Mar 3, 2008
As part of the government’s efforts to minimize its nuclear footprint, Los Alamos National Laboratory is positioned to play a central role in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s proposed “Complex Transformation” plan.
That plan was detailed by LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Joe Martz, a program director in the laboratory’s nuclear weapons program, during a Regional Community Leaders Breakfast Tuesday at the Cities of Gold Hotel Conference Center in Pojoaque.
The quarterly breakfast, coordinated by LANL’s Community Programs Office, also featured Don Winchell, manager of NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office.
Martz, as keynote speaker, said the complex transformation plan effects several national research facilities throughout the country. The plan seeks to update the laboratory’s aging infrastructure, making it smaller and more agile, more secure, environmentally responsible, and more efficient and cost effective, he said, adding that LANL also will become better able to respond to changes in congressionally mandated national security requirements.
“In the future, our security will depend not so much on the products of our work rather more so on our work itself,” Martz said.
A member of the Los Alamos Study Group criticized the project as nothing new, saying the lab “is making a difference without a distinction.”
During an interview Thursday, Martz spoke about the lab’s responsibility in managing the nation’s weapons stockpile and the proposed transformation of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.
“This transformation is the future of one of the main programs at the laboratory and offers stability to the community,” he said. “LANL’s unique combination of technological capabilities and its concentration of the world’s top scientific minds in virtually every discipline will allow us to reduce our nuclear operations footprint by nearly 50 percent, reduce our building footprint by 20 percent and reduce the number of staff supporting nuclear weapons activities by 20 percent over the next 10 years.”
Old vs. new
Since Tuesday’s breakfast, laboratory officials have discussed various elements of the complex transformation plan beginning with a tour Thursday morning of the exterior of the old Chemical and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility and a visit to the TA-55 site where construction of the new Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project is underway.
At the time construction on the CMR facility began in 1948 to its completion in 1952, it was the second largest concrete building in the nation, behind the Pentagon, said Kevin Roark of LANL’s public affairs office. “The CMR building encompassed half a million square feet of mostly metallurgy and chemistry and frankly it’s falling apart.”
Rick Holmes heads up the CMRR field office. He explained the project consists of two buildings. The first is the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB).
RLUOB will total some 225,000 square feet, with about 190,000 square feet of laboratory space, Holmes said. The structure will comprise five levels including two floors of office space, one floor for training and a basement for utilities for both buildings.
“RLUOB will have a light laboratory meaning the most the building can have is 8.4 grams of plutonium in it as per the requirements document,” he said.
Martz explained that the facility will provide analytical chemistry and materials characterization support to TA-55 pit manufacturing activities, replacing similar services provided by the existing CMR facility.
Steve Fong, a project manager with NNSA said Thursday that the building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.
The building cost is $164 million, Holmes said, adding that it’s on budget and on schedule and set for a September 2009 completion date. “Once we finish the building, we will install gloveboxes and other operations, which will take roughly two years. Operators will come on line as each phase completes.”
The second building is the nuclear facility, which will be inside the security perimeter, Holmes said, adding that the facility will have a vault capable of storing six metric tons of plutonium. He explained that the reason for separating the radiological and nuclear facilities is that the nuclear facility will be built to a higher standard.
“This facility is to improve our safety, security and agility, in support of the laboratory’s nuclear science and programs,” Martz said.
The facility will total about 287,000 square feet with some 22,500 square feet of laboratory space, Holmes said, adding that the basement will be 30 feet below road elevation to provide additional safety and security.
To enhance performance, significant operator input went into the design features of the facility, he said.
Depending on funding, early site preparation on the nuclear facility should begin sometime in 2009, Holmes said.
The main CMRR project contractor is Austin Commercial out of Dallas that has done work at LANL in the past.
“They subcontract about 75-80 percent of the work to New Mexico firms,” Holmes said, adding that the project recently won a national environmental award for its soil recycling efforts, which have saved nearly $2 million.
