Nov 2, 2007



Nuke safety official praises Pantex

By Jim McBride

The federal government will unveil its preferred plans for the future nuclear weapons complex later this fall, but a final decision won't be made until next summer, a top official said Wednesday.

Under National Nuclear Security Administration plans, Pantex and four other sites are candidates for a new facility that would manufacture plutonium weapons cores and conduct nuclear materials research and development.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino visited Pantex Wednesday to praise employees here for their work on finishing some major projects. Bodman left Pantex earlier Wednesday, but D'Agostino said the NNSA is now wrapping up a draft environmental impact study that will lay out government plans for the future warhead production network.

"My vision is have a much smaller, much more efficient, safer nuclear weapons complex," D'Agostino said.

Pantex is expected to dismantle more warheads in the coming decade. The NNSA also will evaluate whether to consolidate high explosives research here or transfer the work elsewhere and possibly expand nuclear materials storage. The plant now stores more than 14,000 plutonium weapons cores - dubbed pits - in a series of underground bunkers called Zone 4.

About two years ago, the Defense Department raised concerns about NNSA's ability to meet critical deadlines on several weapons programs, D'Agostino said, but Pantex workers have played a key role in meeting those goals.

Earlier this year, Pantex assembled the first rebuilt W88 nuclear warhead to use a replacement plutonium pit since safety issues shut down plutonium production at the former Rocky Flats facility nearly 20 years ago.

The warhead is deployed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

"We dismantled warheads at a rate three times faster than we had expected," D'Agostino said. "We built the W88 pits. We delivered them here to Pantex and installed them in the W88 warhead, which is important for our submarine deterrent. We're here today to celebrate really the work that's been done here."

Pantex, he said, recently completed a backlog of weapons surveillance activities aimed at ensuring weapons are safe and reliable. Employees here worked closely with weapons labs to establish safe dismantlement procedures and test components from aging warheads.

"It's kind of like checking your battery in your automobile to make sure that it's still working," D'Agostino said. "It's changing the air filter. It's taking a look at things to see how they change over time."

D'Agostino foresees stable employment at Pantex for several years as the plant grapples with a growing dismantlement workload.

"I don't see employment levels changing dramatically, either up or down," he said.

In a related development, the NNSA announced Wednesday it has completed U.S-funded security upgrades at a Russian missile base in Siberia.

Now that the missile bases in Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces are more secure, a top NNSA official said the chance of unauthorized access to Russian nuclear weapons is greatly reduced.

"We remain dedicated to working as quickly as possible to secure nuclear weapons and other dangerous materials in Russia and around the world to prevent unauthorized access," said William Tobey, NNSA deputy administrator for defense - nuclear nonproliferation.

[Tom looks a lot less scary next to The Terminator, don't you think?]

30 comments:

Pinky and The Brain said...

I think what impressed Tom so much about safety at Pantex was that the guards there don't shoot each other.

Anonymous said...

D'Agostino forgot to change out of his Halloween costume for this picture.

Anonymous said...

The wife made an interesting observation, Terminator is at least smiling.

Anonymous said...

Note that Pantex is still in the running to be NNSA's pit manufacturing facility and D'Agostino does not expect employment levels to vary much over the next few years (while the rest of the complex sees a 25-30% RIF). There is a very real possibility that LANL will lose even this part of the NNSA mission, and therefore bear the brunt of the coming budget cuts and RIFs. Most at LANL don't want the pit mission, but the alternative is a science mission, which is rapidly becoming imossible with the high costs and disfunctional management structure.

Anonymous said...

Poster 11:09 AM hits the nail on the head. Read between the lines of D'Agostino's comments:

**********
"My vision is have a much smaller, much more efficient, safer nuclear weapons complex," D'Agostino said... D'Agostino foresees stable employment at Pantex for several years as the plant grapples with a growing dismantlement workload. "I don't see employment levels changing dramatically, either up or down," he said.
**********

D'Agostino likes Pantex management and they already handle the pits. It is also situated in a community that has few qualms about taking on pit production work.

It was rumored that Mike was seen over at LLNL this week. If so, perhaps he is working out the details of how to transfer the weapons design expertise over to LLNL. Couple this with a move of LANL's plutonium science to Amarillo and you've got a lab that is headed for extinction. Maybe we can hold on to the non-poliferation projects and a little bit of other work, but not much else.

If Pantex is to take no workforce cuts and NNSA is talking about a 30% workforce reduction in the complex, then LANL is the most likely candidate to take on massive job loss hits.

Better plan on seeing 40% of the LANL workforce losing jobs in the next few years. There will be no St. Pete to stop any of this from occurring. This is the bleakest period I've ever seen at LANL. It appears that we have been cast to the wolves and even our own LANS management and the local politicians can't be trusted to work on our behalf.

Anonymous said...

You can almost see the lightbulbs starting to come on. Nobody wondered why Pinky is posting Pantex news?

Anonymous said...

D'Agostino is a scary looking mother fucker. He reminds me of Robert Duval playing Frank Burns in the original MASH movie. He has that same maniacal religious fervor in his bug eyes.

Anonymous said...

If I didn't know Tom D'Agostino's face and you had told me this is the face of a serial killer I might actually believe it.

Look at those eyes! Wow!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we'll see 40% reductions in the LANL workforce and almost half the remaining workers being either transplants from Bechtel/BWXT or new hires brought in at much lower salary and greatly reduced benefits.

It's entirely possible that most of those who now work at LANL won't be employed here in just a few more years. Los Alamos County may be headed for an outright economic depression.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Michael Moore will come film a documentary in Los Alamos... the next Flint Michigan? The mind boggles.

Anonymous said...

It's also possible that D'Agostino is a liar. (As in: "No plans for a plan...")

