Jul 7, 2007

Pit Production at LANL

I was having a discussion with a colleague about DOE's plans to scale up pit production capacity at LANL. He asked me if I thought the current LANL blog could be used to host a discussion on the subject. Here was my response to him.

Rant on.



My experience with LANL blogs leads me to conclude that they could not be used to facilitate a rational discussion about pit production, or probably any rational discussion, for that manner.

By definition, an anonymous LANL blog is the pulpit from which extremists on either side of a given topic rant their views as if they were the gospel. Anonymous posting privileges, coupled with the insular nature of the LANL blog audience guarantees rhetoric, but seldom any true dialog.

The subject of future pit requirements has rational arguments against scaling up production capacity, as you point out. Meeting requirements by recycling pits from disassembled weapons, for example. NNSA, DOE, and Congress have yet to take a rational approach to the issue; instead they continue to push for increased pit production capacity at Los Alamos.

LANL has more than its share of nuclear weapons fan-boys, and can be counted on to blindly follow any DOE-led initiative that will promise more funding for Los Alamos. The LANS corporate entity will naturally attempt to recruit Pu fabrication money.

There have only been a few instances where I feel that the original LANL blog produced what I could call a success. Two of these were
  1. possibly having expedited the departure of Nanos back in 2005, and
  2. breaking the story of the AM-241 contamination incident, where a LANL employee tracked contaminants over a four-state region, and the subsequent attempt by LANL to cover the incident up.
These two successes in reporting the truth about LANL were made possible in part because blogs were just then new on the scene, and LANL management had not yet learned how to deal with the fact of no longer having absolute control over the news media. They were repeatedly taken by surprise at having lost control over the "spin" they normally placed on news releases.

I'm open to ideas, however, on how to use the current LANL blog to address the proposed insanity of turning LANL into RFP-South.


Anonymous said...

sounds like a Bush-like ploy to me.... hilarious...

Brad Lee Holian said...

This quote, from Senator "Pit" Dementia (R-NM), says it all (not a word about science, you will notice):

“Now I know there are those who will protest today’s pit achievement,” Domenici said. “There are those who believe we should cut investment in labs like Los Alamos ... [and] Lawrence Livermore because the stockpile is getting smaller. That is just wrong. Crippling our labs and committing our nation to unilateral disarmament will make the world more dangerous, not safer,” he added.

"Unilateral disarmament" is hardly an apt description for reducing our operational arsenal from 6,000(+/-) warheads to 200(+/-), which is still as many as any of our allies (Britain, France, and Israel) have, and probably more than our enemies (China and Russia -- when you consider the operational, i.e., reliable ones that the Russians have left), or any of the rogue states have 20(+/-), such as India, Pakistan, or North Korea, and Iran (zero, for the next 5-10 years at CIA's best estimate). Downsizing our arsenal by an order of magnitude (i.e., dismantled, with the Pu burned up in reactors and turned into electricity) will actually make us safer, provided that we can get the quantity of unknown-quality Russian nukes under control (i.e., dismantled, with the Pu burned up in reactors and turned into electricity). We will thereby demonstrate to all the world that we are indeed genuinely serious about non-proliferation. If, in addition, we back off of the Neoconservatives' loopy idea of worldwide military domination of everyone, we can possibly begin to stuff the nuclear genie back into a bottle, or at least put the world's bad actors, like poison spiders, back into THEIR bottles. With an order of magnitude fewer nukes in the world, there may be more than an order of magnitude fewer LOOSE nukes that could, at least potentially, get into the hands of terrorist bands. Then, and only then, will the world become less dangerous.

Until the Powers-that-be begin to force a serious political discussion about the size of our nuclear arsenal, there will be no so-called "rational discussion" by anyone who really counts in this country. The people who own this country will have to decide; in the meantime, the rest of us can fret all we want.

