Feb 29, 2008

Regarding the "Forgotten Two":

In the comments on the LANL Worker not to blame for 2004 breach post, questions have come up about two other employees who were also fired. Here is the latest:
Someone (7:58) posted earlier "Well, maybe because these were "security" people and therefore beneath contempt, let alone worthy of sympathy??"

They weren't exactly "security people", although at least one performed a security function. They were low-to-mid level TECs, I believe. But John was also a technician (albeit a TEC 7), and Todd was a non-degreed staff member, so I think there's little truth to the claim that those two (the not-John-or-Todd two) were forgotten or ignored because they were TECs or "security people" rather than "scientists".

I've always found it curious that they are forgotten. As an example, an earlier poster on this thread states "Nobody got disciplined except Horne and Kauppila.", and that simply isn't true. But that is what the story has become.

I don't recall Todd mentioning the "forgotten two" in his account of what happened; to my knowledge John has never mentioned them on this blog. Certainly their names rarely (if ever) came up on the revered original blog.

For the record, at least 10 people got several weeks, if not months, administrative leave; three people were terminated (Todd plus two more), and at least one person got unpaid leave.

So, again, Todd, John, Doug Roberts, the bloggers....it seems that no one ever talks (or in Todd's case, talked) about the other two. Certainly no one has championed their cause.

Again, why? Did they somehow deserve what happened to them, while John and Todd did not?

I don't have the answer, but I believe that the question is worth asking.

Feb 28, 2008

Todd John Kauppila, my brother, deceased

[Written by Todd's sister, Diana, on 10 May 2005.]

I generally try to keep from making this space a place to dump, but everyone will have to forgive me in this circumstance. My brother Todd died Sunday night, and I'm writing about this, and it's not pretty, nor happy, nor anything but me needing to talk.

The news story is @ http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/13584.html. It's wrong, Todd was 40, not 41.

Sunday night, I was with my mother. Roomies and I cooked dinner for her and took her to see a movie for mother's day (Kingdom of Heaven for the second time, loved it), and she had been saying to me it was the best mother's day ever for her. Then, in the middle of the movie, my dad called Sara and told her to get home now. Sara got us from the other theater, and we didn't know what was wrong. Except... I did. Mom was saying she thought it might be Grandma, but right then I knew it was Todd. I knew. 100%.

So we drove home, and dad was there, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner. We came in and he said in a hoarse voice that Sara (sister-in-law) called to say Todd had a massive heart attack and they were at the hospital trying to save him. Mom started crying and Sara (roomie) hugged her, and I hugged Dad, and I started making arrangements to get us out there. The flights weren't optimal, though, so after reserving some we decided to drive anyway. We got in the car and started the 10 hour drive to Los Alamos, with me driving.

The drive was fairly uncomfortable to start with, the silences punctuated occasionally by my dad whispering that this was supposed to happen to him, not Todd. And as we were driving, I just knew in my heart that he wasn't going to make it. I don't know how I knew, but I knew. The phone rang, and it was Sara (sister-in-law), and after Mom answered it, she gasped and said oh no, oh God, oh God. She started crying. She hung up and said that they lost him, and Dad started crying too. i was driving, so I didn't. This may sound strange to some people, but in emergency situations, or emotional situations, I have a role, a place. That place is to be strong for those who are in need, and at this time, that's what I did. I spoke what words of comfort I could, which meant shit at the moment, and kept driving. I'd promised to get them there safely, and that was something I intended to keep. All the way, I kept praying in my heart for Todd's family, for my parents, for strength to be there and be what they needed, for the right words or the wisdom to know when to be silent.

When we stopped to get gas, my parents went to the bathroom and I had a few moments to myself. I called Jacqueline, and all I really did was break down the moment I heard her voice. I had my two minutes of hysterical crying, then hung up, wiped my eyes, and went to go bathroom before we got back on the road again.

(note: another reason I don't cry much is because I look like crap when I do. All you women who cry beautifully... you suck!)

We got to Los Alamos the next morning without sleep. This was Monday. We went to Sara (s-i-l's) house immediately, and I saw her and the kids. Johnny (13) was just sobbing on the couch, and Tia (7) was playing like nothing was wrong. I heard later she was pissed off when she found out. Typical, she's just like Todd.

There were tons of people there. There continue to be tons of visitors, and the outpouring of support from the community is incredible. I started being my typical take charge self, and did things like call Todd's work, call the lawyer, call his insurance... you know me, if you're reading this. In an emergency, I do what has to be done. I called upon my roomies and am forever grateful to them for helping make arrangements to get my brother from Hawaii out here. They are the best.

One of the hard things to deal with, the thing that keeps coming and haunting me, is that Todd was napping in his son's room because he felt unwell. Apparently he got up to head to the door, but never made it. When Sara (s-i-l) checked on him later, he was gray and not breathing. I don't know how long he was that way. She called the neighbor, who was a sheriff, and the man came in to perform CPR and told her to call 911. I guess they got a couple of breaths out of him and some regurgitation quickly, and then the emergency crews got there. They worked on Todd for 1/2 hour and then took him to the hospital. There, they were with him for a while before they came to tell Sara (s-i-l) that he was on a respirator, and that his brain had been without oxygen for so long, there really wasn't hope. She went to hold his hand and told them to turn off the respirator. In many senses, he was dead all along. Sara (s-i-l) believes that they knew that at the house, they just didn't want his son to believe that Todd died in his room.

And people came all day. All sorts of people. All day. I hugged so many people, and talked calmly with all of them, I think. Rock, and all that. I stayed at a neighbors rather than staying in the room where Todd died. I couldn't handle that. I laid in there for a while at one point, just thinking about it, and I had to stop.

Then, outside, Tia comes up to me, and we start talking about her gymnastics or something else safe. I have to put in the conversation that happened, though, because it was really a rough one for me.

Aruptly, Tia asks, "Are they going to burn him?"

I nod slowly and answer, "Yes, yes they are. Does that bother you?"

She nods seriously too, and tells me, "Yes, I think a grave would be better, I don't want them to burn him, but it's what he wanted."

So I answer her, "It bothers me a bit too, but you know, if they burn him up to ashes, then in a sense you can say hi to him at every fire. You can walk by and say Hi Dad."

She smiles a bit and giggles and nods.

And I ask, "Would you like to have some of the ashes around here, close to you? Where?"

Tia looks around and points at the rose bushes. "Yes. There," she says.

I nod and tell her, "Alright. We'll talk to your Mom about that. I think that would be nice, to have a part of him close, always."

Isn't that strange? She's so young, and sometimes people think she doesn't get what's going on. But she does. She said that they keep talking about it, over and over, everyone who comes over and Mom, and it was making her sick. Children. Amazing. I did mention it to Sara (s-i-l) later, and she said that was a good idea, Todd loved those rose bushes. So maybe that small thing will help.

Dad found some writing in a notebook from when Todd was fired from the labs, where he recorded that the person who did so was a dishonest idiot. Todd was painfully, brutally honest. He loved his family and his country, was fiercely devoted to those loyal to him, and he would not pull any punches or play political games. That's what got him in trouble at the labs, that's what got him into the lawsuit he was in, and that was what killed him in the end, really. If this makes no sense, see the article about him, or check out http://lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com/. It talks about the corruption and dishonesty at Los Alamos National Labs, something that Todd was fighting. Todd was a fighter. Anyway, Dad was mad. Dad is mad. The struggle at the labs caused such stress in Todd, and he was so determined to always do the right thing... Dad was talking about how if the man who fired him showed up, he'd never leave. It's hard to hear Dad so mad that he's talking about hurting someone, talking about killing them. I know he's just blowing off steam, though. I had thoughts about finding the director of the labs who just left, the one who caused this whole mess, and beating the piss out of him. But I know that we all face an accounting for our actions someday, so I'll leave that to him.

The day ended with everyone leaving and us all limply going to bed. I was going to spend more time praying before I went to bed, but I was so tired, so limp, that all I had was a thanks to God that we all made it through the day. Those of you who don't know that I'm a Christian, uh, I'm a Christian.

Today, however, was the hardest day of my life. We went to see the body, which was at the funeral parlor (why are they parlors?) in Santa Fe. We talked to the funeral director for a while, told him cremation and no urn needed because we're scattering the ashes. He gave Sara (s-i-l) Todd's wedding ring, and she started crying, putting it on her thumb, turning it. She was worrying at it for the rest of the conversation. There was one moment in this part of things that really, really hit me. I was looking at the paperwork he was doing, and I saw a line for Name of Deceased: Todd J. Kauppila. And I thought, that's my brother. That's him. He's deceased. Then we got to see the body.