Anonymous said...

Tom looks a lot less scary next to The Terminator, don't you think?] Maybe that should be his new name since it is what he is doing under the direction of the senate and congress

Anonymous said...

Is indeed beginning to look more like LANL could see a full 25% staff reduction this year.

Pinky and The Brain said...

"The Tominator"
Say it with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. Spooky, eh?

Anonymous said...

Pantex doesn't have the facilities or infrastructure to take on the pit production mission - they have no PF-4 or anything like it. They also don't have the chemistry facilities to support a production mission.

Given the length of time and amount of funding it would take to build a pit production capability at Pantex, LANL is THE place for maybe 10 to 20 years. Even if I work until I'm 60 years old, there will be a pit production job for me at LANL.

Anonymous said...

P&TB -

Does anyone know if D'Agostino's from New Jersey? If he is, he'd be the "Toiminator".

Anonymous said...

You mean the PF-4 that is shut down right now? You're so funny!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and boy aren't they keeping the shutdown of PF-4 quiet?

Anonymous said...

"We thought we had dealt with that already" just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, does it.

Anonymous said...

6:29 PM is typical of many workers at LANL. The denial is strong in this one, but don't worry 6:29. D'Agostino will soon take your breath away when you see the actual details of the upcoming Complex Transformation plan.

Things are going to move along much faster than most people realize. And if you hadn't noticed, they dropped the "2030" term from the plan's name. They did that for a very good reason. Hint, hint.

Anonymous said...

It's looking like it's about time to roll Los Alamos County back into Sandoval, and let the Ranch School and the homesteading bean farmers retake the place.

Anonymous said...

6:29 and 9:21 if you want to see the plan check out llnl the final story blog there is a web page link to it. I skimed through it and read the part that says lanl is to be used for pit production and llnl is to become a user friendly facility. they have already started with plan at llnl they are quitely closing down site 300 and placing people on the eba list employees between assignments or rif list. got to go now i hear the hangman coming for me

Anonymous said...

"Things are going to move along much faster than most people realize. And if you hadn't noticed, they dropped the "2030" term from the plan's name. They did that for a very good reason. Hint, hint."

9:21 PM,

You need to study up more on what's happening (or soon to happen) around you. If you read the House appropriations language, including NO FUNDING for FY08 for CMRR and NMSSUP, the House has told NNSA to shelve plans for all the funding for interim upgrades for the existing nuclear facilities BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE a well thought out and defensible long-term plan. So NNSA finds a way to turn the indefensible long-term plan (Complex 2030) into a more tactical near(er)-term plan - Complex Transformation.

Complex Transformation, tied conveniently in time to its sibling - Workforce Restructuring - is the new and improved plan NNSA needs in order to get Congressional support for funding its mission sometime later this Fiscal Year, or certainly for FY09.

And because TA-55 is the only place in the US where they've been manufacturing pits, NNSA will do what it can to get it back up and running with the minimum amount of delay (there is no way the NNSA can have a new facility up and running at Pantex in anything less than 10 or 20 years). I can already see Bechtel and BWXT management drooling at the thought of lucrative fee incentives to make this happen for their masters.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing inside TA-55 that will take 10 to 20 years to replace. How long do you think NNSA will keep pouring money into that place expecting a different result? That's nothing more than wishful thinking on your part. It's an old facility not designed for production, not designed very well at all for that matter. The time has come for a newer, better, cheaper and safer facility.

Anonymous said...

I see a number of stupid people speaking on this topic. You are in denial if you think that science and nonproliferation are the future for Los Alamos. The Brits have no problem building pits in a facility that is identical to PF-4. And if you think that the NNSA can build a facility in less than 10 years need to only look at when the last nuclear facility was built in the US...

Reality is that the ONLY future for Los Alamos is in building pits, and whatever olutonium missions that Los Alamos can support. We could do much more if the management would reduce costs at Los Alamos. Unfortunately, our costs will only increase while we struggle to RIF the 2500 people who are not part of the future. Those who think MaRae is the future better continue thinking about other jon prospects.

Finally it would be nice to have some leadership from lab management. Perhaps if we only had a PBI...

Anonymous said...

The only future could have been building pits. Now it's down to decommissioning and remediation.

Oh, and if A-90 is identical to PF-4 why isn't it shut down? No need to answer that, I'm just making a point.

Anonymous said...

LANS' major plan for Los Alamos involves seeing that Bechtel/BWXT snag the plutonium pit factory so they can milk it for maximum corporate profit. Clean up work through Washington Group will be the other big profit center that remains at LANL over the next decade.

LANS sold the ability to execute multi-lab integration as their key advantage when they competed for the RFP. LANS, with their partner LLNS, will now make good on this promise by handing off most of the weapons design and stockpile projects to LLNL. DAHRT will remain up and running at LANL as a testing facility for the LLNL staff.

Any other work than that can hang-on at LANL will be kept but LANS will do next to nothing to help nurture it and let it grow. Indeed, they will continue to let lab costs rise until much of this other work is killed off or greatly scaled back in scope.

LANS doesn't want to come right out and tell the staff that this is their plan, but you can clearly see what's happening around you. The effect of all this is that much of the science currently done at LANL will soon die off.

Watch their actions and not their words. Their words mean nothing, their actions speak volumes.

Anonymous said...

I should add that the new "mission" discussed above (11:23 AM) will only need about 70% of the current LANL workforce. We are looking at workforce reductions of 30% at LANL over the next few years. Most of these reductions will come out of the TSM ranks.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who is associated with PDCF and MFFF knows that we (DOE) can't competently design and build new nuclear facilities for cheap and in less than 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Every time I gaze at that photo of Uncle Tom, it makes me feel a little bit nauseous.