funding for cleanup at LANL,” Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico said. “But he is increasing the odds that Los Alamos will become the nation’s permanent plutonium pit production center by fully funding pit manufacturing and a giant new plutonium lab. He should be pressuring LANL to grow up and change instead of always feeding his baby the same old tired formula of nuclear weapons dollars.”
A limited number of pits are made at Los Alamos now, and it’s the only place in the country where that work supporting the nuclear weapons stockpile occurs, the lab director has said.
“I think the decision about the future plutonium production or pit production is still to be made,” Bingaman said. “And I’ve been clear that I don’t think we should build any new pit production facility at Los Alamos. I think that if the determination is made that we need any kind of new facility, it should be elsewhere.”
That’s because Los Alamos’ strength is as a science lab, not a production center, he said.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.