My brother was laying on a steel gurney, though they'd covered him with blankets and propped him up. I know they did an autopsy, we were just talking about how the lungs had to be "harvested" to go to National Jewish (a hospital?) for some research. Todd likely had beryllium poisoning. Beryllium is an element used in making weapons. Yes, my brother was a scientist involved in such things. Anyway, he was on the gurney, a pillow beneath his head, and he looked like he were sleeping. Of course. And smirking a bit. It was very, very hard to look at his face. The EXPRESSION was just like he'd give at me when we were arguing. Mom went to kiss his forehead, and I guess she didn't realize he'd been in a refrigerator, she stepped back gasping, "he's cold, he's so cold," and started crying. Dad had been crying since the moment he came in. I didn't cry, but the second I saw him, I felt weightless, as if I were falling. In my head, I literally said, "Diana, you dumb shit, don't you dare do anything like pass out. Keep it together." Except, it was Todd's voice in my head. And so, I kept it together.

This was the hardest moment for me. I went to hug my mom, my dad, and then just looked at the body. All I could do was what I'd been doing, pray for wisdom to say the right thing or be silent when needed, for strength for my parents who had lost their son, etc. Dad hugged Mom and was moaning something incoherent into her shoulder as I rubbed his back, and she said to him, "He was a gift, John, a wonderful gift to us for forty years." My Mom is perhaps the strongest woman in the world.

The brief conversations I've had during this are the most difficult. Telling Mom and Dad that even though this is hard, it might be better than a slow degeneration from the beryllium poisoning where his children had to see him falling apart. Talking with one of the women who I don't know at all about the screaming match Todd and I had last time he was in town, and how I loved him so much. Listening to a neighbor tell the story of the time he looked out his window and saw Todd chasing his computer down the side of his house with an axe, whacking it and calling it a fucking piece of shit and chopping it up as it rolled down the hill. Watching Mom folding clothes from the laundry and then gasp and have to take a step back as she realizes she's folding Todd's clothes, telling me she can't do that. Discussing the merits of Shiraz and Merlot with one of the men who is there, the neighbor who was a sheriff and performed the CPR. Discussing with him how he always wondered if he could perform CPR on a guy (you know, tough guy thing) and then how when he saw Todd laying there, that didn't even come up in his mind. Talking with Sara (s-i-l's) Mom about this, and about how this really does hammer home the need to make a lifestyle change so that my parents never have to go through this again just because I'm too freaking lazy to exercise and eat right. These brief blurbs are surreal, like patches in a quilt in my mind, not exactly in order anymore. Like a quilt I want to sew together to make sense of it.

Sara (roomie) and Julie are coming in tonight. I really am grateful for that. Brother in tomorrow. Aunts and uncles coming in. When a first born son dies, it's a big thing. Dad was so very proud of Todd, as was I. There is a pain in the center of my chest, one that will not go away, but one that I can't cry out yet. In a while, I'll get to. But first, I have to be the one who holds things together.

I had to leave the house to come to Starbuck's to be online, send some messages, do some work, and purge a bit. If you've read all of this, thanks for hanging with me.

To everyone who has been sending support and love, to everyone who has been thinking of me and praying, thank you so much for being there. I know I'm not exactly around right now, sorry about that, but thank you for your understanding and friendship through this. I have no words for how much the support means.

Feb 27, 2008

Ruling: LANL worker not to blame for 2004 breach

Quote: “I always knew I did nothing wrong. I followed the rules to the letter. It feels great to be proven right.” — John Horne, a scientist with 23 years at the lab

Sue Vorenberg | The New Mexican

An arbitrator has found innocent a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee accused of security violations that led to a labwide shutdown nearly four years ago.

In the summer of 2004, then-Director Pete Nanos suspended normal work at the lab after two classified disks were reported missing and a laser accident damaged an intern's eye. He slowly brought divisions back online over several months

The missing disks were later attributed to an accounting error, and it turned out they never existed.

John Horne, a scientist with 23 years at the lab, was accused along with Todd Kauppila, a team leader, of involvement in the incident and was reprimanded by Nanos.

Horne was put on unpaid administrative leave for 10 days as punishment and was accused of failing to follow safety and security procedures. Kauppila was fired.

Kauppila also fought the accusations, but died in May 2005 before any determination could be made.

The incident was actually caused by a "record-keeping mistake made by a LANL classified matter custodian," according to a statement released by Horne's lawyer, Timothy L. Butler.

That employee was "not reprimanded for the record-keeping mistake, but the person was later released from the lab on an unrelated matter," Butler told The New Mexican, adding the information came out in the arbitration agreement. "You can see the irony in that," Butler said.

A National Nuclear Security Administration 2005 estimate said the shutdown cost the lab up to $337 million.

An arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association on Thursday determined Horne didn't violate procedure or cause a security infraction, and concluded he should be paid for lost wages, benefits and other relief resulting from the incident.

"I always knew I did nothing wrong," Horne said in a news release. "I followed the rules to the letter. It feels great to be proven right."

Kevin Roark, a Los Alamos spokesman, said Horne continued working at the lab until the voluntary layoffs this January. "We, of course, respect the decision of the arbitrator and wish John well," Roark said.

Contact Sue Vorenberg at 986-3072 or svorenberg@sfnewmexican.com

Feb 24, 2008

Idiotic Solutions to Non-Problems

By Alan Caruba

Since there is no threat from greenhouse emissions, especially carbon dioxide, the notion that The New York Times would devote space to a “solution” to CO2 that lacks even a modicum of common sense simply reaffirms this newspaper’s obsession with "global warming."

Viscount Monckton, a British scientist, has famously said that when confronted with a non-problem, the best thing to do is nothing.

On February 19, reporter Kenneth Chang, reported that “Scientists Would Turn Greenhouse Gas Into Gasoline.” This immediately raises the question of why this hasn’t already been done. The answer is (1) it would require an enormous amount of energy—the equivalent of the entire output of a nuclear plant and (2) that a CO2 conversion plant would cost at least $5 billion to build and would not be economically viable unless gasoline was selling for close to $5 a gallon.

According to the article, two scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kuble, Jr., have proposed the CO2 conversion concept they have dubbed “Green Freedom.” Apparently scientists are now taking classes in public relations.

As the article explained, “The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.”

According to Wikipedia, “Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, carbinol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical compound with chemical formula CH3OH (often abbreviated MeOH). It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable, poisonous, liquid with a distinctive odor that is somewhat milder and sweeter than ethanol.” (emphasis added)

In other words, it is moonshine. If it didn’t have the side effect of killing you, people would drink it

“Although they have not yet built a synthetic fuel factory, or even a small prototype, the scientists say it is all based on existing technology.” Vacationing on Mars is also based on existing technology. Buy your ticket today or maybe some carbon credits.

Until Planet Earth runs out of oil, the need for this “Green Freedom” energy source is totally unnecessary and, at this point, an idiotic exercise by two scientists who thirst for fame (and grants!) like the most common Hollywood starlet.

Thus we have an idiotic solution to a non-problem. Carbon Dioxide is essential to the existance of every bit of vegetation on Earth. It is not a pollutant and, at 0.038% of the Earth’s atmosphere, it represents zero risk of turning the planet into a dust bowl devoid of all life.

Since we are assailed daily with this kind of global warming related story, it is understandable why people think there's a problem. The problem is the fear mongers who keep telling people we’re running out of oil and that atmospheric CO2 is a danger.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center, http://www.anxietycenter.com. His blog is at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com.

Separation Anxieties

We at Livermore were complaining about the 26 weeks vs 39 weeks that LANL received (maximum values for us old farts). We should feel better now that Y12 gets shafted.

Check out Y12 voluntary incentive:

Instead of getting a week's pay for every year of service, which is the severance package offered to laid-off workers, the employees who accept the voluntary separation plan will get 70 percent of that total.

"It was disappointing that B&W management at Y-12 decided to cut our (voluntary separation plan) benefits, when other facilities - Sandia, Livermore and Los Alamos - get their full amount," said Matt O'Hara, who has worked at the Oak Ridge facilities since 1979.

He was referring to the three design labs that, like Y-12, are part of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and facing personnel cuts to meet budget restrictions.

"We are the only facility in the country that gets our severance pay cut, and we don't even get a cost of living on our pension plan," O'Hara said Monday.

