Aug 31, 2007

Rocky: U.S. nuke work afflicted 36,500 Americans

Radiation sickened 36,500 and killed at least 4,000 of those who built bombs, mined uranium, breathed test fallout

Thomas Atcitty, 78, left, and his brother, Chester, 73, recall hauling uranium ore in a 1950 Ford dump truck. The U.S. nuclear weapons program has sickened 36,500 Americans and killed more than 4,000, the Rocky Mountain News has determined from government figures. Those numbers reflect only people who have been approved for government compensation. They include people who mined uranium, built bombs and breathed dust from bomb tests.

By Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News
August 31, 2007

The U.S. nuclear weapons program has sickened 36,500 Americans and killed more than 4,000, the Rocky Mountain News has determined from government figures.

Those numbers reflect only people who have been approved for government compensation. They include people who mined uranium, built bombs and breathed dust from bomb tests.

Many of the bomb-builders, such as those at the Rocky Flats plant near Denver, have never applied for compensation or were rejected because they could not prove their work caused their illnesses. Congressional hearings are in the works to review allegations of unfairness and delays in the program for weapons workers.

The Rocky calculation appears to be the first to compile the government's records on the human cost of manufacturing 70,000 atomic bombs since 1945. It is based on compensation figures from four federal programs run by the Departments of Labor, Justice and Veterans Affairs. Many people have been paid only recently.

More than 15,000 of the 36,500 are workers who made atomic weapons. They were exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals that typically took years to trigger cancer or lung disease.

Others were civilians living near the Nevada test site during above-ground nuclear tests; soldiers and workers at test sites; and uranium miners and millers who breathed in radioactive dust until 1972 when the government stopped buying uranium.

At least 4,000 of the 36,500 died. This number reflects cases where survivors could be paid only if their relative died of the covered illness.

Many more of the 36,500 likely also have died of the deadly diseases triggered by their work. But in most of the compensation programs, the government does not track deaths or cause of death, so the true number who gave their lives to support the nuclear bomb program probably will never be known.

Some were contaminated through accident or ignorance. But government documents have revealed that officials at times risked the health of civilians, soldiers and workers because they believed national security demanded it.

One early Atomic Energy Commission director, Lewis Strauss, wrote to a civilian who had been downwind of atomic test fallout that the danger of fallout was "a small sacrifice compared to the infinite greater evil of the use of nuclear bombs in war."

Well into the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of American troops were placed within a few miles of nuclear tests to determine their ability to march and fight shortly after a blast. The Atomic Energy Commission barred them from being closer than 7 miles, but the military cut that by more than half.

"In those days, we were training military personnel to fight a nuclear war. The Department of Defense had to know the effect on soldiers, sailors and airmen who moved within hours into a hot zone," said R.J. Ritter, who now runs the National Atomic Veterans Association and lobbies for aid to those contaminated troops. "Nobody had a clue what would happen years later from inhaling those particles."

One of those servicemen was Howard "Howdy" Pierson.

He had no idea when he was trucked into the desert from California in 1957 that he was about to watch a nuclear blast from just three miles away.

The Marine gunner was dropped into a trench and told to turn around and cover his eyes, according to his widow, Deb Pierson, of Loveland.

It was the day after Independence Day, and "Shot Hood" filled the pre-dawn sky with a bright light seen in Los Angeles and a towering orange mushroom cloud.

It was a hydrogen bomb - the biggest nuclear weapon ever detonated inside the U.S., five times more powerful than the one at Hiroshima. Three miles from ground zero at Hiroshima, nearly every building was damaged, according to the U.S. government.

Howdy Pierson's trench caved in. Dirt - already contaminated by previous tests - poured down on them, he told his wife years later.

An airman who was at the same test said in the book American Ground Zero that the blast wave threw him 40 feet. He said it felt like being cooked.

A Marine who was marched toward the mushroom cloud said he wondered why anyone would be assaulting Ground Zero minutes after a blast. "What's to assault?" he said in a posting on a Web site for nuclear veterans.

About 200,000 troops were brought in to witness and work on U.S. nuclear tests over the years, according to the Pentagon. For decades, they were barred by national security from telling anyone what they had seen.

Pierson died of lung cancer in 2000. Deb Pierson, who works for Larimer County helping veterans apply for benefits, didn't win a widow's compensation for her husband's lung cancer until Congress revised the law in 2002. The change granted compensation to any veteran who developed lung cancer after breathing radioactive dust at the nuclear tests.

The Veterans Administration, however, is fighting Pierson's attempt to get benefits back to the day he filed his claim.

Lawsuits by contamination victims uncovered evidence over the years that many officials knew the dangers, and ignored them or covered them up. Officials blocked safety standards for uranium dust and beryllium and promised residents above-ground tests posed no danger.

"A lot could have been prevented if they had given the least bit of warning" said J. Turner, of

The U.S. did not begin to admit that Americans were sickened by the weapons effort until the 1980s. The first compensation programs had such tough standards that few people were paid.

Under the Clinton administration, with the Cold War over, previously secret information became public. Americans successfully lobbied for compensation.

But the programs remain complicated by the difficulty of finding exposure records.

Cliff Hemphill, 67

Home: Adams County

Exposure: On the deck of an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during nine nuclear tests

Compensation: Given a monthly 50 percent disability payment and veterans medical care for 140 skin cancers and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cliff Hemphill, of Adams County, still carries the bulldog frame, fierce pride and "Semper Fidelis" tattoo on his arm from his days as a Marine.

But his memories are seared with images of himself curled up on the deck of a small carrier, his head buried in his arms, as heat and noise slammed into him. When he looked up, he saw the sky lit with brilliant streaks of pink and blue.

Nine times he witnessed nuclear tests from the deck of the USS Princeton in the South Pacific in the 1960s.

That caused so many health problems that his wife of 43 years was finally driven away, he believes.

It was the 140 skin cancers that caused the U.S. government to finally give him a disability payment, after it revised his estimated radiation dosage to 550 rem - 110 times the current annual federal maximum for nuclear workers.

He blames the nuclear tests for a long list of other health problems as well, from scarred lungs to unusual back-of-the- eye cataracts. He figures either the skin cancer or diabetes will do him in.

"I'm just waiting for the hammer to fall," he says.

He's certain officials knew they were risking the health and lives of servicemen who witnessed the tests. It was 17 years after the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, after all.

"We were used as guinea pigs," he says. "Most of my shipmates have the same problems."

He says the film in the Marines' dosimeters for measuring their radiation exposure turned black after the blasts. The government said natural heat and humidity spoiled the readings.

"I don't believe they were false readings at all," says Hemphill.

Hemphill won additional disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder after pointing to a study by Dr. Henry Vyner that diagnosed PTSD in servicemen who witnessed nuclear tests. The study said they harbored "anger at the government because it knowingly placed them in a dangerous situation and now is refusing to accept responsibility."

Thomas Atcitty, 78 Chester Atcitty, 73

Home: Shiprock, N.M.

Exposure: Both hauled radioactive uranium ore on 300-mile daily round trips from a mine in northwestern New Mexico to a mill in Utah; Chester also mined uranium.

Compensation: Thomas was denied compensation because he was paid in cash and doesn't have pay stubs. Chester has collected $150,000 in compensation.

Thomas Atcitty was a 21- year-old Navajo with only three months of education and no hope of a job in 1949 when a friend told him about a rare opportunity for work.

For the next several years, Atcitty filled his 2-ton dump truck with ore for the trip from New Mexico to Utah.

"There's no work, so I just helped a friend. He gives me a little money - three, four dollars a day," Atcitty said.

"I would load it by hand when I first started.

His son-in-law, Jim Hamilton, of Denver, says Atcitty told him that when a cooling rain splashed onto the radioactive ore in the searing desert heat, it gave off a wonderful fragrance. The smell enticed Atcitty to crawl on top of his load and nap, to rest for his daily trip.

"I like the smell of uranium," Atcitty said, his face brightening at the memory.

Atcitty's younger brother, Chester, who had just a year of schooling, also hauled ore with the truck. Later, Chester was one of hundreds of Navajos who worked the uranium mines without masks, breathing radioactive dust.

Children on the Navajo Reservation played on tailings, and waste from local mines was dumped into riverbeds, contaminating the water supply. Ore fell off the trucks, and roadsides were littered with uranium.

Chester Atcitty worked 10 years for the Climax uranium mine in Grand Junction, so he was able to prove his work history and collect compensation. "It's gotten really hard to breathe," said Chester, leaning on the old truck. "My body is really weak."

But Thomas has not been able to collect, according to Hamilton, who teaches at Skyview High School. "He qualifies in every aspect, except now they need his pay records from 1950."

