A key house committee wants Los Alamos National Laboratory to stop making plutonium nuclear warhead parts.
In a report to be made public tomorrow, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee calls for a halt on production of plutonium pits for the W88 warhead, a warhead carried aboard Navy submarines.
Los Alamos has worked for a decade to establish the pit-making capability, replacing on a small scale the work that was done at Rocky Flats near Denver before it was closed in 1989. A grand ceremony last summer marked the completion of the first stockpile-ready Los Alamos pit.
The National Nuclear Security Administration says the pits are needed to replace W88 pits be routinely removed from the stockpile for testing to look for signs of aging problems.
But the House subcommittee, in striking language, says there is no need for the new W88s:
[T]he W88 warhead, with its very high yield and yield/weight ratio, serves obsolete Cold War concepts rather than current or future needs, and manufacture of additional pits in order to avoid reducing the W88 force is not warranted. Therefore the committee recommends no funding for Pit Manufacturing.The bill also zeroes out funding for work on the CMR Replacement building - the big new plutonium lab the weaponeers want to build at Los Alamos - and the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, also at Los Alamos.
A source told me a preliminary analysis by NNSA has concluded that the plan would require cutting 1,700 to 1,800 jobs throughout the nuclear weapons complex. No clear picture yet of how many of those would be in New Mexico.
It is the latest from an increasingly belligerent House committee, which now must go head to head with its Senate counterpart, where Pete Domenici is the ranking Republican and historic lab defender.
The significance remains unclear. The most likely scenario at this point seems to be that the House, Senate and White House fail to come to any sort of agreement on a spending bill for 2009. In that case, we'd get some sort of "continuing resolution" to bridge the weapons program into 2009, when a new president and congress put together the spending plan. In that scenario, this House bill provides an important guideline for what next year's nuclear weapons budget might look like.