Bill Wilburn, a spokesman for B&W, said the incentives package was approved by the U.S. Department of Energy.
If this keeps going, the last site in the complex will require those who want to leave to pay DOE/NNSA for the privilege of leaving. This may signal the return of the indentured slave.

- Anonymous

Feb 22, 2008

Eileen Welsome, Albuquerque Tribune made history with 'The Plutonium Experiment'

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger (Contact)
Friday, February 22, 2008

Eileen Welsome had just unearthed the germ of what would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning, life-changing, national attention-getting, important, big news story, but now came the hard part.

Convincing her city editor.

In 1987, that was, briefly, Mike Hall, a genial, hard-smoking man who didn't easily gamble on the hunches of some brash reporter.

Welsome, a tiny, 36-year-old woman who was six months into her job at The Albuquerque Tribune, was one of Hall's newest — and, with her willful tendencies, most challenging — charges.

"I came in, and I was just on fire with this story," recalled Welsome, who back then was nearly always, unnervingly, on fire.

"I said: 'Mike, Mike! I found this great story! The government injected 18 people with plutonium!' "

Hall response was less animated.

"That's a great story, Eileen," he said. "But we hired you as the neighborhood writer."

Yeah, well. Welsome's neighborhood was about to get bigger. But it would still be six more years from the day she found that footnote in a musty Kirtland Air Force Base basement to the day her 45-page series, "The Plutonium Experiment," hit the racks in November 1993 and shocked the nation.

And shocked a lot of people in the journalism world who had not imagined that a small, evening newspaper like The Tribune was capable of producing — or even imagining to produce — such a significant story.

Welsome's investigation uncovered the secret medical testing conducted on unwitting human guinea pigs who were injected with the radioactive substance.

Her story, their stories, gave voice to these once-nameless victims and ushered in a new, albeit brief, period of openness and contrition within the U.S. Department of Energy.

It also amassed shelves of prestigious awards for Welsome and The Tribune in 1994, including the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

In many ways the story of Welsome is the story of The Trib: small, tenacious, talented and caring not a whit that size is supposed to determine how good you are or how far you can reach.

"We were hugely ambitious," said Mike Arrieta-Walden, Hall's eventual successor and Welsome's whipping boy during the most intensive part of the "Plutonium" project.

"It always has to cross your mind that we have to get the paper out each day; we had to cover the daily stories," he said. "On the other hand, we realized we needed to do big stories. We were always going to be different."

Welsome was part of that difference, although to some of her co-workers she was a high-strung reporter who could eviscerate assistant city editors as eagerly as a pit bull mauls a side of beef.

"You always had to take into account that it was Eileen's tenacity and passion that led to this story, and you had to be ready to deal with that," Arrieta-Walden said, waving off any recollection of his own wounding by Welsome, who once chastised his parenting skills and tossed drafts of the project across a conference room floor.

"She was," he said, "just hugely challenging."

The small reporter from the small paper had a lot to prove.

Humanity and inhumanity

Welsome found that footnote purely by accident while she was on the hunt for a different story.

"I was doing a story about Kirtland Air Force Base, because someone said, 'Hey, there's explosives in the water down in the valley,' " she said. "I went down to Kirtland, because there was a thought that the only place these explosives could have come from is Kirtland."

Welsome remembers seeing a large book on the desk of one of the base officials.

"The book had something in it about radioactive animal dumps, and I thought, wow, that's so weird," she said.

She tracked down an Air Force Special Weapons Laboratory official, who confirmed that animal experiments had been performed and allowed her to look through the documents kept in a basement.

It was a Friday afternoon when she began leafing through the thick, crinkled files that smelled of must and old age.

"I realized there wasn't a story for The Tribune on Monday, but I thought, well, I went down here; I had to make this look good," she said. "And then I saw that footnote. I just sat back in my chair."

Footnotes, she had learned, were where companies tucked away bad news. This, it seemed to her, was very bad.

"You have to remember that at the time we were still in a Cold War," she said. "The Berlin Wall had not fallen. We were still building nuclear weapons, and New Mexico was at the heart of the atomic bomb project. So there always was this sense of these subterranean activities that went on there."

The next day, a Saturday, Welsome started digging through the University of New Mexico's Zimmerman Library on her own for anything more on plutonium testing in the 1940s and the human experiments conducted somewhere on 18 somebodies mentioned in the footnote.

It wasn't that easy. And with Hall's chilly response, it wasn't going to be on company time. At least not then.

"But I just said, well, be that as it may, I did my job. But I kept going back to that story," she said. "I interviewed people, sent out a few Freedom of Information Act requests, followed up those requests, went from document to document trying to find out what I could."

The 18 people mentioned in the footnote were listed by code names such as Chi-2, HP-9 and Cal-3.

"That became my biggest task — to find them, to put names to them, to learn who they were and what happened to them," she said. "But these people were injected with plutonium 30, 40 years ago. So I knew it was a nearly impossible task."

Welsome assigned each code name to a yellow sheet of paper and began writing what she knew of each one. Eventually, she learned their ages, ethnicities, the dates they were injected, the dates they died.

"It was like the turtle and the rabbit, and I was the turtle, just trundling along slowly, like walking through the peanut butter," she said. "I never knew if I would succeed. I never knew if I would find these 18 people."

Welsome knew she could get the big story, but it needed those names and faces, it needed their humanity and the inhumanity done to them.

But in 1991 she put away her files, yellow paper and unanswered questions for a yearlong John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.

Once again, surrounded by other fellows from the Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the BBC, Welsome was reminded of just how small The Tribune was.

Finding Elmer

Walking away from the story she had become so obsessed about might have been what got the story to finally take off.

Opening her old file and the yellow sheets she had not touched in a year, her fresh eyes lighted upon two words she had missed before:

Italy, Texas.

Plutonium patient Cal-3 had lived there, and Welsome, who had spent her college years in Texas, knew the town of Italy was a much smaller haystack to find her needle.

"I was determined to go there and knock on every door until I found Cal-3," she said.

She didn't have to. In a phone call to Italy's City Hall, she described the man she had been seeking for five years: a black man, who would have been in his 80s at the time. He would have been a train porter. He would have had his left leg amputated.

"You're looking for Elmer Allen," a clerk told her. "But he died awhile back. Would you like his wife's number?"

Welsome's hands were shaking as she dialed the number the clerk had given her and heard the gentle voice of Fredna Allen.

"It was one of those cases of serendipity where it seemed like forces greater than myself were at work on this project," Welsome said. "I would have several moments like that from then on."

Welsome bought a plane ticket for Italy with her own credit card.

"That trip to Texas started it all," said Arrieta-Walden, who assumed command of the city desk in 1991. "For a long time we called Eileen's project the 'Elmer Story.' "

From then on, Welsome was allowed to work nearly exclusively on the project.

"Up until then, it was sort of one of Eileen's wild hairs, one of her pipe dreams," she said. "Once we found Elmer, we all lined up behind the story."

Doing so required other staffers to share the load of losing a reporter who covered complicated beats like the Public Service Company of New Mexico and pedophile priests.

"We were a small staff, and that meant even more work, but everyone was committed," Arrieta-Walden said.

The tone for such ambition, Arrieta-Walden said, was set by Tribune Editor Tim Gallagher, who in January 1987, at age 30, had become one of the youngest editors in the country.

"He used to say he wanted people to do the best work while they were here, and certainly that's what we tried to do," Arrieta-Walden said.

But what was and wasn't best for the project was argued, sometimes bitterly, between the soft-spoken, coolheaded Arrieta-Walden and the sharp-tongued and sleep-deprived Welsome.

"Eileen lived that project. She was consumed by it," Arrieta-Walden said. "I remember a Saturday afternoon when she called in a panic because she thought something wasn't making sense. That was not necessarily atypical."

But the stress of such a huge project was just beginning.

"This was the story that almost crushed the little paper," Welsome said.

And Welsome.

"If I had known the story was going to grow so large, they would have just had me in a gurney, shooting me up with Valium," she said. "I don't think I could have emotionally gone through it. It was just too immense and overwhelming."

Power of journalism

"The Plutonium Experiment" ran for three days beginning Nov. 15, 1993, in a startling, spare black-and-white presentation crafted by designer Lara Edge that in its time was nearly as groundbreaking as the story itself.

Welsome was relieved.

"I felt that at the time I had done a story that allowed me the privilege of witnessing the power of journalism," she said.

That power appeared to short out, however, when the project failed to elicit the response Welsome and others at The Tribune had anticipated.

"I expected the phones to ring off the hook, but there was not one call that day," she said.

