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.


Anonymous said...

Bet this has the fourth floor shittin and gittin.

Anonymous said...

This talk of earthquakes in Los Alamos always scares me. I remember feeling a small 2 point earthquake in my neighborhood back in the early 90's. Should home owners in the county have earthquake coverage? What would a 6 point earthquake do to the local housing stock and how likely would it be that we would see one in the next 40 years?

Anonymous said...

Give me a break. This is another example of the idiots at NNSA posing another layer of crap on LANL. We, as a country, are in the trouble we are in due to the decisions of life time desk jockies like those at NNSA.

Anonymous said...

Oh I can't wait to see what kind of new policy shit comes rolling down on us before Sept 21. Bend over folks!

Anonymous said...

To 6:50 PM - curious, but isn't Terry Wallace a seismologist of some sort? As a pseudo expert - of course, I realize, with no balls or backbone - shouldn't he be pushing back on this crap from NNSA?

Anonymous said...

IMO this is just the same old risk aversion process that's been around for some time.

The decision makers' aren't willing to accept this risk, therefore we must analyze it and institute an acceptable cya document. :)

Besides, you've got all that bad o' nukler stuff there:)

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking about starting up my own anti-nuke organization so that I too can be quoted on every friggin' lab story that the Journal publishes, regardless of whether I know jack about the topic at hand.

Anonymous said...

In 1990 + or 1 there was a 4 point something quake on the Hill. This is reality, not some made up "crap" as some would have us believe. Obviously there are some who just got off the cabbage truck who consider northern New Mexico their shit hole to crap on at will. Well if you can't take potential hazards like earthquakes seriously, then maybe it's time to get off the "crapper" so to speak, and go back to wherever the hell it is you came from. Seriously, please don't stay a minute longer than is necessary to liquidate your over priced residences and deflate your over inflated egos.

Anonymous said...

Anyone have an idea of the estimated cost for performing this analysis on two dozen LANL facilities?

Anonymous said...


Please give us a brake with your insults.
You sound like the one with the inflated ego. If you actually cared about NM you
would attempt reasonable discussion. I guess you could care less about NM and just want to add noise to the blog. Sad

Anonymous said...


Give me a "brake"?

Give *me* a break, 11:48. Learn how to spell.

Anonymous said...

Ok. So the guy can't spell break. Point well taken though. Can't deny we've crapped in our own nest more than once. I think that's the concern our neighbors have. The fact that some (not all) brush off all concerns about safety no matter what the issue or source, does get on people's nerves.

Anonymous said...

A 4 point something in 1990 or so?

I grew up in southern California. A 4 point something earthquake is hardly even newsworthy.

Shhhh.. Don't let the NNSA know that there's a possibilty that the Valles Caldera may become active again someday, or we'll have to lava-proof everything.

Anonymous said...

you guys at LANL sure get dumped on an awful lot. Who did you piss off?Come work at LLNL, we have a great benefits package AND we have already got an earthquake prepardness plan in place (not to mention the asteroid strike plan).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but you are in California.

Anonymous said...

Why is this such a surprise to anyone working at LANL and living in Los Alamos County? Over a year ago the Los Alamos County Municipal Building was deemed unsafe because it was not built to withstand a 6+ earthquake, County officials have moved everyone out, and the residents will have to cough up big bucks either to remodel the building or tear it down and build a new one.

The government built this building, just like it built everything at LANL. Better check that 7 story eyesore that lords it over every other building to see if it might collapse too. No great loss if it does.

Anonymous said...

Work at LLNL? California use to be a decent place to live but no longer. It's seeing a mass exodus as many Californicators pack up and leave the state to better regions. Besides, give LLNS about a year and they'll have Livermore in about the same lousy state as LANL. Same crew == identical results. Better to stick it out here in lovely Northern New Mexico and watch our own slow motion train wreck evolve. Opps, better duck. I think I just saw a red caboose go flying by!

Anonymous said...

The article below sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it?

Analysis to board uses words like hamstrung, dysfunctional

Leslie Fulbright, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The chairman of the University of California's Board of Regents issued a highly critical analysis of the 10-campus system Wednesday, painting a picture of an impotent administration with a "dysfunctional set of organizational structures, processes and policies."

