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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

Congressional Panel Supports Los Alamos Project

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If there is not enough money to simultaneously build both major billion-dollar nuclear facilities the federal government says it needs to support the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, a new plutonium lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory should go first, a congressionally-chartered panel concludes in a report released this morning.

 

The report, by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, makes a number of suggestions about how to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The bipartisan commission’s members could not agree on whether to recommend ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

 

But on an issue that has been an enormous question mark in New Mexico, the group said replacement of the aging CMR complex at Los Alamos, where plutonium research has been done since the early 1950s, should be the top priority if there is not enough money to build both it and a major uranium complex at Oak Ridge. From the report:

• There are safety issues with both existing facilities, primarily due to
their age. The safety concerns at the Los Alamos plutonium facility
are at least as serious as those at the Y-12 uranium facility. But a shortterm
loss of plutonium capabilities may hurt the weapon program
more than a short-term loss of enriched uranium capabilities.
• The Los Alamos plutonium facility makes a direct contribution to
maintaining intellectual infrastructure that is in immediate danger
of attrition (as argued further below). It assures that there is a complete
long-term capability for Los Alamos and Livermore to conduct
plutonium research.
• Because the future size of the stockpile is uncertain, projects that
are relatively independent of stockpile size should take priority. The
uranium production facility’s size is influenced by stockpile size (the
greater the stockpile size, the larger the needed production capacity).
The Los Alamos plutonium facility is required independent of
stockpile size.
• The Los Alamos facility has the more mature design.

 

 

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