That night, though, the Associated Press called for more information on the families of the five patients she had identified.

After that, the phones wouldn't stop ringing.

"I remember coming into the paper one day and had 50 pink slips, messages I had to respond to," she said. "I sat down and wept."

So many faxes were coming in that the newsroom ran out of paper, she recalled.

"Everyone was answering phones. There was a crush of mail by media inquiries from Nepal and Sweden and Australia and Japan, England, Germany, France, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico — should I go on?" she said.

"It was just overwhelming the amount of attention that story got, and it was very hard for me to resume my work."

With the project published, the workload seemed to increase, Arrieta-Walden said.

"Suddenly, The Albuquerque Tribune became the repository for all the other radiation experiments, and there were thousands," he said. "We felt responsible for following up on them and also for keeping an eye on Congress and what they would do about this. It was huge."

Welsome was in a New York hotel room with husband and journalist Jim Martin on a trip to speak about the project when she received word she and The Tribune had won the Pulitzer, the most coveted prize in journalism.

"I guess it was Mike Walden or Tim or someone who called, and then they dropped the phone and ran off and hung up the phone on me," she said, laughing.

"I just remember thinking that I hadn't let down a whole bunch of people, those people who the government had done such wrong to; my colleagues at The Tribune," she said. "And I thought that now we could all go on with our lives."

But that was not to be.

"Life did not return to normalcy for a very long time for me," she said.


Most of the journalists who worked on "The Plutonium Experiment" have long since left The Tribune.

Arrieta-Walden, now the managing editor for online content at the Oregonian in Portland, counts his days at The Tribune as some of his best journalistically.

"When people ask what I was most proud of while at The Tribune, I don't point to the Pulitzer," he said. "It was how we could change things, make improvements. Eileen's project certainly did that, but so did so many other stories we did about the vulnerable people who weren't being served.

"So to me, while the Pulitzer was thrilling and special, there's always been great journalism being done there, always these quirky reporters doing great work. It was an amazing place to be."

Welsome left The Tribune shortly after winning the Pulitzer. She spent the next six years writing "The Plutonium Files," a book that expanded upon the project and included many more radiation experiments done surreptitiously.

She also wrote a book on Pancho Villa. She is now at work on a third, a novel this time, about a uranium miner and his family in Grants. She recently ended a job as a writer for the Texas Observer magazine.

At age 56, she has mellowed now — or so she says.

The Pulitzer, she said, is mostly memory now.

"It's had no impact financially, and I don't know that it has had any influence on my ability to write books," she said. "People call me back more easily than they did before, so it's helped me in actual reporting."

She recently moved from Austin to Colorado, where her husband is an assistant city editor with the Rocky Mountain News in Denver — a rare time in which the couple actually share the same ZIP code.

She dreams of moving some day to the Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico, a place she says speaks to her soul. Her days are still filled with writing, fervently and tenaciously.

She mourns the passing of The Tribune, a place where she made history by uncovering history.

"A lot of time has passed, but in many ways it's a lot like the era in which the plutonium experiment took place," she said. "It's a time of war and a time of great government secrecy. But who's going to start following those footnotes? We have to hope that something will emerge to replace newspapers, but the loss of papers of The Tribune's caliber is a great loss, not only to the community but to the country and to our understanding of history. It's a loss to all of us. I really feel that way."

Feb 20, 2008

Papers Please!

My wife just called to tell me that we have received a registered letter from LANL, informing me that I have been "randomly selected" to verify my dependent information by April 30, or have all my dependents dropped from benefits coverage. This means I have to supply marriage certificate for my wife and birth certificates for my children.

In all my working years (and I have plenty), I have never ever been asked to do this before. It seems onerous and insulting.

Has anyone else here had to "show me the papers" to The Man?


Feb 19, 2008

Art & Wine Dinner 2008

I hope you and your readers will consider supporting the Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center by attending this lovely event!

Please forward to others who may be interested in attending.

Consider joining the Friends, too! http://www.rgnc.org/


US Weapons Systems: Bush Policies Undermine Science, Group Says

Fed. officials fabricated scientific data, suppressed findings, pressured scientists to change reports

By Chris Schneidmiller, Global Security Newswire

BOSTON — The Bush administration’s persistent interference in the work of federal scientists has cut experts out of top-level discussions of bioterrorism and served to punish researchers who questioned one White House nuclear weapon initiative, a science watchdog organization said yesterday (see GSN, May 10, 2007).

During the first day of a major science conference here, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report accusing the executive branch of committing a host of abuses over the last seven years.

Included among 17 distinct charges are allegations that federal officials misrepresented or simply fabricated scientific data, suppressed certain findings, and pressured scientists to change reports in favor of administration positions.

“This interference in science threatens our nation’s ability to respond to complex challenges to public health, the environment and national security,” states the report, Federal Science and the Public Good. “It risks demoralizing the federal scientific work force and raises the possibility of lasting harm to the federal scientific enterprise. More importantly, it betrays public trust in our government and undermines the democratic principles upon which this nation was founded.”

Physicist Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the organization’s Board of Directors, argued that this behavior is indicative of Bush administration procedure in sectors ranging from economics to arms control.

“I think more broadly than science the administration has tried and often succeeded in distorting and manipulating expert opinion that contradicts its chosen policies or that contradicts the views of some of its important constituencies,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

While this is true to some degree of all presidents, it has become far more systemic in this White House, Gottfried said. The organization points to the elimination of two panels formed to provide federal agencies with expert advice on weapons issues as evidence of this posture.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, the semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department that oversees the U.S. nuclear complex, in June 2003 abolished a 2-year-old advisory panel filled with atomic weapons experts.

Some physicists on the panel had written articles questioning the Bush administration’s research on a nuclear “bunker buster,” a weapon intended to destroy hardened, underground targets. The experts warned that such weapons might not prove effective but would create high levels of radioactive fallout, the UCS report says.

The agency made its displeasure with the articles known, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. While acknowledging it is not “provable,” Gottfried argued that there was a clear connection between those pieces and the subsequent dismissal of the panel.

NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes rejected the organization’s claims on several points, starting with the report’s statement that “White House officials” disbanded the committee. The first NNSA administrator formed the group as a source for technical advice; his successor had significantly more experience in nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues and allowed the panel’s charter to lapse, he said. Any articles critical of the bunker buster would have been “irrelevant,” Wilkes said, also denying that the agency’s work on the weapon had gone beyond the feasibility study stage.

“They don’t have their facts right. They’re wrong,” he said.

Formal pursuit of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator ended in 2006 (see GSN, March 24, 2006).

A longtime State Department advisory committee on arms control was also disbanded shortly after Bush took office, the organization says on its web site.

Gottfried used the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to illustrate the level of expertise that members of these panels could provide. The experts would be able to discuss with policy-makers detection capabilities for underground nuclear blasts, the consequences for failing to detect a test and what a nation’s leaders might learn from setting off a weapon without being caught, he said.

While NNSA managers can reasonably say they have access to a significant amount of expertise through the national nuclear laboratories, there is always value in hearing independent voices who can speak freely without worrying about how their opinion might affect their future, Gottfried said. The State Department could not claim to have the same technical resources when it cut the arms control panel, he added.

The position of presidential science adviser has lost standing under the Bush administration, the organization claims. Losing its “near-Cabinet-level” status meant less access to President George W. Bush and reduced influence within the federal government. “As a result, scientific experts have not been as involved in high-level policy discussions on crucial issues such as climate change, stem cell research and bioterrorism,” the report says.

As another case of the conflict between scientists and the administration, Gottfried pointed to assertions by Bush and high-level administration officials that prewar Iraq attempted to import aluminum tubes intended for a nuclear weapon program. That claim, used to bolster the White House’s case for war, was based on a CIA analysis but was disputed by experts from several U.S. nuclear laboratories (see GSN, March 9, 2006). The scientists’ analysis, though, “didn’t coordinate with the policy,” Gottfried said.

The White House had not returned a request for comment as of press time. A State Department spokeswoman said she could not comment without first reading the report.

The organization issued a statement signed by prominent researchers, including Nobel laureates and former high-level federal scientists, calling for the next administration and for Congress not to meddle in scientific affairs.

Government scientists need to be free of interference when it comes to conducting their work, communicating and publishing their findings, blowing the whistle on abuses of science and undergoing peer reviews, the report says.

Gottfried expressed optimism about the likelihood of change, whether the occupant of the White House is a Democrat or Republican. It will take more than a change of presidents, he said. Federal scientists will have to regain the sense that they are free to speak freely — possibly through legislative protections.

Experts on arms control will only have influence if the next administration favors that work more strongly than seen in the Bush White House, Gottfried said.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “What is the saying, hope springs eternal?”

[ View the Federal Science and the Public Good Report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

Ranks of Nuclear Experts Dwindle

Few Replacements for Forensic Specialists When They Retire
By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page A04

Two leading U.S. scientific groups warned yesterday that, in the next 15 years, as many as half of the nation's relatively few experts in identifying smuggled nuclear materials and detonated-bomb components may retire.

The pipeline of young researchers who could replace the nation's 35 to 50 nuclear specialists is almost empty, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science said in a new report at the association's annual meeting in Boston. They called for an invigorated program of university-research funding, more graduate school and laboratory positions in related disciplines, and new incentives for industry support of university positions.

The study's authors, led by Michael May, director emeritus of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said that boosting U.S. nuclear forensics capability will help deter the black-market smuggling of nuclear materials or a nuclear detonation in a city.

Nuclear forensics can be used to trace the source components of a bomb to the government that produced them and potentially to the experts behind such an attack, subjecting them to the prospect of quick retaliation, the 64-page report said. "A credible . . . capability may deter some who are principally motivated by financial, rather than ideological, concerns," the report added.

The scientists' report called for the development of faster and more accurate field equipment, as well as modeling and simulation technologies; the creation of a comprehensive sample-matching database of nuclear materials; national simulations; and the establishment of independent expert panels to measure progress and advise the U.S. government in case of an emergency.

[View the press release and related links here.]

Feb 14, 2008

Flats worker dies waiting for government check

By Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)

Former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons builder Douglas DelForge died Sunday of disfiguring brain tumors — six years after applying for federal aid, 14 months after being approved — but before being paid for his lost wages.

Under rules for atom bomb makers sickened on the job, the government's delay in paying DelForge, 46, until after his death means the government will never cut that check.

His parents are not eligible for survivor payments. His wife had long since divorced him, unable to handle his illness.

The Department of Labor did pay another significant part of DelForge's compensation, for permanent disability. That check arrived six days before he died.

Born April 10, 1961, DelForge started at Rocky Flats at 20, and stayed 21 years. He worked on radioactive materials through glove boxes, and later on decontamination.

He underwent his first surgery for brain tumors at 31 but continued to work at the plant.

His father, Cliff, who worked at Rocky Flats as a radiation monitor for 35 years, suggested to his son that he work there, too.

"In retrospect, I couldn't be sorrier," the father said.

Doug DelForge loved playing golf. Once, when a distracting comment by his father led to a disastrous score of 17 on one hole, DelForge followed up by hitting 4 pars and a birdie on the remaining five holes.

When Doug came down with aggressive meningioma, the brain tumors displaced parts of his brain. He was denied aid because they were not considered cancer.

His face twisted and one eyelid fell shut. "His face was animated on one side, and not on the other," explained his mother, Sharon. He could smile, but only on one side of his face.

Double vision distorted his golf game, and then balance problems robbed him of his swing, his father said.

DelForge continued to work at Rocky Flats until he finally became too disabled in 2003, after his brain swelled and blood clots appeared in his lungs.

"He was a kind man, and a quiet fighter," remembered colleague Jennifer Thompson, a leader in the fight for federal aid for sick Rocky Flats workers. "He never gave up, and remained positive, warm and caring" despite his struggle, she said.

Cliff DelForge said the government repeatedly refused his son's application for aid for five years, saying his illness was not caused by his job.

"This panel of doctors said there is no evidence radiation has anything to do with meningioma," Cliff DelForge said. The father finally went on the Internet himself. "It took me less than 30 minutes to find a site that said it was caused by radiation."

He and his wife are not happy that government officials could not manage to pay for their son's lost wages.

"They drag their feet and drag their feet until people die, and they don't have to pay them," Cliff DelForge said.

Shelby Hallmark, head of the Department of Labor aid program, said his Denver office did make a deliberate decision in October to defer payment of DelForge's lost wages. But Hallmark could not immediately determine why.

But he said the law states that only a living worker can be paid for lost wages. Delay in payment until after the worker dies means no payment at all, he confirmed.

"That's very clear, and in this case, sad," Hallmark said.

In December Doug's doctor said another tumor had grown to the size of a golf ball. It was impinging on Doug's brain stem — and the doctor didn't know whether to recommend surgery, or not.

On the way out of the doctor's office in the elevator, Doug, who never complained, who never blamed anyone, let out a deep sigh, his father said.

That's the only time his father can remember his son expressing an emotion about his situation.

After the surgery, Doug went downhill. He was sent home to his parents, who tried to feed him through a tube into his stomach. Thick liquids clogged in the tube. Diluting the liquid food doubled its volume, and that was too much.

"We were doing all this stuff we had not a clue about," said his mother.

Fluids backed up Doug's esophagus into his lungs, and he could not breathe.

Back in the hospital, this occurred several times, until Doug's brain died on Sunday.

Doug had always wanted to leave his organs to help someone else. "Somebody got his liver and his eyes," his mother said proudly.

DelForge is survived by his parents, Cliff and Sharon DelForge of Northglenn, and his sister, Terri Shaver of St. George, Utah.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at the Northwest Church of Christ, 5255 West 98th Ave, Westminster, followed by a reception at the Blue Parrot Restaurant, 640 Main Street, Louisville. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations in his name be sent to organ donor association, The Donor Alliance Inc., 720 S. Colorado Blvd., Suite 800N, Denver, Co. 80246-9987.

SNS & Los Alamos: response to allegations

Frank Munger's Atomic City Underground

A column I wrote earlier this week, "Was Los Alamos weak link on SNS?" attracted a bit of attention -- including a posting on a blog known as LANL: The Rest of the Story.

An anonymous commenter on the blog said the SNS wasn't the success story it's been built up to be and raised some technical issues about the neutron-producing facilities. I thought they were interesting enough to pursue, and so I asked Ian Anderson -- associate lab director at ORNL and the SNS chief -- to respond to them.

Anderson is currently in Europe and didn't have immediate internet access, but he provided responses via his Blackberry.

Here they are:
Allegation: "The linear accelerator has serious beam loss problems that lead to activation of the items in the accelerator tunnel."

Answer: Linac beam losses at the recent 340 kW are within a factor of 2 of design expectations, which is a roaring success by any measure.

Allegation: "The spallation neutron target can only operate at the specified power for a few weeks before it has to be replaced, a two-month effort."

Answer: Per the SNS design, the system has been designed to rapidly replace targets. The operation should take 1 week, which is built in to the operations schedule.

Allegation: "The superconducting cryomodules provided by the Jefferson Laboratory will ALL have to be totally reworked in order to meet their performance specifications."

Answer: Half the cryomodules exceed their performance specifications by approximately 30%. The other half are lower than their performance specifications by approximately 15%. The performance will be improved by in-situ methods. There is no plan to "totally rework" all cryomodules.

Allegation: "The entire system was designed and built with no consideration of the reliability..."

Truth: Our present availability of 86% is world-class. ISIS 10-year average availability is 88%, Lujan is 80%, PSI is 85-90%.

Hydrogen Bomb Designer Criticizes RRW Program

By Jon Fox
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — A frequent adviser to the U.S. government on nuclear and security issues argued yesterday that the current administration’s push for a next-generation nuclear warhead is unnecessary (see GSN, Feb. 5).

“The United States has the most flexible, the most usable, the most accurate nuclear weapons in the world,” said Richard Garwin, a physicist involved with the original design for the hydrogen bomb and longtime arms control advocate. The Pentagon would be better off sticking with the Cold War-era weapons they have now, he said, both in terms of reliability of the warheads and in terms of cost.

The Bush administration has aggressively pursued, in the face of congressional opposition, a new nuclear warhead design that Energy Department officials have argued would be more secure, more reliable, cheaper, would allow for a reduction in the U.S. stockpile of warheads and would help maintain a retinue of trained weapons designers at U.S. laboratories (see GSN, Dec. 19, 2007).

The design, dubbed the Reliable Replacement Warhead, received none of the nearly $90 million in requested funding this year. For the coming fiscal year, the president’s budget requests $10 million for the program.

Garwin, at one time a member of the JASON panel that advises the executive branch on nuclear weapon-related issues, spoke yesterday as one of the authors of a report suggesting 10 alterations in nuclear weapons policy to be made in the next presidential administration.

The suggestions are part of a slightly modified report from the Federation of American Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists originally issued in 2001 in advance of a nuclear posture review from the Bush administration.

“We can be much more confident with the legacy warheads, that they will remain closer to the test pedigree than would the RRW that has never been tested,” Garwin said. The report suggests halting all U.S. programs for developing and deploying new nuclear weapons.

Officials have argued that the existing arsenal will slowly deteriorate despite efforts to replace minor parts as part of the Energy Department’s Stockpile Stewardship program. At some point, it may be necessary to return to explosive testing to affirm the stockpile’s effectiveness, they have argued (see GSN, Nov. 15, 2007).

To avoid the prospect of renewed nuclear testing, the Bush administration has advocated developing the new warhead to replace the older weapons. Officials have assured Congress that the new warhead would not require nuclear testing. For many in Congress a return to nuclear testing as part of the program is considered unacceptable.

Administration officials have also said the RRW would save money in the long run by reducing the maintenance costs of the current arsenal. Garwin said he has yet to see evidence that this is the case.

“Nobody has ever come up with a cost for the RRW program that has any possible benefit from the point of view of cost in part because the RRW would not be here to replace the legacy weapons for a very, very long time,” he said.

He said it could take 40 years or more before the RRW design would replace all the weapons the United States now deploys, a replacement rate of about 50 warheads a year.

“And during all that time you would have to have the ability to take care of the W-76, W-87, the W-88 and all those weapons,” Garwin said.

What had once been the primary argument for replacing the weapons, the effect of aging on plutonium, is no longer relevant in light of recent findings about the way the metal’s changes over time, he said. The Energy Department has estimated that nuclear weapons’ plutonium cores should perform as designed for 85 years, and a separate JASON’s study assessed a 100-year lifespan (see GSN, Nov. 30, 2006).

“Which is a long, long time from now, another 56 years [from now] before the weapons may decay,” Garwin said. Almost all of the problems regarding aging and the current U.S. nuclear warhead designs relate to the non-nuclear parts “that can be replaced whenever it is economically desirable.”

In terms of keeping U.S. weapons designers interested and trained, Garwin suggested having the two design laboratories compete to develop new designs but simply never make them. “If we had an RRW competition every five years or so that would keep the designers up to snuff,” he said.

The other suggestions in the report include:

— Declare the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons to be for deterrence and if necessary respond to the use of nuclear weapons by another nation;

— Reject rapid nuclear-armed missile launch options (see GSN, April 5, 2005);

— Eliminate current U.S. nuclear targeting plans with a plan tailored to individual situations;

— Unilaterally reduce U.S. deployed and reserve warheads to no more than 1,000;

— Retire all U.S. tactical, or battlefield, nuclear weapons (see GSN, Feb. 9, 2005);

— Announce a U.S. commitment to further reduce warheads on a bilateral, negotiated basis;

— Commit to no new nuclear testing and work with the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (see GSN, Sept. 18, 2007);

— Halt further deployment of a ground-based missile defense systems and drop plans for any spaced-based defenses (see GSN, Oct. 12, 2007); and

— Reaffirm a U.S. commitment to complete nuclear disarmament.

Council opposes pit production

The New Mexican - News in Brief

The city of Santa Fe has gone on record in opposition to Los Alamos National Laboratory's efforts to produce plutonium pits.

A resolution approved Wednesday night by city councilors directed the city clerk to inform federal authorities of the city's objections.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has released a draft environmental impact statement in order to transform its nuclear weapons complex, the resolution says, and such actions would release hazardous and radioactive waste in the area.

Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, whose husband works at the lab, recused herself from the otherwise unanimous vote.

Feb 13, 2008

Munger: Was Los Alamos weak link on SNS?

By Frank Munger

The Spallation Neutron Source is one of the world's leading centers for materials research, offering unprecedented levels of neutrons to do experiments. It also has become a symbol of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's success in the 21st century.

The $1.4 billion federal project was completed ahead of schedule and within its budget, a pretty rare feat in government circles these days, and ORNL has leveraged that to its advantage in many ways.

For instance, the project management of SNS is a primary reason Oak Ridge was chosen to host the U.S. involvement in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. It also was why Oak Ridge was chosen for the first of five Department of Energy-sponsored nanoscience centers, and the SNS played at least a supporting role in ORNL's winning of other projects, ranging from high-performance computing to development of biofuels.

For those for may have forgotten this little tidbit: The Spallation Neutron Source was developed as a partnership of six national laboratories. Besides Oak Ridge, the others were Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos and Thomas Jefferson. ORNL, of course, was the host site, and after the work was done, the lab took over as owner and manager.

If there had ever been a grand opening for a grand project, which there wasn't, each of the labs undoubtedly would have been thanked for their contributions.

This week, however, Los Alamos got just the opposite. The New Mexico lab got a spanking.

In a broad-based report, the Government Accountability Office blasted Los Alamos on everything from problems in securing classified data to protection of workers to weaknesses in project management. The SNS came into the conversation on the latter point.

The GAO used some of the work on the SNS to document Los Alamos problems with project management. Los Alamos was responsible for development of the linear accelerator and work on low-level radio-frequency systems.

The report said fabrication problems with the linear accelerator in 2002 resulted in a cost impact of $8 million that had to be overcome with the use of project contingency funds and "offsets." It also noted that ORNL had to take over work on the radio-frequency control system because of Los Alamos design problems and used a system already developed at another lab, Lawrence Berkeley.

"The former ORNL Spallation Neutron Source manager, who is now the laboratory director, told us that problems with these two projects led by LANL could have significantly delayed the overall project," the GAO report said.

The report, of course, was referring to Thom Mason, and I talked with Mason by telephone on Monday and asked about the GAO report. He said the report's descriptions of the SNS issues were accurate, except for a reference to "leaky tubing," which he indicated was probably a reference to the drift-tube linac.

But he was not inclined to call Los Alamos the weak sister on the SNS team.

"We had problems in a number of areas, including the linac, and that's sort of normal in projects, and that's why you have contingency and why you build float into the schedule," he said, noting that the project team was always working on a more aggressive schedule than the one committed to Congress.

Mason said it's true that, if the Los Alamos problems had not been fixed, they could have affected the entire project's success.

"But they were fixed," he said. "The way I look at it, the measure of success in a project is not the absence of problems, because that's not realistic, but how the problems are addressed."

Each of the SNS partners encountered significant issues during the development and construction period, including Oak Ridge, Mason said.

"At some point in time, everyone came under the gun," he said. "The most important thing is we were able to overcome these difficulties."

Senior writer Frank Munger may be reached at 342-6329. His telephone number is 865-342-6329. More information is available on Munger's blog, "Atomic City Underground," at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/munger/

Los Alamos National Lab improves information security

By Jill R. Aitoro | jaitoro@govexec.com | February 12, 2008

Los Alamos National Laboratory acknowledged problems involving security of classified data and has taken several steps to improve processes, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released Monday. The laboratory, which manages numerous nuclear facilities and operations, saw a reduction in the number of reported security incidents from a five-year high of 18 in 2005 to four in 2007.

The laboratory, which is managed by a consortium of contractors called Los Alamos National Security, handles plutonium, uranium and tritium processing; research and development operations with special nuclear material, high-energy radiography; radiation measurement; packaging of nuclear materials; and radioactive and hazardous waste management. The government awarded the management contract to the consortium in June 2006, after a series of high-profile security incidents involving the possible exposure of classified information and concerns over workplace safety. The House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee asked GAO to provide an update on security, safety and management problems at the lab.

"This was not a full-blown audit," said a GAO spokesman, who requested anonymity. "The idea was to get something to the committee to address some questions, based on existing studies, or work done by the [Energy Department] inspector general."

GAO analyzed data from the lab's Office of Safeguards and Security and the Incident Tracking and Analysis Capability database - Energy's primary repository for monitoring security incidents. According to the report, 57 security incidents involving the compromise or potential compromise of classified information were reported between Oct. 1, 2002 and June 30, 2007. Of those, 37 posed the most serious threat to national security. In one example, nine classified removable electronic media items, including data disks, could not be accounted for after relocation to a different on-site facility. Energy concluded that these items were likely destroyed. In another example, a law enforcement search of a subcontractor's home in Los Alamos, N.M., recovered documents and a USB thumb drive containing classified information removed from a highly classified facility at the lab.

In addition, nine incidents involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of secret information, which Energy determined posed a significant threat to U.S. national security interests, and 11 incidents involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, which posed threats to the department's security interests.

