The U.S. Senate has approved a military spending bill that would boost funding significantly for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s nuclear weapons program and waste removal, while also providing money to clean up cancer-causing pollution at two Air Force bases.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which approves $770 billion for the military, passed the Senate by an 88-11 vote Wednesday with a strong bipartisan vote and heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The bill authorizes the spending, which still must be formally appropriated. Funding requests in this legislation rarely undergo major changes.

It includes $1 billion for the lab’s plutonium operations, which are at the heart of its effort to produce 30 nuclear bomb cores by 2026. That’s a sizable jump from this year’s $837 million and more than triple the $308 million allocated two years ago.

The lab’s waste-cleanup program would receive $275 million, up from this year’s $220 million.

The increase is in stark contrast to the Trump administration seeking to cut the funding last year by $100 million before New Mexico’s two U.S. senators pushed successfully to keep it.

The bill also would make $175 million available for Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases to clean up carcinogenic compounds known as PFAS in the groundwater.

And it would impose new requirements for the Air Force to assess and buy the contaminated properties.

Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, who backed the bill, strongly support the lab, which uses about 70 percent of its funding for its nuclear weapons program.

They have said the lab boosts the state’s economy and is vital to national defense.

With the increased spending to ramp up production of the warhead triggers, also known as pits, Biden is signaling that he will follow his predecessors’ calls to modernize the stockpile to deter potential nuclear adversaries such as Russia, China and Iran.

In an email, a watchdog group argued that the rise in nuclear spending is part of a larger expansion in weaponry that Biden is carrying forward.

“This increased spending and focus on plutonium production is not necessary to maintain the safety or reliability of the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile — it is for new nuclear weapons,” wrote Monica Montgomery, Council for a Livable World’s advocacy coordinator. “We think that it will feed perceptions of a nuclear arms race, and drive our adversaries to push forward new and dangerous weapons developments.”

At the moment, Biden is following not only former President Barack Obama, who began modernizing the stockpile, but former President Donald Trump, who sought to boost nuclear capabilities, Montgomery wrote.

The new pits are needed for new warheads, including on two sea-launched missiles and a land-based one, Montgomery wrote.

“We have serious concerns about the need for all of these new weapons,” she wrote, adding the council is urging Biden to take a closer look at them as part of his Nuclear Posture Review due out next year.

One longtime critic of the lab’s nuclear spending said the total costs for ramping up pit production have ballooned from the original $3 billion estimate in 2017.

“LANL lowballed this to get the work,” said Greg Mello, executive director of Los Alamos Study Group, who said he thinks the cost could go as high as $18 billion.

“They are on a collision course with fiscal reality.”

Meanwhile, the increase in funding to clean up the lab’s legacy waste generated before 1999, including during the Cold War and Manhattan Project, would help speed remediation that is now loosely scheduled to be finished in the mid-2030s.

Last year, state regulators sued the Department of Energy, claiming the agency failed to adequately clean up the legacy waste.

The lawsuit also is aimed at dissolving a 2016 cleanup agreement between the state and Energy Department — known as a consent order — saying it weakened the original 2005 order by eliminating real deadlines and imposing few penalties for slow or deficient work.

“We are supportive of [the] congressional delegation’s focus on cleaning up legacy waste in New Mexico,” state Environment Secretary James Kenney wrote in an email.

At the same time, Kenney wrote that he appreciated delegates’ efforts to hold the military accountable for PFAS pollution in New Mexico.

PFAS is an abbreviation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Dubbed “forever chemicals” because they take thousands of years to decompose and last indefinitely in the bloodstream, PFAS can cause increased cholesterol, reproductive problems and cancer.

Cannon and Holloman are among the military bases that used a firefighting foam that contained PFAS; they polluted groundwater in Clovis and Alamogordo, respectively.

PFAS pollution near Clovis has contaminated at least one dairy farm.

Groundwater samples indicated chemical levels in that area were hundreds of times higher than the federal health advisory limit.

Making the $175 million in federal money available to fund cleanup might help resolve ongoing legal tussles between the state and military.

The state sued the Air Force in 2019, saying the federal government has a responsibility to clean up plumes of toxic chemicals left behind by the military.

“The United States Air Force must allocate the necessary funding to remediate PFAS contamination … at both Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases,” Kenney wrote.

(4) comments

Sasha Pyle

I love how this big fat nuclear appropriation is being pitched to us as a cleanup bill. If the Los Alamos folks were serious about cleanup, they'd agree to a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement, requested for many years now by many people and organizations downstream of the Lab. Do a SWEIS, do the cleanup, and stop this insane acceleration of weapons funding and production that throws gasoline on a global arms race and violates our treaty obligations. Only then would a headline like this not be a sad joke.

Joseph Hempfling

here we go again; throwing good money down a big black hole that produces nothing or should I say devices to destroy the Planet and its inhabitants who live on it. when will we learn or is it already too late and which seems to be the case. signed; a concerned citizen not wishing to be "vaporized" before his time.

Erich Kuerschner

Sad that Greed and stupidity is the formula for “success” in New Mexico. As China puts its effort into usable infrastructure, here the resources are wasted on frightening people to continue entitlements that are WORSE than useless. Better to acknowledge that LANL has us by the cajoles, allow this predatory state to exist, give them their access to government issued checking accounts, but without polluting our environment. Tying welfare entitlements to requirements to pollute just makes a bad situation worse, que no?

Chris Mechels

LANL has been getting "clean up" money since ~1992, and it quickly became one of their main "revenue streams". As really cleaning up would end the stream, they have no interest in doing that. Instead they PLAN to do cleanup, and investigate pollution, and drill monitor wells, for decades. Like plutonium pits, where LANL always FAILS to produce the planned number of pits, and gets ever MORE money, because they have failed. When "failure" pays more than "success", they would have to be FOOLS to "succeed", and of course they are NOT fools. We are...

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.