They don't exist.

Jim Turner, 63

Home: Denver

Exposure: Beryllium, plutonium at Rocky Flats nuclear weapons factory

Compensation: Paid $150,000 compensation and a monthly disability payment he did not disclose.

In the 1970s, Jim Turner crawled into the ventilation system at the sprawling Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant outside Denver to change out contaminated air filters.

He'd listened to the safety lectures and knew he had to be careful not to be contaminated with plutonium.

Nobody mentioned beryllium.

Workers in the beryllium machine shops were so unconcerned that they ate snacks at their work stations, Turner recalls. "It was, 'Hey, this stuff won't kill you.' "

But decades earlier, in 1948, scientists had warned that beryllium was so dangerous that it should be handled only inside glove boxes so workers would never breathe even a microscopic bit.

No one told the workers at Rocky Flats. Protecting their lungs from scarring would have meant building an entirely new structure and production line, according to documents revealed in a trial in Golden several years ago. Rapid-fire production of nuclear bombs would have stopped at the height of the Cold War, and that was "unacceptable," according to a memo from the 1960s.

As a result, hundreds of former Flats workers suffer from beryllium disease, which can be fatal.

Turner struggles to breathe. "I've coughed till it feels like my head is going to explode."

The coughing started in the 1970s, but no one told Turner that it was caused by beryllium until 1988, he says.

"They knew, but they never did say anything about it, and I continued to work in these contaminated areas," says the 26-year veteran of Rocky Flats. For officials, he believes, it was "anything so they could win the Cold War."

Unlike most weapons workers, Turner did not need to find records to prove how much he was irradiated. Beryllium disease is caused only by exposure to beryllium.

Dennis Nelson, 64

Home: Raised in St. George, Utah; now in Bethesda, Md.

Exposure: Downwind from the Nevada nuclear tests

Compensation: Family granted $50,000 for each parent; nothing for sister because parents were deceased.

Dennis Nelson was a 7- year-old sleeping outdoors in the hot summers of St. George, Utah, when the U.S. set off the first "special weapon" at the Nevada test site in 1951.

Repeatedly through his childhood, the predawn sky would light up in the west. No one thought it was dangerous.

Nelson remembers only one doubt, the day he watched men wash radioactive fallout off cars on St. George's main street. He thought, "If they are washing poison off these cars, why are they letting it run into the water, where we water our gardens?"

In one of the first alarms, 4,500 sheep in a herd of 14,000 died in 1953. Government scientists at the time insisted there was no connection, but documents uncovered in 1980 said those scientists actually found lethal doses of radiation in the dead sheep.

Nelson's aunt, Irma Thomas, began marking a map of St. George with the names of everyone with cancer or other unexpected illnesses, including her sister and her husband.

"Back then, it was not wise to speak against the government," said Nelson's wife, Denise. "She was quickly called a Communist."

Then Nelson's mother died at 47 of a brain tumor. His father succumbed to bone and lung cancer. Next came his sister, an assistant U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City who died of colon cancer. Nelson's brother has fought lymphoma and bladder cancer. Nelson has survived skin cancer.

The Nelsons have read thousands of pages of evidence and concluded that the irradiation of St. George was deliberate.

"It was clearly an experiment," says Denise Nelson. Officials wanted to find out what clothing or buildings might offer protection from fallout, she says. "There was dosimeter data collected, listing people's names, jobs and wall thicknesses."

Officials delayed the tests until the wind was blowing toward St. George - and not toward Los Angeles or San Francisco, her husband says. "They said it was a virtually uninhabited portion of the country - except there were a lot of virtual uninhabitants."

Some people who lived downwind of nuclear tests eventually won damages in a lawsuit. But an appeals court in Denver overturned that decision in 1987, saying the federal government cannot be held liable for its deliberate actions - in this case, a decision to put national security over public safety.

Arguments that the number is too low

More than 30,000 sick nuclear weapons workers have been denied compensation because they cannot prove the amount of contamination they suffered and whether it was enough to cause their illnesses. Workers say many in this group should have been approved. More than 10,000 additional workers are still awaiting a decision and thousands more may not have applied because they think the process is too difficult.

The Veterans Benefits Administration admits it has not kept a good count of how many soldiers it has paid for radiation-related illness out of the 400,000 veterans exposed during weapons tests and in occupied Japan after World War II. The VA counted 483 as of 1998. The number is "woefully low" and out of date, said Tom Pamperin, deputy director for compensation and pensions. Recently, 1,200 atomic veterans with skin cancer won reconsideration, and 266 of them were approved, Pamperin said.

The National Association of Atomic Veterans says up to 25,000 former soldiers have applied.

Some members of Congress are trying to expand the program to compensate "downwinders" - people who lived downwind of the Nevada nuclear tests. They point to a National Cancer Institute study showing that the radioactive fallout was far greater and more widespread than previously believed. Radioactive iodine, which is linked to thyroid cancer, contaminated grass and then cows milk across the country for a period in the 1940s and 1950s.

Especially affected were large parts of Montana and Idaho, as well as six counties in Colorado: Gunnison, Conejos, Hinsdale, Archuleta, Mineral and Grand. Because rainstorms washed fallout onto the ground in concentrated pockets, these areas had more contamination than any of the 22 counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona, where compensation is paid.

A National Cancer Institute study in 2004 estimated that another 265 Marshall Islanders would come down with cancer due to the nuclear tests there, on top of the 265 that already had occurred.

No one has studied the effect of fallout from the Pacific tests, which were far larger than the tests in Nevada.

Arguments that the number is too high

The weapons workers program is required by law to lean in favor of compensating too many claimants rather than too few. Officials of the program say it does favor approval and pays too many, though workers scoff at that.

President Reagan said when he signed the veterans compensation bill in 1988 that it was not a judgment that radiation caused their diseases. Instead, he said, it was recognition for their unusual service - being exposed to bomb radiation.

Some downwinders were paid for cancers that would have occurred even without being exposed to radioactive fallout. The downwinders program requires no proof of radioactive dose and simply pays anyone with certain cancers in the 22 counties closest to the test site that are listed in the law.

A National Research Council committee recommended tightening the downwinders program, requiring proof of radiation dose and connection to the particular cancer, said Thomas Borak, a radiation physics professor at Colorado State University who was a committee member. Congress has not made the recommended changes.

"We had very emotional testimony" from sick people just outside the compensation zone, Borak said. But he is opposed to giving aid without proof. or 303-954-5438

Aug 30, 2007

Former lab worker heads advocacy office

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

Loretta Valerio has been tapped to lead the newly established Office of Nuclear Workers Advocacy. Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Valerio to direct the new office, the establishment of which was passed in the 2007 legislative session and signed into law by Richardson.

Valerio, 49, previously worked as an Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (EEOICA) caseworker at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for some 10 years.

"Ms. Valerio brings important experience to help workers who suffer from illness incurred, while providing for America's security, get the compensation and medical treatment they deserve," Richardson said in a statement. "As DOE secretary, I pushed for the creation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, and this office, as one of the first of its kind in the nation, continues my commitment these workers."

During an interview Wednesday from her new office in Santa Fe, Valerio said she worked at LANL with contractors Johnson Controls, Pan Am and Johnson Controls of Northern New Mexico. She also worked during the last six years as an EEOICA caseworker in Espanola with Paragon Technical services and the Eagle Research Group.

Richardson said because of all her experience, Valerio understands the complex process of applying, documenting and following up with the federal government.

"Gov. Richardson has directed me to help New Mexican nuclear workers get the health-care they need, and compensation they and their families deserve," she said.

In her ombudsman capacity, Valerio said she will act as a liaison between claimants, and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Resource Center in Espanola, union officials, DOE contractors, retiree groups and others to provide assistance and guidance to those individuals who encounter obstacles in the adjudication of their claims.

There are currently 12,933 New Mexico applications filed with the Department of Labor, which includes uranium industry employees, current and former workers as well as eligible survivors of DOE workers, according to the governor's office.

The Office of Nuclear Worker's Advocacy opened Monday and Valerio said she has been busy contacting organizations, unions and health care and medical facilities to let them know the office is open and available to assist claimants who run into problems with the process. She said she plans to do outreach in the Los Alamos area in the next couple of weeks.

HB 779, establishing the Office of Nuclear Worker's Advocacy, was sponsored by Speaker of the House Ben Lujan. In a statement, Lujan said he believes it is the duty of the State of New Mexico to advocate and assist nuclear workers who have been exposed to toxic substances, which have adversely affected their bodies, livelihood and quality of life.

"The current system requires lay people to navigate through a difficult bureaucracy," Lujan said. "Now these workers and their families can be given the attention and assistance they truly deserve."

