WASHINGTON- A budget bill approved by the Senate on Saturday and headed to President Barack Obama’s desk contains no money for a multibillion-dollar plutonium project at Los Alamos National Laboratory, prompting cheers from anti-nuclear weapons activists.
But the yearlong congressional debate over the future of the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility isn’t over.
Defense authorization bills still pending in the House and Senate would continue development of the CMRR facility at LANL over the objections of the White House. The project has a price of about $6 billion, which is a key reason that the Obama administration and some in Congress want to kill it.
The Senate on Saturday passed a so-called “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government operational for the next six months, giving the deeply divided Congress more time to negotiate a longer-term federal budget deal.
The stopgap measure contained no line item for the CMRR facility — in fact, it didn’t mention the project at all.
The president’s 2013 budget zeroed out funding for CMRR. The continuing resolution, once Obama signs it, will keep the government running until March. Final decisions about CMRR spending in 2013 will be made when Congress enacts full-year spending and defense authorizing legislation.
“The defeat of the $4 (billion) to $6 billion bomb plant was due to the hard work of many local and national organizations in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.,” said David Culp, a legislative representative for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the CMRR issue is not yet resolved.
“It’s still unclear if CMRR will be funded in FY 2013,” said the spokeswoman, Jude McCartin.
The CMRR funding fight exploded into public view in February, when Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Obama administration was delaying the LANL project for at least five years and moving forward with a major nuclear project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory instead.
DOE’s decision to delay the CMRR — coupled with Obama’s stated intention of reducing the nuclear stockpile – triggered fierce congressional debate about the need for multi-billion dollar nuclear programs in a post-Cold War era.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation has voiced support for construction of the CMRR facility.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal