Dec 31, 2007

Criminal malfeasance

A comment from the A recursive post on the future of WFO at LANL post suggests that Tom Udall go after Bodman and D'Agostino with charges of criminal malfeasance. I'd like to point out, however, that the GAO has proven itself to be LANS, LLC-friendly, given that the sum total of action taken by the GAO against LANS over the KSL $41 million 2007 slush fund expose has been a big, fat zero. Nil. Nada.

Not a bad suggestion from Udall's perspective though. It would provide an opportunity for him to grab some political sound bites. Sort of like he did when he told Anastaso to ignore NNSA's WFO guidance, and instead lead LANL in a new initiative to go after renewable energy WFO money.



4:59 is exactly correct with the clarification that the total cost of LANS to the LANL budget isn't $200M, it's greater than $1B over the 7 year LANS contract. LANS will cost taxpayers over ONE BILLION dollars in nonproductive costs over the UC's previous cost of running LANL.

Congress needs to hold Bodman and D'Agostino accountable for this astounding waste of Federal funding, so astounding that it perhaps rises to the level of criminal malfeasance. Are you listening, Rep. Udall? This is your chance to stand up for your district; ask the GAO to investigate!

Dec 28, 2007

Life After the RRW & Virtual Swords

Interesting article by the Jeffrey Lewis of The Arms Control Wonk. In it, he makes reference to the fact that Joe Martz has been commenting on LTRS. Jeffrey offered no judgment on the quality or accuracy of Martz's comments, unlike others here who have been fairly critical of them, many of whom having pointed out Martz's apparent shallow understanding of the past WFO process at LANL, as well as the pending changes to that process which have been announced by NNSA.

Link to Jeffrey's original version of the article:



Photo of jeffrey

Shortly before I left for the holidays, Congressional Appropriators provided “no funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)” pending “a new strategic nuclear deterrent mission assessment for the 21st century.” The bottom line — no new warheads without a new posture — appears to command bipartisan support among the appropriators.

The RRW is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Administrator Tom D’Agostino and the rest of NNSA have to be asking themselves: Now what?

Our friend John Fleck points to one answer in the Albuquerque Journal, noting similarities between a 1990 paper and D’Agostino’s remarks on 18 December:

In January 1990, as the Soviet Union collapsed, a pair of defense industry consultants wrote a paper outlining a new approach to meeting military needs in the post-Cold War world.

Rather than a pipeline constantly churning out new weapons, Ted Gold and Rich Wagner wrote, the United States should develop the industrial research and manufacturing capability to build weapons if needed.

We do not need a huge arsenal, they argued. Instead, we could deter future enemies merely by showing that we have the capability to build new weapons when we need them. The essay was titled “Long Shadows and Virtual Swords.”

Fast-forward to Dec. 18.

In a Washington, D.C., news conference, the man in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing process seemed to be echoing Gold and Wagner.

“Because our nuclear weapons stockpile is decreasing, the United States’ future deterrent cannot be based on the old Cold War model of the number of weapons,” said Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Rather, it must be based on the capability to respond to any national security situation, and make weapons only if necessary.”

I created a text version of the Gold and Wagner paper because I can’t find it anyway on-line. (It probably has more than a couple of typos from the OCR recognition software — feel free to e-mail corrections.)

I really think this is the only argument that NNSA has going for nuclear weapons programs, including whatever stockpile work will come after RRW. I never got around to flagging the idea, even after Joe Martz made a pretty decent case to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Jim Sterngold. Martz, speaking to Fleck, aptly argued “My work becomes the deterrent, not so much the products of my work.”

I may just be a sucker for the “virtual swords” thing, having got my start in Washington working for Mike “Virtual Nuclear Arsenals” Mazarr. But it seems to me that, at some point, we need a bipartisan consensus on what the labs are supposed to do in post-arms race world. And that requires a vision of what it is that nuclear weapons do in that world.

Now, don’t get me wrong — a “virtual swords” concept should not be an excuse to fund an infrastructure better sized to a nuclear weapons stockpile of 10,000 than 1,000 (see the Modern Pit Facility). And my politics are not those of Gold and Wagner. But I can see how prudent investments in our defense industrial base, most importantly the people, can provide a hedge that enables deep reductions in our bloated nuclear stockpile that could safely number in the hundreds, rather than thousands, of weapons.

I would argue that NNSA officials failed to secure Congressional support for a variety of multi-billion dollar initiatives — including funding for the Modern Pit Facility, Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and Reliable Replacement Warhead — precisely because these programs were conceived, articulated and implemented as part of a stockpile that looks liked a smaller version of the Cold War stockpile, instead of a stockpile based on the reality that much of the deterrent benefit from our nuclear stockpile is existential in nature.

It seems to me that fact — that the deterrent benefit accrues through the weapons existence and is robust across disparities in the technical details — forms to core of my answer to Cheryl Rofer’s excellent challenge to bloggers to articulate a new nuclear posture.

Update: Joe Martz has some interesting comments at LANL: The Rest of the Story.

Dec 27, 2007

A recursive post on the future of WFO at LANL

From a comment on the LANL Major Player In Nuclear Shift post.




David H. Crandall, NNSA assistant deputy administrator for research, development, and simulation:

"We are moving from a mode where we would tolerate research that doesn't interfere with our nuclear weapons mission to one in which we are encouraging new research that is synergistic to our mission," Crandall continued, adding that researchers outside NNSA will have to pay the full price of using lab staff and facilities.

Quite simple. No more tolerance of "other" WFO. No special overhead rates for WFO.

Misadventures at the U.S. Energy Department

By Hugh Gusterson | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

I had intended to write this month's column about a talk given by Tom D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), on his plans to reorganize the nuclear weapons complex for the twenty-first century. Instead, I'm writing about why I wasn't allowed to hear D'Agostino's talk.

A friend had forwarded an e-mail message from the NNSA saying that on December 18, D'Agostino would "announce his vision for the future of the nuclear weapons complex" at the Energy Department's headquarters in Washington. Since I'm in the midst of writing a book on the transformation of the nuclear weapons complex, this sounded like just the event for me. As the message took the form of a press release, I called D'Agostino's office and asked if university professors such as myself were allowed to attend. "Of course," I was told, "come on down."

When I arrived at the Energy building, I was told to get a pro forma badge from the front desk. The guard put information from my driver's license into her computer and started to print my badge when she casually asked, "You're a U.S. citizen, right?" As it so happens, although I've lived in this country for 27 years and have possessed a green card for 14 of those years, I'm a British citizen. I knew from watching others that if I nodded, no one would check my citizenship and I could proceed unhindered to D'Agostino's talk; but, alas, my mother taught me to always tell the truth. (Many years ago, this is how I got a ticket for an illegal U-turn when the cop offered me an easy out by asking if I'd seen the no U-turn sign in the dark. But I digress.)

The guard then said she would need to look for my name on "the list," reaching for a sheaf of printed pages. I hoped that this was a list of dangerous foreigners, and that my name was not on it. Instead, it was a list of approved foreigners, and my name was not on it.

Another guard was called. He peered at my green card, turning it over and over; he then asked, "But are you a U.S. citizen?" Twice. This seemed an odd question to ask someone with a green card. He looked uncomfortable: He didn't want to turn me away, but he didn't want to let me in either. He started calling numbers in the building to find someone to tell him what to do. I protested that I’d been to a public hearing in the building just a few months earlier with no problem. The first guard then said that anyone was allowed in, even foreigners, if it was a public event. Was this a public event? I said yes. They looked skeptical. Neither guard had heard of D'Agostino, one of the five most important people in the building, or his speech, which made the front page of the next day's Washington Post.