The office will act as a liaison for workers seeking compensation from the EEOICA. The EEOICA program delivers assistance, compensation and payment of medical services to eligible employees.

As Secretary of Energy, Richardson helped push the EEOICA through Congress, which he said has provided over $2 billion in compensation for nuclear workers across the United States.

The Office of Nuclear Workers is in Aspen Plaza at 1596 Pacheco St., Room 206 in Santa Fe. Call the office at 827-1636.

Audit finds U.S. nuclear weapons parts misplaced

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some facilities that handle the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile misplaced classified bomb components under their care, according to an Energy Department audit.

The department's Inspector General also found there was confusion at the facilities over who was responsible for keeping track of weapons parts and recommended changes in how to better safeguard the parts.

John Broehm, a spokesman for the department's National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, said his agency disagreed with the recommendations.

He said the parts, which he declined to identify, were later found.

A summary of the IG's audit -- a little-noticed two-page document released in late July -- found that two of the three sites reviewed did not track "many" classified weapons parts in their custody.

The facilities "could not readily account for or locate some of the items included in our inventory sample," the IG summary said.

The Inspector General's office would not elaborate beyond the summary document or say when the audit was done.

Since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the United States has worried that terrorists may try to buy or steal weapons in other countries to use against it, but the IG's findings raise the possibility of domestic weapons parts getting into the wrong hands.

The IG said it suggested changes to improve tracking and safeguarding the classified weapons parts, but "management did not agree with the report's conclusions and recommendations."

The NNSA said extra accountability controls were not needed on parts for "non-war reserve" weapons, which are used only for routine testing, research and development.

"We're very comfortable that our accountability standards are more than sufficient for keeping track of everything," Broehm said this week.

The IG wanted the same tough standards used for "war reserve" bombs that are ready for use to be applied to all weapons parts.

The NNSA operates at 11 facilities, including three national research laboratories: Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico and Livermore in California. The agency also oversees the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, which is the only U.S. nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility.

The IG said details on the problems at the weapons sites would not be made public.

"We're not going to be able to provide any additional information due to national security," IG spokeswoman Marilyn Richardson said.

However, the IG's summary of its audit broadly addresses the shortcomings discovered.

The summary said security officials at the two sites in question said they were not responsible for keeping track of the weapons parts, even though they acknowledged they had "certain physical safeguarding responsibilities."

President George W. Bush in 2001 directed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced from about 6,000 operational warheads at the time to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012 -- a goal the administration reaffirmed last month.

[Read the public summary of the audit report here.]

New state office helps sick nuclear workers

By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
August 30, 2007

Pojoaque woman will act as liaison between workers, agencies

A Pojoaque woman who is a former Los Alamos National Laboratory worker has opened a new office aimed at helping sick Cold War workers process illness claims with the federal government.

Loretta Valerio began work Monday in Gov. Bill Richardson’s Office of Nuclear Workers Advocacy. Her role is to act as a liaison between the workers, the U.S. Department of Labor and other groups involved in the program that pays sick workers and their survivors for illness and medical bills related to their work at national laboratories, for example.

Valerio most recently worked at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Española Resource Center. That office can help with initial claims, but Valerio’s role is targeted more at helping people who have problems or need extra help with claims.

“They can call me if it’s an initial claim,” Valerio said. “I may be able to help them. I may refer them to the resource center. … But if it’s reopening a claim or if it’s requesting a reconsideration on a claim, then they can be referred to this office.”

Workers who can establish they have radiation-induced cancers can receive a $150,000 payment, plus medical bills. Those with occupational illnesses caused by toxins can receive up to $250,000 and medical expenses. Survivors may qualify too.

Some individual workers have to prove their illness by showing how much radiation or toxins they were exposed to. Groups of others are covered by so-called “special exposure cohorts,” which could make the burden of proof easier for the claimant.

“The claims process is not hard,” Valerio said. “Filing the claim is not hard. Sometimes obtaining records, medical records, employment records, you can run into obstacles. But there are resources to assist those individuals in finding what they need to help in the adjudication of their claim.”

Valerio said tens of thousands of people in New Mexico may qualify for the program.

The money to pay for the program was sponsored by House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé. Luján is a former ironworker at the lab and pushed a $125,000 appropriation through the Legislature earlier this year.

“I believe that it is the duty of the state of New Mexico to advocate and assist nuclear workers who have been exposed to toxic substances, which have adversely affected their bodies, livelihood and quality of life,” Luján said in a news release. “The current system requires lay people to navigate through a difficult bureaucracy.”

To date, 6,184 claims have been filed for Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Of those, 518 awards were made for a total of more than $51 million, according to the Department of Labor.

A total of 12,943 New Mexico applications have been filed with the Department of Labor, which includes former uranium industry workers, Valerio said.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act was passed by Congress in 2000. Richardson, then secretary of energy, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., were key supporters in that effort. U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has also pushed for more workers to be covered by the program and to preserve old medical records that could have been destroyed. Those records, located at Los Alamos Medical Center, could help some workers establish their claims.

“Ms. Valerio brings important experience to help workers who suffer from illness … get the compensation and medical treatment they deserve,” Richardson said.

For more information, contact Valerio at 827-1636. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Española Resource Center can be contacted at 505-747-6766.

Contact Andy Lenderman at 986-3073 or

Aug 29, 2007

Comment of the Week

It's been a tough week to pick a "Comment of the Week". There has been little of substance in recent comments submitted to the blog (yes, less even than usual). A low-life was trolling the Bronze Star post, attempting to cheapen Tod Caldwell's act of bravery. All that was accomplished was that the commenter was shown to be morally bankrupt.

There was the insipid announcement of MaRIE, that embarrassing offering of LANS' "bold new vision" for the lab. Nothing to see there, move on.

There was another spate of Espanola-bashing on the Espanola Mayor post, but this time some of the comments had a bit more substance to them. Given that Los Alamos, and Los Alamosans have been under the microscope for several years, I picked the comment below from that post to give our fellow Northern New Mexicans some time in the spotlight.

The opportunity exists for those so inclined to engage via comments on this post in a meaningful discussion of the realities of Espanola society versus Los Alamos society. Not that I expect any meaningful discussion to occur, but I felt obligated to point out that the opportunity existed.


In addition to being a community that has traditionally under-stressed the importance of education, Espanola has always been a center for drug trade. Espanola is currently the end of one of the pipelines for Mexican heroin coming in to the country.

As a result of the high incidence of drug usage in the Espanola/Chimayo area, there is an abundance of drug-related crime: theft, wars between competing dealers, drug-fueled violence of all sorts.

All in all, the Espanola area does not have much of a heritage to be proud of, nor does there seem to be much interest from the Espanolans to change their culture of drugs, violence, ignorance, and poverty.

Go ahead: call me a racist. I don't care, I'm not. I've lived in northern New Mexico all my life, and the rest of you who have lived here for a while know that I am, if anything, being gentle in my characterization of Espanola. That is because I know fine, intelligent, hard-working people who live there. They are, unfortunately, in the minority.

Joint meeting targets environmental issues

LANL Oversight/Radioactive and Hazardous Materials committees hear progress

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

The cleanup accomplishments of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) were presented to members of the New Mexico Legislative Laboratory Oversight and the Radioactive and Hazardous Materials committees Monday at the Research Park.

"This was a dual meeting of the two committees and we had the New Mexico Environment Department and Sandia Laboratories at the meeting," said Rep. Jeannette Wallace R-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Sandoval. "Sandia talked to us about their consent order and compliance."

Wallace chaired Monday's meeting and said LANL Associate Director Susan Stiger briefed members on the laboratory's environmental programs, and also talked about their efforts and progress on NMED's Consent Order for cleanup and remediation of laboratory contaminated areas.

"I think the Legislature needs to be updated," Wallace said. "I'm not sure of our accomplishments because we seem to go around in circles, but when everybody has to state their positions, that is a good thing. And it's good that our committee members ask follow-up questions."

Wallace asked the NMED how much the federal government reimburses them for overseeing environmental issues at the lab.

"They said they get reimbursed between $1.1 million and $1.2 million," she said. "I didn't get an answer when I asked how much we have paid in fines and where does the fine money to the state environmental department go."

Wallace said the meetings provide LANL and Sandia with an opportunity to express their accomplishments and explain what they are doing.

"We always seem to hear in the news that they aren't doing anything but in reality they do a lot," she said.

Los Alamos Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro and county councilors Robert Gibson and Jim Hall attended the meeting, Wallace said.

Espanola Mayor Joseph Maestas asked to attend the meeting as well, she said. Maestas was the last item on the agenda, Wallace said, adding that when he spoke of concerns regarding laboratory funding and employee cuts, she told him Los Alamos also is concerned. She said when he brought up the lab's gross receipts tax, she explained to him the state takes more than 60 percent of that tax.