There is a glimmer of hope, however. Even "St." Pete has very recently "seen the light" on Iraq; he now recognizes that the Iraq Study Group, led by Jim Baker III and Lee Hamilton (ultra-conservative Republican and conservative Democrat, respectively), correctly recognized the quagmire produced by Bush's Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) in its imperial occupation phase, a failure as dismal as the Administration's "management" of the reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. In both cases, the ONLY measure of "success" has been the privatized skimming off of billions of dollars of taxpayer money by outfits like Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater (the private mercenary Pretorian Guard, owned and operated by End-time, Righteous-Wingnut Christians).

On the ultimate resolution of plutonium pit production at LANL, I see no real hope for the next two years, and then only if a political sea change occurs in the occupants of BOTH Congress and the White House. (And in the fourth, so-called "Black Branch" of government located in an "undisclosed bunker" under Blair House, namely, the Vice Presidency.)

Probably the best we can hope for over the next two years is a civics lesson, to be conducted by Congress, namely, the impeachment of Cheney. These may be harsh words and a dismal prospect for LANL and LLNL, but them's the breaks. Can't say I didn't warn you all, way back when.

-Brad Lee Holian

Anonymous said...

I do not know enough about pits do know if they can be recycled or not.And I do think that the USA probably has to many nuc weapons. But I do think it is probably a good thing to have the capability to make Pits. After spending the last seven or so years watching LANL try to make a pit I have come to learn that it is not that easy-even if we didn't have all the DOE BS to help us( with out DOE,Nanos,Balkey,Yarbro,Castro it probably would have taken only three years). So I don't think we need to become RFS, but maybe we should maintain the ability to make Pits.

Anonymous said...

excellent comment, Brad..... Domenici is senile.. I don't think he has a clue about what's going on. His goal now is to set up Wilson as his GOP successor and that's all he cares about.

His moronic recent comments about Iraq and his "new" stand on the Bush War sorta says it all. He's just flapping in the breeze like a rag on a clothes lines.

Anonymous said...

Senator "Pit" Dementia (R-NM) only sees dollar signs coming to NM. That is the only light he will ever see regarding pit production at LANL. He likes it.

He might not remember whether to wear his flannel pajamas or his silk ones to the Senate chambers, but he still remembers that he likes to bring nuclear pork to New Mexico.

Anonymous said...

Holian's comments are left-wing lunacy. It will be interesting to see who gets blamed after Bush is gone. What a bunch of pathetic losers.

Anonymous said...

Full fledged pit production will be a long time coming because DOE/LANL has to come up with an EIS for it. Plutonium has been found in one of the Buckman wells. Even though it was a very small amount, Santa Fe will be up in arms about anything that has to do with plutonium, meaning pits.

Curry, head of NMED, is not our friend. He would love to bring LANL activities to a screeching halt and force LANS to spend every dime of its budget on cleanup. Pit production generates very dangerous waste, and you can bet that New Mexico will not accept an EIS that makes light of the waste products. And LANS will try to sugarcoat the waste generation.

My prediction is to look for a real stalemate over pit production with DOE/NNSA trying to fund it and New Mexico trying to regulate it. Remember our current governor used to be a know nothing Secretary of DOE.

Anonymous said...

Domenici is a has-been who won't just lie down and die. As long as he sucks bush's ass he's a worthless turd.

Anonymous said...

7:28 Blurted:

"Holian's comments are left-wing lunacy. It will be interesting to see who gets blamed after Bush is gone. What a bunch of pathetic losers."

Don't sweat it Brad. He's just one of the LANL nuclear weapons fan-boys that Gussie mentioned. A corporate lab whore who will do anything for money.

Anonymous said...

7:41 Sez

"Curry, head of NMED, is not our friend. He would love to bring LANL activities to a screeching halt and force LANS to spend every dime of its budget on cleanup."

How does that make him not our friend? Does Anonymous 7:41 think we should be allowed to continue to dump our shit into the ground water where everybody downstream is going to be exposed to it?

Asshole! Drink your own radioactive sewage.

Anonymous said...

The original question posed was: Can the current LANL blog could be used to host a discussion on the subject of Pit production?