According to the report, lab contractors have taken a number of steps to improve information security. An estimated 1.4 million legacy classified documents were destroyed, for example, and the number of electronic classified items reduced from 87,000 to 4,472. They've also reduced the number of vaults and vault-type rooms used for holding classified data from 142 to 114, and consolidated classified material and classified processing operations into a supervault-type room.

"It's a problem they're aware of and trying to take steps to remediate long-standing issues," the GAO spokesman said.

Lab representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to the report, lab officials noted that the number of security incidents that compromised or potentially compromised classified information had declined from 18 in 2005 to five in 2006 and four in 2007. The number of reported incidents rose prior to 2005, increasing from 14 in 2003 to 16 in 2004.

"In our view, this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a basis for meaningful trend analysis," Gene Aloise, GAO's director of Natural Resources and Environment, said in the report. "Consequently, it is too soon to tell if this decline in security incidents is more than temporary."

Los Alamos: 19 Nuke Violations, 57 Classified Info Breaches in Five Years

By Noah Shachtman, Wired Blog Network - Danger Room

There have been so many security and safety meltdowns at Los Alamos over the last five years, it's hard to keep 'em all straight (well, at least the ones that don't involve meth labs). But now, the investigators at the Government Accountability Ability have put a half-decade of scandals into a single document. John Fleck runs down the tally:
  • Fifty-seven security incidents "involving the compromise or potential compromise of classified information"
  • Nineteen violations of rules meant to protect against nuclear accidents;
  • Shoddy accounting for nuclear materials; and
  • Management problems that delayed and drove up the cost of two major nuclear research machines.
"Some of the problems have been reported before," Fleck adds. "But many of the revelations, including the nuclear safety violations, are new."
A Los Alamos spokesman welcomed the Government Accountability Office report, noting improvements since a new corporate management team took over in June 2006...

The report's authors were also not so sanguine about the suggestion that progress was being made. "In our view," the investigators wrote, "this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a basis for meaningful trend analysis."

Furthermore, some of the problems highlighted in the report happened after the new management took over. In July 2007, for example, a lab area was found to contain 40 percent more nuclear materials than allowed by safety regulations.

In September 2007, key plutonium operations at Los Alamos had to be shut down because of safety concerns.

Feb 12, 2008

Los Alamos Troubles Again

From the Washington Post's government contracting blog, Government Inc., we have this by Robert O'Harrow.

The GAO released a compendium of troubles involving Los Alamos National Laboratory and its contractors yesterday.

My reaction to a quick read: Holy smokes!

Here's how it begins:

"Subject: Los Alamos National Laboratory: Information on Security of Classified Data, Nuclear Material Controls, Nuclear and Worker Safety, and Project Management Weaknesses

"The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which is operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), is responsible for, among other things, designing nuclear weapons. Over the past decade, we have documented numerous security, safety, and project management weaknesses at NNSA's nuclear weapons complex, including LANL. In particular, LANL has experienced a series of high-profile security incidents that have drawn attention to the laboratory's inability to account for and control classified information and maintain a safe work environment."

Government Inc. readers may recall a piece about earlier problems at the labs. The problems included allegations that thousands of classified documents were found in a trailer occupied by a former employee and allegations that a contractor operating the facility, KSL Services Joint Venture, systematically overcharged the government.

In the new 61-page report, GAO auditors document what appear to be systemic problems. From October 2002 to June 30, 2007, the laboratory had 57 reported security incidents that apparently involved "the compromise or potential compromise of classified information." There were nine other incidents that involved "the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of secret information, which posed a significant threat to U.S. national security interests."

At the same time, there were incidents in which nuclear safety standards were exceeded. Facilities were operated with proper safety documentations. "Twenty-three reported safety accidents serious enough to warrant investigation by DOE or the laboratory contractor," the report said.


Well, it looks to me like LANS has everything under control here. They've even added a new web content filter to "secure" LANL staff from reading the blog from the lanl.gov domain. Pinky, I think LANL management is afraid of you.

Staff, however, don't seem to much care one way or another that the blog is being blocked, which is why I'm bugging out and leaving you again comfortably in charge.

Pinky, I want to thank you for doing such a fine job in running your blog, and for letting me put in my two cents every now and then. Good luck in running this puppy for whatever the remainder of its life will be; I'm sure you will do just fine with it on your own.

Likewise, good luck to the few remaining LANL staff whom I know that still work there. LANL is a changed place. I hope those of you who remain there enjoy the new management and work environment, but I am certainly glad that I am no longer work up on the hill.



Report Raises Concerns About LANL

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

It's been a bad five years for Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to a report issued Monday by congressional investigators, who found:
  • Fifty-seven security incidents "involving the compromise or potential compromise of classified information";
  • Nineteen violations of rules meant to protect against nuclear accidents;
  • Shoddy accounting for nuclear materials; and
  • Management problems that delayed and drove up the cost of two major nuclear research machines.
Some of the problems have been reported before, including the discovery of classified documents in a lab worker's home in October 2006. But many of the revelations, including the nuclear safety violations, are new.

A Los Alamos spokesman welcomed the Government Accountability Office report, noting improvements since a new corporate management team took over in June 2006. The lab is run by a consortium headed by Bechtel Corp.

Security incidents, for example, have declined since the lab's new managers took over, according to the report.

"It captures much of the history and also much of the progress," said lab spokesman Kevin Roark.

Greg Mello, a lab critic with the Los Alamos Study Group, questioned Roark's assertion that the report demonstrated progress in dealing with the lab's problems. "I don't think it does show that," Mello said.

The report's authors were also not so sanguine about the suggestion that progress was being made. "In our view," the investigators wrote, "this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a basis for meaningful trend analysis."

Furthermore, some of the problems highlighted in the report happened after the new management took over. In July 2007, for example, a lab area was found to contain 40 percent more nuclear materials than allowed by safety regulations.

In September 2007, key plutonium operations at Los Alamos had to be shut down because of safety concerns.

In addition to security and safety problems, the report criticized Los Alamos for its management of large construction projects. Among the problems was a large nuclear weapons X-ray machine that is finally scheduled to begin operations this summer, five years after it was originally supposed to be completed.

Los Alamos also bungled its part of a major research machine being built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, threatening the project's schedule and budget, according to the report.

The report comes at a critical time for Los Alamos. Members of the House of Representatives last year attempted deep cuts in the lab's $2.1 billion budget. A final budget deal in December forestalled the cuts.

The new report was requested by the two leaders of that budget-cutting effort— Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Indiana, and Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio. Visclosky and Hobson head the House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, and they are widely expected to renew their efforts to cut the budget this year.

"I think they're preparing ammunition," said David Culp, a lobbyist with the anti-war Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Feb 11, 2008

We Apologize for the Inconvenience

It seems our readers could not access the blog from lanl.gov addresses today. We're not sure of the reason yet, perhaps some network problems at the lab. As soon as we have more information we'll pass that along to you.
- Pinky

Los Alamos National Laboratory: Security of Classified Data, Nuclear Material Controls, Nuclear and Worker Safety, and Project Management Weaknesses

GAO Briefing to the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

We requested comments on a draft of this report from LANL, DOE, and NNSA. In response, we received oral comments from LANL officials, including the Deputy Division Leader, Environment, Safety, Health and Quality; the Deputy Division Leader, Office of Safeguards and Security; the DARHT Second Axis Project Director; and the Deputy Division Leader, Technical Cyber Security. Although LANL officials generally agreed with the facts as presented in this report, they noted that the new management and operations contractor—LANS—has taken actions to improve security at the laboratory since June 2006, including reducing the number of individual classified items at the site and consolidating classified material and classified operations. We added this information to our report based on these comments. In addition, LANL officials noted our report showed that the number of security incidents that compromised or potentially compromised classified information had declined from fiscal year 2006 through June 30, 2007, thus demonstrating progress in improving the security of classified information at the site.

In our view, this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a basis for meaningful trend analysis. Consequently, it is too soon to tell if this decline in security incidents is more than temporary. LANL officials also provided technical comments, which we included as appropriate. We also received oral comments from DOE’s Director, Office of Security Evaluations, and NNSA’s Director, Policy and Internal Control Management. These comments were technical in nature, and we incorporated them in the report where appropriate.

[Download the entire briefing at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08173r.pdf]

Applications wanted for Machinist Apprenticeship Program

February 11, 2008

Applications are being accepted for the Machinist Apprenticeship Program sponsored by the Laboratory and Northern New Mexico College.