NMED hazardous waste bureau chief James Bearzi also briefed committee members Monday.

Bearzi told committee members that the NMED is looking forward to a much more productive dialogue with LANL.

Bombs Away, For Good

August 29, 2007; Page A15 - Wall Street Journal

Are the plans to upgrade our nuclear arsenal with a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) consistent with America's interests in opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Some reasonable critics of the program have expressed doubts.

They are wrong: The RRW is fully consistent with U.S. nuclear nonproliferation objectives.

When judging this issue, consider the first and most basic question: Should the U.S. even have a nuclear deterrent? For the past 60 years, U.S. nuclear forces have strengthened our security as well as the security and stability of the international community. They have also helped prevent nuclear proliferation by extending our deterrent to protect allies, who therefore don't need to seek their own nuclear weapons. Japan's deep concern in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test shows that the need for extended deterrence remains strong.

But what about the size and shape of our deterrent? The RRW will replace many of the current, aging warheads deployed on Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It provides no new military capability, nor increases the arsenal's size or power.

Three further questions need to be considered regarding nonproliferation. Will the RRW make future nuclear testing more or less likely? Will it advance or hinder efforts to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal? Will it make the weapons we deploy safer and more secure?

Both the administration and Congress have made it clear the RRW is being pursued under the requirement that it will not need to be tested before being certified to become part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This reinforces our commitment to maintaining our moratorium on underground nuclear testing.

No one can, however, guarantee that as the older weapons in our current stockpile age further, they will not need to be tested to maintain confidence in their safety and reliability.

The RRW will also facilitate further reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. U.S. accomplishments in this area have already been substantial, if largely overlooked. Whole classes of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles -- short-range and intermediate range nuclear missiles -- have been eliminated.

The number of nuclear weapons dismantled this year will increase by over 50% compared to last year. The number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons will go from over 10,000 at the peak of the Cold War, to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. Because of decisions by the Bush administration, within five years, our nuclear arsenal will be at its lowest since the 1950s.

Moreover, the RRW will give us greater confidence in the reliability of our weapons. This increased confidence will reduce the need for large numbers of spare warheads and allow us to take the U.S. stockpile to still lower levels, consistent with our international obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Finally, the RRW will allow us to deploy weapons that are safer to make and to store for people and the environment and also less susceptible to theft or misuse by terrorists. For example, the new warhead will not use beryllium, a poisonous metal used in the current weapons. Moreover, anti-theft measures have improved dramatically over the decades and will be implemented in the new warhead, preventing unauthorized use.

In sum, the new warhead will make nuclear testing less likely, facilitate further reductions in our arsenal, and help to ensure that the weapons we do deploy are as safe and secure as possible. The RRW is thus entirely consistent with U.S. nonproliferation objectives. It deserves the support of the nonproliferation community, the national-security community and all Americans.

Mr. Brooks negotiated the START I Treaty in 1991 and was a senior arms control and nonproliferation official in five agencies within the U.S. government. From 2002 to 2007 he was the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Aug 28, 2007

Lab working on dying-tree problem

KATY KORKOS Monitor Reporter

Commuters on East Jemez Road between N.M. 4 and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have noticed dead and dying trees and shrubs directly adjacent to the road for several weeks now. LANL owns the land on either side of the road in the affected area.

LANL spokesman Steven Sandoval stated Thursday that LANL's contractor for road maintenance, KSL Services, was investigating the problem of dying shrubs and trees along LANL maintained roads.

"KSL Services employee Dan Humbles is aware of the dying or dead brush, juniper and shrubs along both sides of the truck route, from N.M. 4 west to about LANSCE," Sandoval said in the laboratory statement. He said he is also aware of other reports of dying/dead shrubs etc. in isolated areas around Technical Area 3 and University House, a facility also at TA-3.

Sandoval said KSL has provided cuttings from the plants to Carlos Valdez, the county's extension agent, who sent the cuttings to New Mexico State University to be analyzed. Tests should be able to ascertain whether the plants died because of an insect infestation, drought, problems with the soil or some other cause.

NMSU, located in Las Cruces, maintains a "Plant Diagnostic Clinic" as part of its Extension Plant Sciences Department within the College of Agriculture, which "is designed to provide plant diagnostic services for the state of New Mexico," according to the extension services website.

"The Plant Diagnostic Clinic works very closely with the New Mexico Cooperative Extension county offices. Our services include analysis of plant material for plant pathogens and environmental stresses," the website states.

"It generally takes about a week to get results back," Valdez said, "unless they have to do a culture for pathogens."

Plan Would Close Lab's Waste Dump

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer

Los Alamos National Laboratory would have to close its low-level radioactive waste dump under a proposal issued Monday by the state Environment Department.

But the state does not have the regulatory authority to prevent the lab from opening a new radioactive waste dump next to the old one, said James Bearzi, head of the Environment Department's Hazardous Waste Bureau.

The proposal sets the stage for a potentially bruising fight over whether the waste buried at the old dump needs to be removed, or whether it can safely be left where it is.

The Environment Department proposal requires the lab to "implement a cleanup plan that would protect human health and the environment," according to the department's summary of its 1,500-page proposal.

But whether leaving the waste where it is meets that test, or whether it will need to be dug up and moved to a safer place, remains to be seen, Bearzi said in a telephone interview Monday.

The proposal issued Monday would require Los Alamos to study both options, with a final decision up to the state, Bearzi said.

The dump, known in lab parlance as "Area G," holds half a century's worth of radioactive trash generated in nuclear weapons design and manufacturing at Los Alamos.

The state has no legal regulatory authority over radioactive waste. But the dump also contains other types of hazardous waste governed by state law. That gives the state the legal leverage over the old landfill.

A new disposal area proposed next door to the old dump would only contain radioactive waste, so the state has no legal authority over it, Bearzi said.

The lab and the Department of Energy, the federal agency that owns Los Alamos, argue that Area G poses no danger to public health and the environment.

Activists have vehemently disagreed with the lab over the question for years.

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico praised the Environment Department's efforts to get a handle on the situation at Area G and other similar sites governed by the proposal issued Monday.

But Coghlan said the state needs to make sure the dump's closure includes removing the waste.

"Citizens still need to push for comprehensive cleanup so that groundwater and the Rio Grande are permanently protected," he said.

The proposal to close Area G is part of a broad rewrite of the current hodgepodge of procedures for handling hazardous waste at Los Alamos.

Lab officials said they are only beginning to review the massive document and declined detailed comment, spokesman Kevin Roark said.

But Roark added that the proposal would provide useful clarification to the hazardous waste rules at Los Alamos.

Members of the public have 60 days to comment to the Environment Department on the proposal.

Española mayor seeks to soften blow of job cuts

By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
August 27, 2007

Maestas calls for diversification of Northern N.M. economy

LOS ALAMOS — The mayor of Española again pushed state lawmakers Monday to consider ways to diversify the economy of Northern New Mexico, especially now that people up north are concerned about possible budget cuts at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Mayor Joseph Maestas also pressed top lab managers for better communication and said state and federal officials need a better plan to deal with past and possibly future job cuts.

“I strongly feel that economic development and investment plans for Northern New Mexico are badly needed to minimize, if not eliminate, the vulnerability of the regional economy, because of its dependence on LANL,” Maestas told legislators with the LANL Oversight Committee.

About 21 percent of the lab’s work force lived in Rio Arriba County in 2006, according to a lab fact sheet. Twenty-three percent lived in Santa Fe County. And 43 percent lived in Los Alamos County.

A total of 12,115 people worked at the lab through June 30. At least 400 contract jobs have been cut since last year as new lab managers absorbed new operating costs, such as state taxes, management fees and pension costs.

“A comprehensive state and federal plan to deal with those job cuts is long overdue,” Maestas told the committee.

State Rep. Jeanette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, told Maestas that these cuts have impacted more than the Española Valley.

“You need to listen to some of us as much as you want us to listen to you,” Wallace said. “Indeed it has hurt Northern New Mexico, and I include Los Alamos as part of Northern New Mexico.”

Maestas also said his community is apprehensive about the federal budget situation. The House has suggested cutting as much as $400 million from nuclear weapons programs at Los Alamos and Sandia National laboratories, compared to the 2007 fiscal year. But the Senate has put much of that money back in its version of the appropriations bill. A settlement has yet to be reached before the new spending year begins Oct. 1.

“Mayor Maestas, I would assure you that there are a lot of apprehensive people right here in Los Alamos,” Wallace said.