There are four to five safety professionals overseeing the construction site at all times, Holmes said.
Tom Whitacre with DOE’s project oversite division was monitoring the project Thursday and described reportable injuries at the site as minimal. “A guy hurt his elbow tossing trash in a dumpster and was given time to rest and occasionally someone needs a band aid,” he said. “Craft employees continually evaluate each other, watching for potential safety concerns. They have a great program of worker involvement here.”
Moving the CMR functions within the TA-55 compound, Whitacre said, makes so much sense because it’s easier to guard an operation when it’s in “one small spot.”
Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, an activist organization based in Albuquerque, expressed concern Friday that pits will be manufactured in the new facility. He described a meeting he had in November in the Washington, D.C., office of George Allen, head of NNSA’s Office of Complex Transformation.
“George Allen told me the CMRR is necessary for any pit production at all,” Mello said. “What the laboratory is doing is making a difference without a distinction.”
Martz replied to Mello’s comments saying, “CMRR replaces existing functions in the CMR facility and we’ve built dozens of pits over the last six years using those services. CMRR is intended to improve the security, safety and efficiency of those operations.”
The Office of Management and Budget at the White House, Mello said, states in their FY 2009 Passback Guidance document that DOE/NNSA is requesting funding in FY 2009 for the CMRR project. This facility will be used to manufacture the central core of nuclear weapons, known as the “pit.”
The document further states that DOE/NNSA has assumed a future production rate of 50-80 pits per year at LANL consistent with their preferred alternative for complex transformation. The document requests DOE and DOD to collaborate on an analysis of future pit production needs.
For the record
Martz emphasized that the pits are and will continue to be manufactured in PF-4 at TA-55 with analytical chemistry support from CMRR.
“There’s so much misinformation out there of what CMRR really is and we feel compelled to correct the record,” Roark said. “One of the big misconceptions is that CMRR is going to be a pit-manufacturing facility – it’s not – that’s why ‘replacement’ is in its name.”
The replacement facility also will be smaller by some 300,000 square feet, he said. The entire DOE complex, as stated in the complex transformation plan, will shrink from a combined 35 million square feet for weapons work to 26 million square feet.
“The language around this tends to disguise the importance,” Martz said. “This complex transformation represents an important new philosophy in nuclear deterrents. We’re entering a fourth stage of thinking about the role of nuclear deterrents.”
If WWII and the Cold War represent the first two phases and the era in stockpile stewardship represents the third, Martz said, the proposed complex transformation represents the beginning of a fourth era in which LANL’s capabilities become a growing component of its security – “a capability based deterrent protects our security while enabling further stockpile reductions and a continued test moratorium.”
Martz stressed, “A pit will never be in either of these buildings.”
He explained that replacing the CMR is like replacing your 1948 Packard with a new automobile to do the same job.
“And that job is analytical chemistry,” Roark said.
“They keep saying we’re building a bomb factory but we’re not,” Winchell said, during a meeting at his NNSA office Friday.
The main goal of the CMRR Project is to relocate several mission critical projects including analytical chemistry, materials characterization, and actinide research and development capabilities to a newer facility, he said.
On the horizon
Because LANL is receiving the significant share of responsibility under the complex transformation plan, Glen Mara, principal associate director for nuclear weapons, said Friday that there is a tremendous amount of confidence and trust being placed on the Laboratory.
“The future looks exceptionally bright,” Mara said. “We want to reach out and make sure all of the stakeholders understand it.”
Winchell also sees a bright future for LANL. “A key element is that LANL is going to be the center for this thing,” he said. “They’ve got to have what we make in order to maintain the stockpile. We’re here for the long term, there’s no question about it.”
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, DOE-NNSA has released an environmental impact study called the Draft Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or Draft Complex Transformation SPEIS.
Mara explained that as part of this process, DOE has scheduled a number of public hearings in New Mexico this month.
Two public hearings are set in Los Alamos, including 6-10 p.m. March 12 and 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. March 13, both at the Hilltop House Hotel.