At this point, I spied George M. Bernier III, the NNSA's Congressional Affairs Officer, who I recognized from other Energy events. I asked him if he could vouch to the guards that this was a public event. Instead, he came over to the guards and announced that only media and Energy employees were allowed in. If this was so, Energy clearly had a problem since I had just seen an anti-nuclear activist get a badge and go through to D'Agostino's talk. It also meant that, even if I were a U.S. citizen, I was still barred from the event. New rules! In the course of a few hours, this event had gone from being open to the public to being open to the public except for foreigners to being closed to the public.

Ironically, if I had stayed home, I could have listened to D'Agostino's talk without difficulty, since the press release gave instructions for tuning in by satellite dish, as well as an 888 number one could call to listen. Apparently foreigners are allowed to listen by phone--at the U.S. government's expense, no less.

My misadventure on Independence Avenue was a trivial event, but it encapsulates in miniature everything that is wrong with Energy. There was disagreement among Energy employees on the basic rules of admission, so that whether you got in depended on which employee you asked; a rule against admitting foreigners that, in the absence of any checking mechanism, was left to the foreigners themselves to enforce; two guards who had no idea what was happening in the building they guarded, and who were clearly terrified of exercising discretion; one guard who didn’t know what a green card was; and an event that was being broadcast by satellite and over an 888-number but was closed to foreigners in the flesh.

Even by the standards of the U.S. government, Energy is notorious for its mismanagement. While it keeps holding press conferences to announce new, more efficient organizational charts, the situation on the ground goes from bad to worse. The day I was turned away from Energy headquarters, the press announced a $2.8 million fine for an Energy contractor, the University of California, stemming from more than 1,000 pages of classified documents from Los Alamos National Laboratory found in a drug bust at a trailer park--the latest in a series of security lapses at Los Alamos that go back at least to the Wen Ho Lee case. Meanwhile, Energy's National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is about 300 percent over budget and six years behind schedule, while the dual-arm hydrotest facility at Los Alamos, more than $300 million later, failed when it was tested at full power.

My comical experience at Energy's front door suggests a lumbering bureaucracy that doesn't know what it's doing and whose parts don't communicate with one another. How then can we expect such an agency to steward the nation's aging nuclear stockpile, solve the nuclear waste problem, and bring new energy technologies to fruition?

Dec 26, 2007

LANL Major Player In Nuclear Shift

ABQ Journal

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer

They called it "the virtual sword."

In January 1990, as the Soviet Union collapsed, a pair of defense industry consultants wrote a paper outlining a new approach to meeting military needs in the post-Cold War world.

Rather than a pipeline constantly churning out new weapons, Ted Gold and Rich Wagner wrote, the United States should develop the industrial research and manufacturing capability to build weapons if needed.

We do not need a huge arsenal, they argued. Instead, we could deter future enemies merely by showing that we have the capability to build new weapons when we need them. The essay was titled "Long Shadows and Virtual Swords."

Fast-forward to Dec. 18.

In a Washington, D.C., news conference, the man in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing process seemed to be echoing Gold and Wagner.

"Because our nuclear weapons stockpile is decreasing, the United States' future deterrent cannot be based on the old Cold War model of the number of weapons," said Thomas D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. "Rather, it must be based on the capability to respond to any national security situation, and make weapons only if necessary."

The proposal D'Agostino laid out, in the news conference and accompanying documents, calls for a modest U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing complex.

For New Mexico, the implications of D'Agostino's vision are huge.

The critical "virtual sword" in the U.S. nuclear arsenal of the future will be Los Alamos National Laboratory's ability to manufacture plutonium "pits"— the highly radioactive cores at the heart of modern nuclear weapons.

Plutonium, a dull gray metal that looks much like lead, does not exist in nature. During the Manhattan Project, it was created in nuclear reactors and used to build the bombs detonated at Trinity and dropped on Nagasaki, the second Japanese city to be destroyed during World War II by the newly invented atomic bombs.

Squeezed by the detonation of high explosives, plutonium is rapidly compressed, starting a nuclear chain reaction that releases its lethal explosive energy in an instant.

During the Cold War, the Rocky Flats factory outside Denver churned out many thousands of pits. Rocky Flats stopped that work in 1989 amid radioactive contamination and safety concerns. It was shortly before Gold and Wagner described their "virtual swords."

For the weapons complex of the 21st century, D'Agostino would like to see Rocky Flats' old job turned over to a concrete, bunkerlike laboratory on a wooded mesa in Los Alamos.

There, if D'Agostino and his successors have their way, crews a fraction of the size of the old Rocky Flats work force will maintain the capability to build as many plutonium pits as the nation needs.

But instead of the thousands produced at Rocky Flats, the new plan calls for a capability, if needed, of just 50 to 80 pits per year.

"This is not your father's Rocky Flats," said Joe Martz, a plutonium scientist who is a project director in Los Alamos' nuclear weapons program.

The idea is to create and demonstrate the ability at Los Alamos to make nuclear weapons if needed, rather than to flex our military muscle through the manufacturing of a large nuclear arsenal. "My work becomes the deterrent, not so much the products of my work," said Martz, an advocate of the virtual swords concept.

The proposal to designate Los Alamos as the pit production center was more than 15 years in coming.

In the early 1990s, with Rocky Flats closed, the federal government launched the first of a series of efforts to build a replacement plutonium factory.

From the beginning, there was widespread speculation that Los Alamos would get the job. It had long worked with plutonium, and had long made pits used in nuclear test blasts.

In a February 1990 visit to Los Alamos, then-Energy Secretary James Watkins dismissed the suggestions that Los Alamos would become the new Rocky Flats as "nonsense."

"We have no such plans," he told reporters.

It was a refrain repeated often over the years, as Watkins and his successors launched one effort after another to replace Rocky Flats with a brand new factory. But in each case, the process foundered. Congress expressed repeated skepticism about the need and the cost, and successive political leadership kept reconsidering the idea and launching planning efforts anew.

The ground started to shift in 1997, when federal officials designated Los Alamos as an "interim pit production site." They still pursued construction of a new factory, but recognized the need for some way to make a few pits in the meantime.

It took a decade, but last summer Los Alamos announced the production of the first "certified pit"— one that passed the exacting quality control standards necessary for the pit to be placed in a stockpiled U.S. nuclear warhead.

In the months since, the lab has completed nine more, a milestone that laid the groundwork for D'Agostino's announcement.

What has changed since the 1990s, when Watkins and his successors were so adamant that Los Alamos would not be the nation's plutonium production center?

The most important change is the slow realization that far fewer U.S. nuclear weapons are needed, said Raymond Jeanloz, a University of California professor who frequently serves as an advisory to the U.S. government on nuclear weapons issues.

A treaty signed in 2002 between the United States and Russia, its chief nuclear adversary, agreed to lower the U.S. stockpile to 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear weapons.

Global terrorism, not nuclear adversaries, has emerged since 2001 as the nation's primary security threat, Jeanloz noted.

Historic nuclear stockpile numbers are classified, but independent estimates put the Cold War peak at more than 30,000 and suggest we had as many as 15,000 nuclear weapons on hand when Rocky Flats stopped making new ones in 1989.

No new nuclear weapons have been built since then, and Congress last week killed the latest effort by the defense Establishment to design and build a new weapon to replace aging Cold War models.

That means the only plutonium manufacturing that will be needed is a small number of replacement parts for existing weapons, noted Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. That fact led Bingaman to offer cautious support for the idea of designating Los Alamos as the nation's primary pit manufacturing site. That would be consistent with the lab's longtime small-scale pit-making role, Bingaman said.

Martz, in an interview after D'Agostino's announcement, said the simple small-scale demonstration that the United States could make new nuclear weapons if required should be sufficient in the future.

"That's all you need," he said.

Top 10 Stories of 2007: Nuclear Meltdown

By Laura Paskus

Published: December 19, 2007

LANL’s past problems and mission garners headlines.

