By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
New Mexico's two senators have joined an effort to add substantial funding for nuclear weapons cleanup to the federal stimulus package now being considered by Congress.
Details are unclear, but the requested increase would mean additional money for cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory if the senators' congressional colleagues agree.
The lab got $152 million last year for cleanup work. Federal officials estimate the total cost of cleanup at the northern New Mexico nuclear weapons site at between $2.6 billion and $3.6 billion.
Cleanup funding at Los Alamos has fallen short of what is needed in recent years, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a telephone interview Friday. The stimulus money offers an opportunity to fix that problem, Udall said.
It also meets the needs of the stimulus program, he said. "These are jobs we can get going quickly."
"The stimulus package must invest in initiatives that have an immediate impact on jobs. DOE cleanup projects are a particularly good fit because many of them are ready to go right now," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement Friday. "I also see this as an opportunity to make significant progress on DOE's longstanding waste problem."
Udall and Bingaman joined senators from Ohio, South Carolina, Idaho, Washington and Oregon in a letter this week calling for an additional $6 billion of stimulus money to be spent on cleanup, which would double spending on the program.
All of the senators are from states with major nuclear facilities requiring cleanup except Oregon, which is downstream from the heavily contaminated Hanford nuclear weapons complex.
The House is considering a bill that includes a more modest $500 million increase for nuclear cleanup work. The amount of money that might come to Los Alamos has not been determined. Nationwide, according to the eight senators backing the spending increase, the $6 billion could create 10,000 jobs.
Los Alamos environmental cleanup chief Michael Graham said Friday the additional investment would be "a very positive development." Such money would help cleanup and create jobs in the state, he said.
The lab has already given thought to how quickly it could ramp up work, according to Graham. Some work could begin immediately, while other projects could be ready to go later this year and next, Graham said.