Contact Andy Lenderman at 986-3073 or

Aug 27, 2007

Environment Department seeks comment on LANL permit

New Mexico Business Weekly - 1:43 PM MDT Monday, August 27, 2007

The New Mexico Environment Department has released a draft hazardous waste facility operating permit for Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is seeking public comment on the document.

The permit governs LANL's operation of 27 waste management units and the closure of three disposal units at the facility. It's designed to work in conjunction with the order mandating a "fence-to-fence" cleanup to remedy past problems and make sure hazardous wastes are properly handled, said John Goldstein, director of the department's water and waste management division.

The fence-to-fence order governs ongoing environmental cleanup and the draft permit requires cleanup activities after the order terminates, as well as ensuring the safe handling, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste at the facility.

The draft permit also establishes closure milestones and requirements for hazardous and radioactive waste landfills at Technical Area 54. The U.S. Department of Energy continues to allow disposal of radioactive waste in one of these landfills, known as Area G.

Under the draft permit, DOE would be required to close that dump and implement a cleanup plan that would protect human health and the environment. The closure plan would be open for public comment.

Written comments and requests for a public hearing will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Oct. 26. For more information, go to

Aug 26, 2007

LANL Has Until Sept. 21 to Come Up With Earthquake Analysis Plans for Its Facility

By Raam Wong, Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

LOS ALAMOS— Earthquakes pose a greater risk to Los Alamos National Laboratory than previously believed, according to a new study that's forcing lab officials to re-assess whether they're ready for the big one.

Over the next two years, the lab intends to analyze two dozen of its nuclear and non-nuclear facilities in light of the study's finding that seismic hazards are as much as 50 percent higher than once thought.

In the meantime, LANL this month received the National Nuclear Security Administration's permission to continue normal operations, asserting that there's only a 1 in 700 chance of a significant earthquake in the next two years.

"LANL is asking the NNSA to accept the risk of continued operation until a quantitative assessment of each facility is performed," LANL stated in a so-called justification for continued operations recently released to the Journal.

The lab has until Sept. 21 to inform NNSA of how it plans to complete a seismic analysis for the facilities by June 2009.

Any facility found to be not up to snuff with Department of Energy requirements could be strengthened or see changes in its operation or use.

Already, LANL officials have identified a few needed improvements. For instance, the lab plans to reduce the allowed inventory at its Weapons Engineering Tritium Facility to limit how much tritium would be released during an earthquake-induced fire.

The increased risk assessment is largely the result of a better understanding of the 50 kilometer-long Pajarito fault system that extends along the western end of the lab. Seismologists have found evidence of more past surface-faulting than once believed.

"What it means is that the (perceived) hazards have increased," said LANL structural engineer Michael Salmon.

The Department of Energy has set goals for how certain types of buildings should hold-up during an earthquake based on what goes on inside.

An office building, for example, should protect worker safety when things start shaking, while a nuclear facility should also confine hazardous materials and ensure that operations are not interrupted.

DOE requires that these high-value buildings, of which LANL has 19, have less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of suffering unacceptable damage during a seismic event in any given year.

But the potential earthquake that officials have been planning for turns out to be larger.

When the lab first assessed its seismic risk in 1995, seismologists believed that a one in 2,500-year quake would shake the ground with a peak acceleration of 0.33g, where a "g" represents the force of gravity.

Now, seismologists believe a 2,500-year quake is as high as 0.5g.

Lab seismologists have said that magnitude earthquakes of 7.0 on the Richter scale have occurred in New Mexico in prehistoric times. A 1906 earthquake knocked down chimneys on the Socorro County courthouse and caused plaster to fall from walls in Santa Fe. In May 1918, a quake knocked people off their feet in Cerrillos.

Smaller quakes regularly hit New Mexico— for instance, a series of temblors measuring up to 4.4 near Raton in 2004.

The question for LANL officials is whether lab buildings can still perform as needed during a larger quake.

Lab officials have known for years that one important facility— the 550,000-square-foot Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building— wouldn't survive a significant earthquake.

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark noted the facility no longer holds significant quantities of nuclear material. The building is set to be replaced, though the project faces mounting skepticism in Congress.

The lab's plutonium facility, Technical Area-55, is thought to be safe in a large earthquake "We're confidant that 55 is fine," said LANL's Salmon.

Greg Mello, an arms control activist with the Los Alamos Study Group, said LANL has a number of underlying safety problems that are only compounded by the heightened seismic risk. "Just to say everything's going to be fine is just whistling in the dark," Mello said.

Plaintiff Appeals $12M LANL Suit Settlement

By Raam Wong, Journal Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

A plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Los Alamos National Laboratory has appealed the final settlement in the case, potentially delaying $12 million in payouts to lab employees.

Lab employee Laurie Quon's attorney filed a notice of appeal on Wednesday in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The suit alleged years of race and gender discrimination on the part of the lab.

The two-page notice does not give Quon's reason for appealing the settlement. But Quon has previously objected to it, arguing that the women who originally initiated the lawsuit would receive excessive payouts. She also asserted that the agreement, which releases the lab from future discrimination claims, was too broad.

U.S. District Judge William Johnson in March overruled those objections. Quon's attorney, George Geran, could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

John Bienvenu, a lawyer representing workers in the case, told the Journal earlier this month that an administrator could soon begin processing claims for the 3,178 employees involved, with checks going out by the end of the year.

However, Bienvenu said in the recent interview that an appeal could postpone those payouts by several years.

Bievenu said it was reasonable that the women who initiated the suit— known as class representatives— should receive about $122,000 apiece because they took the risk of coming forward and alleging years of gender and racial discrimination. Payouts for other class members would range from $200 to $9,200 apiece, Bienvenu said.

Bienvenu could not be reached to comment on the appeal Friday evening.

Six female LANL employees filed separate discrimination lawsuits against the lab's former manager, the University of California, in 2003 and 2004.

The suits, which allege pay and promotions discrimination, were merged into a single class action case. The final settlement was approved in July.
[Thanks to a daring reader for sending this story.]

Defending Dynes and his legacy

UC president forced to face major challenges
August 26, 2007 6:00 AM

The Record's Aug. 20 editorial ("A man for the wrong season") might well be correct.

But it understated the challenges Robert Dynes faced when he became president of the University of California on Oct. 1, 2003.

Dynes became president just before Arnold Schwarzenegger unseated Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election and a few days after John Moores, a member of the UC Board of Regents, launched an attack on admission policies at the Berkeley campus.

Outgoing President Richard Atkinson publicly challenged the use of the Scholastic Aptitude Test in admissions.

The U.S. Department of Energy was about to put the university's three (not two) national laboratory contracts out to bid for the first time.

There was uncertainty as to whether the Legislature would fund the UC Merced campus 23 months before its scheduled opening.

Recruitment was under way for new chancellors for the Berkeley, San Diego and Santa Cruz campuses.

As a first-year regent at the time, I was aware of these issues and many more that faced Dynes when he left UC San Diego for the president's office in Oakland.

State budget issues consumed much of the leadership's attention and energy, compounded by the midstream change of governors.

The size and complexity of the UC system are unique to higher education.

The experience with restructuring management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory signaled a major change in how the institution would be governed.

Structural changes in the president's office are under way.

Blending leadership of academia and research with business systems and personnel management no longer will work in an institution with 10 campuses, 200,000 students and 120,000 employees.

Perhaps it was too much to ask that an accomplished physicist such as Dynes excel in all of these roles.

In two years of observing Dynes, I was struck by his vision and tenacity in the face of daunting challenges.

In numerous meetings with UC alumni from around the state and nation, he was receptive to concerns but inspiring in his belief in the university's ability to meet its responsibilities to educate students and provide world-class research.

His legacy will emerge as many of the initiatives he launched gain traction over time.

Mark F. Ornellas

Labs power up packs of intellectual property

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

Four nuclear weapons laboratories agreed Friday to pool intellectual properties created by their scientists and engineers. The Intellectual Property Bundling Agreement (IPBA) is intended to speed up commercialization of lab technologies.

Technology Ventures Corporation of Albuquerque developed the IPBA under a cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy. TVC mentors startups and helps commercial ideas at the laboratories find investors. TVC chairman Sherman McCorkle hosted the signing in Albuquerque.

Clay Sell, Deputy Secretary of Energy, and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., attended the event, along with the representatives of the four weapons laboratories managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration: LANL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and the Nevada Test Site.

In a press release Friday, Domenici said the new agreement should significantly increase the success rate for transferring technology.

"Bundling intellectual property rights for ideas generated by multiple labs will make them more readily available for development into the products and services," he said. "That will ultimately create jobs and strengthen our economic base."

Intellectual property refers specifically to patents and inventions, but also includes other kinds of creations and discoveries, like software, drawings and know-how.

