A classified Department of Energy report seeking $80 billion for modernizing and cleaning up the nation's nuclear weapons production plants was withheld from congressional committees last week by White House officials who are skeptical of the high price tag, according to a senior budget official.
Submission of the report to the House and Senate Armed Services committees was being delayed by Office of Management and Budget officials who said they suspect that the Department of Energy's figures may be exaggerated.Other sources, however, expressed frustration with the OMB's stance.
They said that budget officials seem unable or unwilling to comprehend the enormity of restoring a unique industrial complex, much of it built in the 1950s, that the congressional General Accounting Office has called one of the most "potentially dangerous industrial operations in the world."
The Department of Energy sent the report to the White House two weeks ago. It outlined the costs of refurbishing 17 major weapons facilities through the year 2010.
Administration sources said that the document, dubbed the 2010 Report, puts the cost of modernizing and relocating critical weapons facilities away from population centers at just over $50 billion over 21 years. Another $30 billion will have to be spent on cleaning up scores of chemical and low-level radioactive waste sites, the sources said.
"There are a lot of skeptics about the DOE plan," a senior budget official said. While it is clear that the modernization and cleanup tasks will be large and expensive, the official said, it appeared that the department was asking for far more than it needed to cover any foreseeable contingencies that might arise."
Administration sources said that the Energy Department recommends closing two controversial facilities, a uranium fuel fabrication plant at Fernald, Ohio, near Cincinnati and a plutonium processing facility at Rocky Flats, Colo., near Denver.
Both plants, built in the 1950s, were slated for shutdown in the 1970s, but were kept in production despite growing maintenance problems and a succession of leaks of radioactive material after the Reagan administration began a major buildup of the nuclear stockpile in the early 1980s.
The Fernald plant is the target of a $300 million class-action lawsuit by nearby residents who contend that pollution from the plant has caused cancer. A major laboratory at Rocky Flats has been shut down for weeks after three plant inspectors were contaminated by small amounts of toxic plutonium dust.