Feb 12, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

Anyone been able to reach the blog from "lanl.gov" today?

Oh, well, we'll always have the LANL Newsbulletin reader's forum, right? And the LANL PR office will tell you everything else you need need to know.

It's best to get your facts straight from LANS LLC. That way you can be sure the information is "properly sanitized for your protection" like those paper toilet covers we use to see in LANL restrooms.

Sayonara, Gus.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the problem is you people are facing, but I can read the blog fine from my computer...inside the fence, at that.
Quit being so paranoid.

Anonymous said...

Seems pretty accessible to me. Relax, you guys!

Anonymous said...

The story is not quite complete. It was LBL that designed and built the DAHRT second axis cavities that did not work. LBL seems to have come out of this unscathed. However, it is true that the second axis cavity work was awarded to LBL over strong objections from LANL staff. And, it was the LANL staff the screwed up the calibration of the acceptance test equipment and thus permitted LANL to declare victory and all of the DAHRT managers got their promotions.

LANL did make a major mess out of the accelerator project for the Spallation Neutron Source. But, as always, in the end, the guilty parties got their promotions.

Anonymous said...

This dog doesn't just have fleas, it's one giant flea! UC is the mangy mutt we can thank for all this.

Anonymous said...

4:46 pm: Just exactly what was it that UC did or didn't do that might have changed the results?? As opposed, of course, to the incompetent LBL and LANL staff who actually screwed up the work?

Anonymous said...

I'm still curious to know if DAHRT can actually do 3-D reconstructions, which is how it was sold to DOE, or is it really nothing more than just a 4-frame movie machine. Anyone know the inside scoop?

Anonymous said...

DARHT takes the pictures, 3d reconstructions are done later on a computer. And yes, those reconstructions are possible. With one view it could do as well as one can expect from one view. With two, it can do a better job. It's not much different than C-T scans in medicine - the more views it takes, the better reconstruction it can do. The problem with DARHT isn't the reconstructions (medical imaging people have been doing this for years). The problem was getting the second axis to actually function to take the second pictures - the reconstruction techniques already exist, but can't do squat until pictures are available to give to them.