It’s undeniable that Los Alamos National Laboratory has made its mark on New Mexico. And 2007 was a particularly important one in the lab’s 64-year history.

Talks of budget cuts dominated the news—and even upcoming election campaigns—but job losses aren’t the only things brewing on the Pajarito Plateau [Cover story, Aug. 1: “LANL 101”].

This year, the lab was the focus of federal investigations related to safety, cost overruns and security. In July, the US Department of Energy (DOE) fined LANL for security violations (LANL will pay $2.8 million under a settlement agreement).

TA-55, at LANL, was shut down in the fall due to safety concerns. Photo courtesy

As of press time, one of the biggest stories of the year was still developing: plans by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to name Los Alamos the nation’s permanent home for plutonium pit production. The lab already builds pits—the “triggers” for nuclear bombs—and this summer it certified the nation’s first pits to be built since Colorado’s Rocky Flats facility was closed in 1993 due to environmental and safety violations. But until now, the lab was not officially considered the permanent pit production site.


Full Story:

Dec 25, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Shopping

Former blogger Doug Roberts has asked me to suggest this for those of you who still haven't finished your Christmas shopping.


Dec 24, 2007

Sour Grapes?

In addition to the impact of the pit manufacturing mission on science at LANL, that mission is having an effect elsewhere. Senator Domenici's earmarks are being felt at Fermilab in the International Linear Collider project and NOvA experiment, and also at the ITER project.

From yesterday's NY Times Science section, Budget Cuts Will Mean Layoffs at Fermilab:
Some scientists attributed Fermilab’s woes to Congress’s reviving its practice of earmarks that direct agencies to finance projects that would probably not receive money otherwise. In a statement, the American Physical Society said it “notes with some dismay that had Congress applied the same discipline to earmarking as it did last year, the damage to the science and technology enterprise could have been avoided.”

President Bush is expected to sign the spending bill into law.
Yes LANL won the budget battle. Sort of. For another year. But at what cost?
- Anonymous

Dec 23, 2007

LANL Circuit City

The analogies are fairly obvious.



From this business story:

Santa Claus Comes for Failed Business Executives

The Washington Post had a good story on the dealings of the electronics retailer Circuit City. Unfortunately, it was buried in the business section where no one will see it. It should have been plastered at the top of the front page.

The basic story is that last March, the wise men who run Circuit City came up with the brilliant idea of laying off their more senior salespeople, who get $14-$15 an hour, and replacing them with new hires who get around $9 an hour. It turns out that this move was not very good for business. One of the reasons that people go to a store like Circuit City, rather than buying things on the Internet, is that they want to be able to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson. Since Circuit City had laid off their knowledgeable salespeople, there was little reason to shop there.

Apparently Circuit City came to this same conclusion earlier this fall and tried to hire back some of the people it had dumped. In any case, things have not gone well for the bottom line. The company is now losing money and its share price is down more than 75 percent from its value earlier this year.

We all know what happens when you mess up in the dog eat dog world of big business -- you get retention awards (that's because your stock options aren't worth anything). The Post reports that Circuit City's executive vice-presidents will get retention awards of $1 million each. That's 35 years worth of pay for one of sales clerks who earned $14 an hour. And that's just the bonus.

This touching account of Santa Claus visiting Circuit City's executive suites belonged on the front page of the Post and every other newspaper. What better way to get in the Christmas spirit?

--Dean Baker

Dec 22, 2007

430 Workers Leaving LANL

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

A total of 430 employees will leave Los Alamos National Laboratory next month— a figure that's short of the 500 to 750 positions that the lab has said ultimately need to be cut for budget reasons.

Los Alamos will now assess its flexible work force— made up of regular employees on limited-term assignments and subcontract workers— and make any necessary "adjustments," lab director Michael Anastasio said Friday in an employee memo.

The lab is in the first of two phases of a work force restructuring plan. The second phase could involve involuntary layoffs of regular employees if not enough cost savings is found through phase one's voluntary departures and the changes to the flexible work force.

"Although we have made good progress toward avoiding an involuntary separation, Phase I is not yet completed," Anastasio said in the memo provided to the Journal.

Anastasio said 495 employees had applied to leave, though 65 later changed their minds. Official last days will come Jan. 10.

Employees who leave the 11,000-employee lab voluntarily or not will earn a severance package based on their years of service and qualify for unemployment compensation benefits.

The job cuts are necessary because of rising operational costs under the lab's new corporate manager and flat revenues.

Anastasio said in his memo that at the end of Phase I, managers will evaluate the number of people leaving the lab, skills needed for the future and the latest budget information before determining what further action is needed.

Big News!

This just in: No plans for "Yak Trax Training".



WSST Chairs,

Please help spread the word to dispel the rumor that Yak Trax Training will be required.

There is no such thing as "Yak Trax Training" and the institution WILL NOT require that folks take training before they can use their Yak Trax.

Thank you,
Felicia Taw
Chair, LANL Worker Safety and Security Team

Over 2,000 Yak Trax Walkers Distributed
Thanks to the Director's Office and numerous associate directors who have helped purchase Yak Trax walkers, the Worker Safety and Security Team has been able to distribute more than 2,000 walkers to employees. Please follow the directions that come with the walkers and remember not to wear them indoors.

Information Con Game

NY Times Editorial

The very title of a now 41-year-old law — the Freedom of Information Act — sounds naïve in today’s Washington, where government secrecy has become an even higher and darker art under the Bush administration.

The open-government law, known as FOIA, should be one of the chief tools for citizens to find out what’s actually happening. For that, citizens’ requests for information would have to be answered. Instead, FOIA requests have disappeared into the bureaucratic maw for up to 20 years with no answer for why the statutory 20-day deadline has become such a Dickensian maze of delay and frustration.

Call it reform or call it revenge, but Congress has just passed a measure to tackle glaring flaws in the FOIA process. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the measure would:
  • Prod stricter deadlines with a numerical tracking system so citizens could follow their requests like (lost) package deliveries.
  • Establish clear penalties for foot-dragging, including repayment of attorney fees for applicants found suffering the run-around at recalcitrant agencies.
  • Create an ombudsman office at the National Archives to mediate disputes over requests, which currently are rejected outright in a full third of the cases.
  • Ensure that information records held by private government contractors can no longer be kept off-limits to FOIA requests.
Contrary to initial expectations, FOIA has come to be used mainly by business firms, lawyers and information services, with the news media accounting for only about 6 percent of requests. This undoubtedly made for easier passage of reforms in Congress. The Justice Department registered some early objections, but so far there’s been no veto threat from President Bush. It’s no final cure-all for the secrecy that infects Washington, but Mr. Bush owes this measure of relief to constituents entitled to their curiosity.

Dec 21, 2007

Disappearing Plutonium

Interesting. As noted by a comment on the Smaller Nuclear Program Proposed post this morning, LANL's home page (internal and external) had this story about NNSA's Preferred Alternative on it this morning. At some point during the day they changed the lead story to one which features a picture of a figure skater. The "Preferred Alternative" story can no longer be found on the external LANL page.

Don't worry though, LANS is not skating on thin ice. They and NNSA have all but locked in LANL's new, restricted mission.

Tom Udall's exhortations about diversification notwithstanding.



LANS isn't even attempting to hide their plans for the lab's future. There, on the front of the internal lab web page, is a model of a red pit. To the left it says:

"Plutonium research and development and manufacturing"

It couldn't be more clear, could it?

It's almost as if LANS wants to rub it in and say "We don't give a damn about diversifying this lab! You'll build pits and do plutonium science and like it or else."

Energy Dept. agency reform pay system


The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration will move more than 1,900 non-bargaining unit employees to a new performance pay system in March.

