Sep 27, 2007
The major construction project known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility held another semi-annual meeting Wednesday, under terms of a formal agreement for air-quality permitting.
Although a scheduling conflict was said to have limited attendance by some of the "Interested Parties," the public interest groups named in the settlement, several representatives were present and a vigorous question-and-answer period ensued during the last half of the presentation.
The meeting at the Best Western Hilltop House contrasted with previous meetings by the strong showing of personnel directly related to the project itself who outnumbered representatives of public interest groups.
Their specific answers enabled some questions and concerns that came up during the meeting to be resolved on the spot.
Groundbreaking on the CMRR adjacent to the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory took place in early 2006. Excavation was carried out for both buildings of the project, although funding through completion is still contingent. Construction began in May and heavily reinforced concrete walls are now rising for the first phase, known as the Radiation Laboratory/Utility office building (RLUOB)
Programmatic and political questions swirl around the project, which has been funded in a Senate committee's appropriation bill, but not funded at all in an appropriation bill passed by the House.
Answers related to budget uncertainties, and long-term purposes and intentions for the facility were in short supply as the officials emphasized the status and goals of the immediate construction activities.
Tom Whitacre, the radiological laboratory project manager, said RLUOB would be a five-story, 186,000-square-foot office building, containing 350 offices and training space with a total cost estimated at $126 million. This first phase of the project is about 25-percent finished, he said, and the full CMRR is at about the 5-percent mark.
Trish Williams-Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group asked about reports that CMRR budget estimates had "passed $1.5 billion on the way to $2 billion total."
A project flyer printed for the groundbreaking ceremony lists the budget at $745-$975 million over eight to 12 years.
Steve Fong, the federal project director for the CMRR, said there were only firm estimates for first-phase RLUOB so far, because the Nuclear Facility, the larger and much more expensive structure, is "still in design."
Questions focused on some of the seismic, air-quality and quality-assurance issues that had been raised previously.
Don Brown, a former quality assurance official at the lab, thought the process should address and attempt to resolve concerns that had been raised previously. He had additional questions related to the qualifications of the contractor to work on nuclear facilities and training for auditors and on-site inspectors.
A concern about design-build contract for the Nuclear Facility, pressed by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board, was apparently resolved.
Fong said the program sponsors decided last November to revise the plan for a simultaneous design and build contract to a more conventional construction process, in which the design process would precede the bidding for the construction contract.
Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Cameron Sadaf of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety who had provided a five-page list of questions in advance, received answers for several of those during the meeting.
Previous concerns about new and continuing investigations related to increased earthquake risks at the laboratory were partially addressed during the formal presentation.
A May 2007 Geotechnical Engineering Report and a June 2007 Probabilistic Seismic Hazard analysis have been completed and will be made available next spring. A Seismic Mapping of the Nuclear Facility Excavation is still in process but will be completed and provided to the designers before final construction.
The CMRR project's 2003 Environmental Impact Statement estimated that 1,645 curies of fission noble gases would be released annually by facility operations, according to Sadaf. Her question about the emission source and monitoring plan for that air quality issue went unanswered.