Duncan McBranch, who heads the Tech Transfer Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said the bundling idea is a theme that has been going around universities and industries for a while now.

"There is more value in intellectual overlap than in any one thing alone," he said

McBranch said progress has been made in identifying what the clusters are.

"Ken Freese, in the intellectual property management office within my divisions, has developed a strong set of tools to analyze the patent portfolios and characterize them by what they are similar to," he said.

Among technology clusters that seemed promising, McBranch mentioned biosecurity, new materials, and data and image analysis.

In the biosecurity area, he said, there were a number of patents at LANL related to DNA detection and rapid analysis, and that Lawrence Livermore has also been working in that area.

"Each of us has 10-20 patents," he said, some of which could be available as a bundle.

Intellectual property management has become an increasingly important strategic concern for companies working in the technological arena.

Aug 24, 2007

Laboratory Researcher Awarded Bronze Star for Service in Iraq

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., August 24, 2007 -- U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Tod Caldwell, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in Iraq. Caldwell recently returned to work at Los Alamos after a one-year tour of duty in Baghdad and Al Anbar province.

Caldwell, now a reservist, went to Iraq to help train the Iraqi Army and also worked with the National Police Force. His job turned out to be much more than that of an instructor.

According to Caldwell, during an August 2006 combat patrol along the Euphrates River his group was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). The team had just finished removing some boats from the river, checked a renovation project, and was headed back to the main road when the fourth vehicle in his convoy was hit by the IED. Thrown in the air and flipped, the 13-ton armored Humvee came to land on its roof. The blast left a crater five feet wide and four feet deep. The attack left one Marine dead, two soldiers injured, and one Iraqi interpreter injured.

Caldwell, according to his Bronze Star citation, "showed personal courage by securing the area first, directed the evacuation of casualties, and remained on-site to ensure cleanup and investigation of the hostile location."

Caldwell is understandably proud of his military awards, which also includes the Combat Action Badge, but more meaningful to him are the changes he brought about while there. "It really means something to you when the people you worked with tell you they want you to stay." He returned with a Koran and prayer beads, gifts from his Iraqi comrades.

While he came away with a better understanding of the people, the country, the region, and its religion, Caldwell said he believes the people he worked with "learned more about American society and American thinking. I think they came away with an understanding of how much work is required" for their country to become a stable democracy.

Back at Los Alamos, Caldwell is working in the Condensed Matter and Thermal Physics group, continuing his materials research using nuclear magnetic resonance.
Contact: Kevin N. Roark,, (505) 665-9202

Aug 23, 2007

Lab Notes

Compiled by ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

Public meeting on groundwater provisions

The New Mexico Environment Department wants to tighten reporting requirements for groundwater monitoring at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A formal comment and public meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. Monday at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Pojoaque to discuss the proposed modification and listen to public concerns.

In a settlement agreement related to LANL's need to provide timely notification of hexavalent chromium contamination in a characterization well in Mortandad Canyon, the state and the managers of the laboratory agreed to additional notification measures under the Consent Order between the parties.

The Consent Order, signed in March 2005, regulates the comprehensive environmental cleanup program at the lab. A negotiated settlement in June 2007 reduced the penalties for the laboratory from $795,620 to $251,870, and included the new specifications for reporting contamination.

Among the requirements, the laboratory will be expected to review and report on a monthly basis all new analytical data from groundwater monitoring. Any new contamination found exceeding state and federal standards must be reported within one business day after the review.

Fifteen-day deadlines were assigned for reporting newly detected contaminants and other specified occurrences and changes in contaminant concentrations.

In December 2005, the laboratory reported that hexavalent chromium from samples and analysis had been found at elevated levels as early as January 2004, but had been overlooked for nearly two years.

In May the laboratory finished drilling a new test well in lower Sandia Canyon to further characterized the nature and extent of the pollution and to guard against contamination of a nearby Los Alamos County drinking water well.

The first results from that monitoring effort are expected shortly.

IG finds mixed results in DOE radiation testing

A federal auditor found that some DOE sites are, and some are not, meeting expectations for effective testing of workers against radiation exposures. Los Alamos National Laboratory was not among the sites included in the survey.

According to DOE's two-tier approach, biological or "bioassay" testing is mandated when significant exposures are expected, but when significant exposures are unlikely, the department's contractors are supposed to develop precautions to ensure that effective controls are in place to reduce exposures.

A report distributed Tuesday found positive results at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the auditors found that 16 out of a sample of 24 workers who regularly visited radiological areas were not adequately checked. They were either not tested at the prescribed frequency or were not tested for all of the radioactive isotopes to which they may have been exposed.

Smaller percentages (20 percent) of workers sampled at East Tennessee Technology Park and Nevada Test site were also found to be inadequately tested. At the Nevada Tests site, documentation was lacking in some cases.

The auditors concluded with the warning that the lack of accurate exposure history may affect DOE's ability to assess future health issues reliably.

"This lack of adequate exposure evidence is highlighted by the department's experience with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEIOCPA) and potential legal issues surrounding incomplete occupational exposure data from past radiological work," the report stated. "As of the end of Fiscal year 2006, the estimated future benefits payable to eligible individuals under the EEIOCPA was $6.9 million."

A response by DOE's Office of Science and Office of Environmental Management, did not concur with most of the recommendations, on the basis that the issues were about discretionary monitoring, not requirements, and that optional testing was a matter for the employee to decide. The response said that engineering and process controls for containing radioactive materials and reducing exposures are mandatory, and that air monitoring, combined with radiation and contamination surveys, were the preferred techniques for verifying the effectiveness of protective controls.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex, generally agreed with the report.
[Download the IG report here.]

Aug 22, 2007

Introducing MaRIE

Lab unveils signature facility plan

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor
Los Alamos National Laboratory staked out a claim to its future Tuesday as top officials announced the intention to develop a new Signature Science Facility - named MaRIE.

With a bow to Marie Curie - the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two disciplines, physics and chemistry - the acronym stands for "Matter-Radiation Interactions in Extremes."

LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Principal Associate Director Terry Wallace talked with employees about plans for the new facility at an all-hands meeting.

Still in its earliest stages, the idea came out of a "bottom-up" planning process that began with an invitation for proposals from across the laboratory, followed by workshops and further evaluations and discussions.

The participatory process will continue into the future with internal scoping workshops and input from the outside community.

Discussions have begun with lab sponsors, including the Department of Energy's Office of Science and with the National Nuclear Security Administration, Wallace said, with an eye to getting into the 2009 budget cycle.

It would not be unusual for a major project like this to take a decade or more to come to fruition, he added.

The framework for the decision, Wallace said, was the desire to have a "cutting edge facility" that would be "an attractor" for future scientists, that would "serve the mission" of the laboratory and would be "flexible" enough to encompass an evolving mission into the future.

"With a commitment to be the premier national security science laboratory for the twenty-first century, square in the middle of that are the kinds of things MaRIE will do," Wallace said.

The facility would continue the laboratory's research in radiation in different forms, building upon the long history and foundation of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF) that came on line in 1972 and the current major experimental science facility, the Los Alamos Neutron Scattering Center (LANSCE).

LANSCE is used in nuclear weapons experiments related to maintaining and certifying the nuclear weapons stockpile and by a growing community of academic and industrial researchers across the country and around the world.

The facility makes use of a powerful linear accelerator that accelerates protons to 84 percent of the speed of light.

In a process called spallation, neutrons are scattered when a proton from the beam collides with a nucleus. The neutrons in turn can be used to look inside the molecules of target materials under varying pressures, temperatures and other conditions.

Internal structural properties of biological materials, the effects of fatigue in metal alloys and the molecular processes of chemicals at high temperatures are suitable subjects for neutron science to probe.

An evolution of LANSCE, particularly the Lujan Center, a user-facility open to the public, would add new capabilities and help modernize aging equipment, according to LANL officials.

Los Alamos was a participant in a $1.4 billion project to build a state-of-the-art Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge, Tenn., that opened in 2006.

Wallace said MaRIE would complement the capabilities in Oak Ridge and that both LANSCE and SNS have unique specialties and are currently oversubscribed with experiments waiting to be performed.


To/MS: Master Management
From/MS: Doris Heim, ADBS, A108
Phone/Fax: 7-1973/7-5624
Symbol: ADBS-07-030
Date: August 21, 2007


Since the early 1990’s, when then LANL senior management granted purchase commitment default authority (better known as SAPR) to all LANL employees, all LANL employees were automatically assigned purchasing authority that permitted the initiation of purchase requests and/or JIT transactions up to $5,000 without review or approval.