The five-year pilot program also will replace the current system of regular General Schedule step and grade increases with a series of three or four pay bands, depending on an employee’s occupation. Each pay band will encompass several GS grades and is intended to let managers set higher starting salaries and promote employees more rapidly based on their skills and performance.

The pilot will cover engineers and scientists, nuclear materials couriers, young employees enrolled in NNSA’s future leader program, and technical and administrative employees.

The program, outlined Dec. 21 by the Office of Personnel Management, could eventually be rolled out to all NNSA employees if successful. It is based on similar programs already in place for about 500 NNSA technical experts and nuclear facility safety representatives and about 150,000 Defense Department civilian employees.

Employees will be evaluated annually by their supervisors and assigned one of four performance ratings: does not meet expectations, needs improvement, fully meets expectations, and significantly exceeds expectations.

All employees rated at or above “fully meets expectations” will receive the full annual pay increase all GS employees receive. But those who are judged to have significantly exceeded expectations in at least one category will receive an additional performance raise from a second pay pool. NNSA will hand out performance raises based on a four-share system.

Those who are not meeting expectations or need improvement will not receive any pay raise. However, they will have a chance to improve their performance and earn their raise.

Most employees will receive a small pay raise when they are transferred to the new system. NNSA will pay them a prorated salary increase based on how close they were to receiving another within-grade step increase. Employees already at the step 10 level will not get a pay raise in March.

NNSA said it will train employees, supervisors and managers on the new system before it begins March 16.

The agency hopes the new plan will help it recruit younger workers to take over for large numbers of existing employees who are nearing retirement age. NNSA wants to offer higher starting salaries and faster career progression to help staff its technical and scientific jobs, for which workers are in high demand and limited supply.

Dec 20, 2007

Former Los Alamos Worker Gets Probation

By FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A former archivist at Los Alamos National Laboratory was sentenced Thursday to two years' probation for taking home secret data from the nuclear weapons facility.

Jessica Quintana, 23, pleaded guilty in May to a misdemeanor count of negligent handling of classified documents. Police found the data - on a portable computer storage drive and in about 200 pages of paper documents - during an October 2006 drug bust aimed at her roommate in her Los Alamos home.

After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paula Burnett said she believed Quintana had admitted responsibility. Prosecutors had not opposed Quintana's request to be sentenced only to probation.

U.S. Magistrate Lorenzo Garcia turned down the Department of Energy's request that Quintana be required to pay restitution. The agency had sought a $384,150 fine.

Quintana apologized to the court, saying she knew there was a lack of security at Los Alamos and took advantage of it.

``If I could go back and do it, it wouldn't ever cross my mind,'' she said. ``There's nobody to blame but myself.''

Quintana's attorney, Stephen Aarons, had said she was working for a lab contractor converting documents to an electronic format and took them home to catch up on her work. But in her plea agreement, Quintana admitted she took classified documents and computer files from a lab vault, put them in her backpack and brought them home.

Quintana was laid off by the contractor before police found the documents.

The judge ordered her to refrain from alcohol or drugs, stay away from bars, and to submit to searches of her personal property or vehicle.

Dec 19, 2007

Dec. 19 Tom Udall on LANL job cuts (Podcast)

Dec. 19 Tom Udall on LANL job cuts (Podcast)

SANTA FE (2007-12-19) -- Congressman Tom Udall tells KSFR the current round of job cuts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is the result of the lab's privatization.

He also points to how the lab might diversify its scientific work.

Smaller Nuclear Program Proposed

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Federal officials unveiled a sweeping proposal Tuesday to create a smaller U.S. nuclear weapons complex, with Los Alamos getting the critical job of manufacturing and maintaining plutonium bomb parts.

The plan is a response to two realities: a need for fewer U.S. nuclear weapons and an unwillingness on the part of Congress to fund the old Cold War nuclear weapons complex.

Rather than maintaining a large arsenal, the new smaller complex will instead maintain the capability to build new warheads if needed to counter new international threats, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration said during a news conference.

The plan means fewer workers will be needed to maintain the arsenal, with the possibility that up to 2,000 jobs could be lost at New Mexico's nuclear weapons laboratories over the next decade.

The plan marks the abandonment of a dream that weapons program managers have unsuccessfully pursued for nearly two decades— a major new nuclear weapons manufacturing factory.

Colorado's Rocky Flats, where plutonium bomb parts were once made, closed in 1989 because of safety and environmental problems. Efforts have been under way since on a variety of proposals to build a large new replacement factory.

The more modest idea will use existing nuclear weapons labs and plants to build and maintain a smaller U.S. arsenal.

For Los Alamos, that means making as many as 80 plutonium bomb cores per year in existing buildings and in a new plutonium laboratory being built to support the work.

The plan takes advantage of work done at Los Alamos since the late 1990s to build small numbers of nuclear bomb parts as an interim solution to the problem posed by lack of a Rocky Flats replacement. Los Alamos now builds 10 weapon cores per year.

For Sandia National Laboratories, the plan means continued design and some manufacturing of nuclear bomb parts. Sandia would no longer host large new nuclear weapons supercomputers, a role it has held for decades.

For each lab, the changes mean "up to 20 percent fewer staff supporting nuclear weapon activities" over the next decade, according to fact sheets distributed by the NNSA on Monday. Officials could not be more specific about the job losses.

But with more than 10,000 people employed in the nuclear weapons program across the two labs, the fact sheets suggest the possibility that up to 2,000 jobs could be lost in New Mexico.

Officials at the labs and the NNSA said any job reductions likely could be made through retirements and voluntary departures.

The need for a U.S. nuclear arsenal has not gone away, but the threats for which the nation needs nuclear capabilities have changed, NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino said at a news conference Tuesday.

"The U.S. must maintain a strategic deterrent for the foreseeable future," he said.

New nuclear requirements include the threat posed by proliferation.

"We believe these requirements can be met with fewer nuclear weapons and a smaller nuclear weapons complex to support them," D'Agostino said.

The plan was enthusiastically received at Los Alamos.

"This shows confidence in Los Alamos' ability to deliver," said Joe Martz, a plutonium scientist who is a project director in the lab's nuclear weapons program.

Some in and around Los Alamos have expressed fears that weapons manufacturing work would lead to a decline in the quality of science at Los Alamos, but Martz dismissed the claim.

"Science and manufacturing can go hand in hand when well- managed," Martz said.

New Mexico elected officials were not surprised by the proposal, which has been widely discussed within official Washington for weeks.

"It should come as no surprise that some of the nuclear weapons programs at New Mexico's laboratories would experience cuts," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement. "But that certainly doesn't mean that Sandia and Los Alamos national labs will become less important to our country."

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., called the plan "an affirmation of the direction the labs have been moving in recent years."

DOE Wants Ex-Worker to Pay

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Jessica Quintana's attempt to catch up on work at Los Alamos National Laboratory last year could cost her $384,000 if the Department of Energy has its way.

The Energy Department wants the former Los Alamos contract worker to pay restitution for downloading and printing classified information that she took home with her, attorney Stephen Aarons said in recently filed court documents.

Quintana in July pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material and is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in federal court in Albuquerque.

In a presentencing memo filed Dec. 14, Aarons says it would be unjustified for Quintana to have to pay for the copied documents which are of "negligible replacement value."

Numerous other government officials have mishandled classified information and earned little more than a slap on the wrist, the memo states.

In one case, classified material was discovered in the trunk of a car belonging to a former ambassador to the Soviet Union following a traffic accident, according to the memo. The ambassador was reprimanded and continued in the Foreign Service, the memo states.

And more recently, Samuel Berger, the national security adviser in the Clinton White House, was fined $10,000 after he took classified documents out of the National Archives.

The memo also mentions the members of Los Alamos' corporate management team who in January e-mailed classified nuclear weapons information over unsecured channels.