Richard Blum, a San Francisco financier who has been on the governing board for four years, said the university no longer has a clear idea of where it is going, is hamstrung by arcane rules and too often is governed by a consensus system in which no one takes responsibility for results.

..."Despite the clear persistence of these problems, however, little measurable progress has been made," he said, adding later, "I believe the fundamental problem is an overgrown UC administrative infrastructure that substitutes motion for progress."

Blum said major systemwide improvements are needed and that the administrative system should meet the same standards as the academic programs.

...Blum says expensive layers of bureaucracy are at play in the system and suggests that the administration clarify who is in charge of what and then assure that those people take responsibility for their tasks. The president's administrative office includes 516 full-time positions and an $81 million annual budget.

Earlier this year, regents hired a management consulting firm for $7 million to study how to reorganize Dynes' office, hoping to find ways to save money in financial and administrative operations. The study, the first of its kind since 1958, is to be released next year.

Scott, the senator, agrees that there are issues with staff accountability.

...He also proposed revamping what he considers a slow and costly construction process and looking at seismic safety issues. He said sensible projects should be financed and the campus should find ways to fund requests and stop the departure of staff who are upset because they can't get lab and building repairs.

..."The UC system was one of the great success stories of the 20th century, but it has been coasting and hasn't looked at itself in a serious way for a long time," Callan said. "But being successful and well thought of should not mean that nobody dares ask tough questions about how to keep that position in the future."

Anonymous said...

8:10 AM

The US Geological Survey records all earthquakes.


You can enter map coordinates from 35 deg to 36, -106 to -107 and search for your magnitude 4.0 earthquake in 1990 or 1991. Los Alamos will be in the upper right of the plot.

Let me save you the trouble, there was no magnitude "4 point something" earthquake on the hill. Not in 1990, not in 1991. In fact, not between 1973 and the present. No magnitude 4.0, not even a magnitude 3.0. There were a few small earthquakes near Albuquerque but nothing significant with an epicenter near Los Alamos. This is not to say that we've never felt the ground shake in Los Alamos - a really big quake can be felt for hundreds of miles.

You may have had a point that potential earthquake hazards haven't been adequately treated by LANL, but no one is going to listen to you now. Making this shit up really hurt your credibility. Next time do your homework.

Anonymous said...

Yep. The closest was up near Espanola in 1973, mag. 4.5. You can see it on a map here:,-106.042786&spn=1.07944,1.996765&z=9&om=1

The results from the above-mentioned USGS page for the square defined by Carlsbad, NM and Farmington, NM of all 4.0 or greater earthquakes since 1973 are:

U. S. G E O L O G I C A L S U R V E Y


FILE CREATED: Tue Aug 28 16:32:42 2007
Geographic Grid Search Earthquakes= 12
Latitude: 36.750N - 32.389N
Longitude: 104.230W - 108.180W
Catalog Used: PDE
Magnitude Range: 4.0 - 9.9
Data Selection: Historical & Preliminary Data


PDE 1973 03 17 074305.50 36.09 -106.17 6 4.50 mb GS .F . .......
PDE 1973 12 24 022014.90 35.26 -107.74 18 4.40 mb GS .D . .......
PDE 1983 03 02 232219.40 34.30 -106.89 8 4.30 LgTUL 6D . .......
PDE 1985 08 16 145652.96 34.13 -106.83 7 4.10 MLGS 6D . .......
PDE 1989 11 29 065438.50 34.46 -106.89 13 4.70 MDSNM 5F . .......
PDE 1990 01 29 131610.68 34.46 -106.88 12 4.80 LgTUL 6D . .......
PDE 1990 01 31 010819.29 34.44 -106.86 10 4.00 LgTUL 5F . .......
PDE 1990 11 08 104653.77 34.45 -106.86 6 4.40 mb GS 4F . .......
PDE 1998 01 04 080531.87 34.55 -106.19 5 4.00 MLGS .F . .......
PDE 1999 03 14 224317.97 32.59 -104.63 1 4.00 MDSNM .F . .......
PDE 2004 05 23 092205.28 32.53 -104.57 5 4.00 mb GS 3F . .......
PDE 2005 12 19 202740.37 32.53 -104.55 5 4.30 mb GS 3F M .......