Recently, an internal audit (Report IA-03-01) identified vulnerability with this existing practice. This vulnerability is related to mitigation of real and potential risks associated with committing Laboratory funds. Because appropriate management levels are responsible for assessing, quantifying, and defining such potential risks and for delegating this responsibility to the appropriate employees, it has been decided that a change to the Signature Authority Procurement Request (SAPR) is warranted. In accordance with the direction of the LANL Team, on August 24, 2007 SAPR authority will be changed to $0 unless delegated in accordance to the Implementation Responsibilities outlined in this memo.
[Download the full memo here.]

Is the UC system too good to get its act together?

By Peter Schrag,
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, August 22, 2007

University of California President Robert Dynes' biggest problem wasn't extravagance; it was tackiness, much of it inherited.

Dynes, who is being nudged out by the regents in the same generous and collegial spirit that helped fuel last year's great brouhaha over executive pay, sinned not so much by commission as by get-along avoidance.

Yet Dynes' departure may be an opportunity for UC to get things right on a range of issues that go beyond administrative compensation and, in some ways, to the nature and structure of the university itself.

Next to executive pay at other major universities -- not to mention the pay packages of UC football and basketball coaches -- UC's executive compensation was modest. But in trying to compete with elite private universities to get the people they wanted -- or in some cases just to stroke each other -- UC leaders tried to make up with under-the-table perks what they felt they couldn't offer in straight pay in a public university with rising tuition.

The topper was a $30,000 dog run for the chancellor at UC Santa Cruz. But all told the undisclosed bennies -- off-the-books sabbaticals, jobs for significant others, comfy retirement packages -- added up to no more than a few million in a $20 billion budget. Nor was there any hint that executives were lining their own pockets.

When he became president in 2003, Dynes was paid $395,000 a year. In the same year Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan was getting $725,000, Mark Yudof, head of the University of Texas system, was getting close to $700,000 and many presidents of private universities were making a lot more. At last count, seven were getting $1 million or more.

But are all those deputy assistant vice presidents and deputy provosts necessary? Even Regents Chairman Richard Blum believes that UC's central administration with its "layers of bureaucracy" has grown too large and is "semidysfunctional."

More fundamentally, said Pat Callan of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, UC is caught in an impossible bind: maintaining the myth that all of UC's 10 campuses are equal and should be treated in the same way that it treats its premier research institutions at Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego. Should the base pay of a professor at Merced be the same as the pay at Berkeley?

Given the shrinking share of overall expenses that state funding now provides, Callan believes UC has to decide between equity for 10 campuses and maintaining the prestige of the top campuses as one of the best research universities in the world.

Is the system, which is unique in its size and scope, simply too big and complex to be run as a single institution by a single administration? Is it too incestuous, with presidents almost inevitably chosen from the inside and a corresponding sense of entitlement among those near the head of the line?

The much-publicized problems of the past few years -- in the organ transplant program at UC Irvine medical school, in the perks for administrators, in the apparent mismanagement of the nuclear laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore -- are hardly new (or even, in the case of missing computers at the labs, unique among similar institutions).

During another state fiscal crisis in the early 1990s, President David Gardner retired with a lavish pension package negotiated in better times but which hit just when tuition was rising sharply, programs were being cut and undergraduates were waiting hopelessly to register for required classes that were too crowded for them to get into. The resulting uproar was not very different from the one that hit Dynes in 2005-06.

In those same years, UC, instead of looking for other efficiencies, offered an across-the-board package of early retirements to some of its best teachers and researchers. Many quickly got jobs at other universities.

The responsibility doesn't begin at the university's door. It begins with a tax-averse Legislature that's quick to cut funding for higher education when budgets are tight and almost as quick to increase it and lower fees when things get better. The result is a boom-bust roller coaster that makes reasonable financial planning by students and parents nearly impossible.

And as Murray Haberman of the California Post-secondary Education Commission argues, policymakers better also concern themselves with broader funding questions -- with affordability and access at a time when students are graduating with increasingly heavy loans to repay, which he says average close to $50,000 among students with debt.

UC has an unmatched reputation among public research universities. But that reputation may also foster insularity in the executive suites and an unavoidable conflict with its status as a taxpayer-supported public institution, even in an era when taxpayers pay a shrinking share of the bill.

On both counts, more openness is obviously necessary. And at a moment like this, some radical re-examination of old ways and ideas, from both inside and outside, wouldn't hurt either.

About the writer: Peter Schrag can be reached at Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852-0779 or at

Aug 21, 2007

Golden parachutes galore for departing UC prez

Phillip Matier & Andrew Ross,
Monday, August 20, 2007

One thing departing University of California President Robert Dynes won't have to worry about is money. It turns out that Dynes - who was nudged out as UC's top dog after a string of embarrassing stories about the university's liberal pay and perk packages for top managers - is in for a few goodbye goodies himself.

Goodie No. 1: A year off with pay.

Dynes, 64, says he plans to return to teaching physics - presumably at UC San Diego, where he used to be a professor and chancellor and where his new wife works as a lawyer.

Under his contract, if Dynes does go back to the classroom, first he will be entitled to a full year's paid leave to brush up on his studies. UC spokesman Brad Hayward said Dynes plans to take the leave, during which he will be paid his $405,000 president's salary.

Goodie No. 2: Now that he has to vacate the UC-provided president's mansion in Kensington, Dynes - like all senior administrators - is eligible for a low-interest home loan to help him relocate. Hayward said it's uncertain whether Dynes will take advantage of the benefit.

Finally, there's the pension.

When Dynes chooses to retire completely from academic life, his pension will be based on a percentage of the average of his last highest-earning years. That would include his time as president.

Upshot: Calculations show that if he were to stop working next June, he could either cash out for $1.6 million or get $145,524 a year in retirement pay.

Taken all together, it makes for a pretty nice parachute.

LANL License

We don't know if the driver was really a LANL employee, but what are the odds?

Aug 20, 2007

Scheduled Outage

Blogger and Blog*Spot will be unavailable Monday (8/20) at 4:00PM PDT for about 10 minutes for maintenance.

Aug 19, 2007


Several comments to recent posts have posed the question: What motivated Pinky & Gussie to run this blog? First things first: Pinky started this blog -- it is his. Pinky will have to speak for himself about his own motivations, and I'm sure he eventually will.

As for myself, I'm helping out here because Pinky said he needed the help. I told him "No!" at first. And at second. But eventually I got into the spirit of things.

What is that, you ask?

Well, in no particular order:

* A strong abhorance of UC, and any vestigial odor of their residual managerial presence at LANL, which, due to DOE's awarding of the contract to LANS, is unfortunately abundant,

* A strong dislike of Bechtel, DOE, and their collective plan to turn LANL into a pit production facility at any cost, and

* A fervent hatred of the managerial incompetence that has become the hallmark of LANL. As to my particulars, which were also questioned:

I retired in 2005 after a long time at LANL, because I (correctly) perceived that UC had no intentions nor any desire to correct the problems in the LANL management infrastructure that had led up to the Nanos melt-down.

Why am I still helping to maintain this blog?

Good question. I'd have to say that my summary reason would be an abhorrent, fascinated compulsion. Take the "Hispanic" post, and the comments it garnered as an example. I'm still here because I just can't *wait* to see what new insights into the underbelly of Los Alamos culture will become exposed to the rest of the world (that portion that still cares enough to take a voyeuristic glimpse, at least). Racism; elitism; corporate profiteering at its absolute worst has been abundently demonstrated on that post. These are now undeniable components of Los Alamos society.

Now that I've been out in the real world for a couple of years, I've noticed that outside of a 200-mile radius of Los Alamos, nobody much knows nor cares what goes on at LANL and Los Alamos. This active blog community, therefore, is by definition a cross-section of LANL culture, exposed to the world. I await with morbid fascination the words that will be coming out of your mouths next.

When I get tired, or totally disgusted with what I see, then I'll bail and leave Pinky to haul the garbage on his own. I'd hate to do that to him, because he is a friend, but when enough is enough, that is exactly what I will do.


Aug 18, 2007

Zone of contention

Interest grows on all sides over Area G
ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

It is the last milestone on the current list of cleanup chores for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

But as plans are underway to retire a large segment of the lab's low-level nuclear waste storage site at Area G before the end of 2015, another set of plans is under way to open up a new section for storing nuclear waste well into the future.

The waste management committee of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board said this week that they planned to have a major forum on Area G in the spring, calling it their number one priority for next year.

The forum would address public interests and concerns about what is buried in Area G and what the site is used for.

The featured expert at the committee meeting was Sean French, a LANL official who gave a progress report on a performance assessment (PA) and composite analysis (CA) that model long-term performance of the disposal facility in terms of risk to humans and the environment.