"Not surprisingly, there were no disciplinary steps taken against the senior executives, let alone a criminal prosecution as seen in the present case," the memo states.

The memo continues: "It seems ironic that the Laboratory would request restitution in this case when the employee happens to have been a college student earning 14 credits at the University of New Mexico while working part time at Los Alamos to help pay for her tuition.

"As the probation office already noted, she is hardly in a position to pay sums to the Department of Energy even if the court considered it just to do in this instance."

Quintana also faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, although prosecutors have not opposed her request for probation.

The memo states that neither Quintana's probation officer nor the U.S. Attorney General's Office is urging restitution as appropriate in the case. John Broehm, a spokesman with DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, said he could not comment on the matter because it remains an ongoing legal proceeding.

The Energy Department has already fined the lab's corporate manager, Los Alamos National Security, $300,000 for the security breakdown, while the lab's former manager, the University of California, recently agreed to pay a $2.8 million fine.

The discovery of the classified material— found during an October 2006 drug bust focused on Quintana's roommate— triggered fresh scrutiny of Los Alamos, which has been besieged with high-profile security problems in recent years.

In his memo, Aarons states that Quintana's negligence brought to light the Energy Department's own shortcomings.

"Though Ms. Quintana was criminally negligent, her negligence was in large measure only a symptom of systemic problems at the Laboratory and environmental forces beyond her control," Aarons states.

Top 10 Stories of 2007: Nuclear Meltdown

By Laura Paskus,

LANL’s past problems and mission garners headlines.

It’s undeniable that Los Alamos National Laboratory has made its mark on New Mexico. And 2007 was a particularly important one in the lab’s 64-year history.

Talks of budget cuts dominated the news—and even upcoming election campaigns—but job losses aren’t the only things brewing on the Pajarito Plateau [Cover story, Aug. 1: “LANL 101”].

This year, the lab was the focus of federal investigations related to safety, cost overruns and security. In July, the US Department of Energy (DOE) fined LANL for security violations (LANL will pay $2.8 million under a settlement agreement).

As of press time, one of the biggest stories of the year was still developing: plans by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to name Los Alamos the nation’s permanent home for plutonium pit production. The lab already builds pits—the “triggers” for nuclear bombs—and this summer it certified the nation’s first pits to be built since Colorado’s Rocky Flats facility was closed in 1993 due to environmental and safety violations. But until now, the lab was not officially considered the permanent pit production site.

John Broehm, NNSA spokesman, tells SFR it’s still too early to say whether LANL will be named as the official site. The agency will name its “preferred alternative” for the facility sometime in December, he says.

He explains that many of the buildings housing the nation’s nuclear weapons work have been around since the 1950s.

“The footprint is way too big, with the size of the stockpile going down, and the cost to maintain the old buildings is skyrocketing,” he says.

Choosing one site as the permanent pit facility, Broehm says, would “reduce the physical footprint and consolidate what we call ‘special nuclear material’—the dangerous stuff that terrorists can get their hands on—and make it more efficient in the manufacturing process.”

But according to a Nov. 15 Albuquerque Journal story, the scuttle is that the NNSA does plan to name the lab the nation’s plutonium pit production facility.

“I would characterize this as both good news and bad news,” Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, says. “From a NIMBY attitude, it’s bad. It’s in our backyard, and plutonium pit production’s history at Rocky Flats is terrible.” He adds that such a move also will inhibit the lab’s ability to diversify—a topic that has come up with greater frequency in the past year as Congress cut nuclear weapons budgets and some lawmakers, including US Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM, called for the lab to diversify its mission toward renewable energy technology.

Coghlan finds some good news in the announcement, however. “The reason why it can be Los Alamos is the DOE is having to scale back from the massive pit production that it was originally envisioning,” he says. “It also looks like DOE is beginning to retreat from new weapons design…”
While job losses have been on everyone’s mind, an October report from the DOE Office of the Inspector General provided insight to LANL’s budget woes. According to that report, between January 2005 and April 2007, actual costs outpaced work estimates 75 percent of the time.
But “good news” hasn’t been in big supply at the lab this year. In November, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying that the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories—Los Alamos, Sandia and Berkeley’s Lawrence Livermore—have experienced “persistent safety problems” as a result of “long-standing management weaknesses.” The report also calls attention to the problem of continued reliance on contractors—rather than regulatory oversight—to address safety management.

Not only that, but the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board also reports, in a Jan. 18, 2007 letter to the DOE, concerns about the storage of 50,000 containers of waste at Area G. And an August memo details “criticality safety” issues at TA-55, where plutonium work is done. (These safety worries led to a temporary shutdown of the facility, beginning in September.)

The public can weigh in on these topics at future public meetings and can track the board’s safety reports at

But for many, it’s the lab’s changing mission that really bears watching.

“It’s a pivotal year in the process of the devolution of Los Alamos lab into a facility that emphasizes pit production above all things,” Greg Mello, director of the nonprofit Los Alamos Study Group, says. “What’s missing from the picture is the reality that nobody really wants to invest in nuclear weapons, even most of the employees.” Not only that, he adds, “What’s missing is any realization by any New Mexico leader that the labs cannot lead us to a sustainable and just 21st century.”

Dec 18, 2007

Omnibus Eliminates Funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program

by Baker Spring
WebMemo #1755

Post-Cold War security requires a new nuclear weapons policy, operational doctrine, arsenal, and infrastructure. The Bush Administration announced a new strategic policy with the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in 2002 and issued a draft of the new Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations for the mili­tary in 2005. The Administration is now moving to construct a nuclear arsenal to meet the needs of the new policy and doctrine, which directs the field­ing of both offensive and defensive strategic nuclear and conventional forces to reduce to an absolute minimum the possibility that any hostile state will be able to launch a successful stra­tegic attack on the United States or its friends and allies. At the heart of this policy is a program for creating a new nuclear warhead called the Reliable Replace Warhead (RRW). The House of Representatives, however, has unwisely chosen to use the Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2764), adopted on December 17, to eliminate all funding for the RRW program.

Importance of the RRW

While the Bush Administration does not use the term, its approach constitutes a damage-limitation strategy. In this context, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on March 2, 2007, that a joint Department of Defense and NNSA Nuclear Weapons Council had selected a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory design for the RRW. The RRW would provide the Navy with a replacement for existing warheads on a portion of its submarine-based nuclear-armed missiles. It is an essential part of meeting the requirements of the NPR.

What Congress Should Do

The House of Representatives, therefore, is wrong to withhold funding for the RRW program. It has justified this action by pointing to a related legislative requirement that the Bush Administration provide a nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century, implying that a specific funding request for RRW should be considered only after the submission of the report. This is a subterfuge. The Bush Administration has already provided Congress with the required strategy in the form of the NPR. What the House should be doing is pressing the Bush Administration to move forward smartly in realizing the promise of the NPR by taking the following steps:

* Provide the NNSA with the full $6.5 billion re­quested for weapons activities in fiscal year 2008, including for the RRW program.

* Direct the NNSA to refine the RRW’s design and build it to provide the military with the capabili­ties to hold at-risk enemy targets that require nuclear weapons and that constitute the means to attack the U.S. and its friends and allies with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. This includes both hardened and mobile targets.

* Direct the NNSA to design and build the RRW so that it can be mated to delivery systems that can strike enemy targets quickly and accurately enough to limit the damage that otherwise would be imposed on the U.S. and its friends and allies.

* Give the NNSA the explicit authority to pursue the RRW as a new warhead design and conduct explosive tests as necessary to field nuclear weapons with these capabilities.