In terms of a discussion the answer is simply yes. In terms of forming policy and direction, the answer is probably not. A blog allows a group of varying individuals to look at many aspects of a given problem (in essence a mini town hall meeting tailored to fit each individual’s schedule). A blog also allows a venue for the meek to speak. Many quiet folks with good thoughts often go unheard. Also the blog allows the opportunity to gather information from many sources internal and external to LANL like (LLNL, PX, etc.) For each of us have our own experiences and thoughts.

Let’s also be honest besides our recent crisis there are two reasons NNSA is looking at LANL for pit production. The first one is because NNSA failed in making a case for the Modern Pit facility. Remember the MPF, I do. Remember the process flows and development work? I do. Remember the 100+ questions for sitting the MPF? I do. Secondly the issue of turning LANL into “production facility” says something. It says we can’t define science work into deliverables (R&D isn’t a set of tasks that you can measure), and if you can’t measure your tasks, you don’t get fee. Therefore LANs wants task oriented work (i.e. production work). Screw science, no fee in science. Who needs science? Let the other countries teach us how stupid we are. We don’t need science we need fee. Get it! This isn’t right and so we need to unite with might . . . and thus let’s blog the bastards into submission. Take the fight to them. . Remember NNSA and LANS are scared of media attention.

So let’s not limit our options . . . blog on

Anonymous said...

Jesus, you fuckers up there in Los Alamos are thick. Don't you get it yet? Nobody outside of Los Alamos county is your friend. You've been polluting our air and our ground waters for 65 years. We won't want you to do it any more. In fact, we don't even want you to be here any more. We don't need your fucking money. You certainly don't give back anything to the surrounding communities. We'd be happier if your God Damn Ivory Tower were just shut down. Los Alamos would be worth a whole lot more to everybody else in New Mexico if it were a ghost town.

Go Away.

Anonymous said...

9:35 brings up a valid point, albeit in a somewhat combative, angry fashion.

That point being, in true-to-form style the short-sighted managers of NNSA, DOE, as well as Dominici himself have overlooked one crucial issue: how long do they expect the taxpayers of the entire state of New Mexico to continue to support an operation that has proven to be polluting the drinking water for everybody downstream of Los Alamos with plutonium and other contaminants? Comes to that, the Rio Grande flows all the way through New Mexico and into Texas. How long do they think it will be until the Texans snap to what is going on in Los Alamos?

As if that weren't enough, now they want to step up the operations that are generating the pollutants by a factor of 5 or 6 hundred?

The voters of New Mexico and Texas might be stupid, but I doubt they are that stupid.

Anonymous said...

For 9:29,

I reside outside the LANL area and value the work LANL does. Many scientific breakthroughs and innovations have come from LANL. In terms of pollution how many folks do you know that flush hazardous chemicals down their sink, or toss toxic waste into the surrounding landfills via trash disposal? LANL employees aren’t allowed to do this, so why should you? Perhaps you are working on solving this problem for all of us to benefit. Please get back with us and share your wisdom. We don’t need LANL to go away. . . We just have to get smarter on how we handle our technical problems. Just saying you suck and go away solves nothing, neither do political solutions. Work to solve the problems . . .

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

9:58 PM,

"how many folks do you know that flush hazardous chemicals down their sink,

Damn few who toss plutonium down their sinks.

Anonymous said...

Plenty, including an Air Force Base in Texas that dumped down lots of chemicals and flushed with lots of water into the sanitary sewer. A common practice. Go read the labels on all your cleaners,pesticides,and chemicals residing in your garage. Perhaps a very big contributor to thousands who die yearly of cancer.
Don't dwell on 40 year old RFP designs. Keep the good and get rid of the bad . . .

Anonymous said...

7/7/07 7:28 PM said, "Holian's comments are left-wing lunacy."

That seems to be a rather vacuous critique. Maybe I missed some subtle point. Holian is well known for his occasionally obscure sarcasm, but just which comments of his were "lunacy," left-wing or otherwise?

Anonymous said...

9:35 is a moron..... try having your Wal-Mart, Olive Garden, or Lowe's without LANL...