The performance assessment evaluates radioactive wastes disposed at Area G after Sept. 26, 1988; the composite analysis takes into account all radioactive waste disposed at the facility.

The models are used to calculate various dosages released into the air or into the groundwater under various scenarios and taking into account uncertainties associated with sensitive assumptions.

The analyses use a probabilistic modeling tool known as GoldSim to compute the reliability and relative integrity of the Area G geological and hydrological setting over the 1,000-year period and under the specified conditions for which Department of Energy requires compliance.

Work on updating the previous PA and CA began in 2003, according to French's presentation. In 2005-6, revisions were released and subjected to an independent technical review.

Last year, more refinements were added to the model to respond to issues in the technical review. The latest results were issued to DOE in June.

"We are waiting to hear," French said, adding that the revisions indicate that Area G meets its performance objectives.

Among changes in waste management policy under the new managers of the LANL contract, French said LANS was reverting to a previous abandoned fee-for-disposal system in which nuclear waste generating programs pay for their own costs. By next year, all lab organizations will be paying half the costs, on their way to paying 100 percent for full recovery of disposal costs in 2009.

Mounting needs

With a wall-to-wall clean-up program underway, Area G is receiving contaminated soil from remediation and decontamination activities at other sites in the laboratory.

Officials at the site said they are working extended schedules to meet demands for removing above-ground TRU waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad.

The Department of Energy held a public forum in Los Alamos on Tuesday, beginning an evaluation of LANL as a possible repository for "Greater Than Class C Low Level Radioactive Waste," which has no designated resting place yet. If it comes to LANL, Area G is the most likely destination.

Los Alamos is also under consideration for a possible role within a newly conceived Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, as the location for an advanced fuel cycle research facility.

LANL's role as the nation's sole manufacturer of plutonium pits, the detonators for nuclear weapons, may well ramp up to dozens of pits a year by 2012, according to the lab's draft environmental planning document. The heightened activity will produce additional radioactive wastes that will need at least temporary storage.

The growing list of future assignments prompted DOE to revise its previous plans to expand low-level waste disposal by an additional 30 acres - into Zone 4 of Area G.

Officials at Area G said this week that waste efficiencies will enable them to delay expansion for another five years.

After that, "Zone 4 will take us out to 2044," said Gilbert Montoya, deputy operations manager for environmental waste operations at Area G.

Citizens groups have organized efforts to have Area G closed for the last several years, arguing that the radioactive load carried on the mesa top above the Rio Grande, and drinking water supply wells for Santa Fe and downstream to Texas and Mexico, pose a risk to human health and the environment.

Addressing the challenge

Last year, the citizens advisory board, under its federal charter to make environmental recommendations to DOE, called on the department to address the challenge.

Referring to the board's previous efforts to mitigate the impacts of additional radioactive materials, one of the board's recommendations stated, "We do not propose that DOE and LANL install liners in the pits, trenches or shafts at Area G. We propose instead and recommend that the goal be that no more pits, trenches or shafts be dug or constructed at LANL and that no more radiologically contaminated wastes or hazardous wastes are buried at LANL."

In reply, the Local Area Office that supervises for LANL for DOE stated, "More than 75 percent of the (low level waste) requiring disposal in FY 2007 is projected to come from environmental clean-up activities and decontamination and decommissioning," a percentage expected to grow over the next five years.

The reply also pointed to the lab's success "in reducing routine hazardous and radioactive wastes."

Routine low-level wastes were reduced by 83 percent and hazardous wastes by 93.6 percent during the period from 1995 to 2005, the department stated in reply.

Domenici fights for VLBA

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

Critical of early FY2009 budget plans for cutting radio astronomy, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., recently wrote a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Arden Bement. Domenici was sharply critical of preliminary budget instructions that would severely constrain funds for the National Astronomy Radio Observatories (NRAO), which oversees the operation of U.S. radio astronomy facilities like the the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and Very Large Array (VLA), headquartered in an NRAO facility on the New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro.

Domenici issued a news release stating a tentative budget proposal that would result in the closure of the VLBA in New Mexico makes little sense in light of congressional efforts to double NSF funding in the near future.

The VLBA is a system of 10 radio telescopes controlled remotely from the Array Operations Center in Socorro that work together as the world's largest dedicated, full-time astronomical instrument. The massive white satellite dish that can be seen near Bandelier is part of the VLBA.

Under guidelines submitted by NSF for approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the NRAO would be forced to implement personnel layoffs in FY2008 and close the VLBA and Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia in 2010.

"It has recently come to my attention that the National Science Foundation continues to push forward to constrain the operations of its astronomy facilities with guidance that most certainly anticipates the closure of some of our world-class U.S. radio astronomy facilities," Domenici wrote Bement. "It makes no sense to me that the agency would proceed with an internal budgeting exercise that risks future U.S. leadership in radio astronomy, and moreover the closure of at least two of our premier U.S. facilities, at a time when the future looks very bright for the NSF."

NRAO Public Information Officer Dave Finley explained Thursday that the NRAO facility on the New Mexico Tech campus supports both the VLBA and the VLA.

"We consider all 10 dishes in the VLBA to be one instrument and all 27 dishes in the VLA to be one instrument," Finley said. "If the VLBA were to close, it would definitely include the Los Alamos dish."

The Los Alamos dish is located on a fenced-in area of land on Los Alamos National Laboratory property at TA-33. The NRAO leases the land from LANL.

To keep its competitive edge globally, and to continue to innovate in science and technology, Domenici stated in the letter, the U.S. needs its world-class facilities, such as the VLA and the VLBA.

"Without exception, both facilities carry out cutting-edge research in radio astronomy that is not duplicated elsewhere in the world," he said.

Domenici, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the NSF, pointed out to Bement that the America COMPETES Act, which President George W. Bush is expected to sign into law this week, includes a provision to more than double NSF funding over the next five to 10 years.

Domenici asked to meet with Bement to discuss the NSF and NRAO budget outlook.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, has approved the FY2008 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill that increases funding for NSF next year, providing $6.55 billion. This funding level is $125 million over the budget request and $636 million above the FY2007 funding level. The bill fully funds Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative and increases the NSF budget by more than 7 percent.

Finley said NRAO management has been talking with the NSF about the possible cuts. A committee has made some recommendations and Finley said they're hopeful some solutions can be reached.

Aug 17, 2007

LANL tests soil at intersection

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

Traffic was diverted early Wednesday evening as emergency personnel from Los Alamos National Laboratory lifted dirt samples from the ground at the intersection of DP Road and Trinity Drive. The samples, which turned out negative, were taken to determine if elevated radioactive levels were present from spillage discovered Tuesday during transport of contaminated soil removed from TA-21 on DP Road.

LANL spokesman James Rickman explained the situation during an interview this morning.

"The lab moved a roll-off transportainer, (container placed on truck bed), containing borehole cuttings from TA-21 to the waste disposal area at TA-54 on Pajarito Road," Rickman said. "The borehole cuttings resulted from work required under the NMED (New Mexico Environment Department), consent order."

The cuttings inside the transportainer are wrapped in a plastic fabric, he said, adding that rainwater had apparently collected inside this transportainer.

When the shipment arrived inside TA-54, personnel there noticed liquid leaking from inside the back of the transportainer, Rickman said. As is standard procedure, personnel from TA-54 built a dyke around the liquid to prevent it from spreading.

LANL took samples of the leaked material and found no radiation levels above background - anything above naturally occurring levels, he said.

LANL personnel then retraced the route taken by the truck carrying the transportainer and found two areas on lab roadways where spills had occurred. One area was at the guard station at the bottom of Pajarito Road and the other was at the corner of Pajarito Road near the entrance to TA-54.

"We took samples and found no radiation above background," Rickman said.

As part of standard procedures, a radiological technician followed the truck to the intersection of DP Road and Trinity Drive when it left TA-21 on Tuesday.

"The technician did not see anything leaking from the truck during transport," Rickman said. "Even with the technician's observation, because the other areas of spills on lab property occurred when the truck had stopped, as a precaution the laboratory tested the DP Road, Trinity Drive intersection."

Rickman continued, "The samples from DP Road and Trinity Drive found no levels above background."

Rickman said LANL coordinated with Los Alamos County officials prior to sampling and has kept them apprised of their activities since then.

County Administrator Max Baker said this morning that the lab has been in contact with his office. "We received notification on this late yesterday and I've talked to the lab today as well," Baker said.

The borehole cuttings inside the transportainer contained trace amounts of radioactive materials from historic laboratory operations, Rickman said, adding that those cuttings were disposed of as planned in the TA-54 disposal area.

The lab is investigating this incident, he said, and examining transport procedures to ensure that an incident of this type does not happen again.