Nuclear weapons are no less essen­tial to the security of the U.S. and its friends and allies than they were during the Cold War, but the requirements are different. Current and projected circumstances allow the U.S. to maintain a smaller active nuclear arsenal and stockpile of war­heads, in part based on the deployment of effective conventionally armed strategic strike weapons and defenses. This smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal, how­ever, makes it more important that the arsenal is fully modernized and tailored to meeting the demands of the damage-limitation strategy.

U.S. strategic forces should not be used to exact revenge on an enemy foolish enough to attack the U.S. or its friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. They should be used to deter that enemy from attacking by making it clear that such an attack will fail. The decision by the House of Representatives to withhold funds from the RRW program signals that it is unwilling to defend the American people and U.S. friends and allies, whether or not this is its intention.

Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Alli­son Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for Interna­tional Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

I hate to do it


I hate to say I told you so, but I did. NNSA's plans for LANL are to turn the place into Rocky Flats. A new Rocky Flats that has a computer which can simulate plutonium in the act of triggering fusion by-products, in addition to a LANL that can chunk out plenty of little round hollow spheres of the stuff.

Today's announcement by D'Agostino, in which he described his plans for the new, improved, more efficient USA NNSA Weapons Complex made all of this pretty clear.

Anybody who thinks that any other kind of science can coexist at a LANL with this officially-stated narrow mission will have to prove to me how it can be done, because I don't see how any other kind of science can exist at LANL now.

I told you so.


Plan cuts one in five jobs at weapons labs

By James W. Brosnan, Albuquerque Tribune

WASHINGTON — One in five nuclear weapons jobs at New Mexico's two national laboratories would be gone in a decade under a plan by the National Nuclear Security Administration to reduce the size and scope of the nuclear weapons complex for a post-Cold War world.

Most of the jobs would be lost through normal attrition or transfer to other priorities, like nonproliferation, or counterterrorism, said NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino.

None of the eight labs or plants in the nuclear complex would be completely eliminated, but 600 buildings would be shuttered or torn down, the land area reduced by 30 percent, and the total work force of 27,000 cut by 20 to 30 percent.

"We must act now for the future and stop throwing money into our old Cold War weapons complex that is too big and too expensive," said D'Agostino.

Sandia officials said their current work plan is to reduce from 8,338 employees to 7,800 by 2011. Los Alamos has nearly 11,000 employees, including contractors and students, but has announced plans to eliminate up to 750 jobs through buyouts or layoffs.

But the plan also would guarantee a future for both Los Alamos and Sandia by eliminating redundancies at other locations.

For instance, Sandia will keep its Red Storm supercomputer but it will not get one to rival the super-fast Roadrunner at Los Alamos or the BlueGene at Lawrence Livermore in California. Instead, Sandia will be expected to integrate its high performance computing with other laboratories.

"We'll still have a strong high-performance computing presence," said Sandia spokesman Michael Padilla. He said the NNSA plan is consistent with the labs' evolving national security mission.

Los Alamos would remain the only site for the production of plutonium pits that trigger nuclear warheads. Facilities would be upgraded to a capacity of 80 pits a year.

The draft plan effectively drives a stake through the Bush administration's once ambitious plan to build a new center in Nevada or Texas for a new complex to produce up to 125 pits a year.

"NNSA is finally acknowledging reality in the face of repeated defeats in Congress," said Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico.

But Coghlan also questioned whether NNSA needs to make 80 pits a year in the light of another administration defeat in Congress this week appropriators halted production funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

D'Agostino said the transformation of the complex is needed regardless of the future of the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

The catch-all spending bill working through Congress this week halts development of the warhead, leaving only $15 million for continuation of any research on advanced designs.

Los Alamos and Livermore would remain competitors in designing nuclear weapons under the NNSA plan but Los Alamos would be the premier site for plutonium research.

Los Alamos Director Michael Anastasio said the selection "confirms that Los Alamos is first and foremost a science R&D laboratory."

Much of the plan is driven by the need to reduce the cost of guarding the weapons laboratories and plants, which according to NNSA officials has rocketed from about $200 million pre-9/11 to almost $700 million a year.

For instance, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Y-12 plant, where uranium bomb parts are manufactured, the size of the plant's footprint would be reduced by almost 90 percent and the work force cut by 30 percent.

Uh, oh. The cat's out of the bag

Click to enlarge.

Los Alamos: U.S. Plutonium Center of the Future

From John Fleck's Albuquerque Journal Science and Technology blog.

Link to the story is here.

Written by John Fleck
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Los Alamos National Laboratory will be the nation's plutonium center of the future, federal officials will announce today.

The National Nuclear Security Administration will have a news conference at 11 a.m. to announce plans for its "complex transformation" - an effort to rejigger the U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing complex to make it cheaper to run.

The most important feature of the plan is the decision by federal weapons program managers to abandon plans to build a new consolidated nuclear materials research and manufacturing center. Instead, the bulk of that work will be done at two places: Los Alamos for plutonium work and Oak Ridge's Y-12 plant for uranium work.

I'll have more this afternoon, but among the other relevant details from the quick look I've had at the plan:

  • Los Alamos as the sole U.S. center for plutonium R&D and manufacturing
  • Sandia's California lab site "transitioning ... to a multi-agency lab"
  • both Sandia and Los Alamos seeing their nuclear weapons staffs shrink by 20 percent over the next decade
  • work on the CMR Replacement (the big new plutonium lab at Los Alamos) to continue

Comment of the Week: What You Won't Hear On This Blog

From the Editorial: Lab dodges worst; mission must broaden post:



The LANL community hardcore will never admit it has to change...ever! Arrogant butt-head cowboys don't take friendly advise very kindly; criticism even less. By definition the best and brightest can never be wrong. That's just who we are at Los Alamos.

Now here are the standard comebacks to a post like this one.

1) This person doesn't know what he's talking about.

2). He obviously doesn't work at the Lab, so ignore him.

3). He probably got RIFed in the last layoff and is bitter.

4). I know who this is. He is (fill in the blank) and hates the Lab. So there.

5). Must be one of the anti nuke Santa Fe liberals.

6). WTF! Ass hole!

7). He mispelled a word! Poor grammar, so must be an idiot to boot!

What you won't hear on this blog:

Hmmm, maybe she's got a point!

Editorial: Lab dodges worst; mission must broaden


Dec 17, 2007

Nuclear Warhead Cut From Spending Bill

Congress Instead Seeks 'Weapons Strategy'

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007; Page A02

Congress has cut all funding for continuing development next year of a new nuclear warhead from the omnibus domestic spending bill, handing the Bush administration a significant setback.

Instead, the measure, which Congress expects to vote on this week, directs the administration to develop and submit to lawmakers "a "comprehensive nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century," according to the draft report of the appropriations bill.

That strategy, to be prepared by the departments of Defense and Energy plus the intelligence community, is to contain a mission assessment of the new strategic nuclear deterrent, a definition of the weapons stockpile needed to carry it out, and the modernized weapons complex that could produce it and keep it reliable, the conference report says.

"Moving forward on a new nuclear weapon is not something this nation should do without great consideration," said Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles funding of the nuclear weapons program. With the end of the Cold War and a new threat from terrorists seeking nuclear materials, Visclosky said, "the U.S. needs a comprehensive nuclear defense strategy, and a revised stockpile plan to guide the transformation and downsizing of the complex . . . to reflect the new realities of the world."

Lawmakers directed that the $15 million approved last summer for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (RRW) be used for a new science program, termed Advanced Certification. That initiative would close gaps in the program currently used to certify that nuclear weapons retain their potency without the need for underground testing.

Such gaps, the conferees noted in their report, were first noted in a report this summer by an independent advisory group. "Jason," a group of scientists that regularly advises the government on nuclear defense matters, recommended additional scientific steps along with independent peer review, rather than having one of the nation's nuclear labs overseeing the work of another.

