Los Alamos Plutonium Lab Faces Uncertain Budget Future

On the radar: Costly nuke facility meets budget crunch; U.S., Israel, and the “zone of immunity”; Iran’s murky politics; New START Implementation, again; Budget timeline; and Tweet, but verify.

February 9, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Mary Kaszynski

Swallowing CMRR - There is much speculation that CMRR’s funding might get scaled back to accommodate tightening budgets. Prepping for Monday’s budget request unveiling, John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal gives some recent history on the proposed Los Alamos plutonium facility, including how the Congressional Posture Commission weighed in and the haunting quote below.

--“The budget cannot swallow those three projects,” testified retired NNSA official Everet Beckner on CMRR, UPF and MOX in a House hearing 3 years ago. http://owl.li/8YkfD

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The strategic case against CMRR - The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility has been indicted for cost overruns and bureaucratic mismanagement. But building a facility that can increase nuclear weapons production has strategic implications too. If CMRR goes forward, Nickolas Roth writes, “NPT member states may, once again, begin to question the United States’ disarmament commitments...especially if the United States does not achieve deeper nuclear reductions.” http://owl.li/8Ykdc

”Zone of Immunity” - “The United States and Israel remain at odds over a fundamental question: whether Iran’s crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable,” Mark Langler and David Sanger report for The New York Times. Israeli officials argue that the tipping point is fast approaching, while US officials argue that there is still time for sanctions and diplomacy. http://owl.li/8Yk7T

Dealing with the Guards - Figuring out who to engage in Iran is a chronic problem for diplomacy, thanks to Iran’s murky politics. If the Supreme Leader doesn’t have incentive to take up meaningful dialogue, it may be time to engage the Revolutionary Guards, argues Mehdi Khalaji in the WSJ. “Its leaders, with their myriad economic interests and sensitivity to sanctions, are far more inclined than Khamenei to strike a deal on Iran's nuclear program. Considering the alternatives, it's an opportunity worth pursuing.” http://owl.li/8Yk5r

Tweet - @AdamWeinstein: Assassinations, cyberattacks, plane crashes: A timeline of the battle raging over #Iran's nuclear program: mojo.ly/y8ABKp

Difficulties of the military option - Keeping the military option “on the table” is harder than it sounds. What targets should be hit? How many planes would we need? What happens if Iran retaliates? The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus takes a look at the complicated questions Israeli and US leaders have to try to answer when developing a plan of attack. http://owl.li/8Yk3v

New START Implementation recycle - Following the introduction of a bill to cut the nuclear weapons budget by Rep. Markey, Congressman Turner “announced his intention to introduce an updated version of the New START Implementation Act following the release of the President’s budget next week.” Press release here. http://owl.li/8Yk1x

GAO on nuclear limitations - NNSA’s guidance on the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons falls short - only covering about 60% of limitations according to a new GAO report. Recommendations: “[NNSA should] expand guidance on weapon limitations to include all limitations, revise this guidance to clearly describe the limitations’ potential impacts, and develop a corrective action plan for implementing surveillance program recommendations.” http://owl.li/8Yo8A

Budget Hearings - The unveiling of the president’s budget for 2013 this coming Monday kicks off a series of budget hearings. Defense Secretary Panetta and JCS Chair Gen. Dempsey testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the 14th and their House counterparts on the 15th. The Navy budget hearings are on February 16th (HASC) and March 15th (SASC).

--Also of note: the HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee holds a hearing on the governance, oversight, and management of the nuclear security enterprise on Thursday the 16th. House hearing schedule here http://owl.li/8YjVL. And the Senate http://owl.li/8YjXF

Crowdsourcing compliance - Assistant Secretary of State Rose @Gottemoeller is leading an effort to see how Twitter and other methods of crowdsourcing can help with monitoring arms control agreements. "Can it help us to understand what's going on with a nuclear facility in a certain country, for example, or what's going on with the production of chemicals at a chemical plant?" she says. NPR has the story with >140 character analysis from Perkovich and Cirincione. http://owl.li/8YjZc