Defense bill would boost funding for NM’s labs

By:  Scott Turner

New Mexico’s national laboratories would recieve an increase in funding from the 2021 defense spending bill before the U.S. Senate, if approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

Los Alamos National Laboratory would receive $3.22 billion, up from $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2020, through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons and security programs, while Sandia National Laboratories would receive $2.6 billion, an increase of $330 million over fiscal year 2020, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich announced last week.

The state’s military installations and other scientific research facilities will also receive funding through the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which advanced to the Senate floor in a 25-2 vote by the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Heinrich is a member of the committee.

“The people of New Mexico make tremendous contributions to our national security and work at the forefront of cutting-edge research and development,” Heinrich said in a news release. “This bipartisan bill supports our service members and their families, and includes provisions I fought for to strengthen New Mexico’s military installations, national laboratories, WIPP, Spaceport America, and leadership in the future of technologies like Artificial Intelligence, directed energy, and space.”

The bill includes $220 million for soil and water remediation and removal of legacy radioactive waste at LANL, which is $100 million more than what was included in the president’s proposed budget, Heinrich said. Full funding was needed to ensure there were no delays in the cleanup effort, his office said.

The bill also includes $1.1 billion for LANL’s ongoing plutonium operations and pit production programs.

Heinrich supported second-year funding of $36 million for a new emergency operations center at Sandia. The construction project will provide a new 24,000- to 31,000-square-foot facility to improve the labs’ ability to respond to emergencies and provide emergency assistance so that appropriate response measures and notifications are taken to protect workers, the public, the environment and national security, his office said.

Another $390 million would be provided to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The funding includes $22 million for infrastructure repair and replacement projects and line-item funding for two projects: $50 million for a new utility shaft and $10 million for a project to expand underground hoisting capability.

White Sands Missile Range would receive $15 million for infrastructure improvements to accommodate the increase in demand for directed energy testing workloads, and Heinrich said the bill includes language to encourage the Air Force to make improvements to the MQ-9 drone training facility at Holloman Air Force Base. Last year, $85 million for the construction of a new facility was diverted from Department of Defense funds to be used for construction of the wall on the border with Mexico.

The NDAA includes $3.5 million in funding for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer telescope array. The array, which will eventually include 10 telescopes, will be one of the world’s largest once complete and will be able to track man-made satellites, missiles and rockets launched into orbit as well as provide a closer look to deep space objects.

Another $6 million would be provided for a small satellite manufacturing and innovation center in Albuquerque that would be accessible by government agencies and cleared industry partners, while $3 million would be provided for a small satellite mission operations facility, also in Albuquerque.