You think the artsy-fartsy Santa Fe community supports these? Espanola would be even more of a shit hole than it is with LANL.

Without the lab this area becomes another Roswell or Farmington

Anonymous said...

I'm 9:35, and I'm not a moron. I don't shop at WalMart, nor do I eat at Olive Garden. I sometimes buy things at Home Depot, but seldom at Lowe's, so I wouldn't miss those places either. I wouldn't miss Los Alamos if they shut it down tomorrow.

Most people could get by just fine without WalMart, Olive Gardin, and Lowes. And Chili's. Don't forget Chili's right next door to Lowe's and WalMart on Riverside in Espanola.

10:24 PM sounds like one of those lab whores who will do anything for money and is desperately trying to convince people how valuable LANL is so that he can keep taking home a whore's pay check.

Anonymous said...

10:24, you sound like a complete prick, but I'll comment on your post anyhow.

Santa Fe might feel a bit of a cash flow reduction if LANL were to go away tomorrow, but rest assured that most of Santa Fe's money influx comes from tourism, and a never ending inflow of rich folks from other states, like Texas and California.

Don't fool yourself, LANL and its payroll are not indispensable to the state of New Mexico. The cost of remediating the legacy pollution from LANL's first 60 years of operation will far outweigh any possible incremental value from keeping the place open. Let's not even discuss the pollution abatement costs that increasing LANL's pit production operations would represent.

Anonymous said...

Nuclear reuse
Pantex facility to recertify plutonium weapon cores
By Jim McBride

Provided Photo
The Special Nuclear Material Component Requalification Facility is designed to test the core of a nuclear weapon, known as a pit, to ensure viability. The pit must undergo a series of quality checks to ensure it is approved for use in the stockpile.

Provided Photo
A number of weapons components are returned to the Pantex Plant annually to undergo rigorous quality tests. These pieces of equipment perform a number of different tests on the pits.

A new $19.8 million Pantex facility will recertify plutonium weapons cores from dismantled nuclear weapons so they can be reused in refurbished warheads.
The Special Nuclear Material Component Requalification Facility will take plutonium pits, the radioactive cores of warheads, and run them through a series of workstations so they can be used in modernized weapons.

The facility recently was authorized to begin its new mission and is now operational. The operation uses "nondestructive evaluation" procedures to recertify plutonium pits. Pantex workers take surface measurements, leak-test and weigh pits as part of the process.

The pits travel through several workstations, where they are cleaned, inspected and must meet other checks to ensure they meet original weapons lab design criteria.

A "war reserve" pit that has been requalified meets all quality checks, receives a special diamond stamp and is certified for nuclear weapons use. Pits that don't meet standards are stored and eventually will be reprocessed at other Energy Department facilities.

BWXT Manufacturing Division Manager Tom Gallegos said the facility required lots of planning and design work.

"First, you've got to design the equipment. We got the smart guys building the designs for it, including the software and whatever mechanical features associated with that," he said.

Then, the equipment had to be installed and utilities had to be hooked up to the facility.

Pantex recently completed several evaluations to ensure the operation was ready.

Gallegos said Pantex used mock components - dummy pits that are the same size and shapes as real ones - to test the workstations.

A recent report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a watchdog nuclear agency, said the evaluation of the first lot of eight pits has been completed.

The evaluation data has been provided to Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is expected to authorize the process for unrestricted production this month, a DNFSB report said.

Energy Department reports said the facility could inspect up to 350 pits annually, but Gallegos said he anticipates the workload will be substantially less than that.

The DOE halted pit production at Colorado's Rocky Flats plant in 1989 because of environmental concerns. Since then, thousands of pits have been shipped to Pantex, which now stores more than 14,000.

Gallegos said the Pantex facility is "contamination-free" and doesn't generate new streams of radioactive waste. Requalifying pits, he said, is significantly cheaper than building new ones at Los Alamos, which is now producing small numbers of pits for the stockpile.

"It is a tremendous cost savings for the government," Gallegos said.

Anonymous said...