The Machinist Apprenticeship Program provides apprentices with classroom instruction and on-the-job experience in machine tool operations. Apprentices work under a professional machinist and receive the education and experience required for certification from the New Mexico State Apprenticeship Council as journeyman machinists. Apprentices also receive a salary during their tenure, according to the MAP salary structure and budget.

The Lab restored a Machinist Apprenticeship Program to relieve the need for certified machinists at the Lab. Apprentices are regularly hired as full-time machinists at the Lab after the completion of the program.

The Machinist Apprenticeship Program is open to all Laboratory and non-Laboratory U.S. citizens over 18 years old. Applicants must be able to obtain a Department of Energy Q clearance, should have a high-school diploma and an aptitude in mechanics/machining.

The deadline to apply for the program is April 25.

For information on application requirements and processes, contact Melanie Martinez of Deployed Shops (PF-DS) at 7-0360, or write to map_@lanl.gov by electronic mail.

Application information can be submitted to Martinez at Mail Stop D471.

Oh, what his hands have held

This Sarasota man was the 1st to feel plutonium's pulsating heat

By BILLY COX, Herald Tribune

As the first plutonium warheads in America's aging nuclear arsenal reach their 30-year expiration dates in 2008, the controversy over how -- or whether -- to upgrade thousands of the expensive bombs is starting to get noisy.

And the man who helped weaponize nuclear physics is following the debate with a sense of resignation.

At the modest Sarasota retirement home he shares with Edith, his wife of 72 years, Morris Kolodney, 96, has just finished reading a recent edition of Scientific American. The apocalyptic cover story, illustrated with a photo of a hellish mushrooming fireball, rests on the kitchen table. Kolodney, whose discovery of the melting point of plutonium was a watershed moment, compresses the discussion into a flick of the wrist.

"We have thousands of these weapons," says the first man on planet Earth to cup the pulsing heat of metallic plutonium in his bare hands. "I don't know why we need so many."

Kolodney moves slowly, and his hearing abilities are diminished. But if his command of physics is an indicator, Kolodney's mental agility is no less formidable today than when he was recruited in 1943 to work on the fissionable core of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, N.M.

"How much," inquires the retired professor, as if challenging a college freshman, "do you know about this stuff, anyway?"

In fact, given his extensive exposure to plutonium, Kolodney is lucky to be alive. Certainly, he is one of the few remaining survivors listed on the nonprofit Atomic Heritage Foundation's online Manhattan Project Hall of Fame.

The details of what City College of New York's professor emeritus of chemical engineering did in New Mexico were not declassified until 1982. At that point, Kolodney wrote an explanation for the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, entitled "Preparation of the First Electrolytic Plutonium and of Uranium From Fused Chlorides."

Even so, Kolodney shuns attention, and needs prodding to agree to an interview. That does not surprise his most famous student, Andrew Grove, in Los Altos, Calif.

"He never talked much about those days; he never regaled us with his stories," says Grove, whose own history was shaped by Kolodney's intuition.

In his autobiography "Swimming Across: A Memoir," Grove recalls a brief but fateful chat with Kolodney, who was, at that point, his faculty adviser.

The year was 1957; Grove had just enrolled at CCNY to study chemical engineering. His name back then was Gróf András István. He was a refugee from Hungary, where the revolution had just been crushed beneath Soviet tanks.

Longing for his native Budapest, Grove told Kolodney he loved America, but hated New York's cold gray weather. "The professor, whose low-key demeanor was at odds with the perpetually amused glint in his eye," wrote Grove, suggested the more temperate climate of San Francisco might suit him better.

So Grove went west to become the godfather of Silicon Valley as the CEO of computer giant Intel. Intel's microprocessors revolutionized the global communications industry. Grove was named "Man of the Year" by Time magazine in 1997. In 2006, in a show of gratitude for his CCNY experience, he donated $26 million to the school.

Grove has maintained a long-distance relationship with Kolodney, and harbors an outspoken fondness for the old academician. But he did not know the full extent of Kolodney's role with the atomic bomb until years after graduating from CCNY.

What Kolodney volunteers today is that his love of toying with the elements began during his childhood in Brooklyn, where he learned to mix chemicals into small-scale dynamite explosions on the Fourth of July.

His fascination grew more sophisticated in the 1930s with advanced degrees at City College and Columbia University. By 1939, Kolodney had secured a patent for figuring out how to extract pure manganese metal from minerals through electrolysis, which Newsweek hailed at the time as "a boon for America's military preparedness."

Kolodney, an electrochemical engineer, was on the Manhattan Project's ground floor alongside a handful of metallurgists. Their assignment was to harness fissionable plutonium distilled from uranium and create a super bomb. To do that, they needed quantities in the kilogram range -- many kilograms.

But creating compounds of that artificial and poisonous element was tedious work. Kolodney's team did not receive its first shipment of plutonium from the Hanford, Wash., reactor until March 1944. And it was a mere half-gram.

In the meantime, in a lab called the D Building shared with chemists, the metallurgists practiced teasing crystal deposits from uranium compounds.

The arrival of wildly radioactive plutonium changed everything. Booties, surgical gloves, coveralls and cumbersome face masks became standard gear. Kolodney's most hair-raising moment occurred when a glass tube filled with plutonium salt broke, cut through two layers of gloves, and pierced his bloodstream.

"It was a lunatic period; it was crazy," recalls Kolodney, operating under the assumption that Nazi Germany was ahead in the nuclear race. "We contaminated that building to such an extent that eventually it had to be cut up, encased in plastic and buried somewhere."

Kolodney's goal was to melt plutonium, remove its impurities, and convert it into a metal that could be used to form a bomb core. But there was some bad news.

University of Chicago scientists announced the melting point of plutonium was an outrageous 1800 degrees Centigrade, or 3272 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature demands of that magnitude could dilute the requisite purity levels and render a plutonium bomb untenable.

Kolodney pressed forward. Experimenting on new plutonium trichloride salts, he detected something dramatic evolving under his microscope. The molten material was beginning to bead up into metallic spheres -- at 640 degrees Centigrade, or nearly two-thirds lower than projections.

Kolodney's contention that the experts in Chicago were so far wrong initially drew hoots of derision -- until his colleagues began duplicating his results.

Plutonium shipments to Los Alamos grew larger. In 1945, Kolodney was able to produce two small samples of metallic plutonium, each no more than 1 1/4 inch in diameter. He electro-plated them with silver.

"I washed them in acetone, and they were bright and they were smooth," Kolodney recalls. "I wanted to hold them, I wanted to feel them, so I pulled off my gloves. I mean, what the heck, I was dirty anyhow. And I picked up these two pieces, and I'm the first person in the world to hold metallic plutonium.

"They were heavy, almost as dense as a big hunk of gold and they seemed alive to me, like I was holding a small animal in my hand. This was a shock."

Needing immediate confirmation of his Prometheus moment, Kolodney made a beeline for his British colleague, Dr. Cyril Smith. Smith held the chunks and felt the inner heat as well.

"Let's take them over to Oppie," he said.

Smith and Kolodney hustled over to the office of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos project. "Oppie said, 'Oh my god!'" Kolodney says.

At that point, the bomb graduated into the engineering phase. Shortly thereafter, test shot Trinity created a midnight sun boiling off the floor of the New Mexico desert. Then came Hiroshima. And Nagasaki.

Today, according to the Scientific American report, the United States has 9,900 nukes in its stockpile. Russia has 15,000. France counts 350, followed by China (200), Great Britain (200), Israel (80), Pakistan (60), India (50), and North Korea (10).

The most powerful weapon on record is a 50 megaton horizon-swallower unleashed by the Soviet Union in 1961, or roughly 150 times stronger than the bombs that vaporized Japan's cities.

The perpetually amused glint noted by Andrew Grove half a century ago returns to the eye of the old professor as he contemplates the absurdity of the proportions.

Even more absurd to him are the aspirations of the countries -- and individuals -- intent on joining the nuclear club. Between the radiation and countless cigarettes, Kolodney is so lucky to be alive, it almost defies logic.

"Plutonium," he says, "is such lousy stuff to be around."

Editorial: Pete, Jeff, Tom: fight for LANL cleanup

The New Mexican, 2/8/2008

Lab lawyers might argue mightily that their client is complying. They're likely to offer all kinds of evidence to bolster their case — and maybe, for some past period, it'll hold up. But if LANL isn't given the money its own bosses say it needs for the fiscal year starting next fall, they'll have a long future in federal courtrooms.

Sens. Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, along with Rep Tom Udall of the House Appropriations Committee, should insist on all the dollars it will take to clean LANL's fouled nest.

[Read the full editorial here.]