The U.S. Energy Department has asked lawmakers to provide roughly the same funding for U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories in New Mexico as they currently receive, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 5).
This week’s fiscal 2009 budget request calls for $1.85 billion to support activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory and $1.4 billion at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia would receive $30 million in additional funding from this financial year while money for Los Alamos would drop by $10 million (Fleck/Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 5).
The request moves funding for controversial plutonium programs at Los Alamos into different accounts, potentially confusing observers, one critic told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The laboratory currently receives more than $200 million to produce new plutonium cores for nuclear weapons, a program known as the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign (see GSN, Nov. 16, 2007).
This year’s request zeroes out funding for that line item but raises proposed funding for three related projects by about the same amount, according to Greg Mello, head of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group. That could make it more difficult to follow the money, he said.
“The problem we face is getting Congress’ attention in an election year,” he said. “The House has killed this project three times and deeply cut it twice.”
New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman (D) expressed concerns about Bush administration plans to make Los Alamos a major pit-making site.
“I’ve always taken the position that Los Alamos is capable of pit production, and I don’t have a problem with maintaining that capability,” he said. “But if we’re going to significantly increase production, I think we should look at a site other than Los Alamos” (Sue Vorenberg, Santa Fe New Mexican, Feb. 4).
Meanwhile, the Energy Department requested $494.7 million to further activities at a Nevada site intended to house high-level nuclear waste generated by U.S. nuclear power plants, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (see GSN, Jan. 16).
Lawmakers from the state have long fought the plan to store the waste in tunnels below Yucca Mountain.
“Despite the fact Congress cut his proposal by $108 million last year, President [George W.] Bush requested $495 million again this year,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Clearly, he will not get that funding.”
Reid’s fellow Nevada senator agreed.
“On Yucca Mountain, the president’s budget request will not be met,” said Senator John Ensign (R) (Tetreault/Batt, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Feb. 5).