A spokesman for the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the RRW program, announced disappointment in the conferees' action, saying it means "we will likely have to go down a path of a full-life extension program for nuclear weapons in our stockpile, which in the long run will be more costly, without introducing modern safety and security measures into our weapons."

NNSA Accepts University of California Settlement Offer for Deficiencies in Security Procedure

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has accepted an offer from the University of California regarding the final notice of violation issued to the university in September 2007 for violations of the department's classified information security requirements during the university's tenure as the management and operating contractor of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

NNSA had imposed a civil penalty of $3 million. In the settlement proposal, the university offered to pay a penalty of $2.8 million, withdraw its election to seek judicial review of the notice and accept responsibility for the violations.

These violations were revealed during an investigation following the discovery of classified matter in the residence of an employee of a laboratory subcontractor in October 2006.

D’Agostino to Speak on Future of the Nuclear Weapons Complex

National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S. Department of Energy
For Immediate Release
December 17, 2007
Contact: NNSA Public Affairs, (202) 586-7371

D’Agostino to Speak on Future of the Nuclear Weapons Complex

WASHINGTON, D.C. – National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Thomas D’Agostino will announce his vision for the future of the nuclear weapons complex. The plan announced on Tuesday will be released as a draft Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SPEIS) in January.

The SPEIS contains different scenarios for transforming the nuclear weapons complex. The preferred alternative would consolidate missions and facilities within the existing NNSA sites. This means that NNSA would eliminate redundancies in missions, capabilities, and facilities, eventually saving money in the future.

Details of the event are as follows:

WHAT: Announcement on Complex Transformation

WHO: Thomas D'Agostino, NNSA administrator

WHEN: Tuesday, December 18 from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. EST

WHERE: U.S. Department of Energy

GE-086 (Main Auditorium)
1000 Independence Ave., SW

Reading the Fine Print

I'd like to call your readers' attention to the following:


Christmas Party at La Fonda Last Night

Sent in by a roving reporter. Click an image to enlarge.



It seems there was a little office party at La Fonda last night.

Guess who:

Dominici Press Release

The press release can be found here (pdf).

More layoffs unlikely at N.M. labs

Domenici says new spending deal will prevent more job cuts

Weapons Deal Reduces Lab Cuts

ABQ Journal
Monday, December 17, 2007

By John Fleck

Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer

Members of Congress cut a deal late Sunday that will hold the line against deep cuts in the U.S. nuclear weapons budget, while canceling work on a new nuclear warhead.

The $30.9 billion Energy and Water appropriations bill should help Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, among New Mexico's largest employers, avoid further job cuts beyond those already under way, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said in a telephone interview Sunday evening.

The bill includes $6.3 billion for the core nuclear weapons program in 2008, $22 million above the program's 2007 funding level.

That is a big boost from a preliminary congressional plan, passed by the House of Representatives in June, that would have cut the weapons program by $400 million, with the potential for thousands of job cuts at the labs.

"It's not a great deal," Domenici said of the final budget compromise, adding that it is far better than last summer's House-passed spending levels.

In the horse trading that led up to the deal, lab supporters traded away one of their jewels— the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a program to design a new nuclear weapon that lab supporters had viewed as the centerpiece of the U.S. nuclear arsenal of the future.

Lawrence Livermore had taken the lead on designing the new nuclear weapon, with Los Alamos expected to get the job of designing a second companion warhead.

Arms control advocates have condemned the project, saying that the United States does not need new nuclear weapons and that the work sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world at a time when the U.S. is trying to curb the nuclear ambitions of countries like Iran.

The bill also cuts funding for nuclear weapons manufacturing at Los Alamos but increases spending at Los Alamos to dismantle plutonium parts from discarded nuclear weapons.

The bill is part of a mammoth federal spending package hammered out by congressional negotiators over the weekend. It still needs approval from both the House and Senate this week before it goes to President Bush for approval. Domenici said there would be intense Republican pressure on the president to sign the bill.

The final spending package provides some sense of certainty for the labs, which have been operating under the threat of budget cuts since the House passed its preliminary spending package in June.

"I would like to thank the New Mexico delegation for its work on the omnibus bill, and in particular Senator Domenici for his leadership and support for the Laboratory," Los Alamos Director Michael Anastasio said in a statement Sunday evening.

The budgets of Sandia and Los Alamos total more than $4 billion per year, with $2.4 billion of that coming from the nuclear weapons program.

The two labs employ more than 20,000 people in New Mexico, and the possibility of deep cuts has left lab workers uncertain about their futures.

Los Alamos is in the midst of cutting 500 to 750 jobs, in part because of the budget problems. Sandia announced last week it might need to lay off 65 workers this year. Domenici said the bill approved this weekend should prevent the need for deeper cuts.

Members of the arms control community argue that the spending bill is about more than lab jobs. Important nuclear weapons policy questions are also at stake, including how much should be spent on designing and building new nuclear weapons.

In particular, the future of plutonium bomb component manufacture at Los Alamos was one of the central items in the budget debate.

As details of the deal emerged Sunday evening, it got a cautious reception from the arms control community.

"It's an important symbolic victory to end the (Reliable Replacement Warhead) program," said Greg Mello, head of the Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group, an organization that had worked to curtail weapons program spending in the final bill.

The bill also cuts $66 million from the Los Alamos budget for nuclear weapons manufacturing, another victory for arms control advocates.

But Mello noted the budget includes a $75 million down payment on a new plutonium lab at Los Alamos that could ultimately cost more than a billion dollars and that could serve a central role in future nuclear weapons manufacturing at the New Mexico lab.

That sets the stage for the new warhead design effort to be revived in some new form, Mello said.

Domenici agreed, saying he expected the Reliable Replacement Warhead or something like it to re-emerge "sooner rather than later."

Domenici said he believes his congressional colleagues misunderstood the warhead project. "People are going to have to get exposed to what it is in the Congress, instead of what they think it is," he said.

Dec 16, 2007

Guards at Y-12 might become federalized

By Frank Munger,

OAK RIDGE - The National Nuclear Security Administration is studying the possibility of federalizing guards at nuclear weapons facilities, including Y-12 in Oak Ridge.

The option has been discussed for many years but never carried out.

In a Nov. 14 memo to guards' unions and other stakeholders, William J. Desmond, chief of defense nuclear security for the NNSA, acknowledged the study and invited comment.

The NNSA, which is a part of the Department of Energy, plans to complete the study by Feb. 1, Desmond said.

He said his office wants to compare the use of contractors versus federal guards "to determine whether federalization of security forces would be a more effective and efficient model to provide tactical-response forces in today's threat environment," Desmond wrote.

Randy Lawson, president of the International Guards Union of America, who also heads IGUA local in Oak Ridge, said he supports the federalization effort.

Lawson said guards at various DOE sites have been working collectively toward that goal.

The National Council of Security Police hired a lobbyist to assist their efforts, he said.

The motivation for guards is to improve retirement benefits, Lawson said. "We've been working through DOE for 20 years by collective bargaining, and it's not been successful," the union chief said.

Physical-fitness requirements have shortened careers and made it more difficult for security police to meet traditional point quotas needed for full retirement benefits, Lawson said.

Courtney Henry, a spokeswoman at Wackenhut Services, the government's Oak Ridge security contractor, said the company had no comment on Desmond's letter or the study.

"Basically, from the Wackenhut side, we're just continuing to work every day to protect Oak Ridge," Henry said. Besides Oak Ridge, Wackenhut is involved in security at the Nevada Test Site and the Savannah River site in South Carolina.

Desmond said the study would look at a number of economic and noneconomic issues. He also said it would assess the impact of strikes in general, as well as the recent 44-day strike by security police at the Pantex warhead-assembly plant in Texas. One of the NNSA incentives for federalizing guards would be to eliminate strikes at the national-security sites.