Santa Fe is completely irrelevant,
hell New Mexico is kind of irrelevant. Los Almaos is not irrelevant. You have no idea just how important LANL is in terms of
a scientific base for the United States. It is the largest physical sciences research laboratory in our country. At one time it was Bell Labs, now that is gone, so now Los Alams is more important than ever in shaping the future of our nation. It is up to you, the public to try and think for yourselves and not be told what to think by mass consumerism, religion, fear,or dirty politics.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. "


Anonymous said...

I have a different take. I think we are facing energy shocks starting this year, and increasing for many years to come. There will be a hew and cry for a tech fix. All you SFe haters will be begging for cheap energy, as your house prices deflate and you are left paying 7$ gas. If we are lucky, and can show some progress (technically), we can probably have a transition from weapons to energy without to much pain.

Anonymous said...


I worked at LANL for a long time before retiring. My take is that LANL is not nearly as relevant these days as LANL would like the rest of the world to think.

Thanks to the shutdown, and the privatization of the lab, many of the best scientists with marketable skills have left. What remains are the second-tier scientists, and those who are too over-specialized in the weapons design field to be able to find other work.

Like it or not, LANL is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

This blog used to be a good source for information and a pointed look at all the nonsense that LANs represents. I was a frequent poster and enjoyed the dialog. It has become the left wing bulletin board of anti LANL dribble. It reminds me of the protestors that are so often on the street corners of Santa Fe. As an unhappy LANL employee, I used to come here every day for information and therapy. I have intense dislike and distrust for LANs, but LANL is important.

This blog has become worthless to the employees of LANL. We may not all agree on the mission of LANL, but we ought to be able to have a balanced discussion without all the bad language, name calling, and a heavy leaning to the anti-nuc crowd. What happened to comment moderation? Left to a choice of reading the recent drivel or supporting a successful LANL through LANs I suppose I will take the latter.


Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Blog moderation is alive and well, thank you. All points of view are still welcome here. Fortunately, we have only had to eliminate a couple of racist bits of garbage lately.

Adios, yourself, 8:51. Hope you find happiness elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 7/8/07 8:51 AM:
Don't let the door hit you in the ass.

Anonymous said...

"This blog has become worthless to the employees of LANL."

Agreed. This blog is designed to destroy LANL, not help it. Most of the posts are just snarky personal attacks with little substance (e.g. - 7/8/07 10:14 AM). I (and I suspect most of us) are only visiting the site for entertainment value.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that when the subject of pit production at LANL comes up, posters like 1:18 PM are quick label anybody who questions the validity of turning LANL into a Pu production facility as "worthless".

I, on the other hand, suspect that 1:18 pm is one of those "lab whores" who will do anything for money, regardless of its value to the country, just so long as the work continues to provide him with a paycheck and/or bonus from LANS.

The quite valid question has arisen about the need for new pit production capacity, at LANL or anywhere else in the DOE complex, given the now-announced pit reuse capability at Pantex.

Go ahead and continue to cast aspersions on those of us who question the need for production-scale pit fab capabilities at LANL, 1:18. You're not fooling anyone.

Pinky and The Brain said...

The purpose of this blog is to try to take over the world. We have a different plan every night. We haven't tried destroying LANL yet. Perhaps next season.
The Brain

Anonymous said...

I think its funny reading the posts about LANL producing sewage, toxic waste, and whatnot. Do these people realize that Universities are currently going unregulated when it comes to waste? For example, when I was a grad student in Texas back during the late 90's, we routinely dumped RCRA metal waste (i.e Ni, Pb, Cr, etc) down the industrial sink. Common practice, unfortunately, but the truth.

Anonymous said...

OK all you smart folks. Do we or do we not need the capability to make pits? We have 14,000 plus of them. Can they all be recycled? We have not built one since 1989. Are we sure they wouldwork?
If they Pantex recertification is as good as Mr Gallegos says...more power to them.....maybe

Anonymous said...

Good grief people. Pit reuse at PX is not "news" - it's been in the works for a decade or so. LANL has been deeply involved in the design and development of the recertification processes. For a bunch of people who claim to know so much about nuclear weapons, how did this little detail slip by you unnoticed?