"That's our sacred cow," Lawson said. "But if they gave a fair retirement. … "

The Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group often critical of security at NNSA sites, supports the federalization of security guards.

Senior writer Frank Munger may be reached at 342-6329.

How Not to Handle Nuclear Security

by Zia Mian, FPIF

The United States recently admitted that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, it has been helping Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and the materials used to make them. Pakistan has welcomed this assistance. A former Pakistani general who was involved in the nuclear weapons complex has said that “We want to learn from the West's best practices.”

But the U.S. track record for securing its own nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and weapons information isn’t encouraging, to say the least. If the United States can’t secure its own nuclear complex, why expect Pakistan to do it any better?

On November 11, The Washington Post reported that the United States sent “tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment such as intrusion detectors and ID systems to safeguard Pakistan's nuclear weapons.” A week later, The New York Times, which had been sitting on the story for three years, revealed that the program was in fact much larger, “Over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, secure his country’s nuclear weapons.” The assistance ranged from “helicopters to night-vision goggles to nuclear detection equipment.”

The U.S. military claims to be confident about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. A Pentagon press spokesman said, “At this point, we have no concerns. We believe that they are under the appropriate control.” The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff declared “I don’t see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy.”

Zero Locks

A concern about nuclear weapons security in Pakistan is that Islamists in the military may seize control of the weapons and try to use them. Pakistan claims to have followed the U.S. example and installed coded combination-lock switches, known as Permissive Action Links, on its weapons.

Since the 1960s most U.S. nuclear weapons are supposed to have been protected against unauthorized use by coded combination-lock switches that could only be activated by someone who knew that proper sequence of characters. These switches were introduced in 1962 by Robert McNamara when he was Secretary of Defense to ensure control over the use of U.S. nuclear weapons.

According to Bruce Blair, a former missile launch control officer, Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for the nuclear-armed missiles and bombers, installed the switches but set the combinations of all the locks to a string of zeros. The codes for launching U.S. nuclear missiles apparently stayed set at OOOOOOOO until the late 1970s. The reason? Strategic Air Command did not want there to be any problems or delays in launching the nuclear missiles because of the need to put in a more complex set of numbers.

Robert McNamara apparently did not know that the locks he had ordered to be installed on nuclear weapons were largely worthless, and that the military with direct control of the weapons were evading official instructions for securing nuclear missiles. McNamara only learned of this from Bruce Blair in January 2004. McNamara was outraged. But, as Blair observed, this is but “one of a long litany of items pointing to the ignorance of presidents and defense secretaries and other nuclear security officials about the true state of nuclear affairs.”

Wayward Nukes

Problems with securing nuclear weapons are not a matter of Cold War history. In August this year, six U.S. nuclear-armed cruise missiles were inadvertently loaded onto a bomber at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and flown across the country to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The cruise missiles remained fitted to the bomber for 24 hours before it took off and for hours after it landed without anyone realizing that it was carrying nuclear warheads. It was “an unprecedented string of procedural failures,” according to General Richard Newton, the assistant deputy chief of staff for operations for the U.S. Air Force.

As nuclear analyst Hans Kristensen has pointed out, the incident showed “the apparent break-down of nuclear command and control for the custody of the nuclear weapons.” Put simply, the ground crews did not know, or bother to check, that they were loading nuclear weapons on a plane; the bomber’s pilot and crew did not know or bother to check that they were carrying nuclear weapons; the respective base commanders did not know nuclear weapons were leaving or arriving; and, the national authorities responsible for nuclear weapons did not know where these nuclear weapons were or that they were being moved across the country. The weapons were to all intents and purposes lost for about 36 hours.

Gates, Guards, and Guns

A key concern about nuclear security in Pakistan is the risk of radical Islamist militants making a bid for its nuclear weapons or its stock of the materials with which to make nuclear weapons. There is a growing armed insurgency in the areas bordering Afghanistan that has been spreading across Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province and into its major cities.

The United States, which has much less of a threat to worry about, has had plenty of problems trying to makes sure terrorists could not get their hands on the materials with which to make nuclear weapons. The U.S. Department of energy currently spends $1.3 billion a year on securing its facilities that contain significant amounts of nuclear weapons-useable materials through the use of fences, guards, cameras, intrusion sensors, and so on. But many of these facilities are not required or able to protect against a 19-strong group of attackers such as were involved in the 9/11 aircraft hijackings.

The failure to secure weapons materials at U.S. facilities has been exposed by exercises in which simulated attackers carried away material sufficient to make a weapon. Reports show that the security at the sites fails more than 50% of the time. The Project on Government Oversight, an independent watch dog group, has revealed for instance that during a mock attack on Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a U.S. Special Forces team “was able to steal enough weapons-grade uranium for numerous nuclear weapons.” In a subsequent security test at the same site, the “mock terrorists gained control of sensitive nuclear materials which, if detonated, would have endangered significant parts of New Mexico, Colorado and downwind areas.”

Nuclear Know-How

A particular worry about Pakistan is that scientists and engineers within its nuclear program may share weapons information with other countries or Islamist groups. The story of A.Q. Khan is all too familiar, as is that of several senior former Pakistani nuclear scientists who were found to have met with the Al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan.

In the United States, there is a long and troubling history of nuclear weapons information going missing from the nuclear weapons laboratories, and ending up in unexpected places. The first and most famous atomic spy was Klaus Fuchs, who passed on the secrets of the U.S. nuclear weapons project to the Soviet Union during World War II. Fuchs claimed he did it for ideological reasons.

More recently, the Project on Government Oversight has compiled a list of reports on the loss of classified information from the U.S. nuclear complex. They found 17 incidents in 2004 alone in which classified information from Los Alamos was sent using unclassified networks. This led the Department of Energy, which manages the U.S. nuclear weapons program, to shut down all operations involving removable hard drives, laptops, CDs and DVDs, flash drives and such like, across the entire complex.

In one dramatic case, missing computer disks containing nuclear weapons information were lost and mysteriously found several weeks later behind a copy machine. In another case, classified information about nuclear weapons designs was found during a raid on a drug den. In January 2007, there was an incident in which a highly classified email message about nuclear weapons was sent unsecured by a senior Pentagon nuclear adviser and then forwarded by others. It has been described as “the most serious breach of U.S. national security.”

Nuclear People

History suggests that the most enduring problem for the security of nuclear weapons, materials and information, is the people who work in and manage the nuclear weapons complex. The United States has a nuclear weapons personnel reliability program which screens people who are allowed to work with nuclear weapons. Pakistan says it has adopted a similar program.

An independent study of the U.S. nuclear personnel reliability program found that between 1975 and 1990, the United States disqualified annually between 3% and 5% of the military personnel it had previously cleared for working with nuclear weapons. These people were removed on the grounds of drug or alcohol problems, conviction for a serious crime, negligence, unreliability or aberrant behavior, poor attitude, and behavior suggesting problems with law and authority.

Problems like this continue. In October 2006, a Los Alamos lab worker with the “highest possible security clearance” was arrested in a cocaine drug bust. One year later, the commander of a U.S. nuclear submarine was removed from his duties after it was discovered that the ship’s crew failed to do daily safety checks on its nuclear reactor for a month and then falsified the daily records to cover up the lapse.

False Security

After 60 years of living with the bomb, the United States has failed to get its own nuclear house in order. It continues to suffer serious problems with securing its own nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and weapons related information. Showing no sign of having learned from its own mistakes, the United States may only end up encouraging a false sense of security and confidence about nuclear weapons security in Pakistan.

The only sure way to secure nuclear weapons and materials is not to have them. The only way to be sure that nuclear weapons scientists do not pass information is to forbid scientists from working on such weapons. Anything short of that is taking a risk and being willing to pay the price for living in a nuclear-armed world.

Zia Mian, a Foreign Policy In Focus ( columnist, directs the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.