Lab Whore said...

Jesus Christ, 4:10, pit a lid on it! Don't you realize we're trying get Dominici to give us a *whole* bunch of money to *make* more pits?

Why in the world would be be interested in Pantex's capabilities for *reusing* old ones? Where's the profit in that?

Anonymous said...

LANL knows, 4:10. It is "Pit Dementia" Dominici who is in the dark about Pantex's pit reuse.

Anonymous said...

I don't read the post on 7/7 at 7:41 as an approval of dumping LANL waste throughout the state. Nor, as far as I can tell from the post, is the poster an asshole. It seems impossible to present ideas without some teenage boy chiming in with whatever new word he's learned.

I have been told that a couple of years ago Curry wanted to post signs at all entrances to Los Alamos County saying "Entering Los Alamos County is hazardous to your health". My sense of Curry is that he would like to be the next governor.

And I am so glad to see others who might be alive today only because of Los Alamos' development of the bomb (maybe their fathers or grandfathers would have died invading Japan) chiming in on how nobody outside Los Alamos County is our friend. I imagine those same folks have no clue what sorts of environmental poisons they have been exposed to, and that exposure might explain their ridiculous statements. The amount of pesticides and fertilizers that find their way to various aquifers, for example, are very hazardous, yet no one seems to rant and rave about the farmers who use those chemicals and pollute drinking water.

I thought the idea of posting was to discuss the viability of pit production at LANL. Believe it or not, many of us who live in Los Alamos County are not too keen on a pit production facility because of the waste products and we would like to see courts kill the whole project because of the EIS (which no one believes will be at all comprehensive, at least the first pass through it).

We know way more about the problems because of the cleanup of Rocky Flats, and the EIS will have to address those problems as well as the ones caused by our geography.

Anonymous said...

funny how they hushed up the Breeze software licensing fraud that got 2 employees fired this spring. Even the blogs were quiet about it.

Anonymous said...

7/8/07 12:41 AM
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. "

You have just proven this without five minutes wasted.

Anonymous said...

7/8/07 4:53 PM

My father was in China stagging for the invasion of Japan and yes he probably would have been killed. But that did not make him like Los Alamos or what it did and does. He loved New Mexico and was approached many times in my youth to work on "the hill" he turned it down each and every time. One bomb was enough but two was over-kill, he was raised a conservative and died a conservative and I am thankful that he did not live to see what his "conservative" party did for our country. So no not everyone connected to WWII loved Los Alamos.

Anonymous said...

4:53pm brings a welcome civil tone to this "discussion".

However, I wouldn't be too sure that the EIS process will provide any kind of assurance against production-scale pit fabrication coming to Los Alamos. If the politicians want it to happen, it will happen. Look at who won the LANL contract, after all. Bechtel had the political power to ensure that their LLC won the bid. The same thing will likely happen with Pu pit production, because Bechtel can and will influence Washington to give them that lucrative work, too.

Anonymous said...

Bechtel will make a fortune just from the engineering work that would be involved in designing and building a new Pu factory. That's one of the main reasons why they decided to join up with UC for the LANL contract bid.

Anonymous said...

We have no factual way of determining if two bombs was one too many. Maybe in our grandchildrens' lifetime, Washington will release enough information to make that determination. Right now it's just emotional.

I have every hope that the EIS process will determine if a pit production facility is built at Los Alamos because I believe our "friends" in Santa Fe will be very active in the process. Maybe they don't think of themselves as friends, but if they can kill it, then they are my friends. After all, they forced the construction of the Santa Fe bypass.

And I believe Curry will be a real pain in the neck about it. Quite frankly, I hope the whole idea is killed because reusing pits is doable, and I hope that because Udall and Bingaman did not attend the great ceremony that they are serious about supporting program diversity at LANL. Now if they can just figure out that the gross management structure at LANL is driving costs sky high, and if they can figure out how to get DOE/NNSA to clamp down on LANS, diversity might be doable.