Apr 30, 2008

Tell Me More About PF-4

Since the Cooking with Plutonium post last Friday I've received reports of a second furnace event at PF-4.
...this is a second event and it just happened. My point was that this was a test of a new system but the box is hooked to zone one (contaminated box hence real not cold box)... the issue is that another screw up occurred and it involved a furnace operation during what is supposed to be high-level scrutiny of these operations.
It may be a few weeks before there is some official word on what happened. Thankfully, so far it seems no one was injured and there was no release of contamination.

Whatever happened it cracked the glovebox glass. If anyone has a photo of the broken glovebox glass please email it to me. I'll post it here.

For anyone wanting to read more about PF-4 operations I suggest The Pit Production Story (Number 28 2003, Los Alamos Science), where I found the photo for this post.


Anonymous said...

Did the furnace itself explode or the crucible?

Anonymous said...

Original poster here:

It was the heat from a furnace that was not covered up. What happened was that a test of one furnace was intended but the controller activated another furnace instead which was not covered up. The heat radiated out and heated up the glovebox. The thermal expansion differences stressed the window and it cracked. Poor formality of engineering and worker training. Unfortnate set of circumstances but given that a minor stand down on furnaces was underway it is really hard to believe that workers/management wasn;t crwaling all over every circumstance.

I am not sure if a photo was taken, but the window has been changed.

Anonymous said...

Pinky (I like that better than Frank).

This past monday 4/28 PF-4 experianced the third (in the last month)incident involving a furnace in a glovebox. No explosions of any sort were involved in any of the events

Anonymous said...

Better watch out - just wait and see, Mikey and his brilliant risk-avert co-horts will outlaw furnaces in gloveboxes or require a two-inch thick pile of paperwork to allow any activities with furnaces (just like they did regarding sharps activities and the like). Oh, maybe they can burn more money by crafting a furnace ISD!

Anonymous said...

LOL, 8:20. But the Furnace ISD will be so hastily thrown together that it will inadvertently be applicable to facility HVAC systems as well.

Anonymous said...

"Houston I think we have a problem"

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting bigger story here.

LANL and the NNSA and the DOE and the US Congress operated, 50 years ago, on the principle that you had to attract good people to the important work being done at LANL. The hiring model was incentive-based: reasonable salary, good schools, vacation policy (you're in the middle of nowhere after all), good retirement, 'cradle to grave' care. As a result, they got some very good people.

In the last 10 years, LANL and the NNSA and the DOE, somewhat at the behest of the US Congress and Executive branch, have shifted to a new theory: anybody can be trained to do this work, and escalating punishment will round out those who make mistakes.

So guess what? Good people are leaving, and good people are NOT joining, and the people you've got left CAN'T be trained or punished into being good. Nanos discovered (to his dismay; I was there when it happened) that he couldn't stop people from leaving (it's not the Navy, after all).

So what's left for the future? With fewer and fewer good people, there wil be more and more accidents, and no hope that you can train the untrainable. Punishments will continue, morale will go to hell, and the result will be worse and worse problems.

Deming describes this type of broken environment in his writing. LANL has become the kind of place that management textbooks are written about -- as a cautionary tale.

Anonymous said...

10:12 pm: You are absolutely correct. Unfortunately, no one is listening. So, LANL will go from a stellar, world-class nuclear weapon research facility to the world's most stupidly-managed pit production facility. Yeah - Congress; you got what you wanted!! Prepare for the final exodus of the few remaining competent people - I wish them the best. LANS - try to accomplish what you've promised DOE with no employees who have a clue how to do it.

Anonymous said...

O yeah, don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. Git!

Anonymous said...

10:12 PM - absolutley spot right on. Add to the mix the shitty and unqualified managers (Wallace, Beason, Neu, Seestrum, Bishop, Gibbs ...) that they culled from the LANL losers pot and you have the perfect recipe for destroying LANL. Who wants to work hard to make bonuses for these yahoos who sell us out each chance they get?

Anonymous said...

Not even low performers and dregs left at LANL may be able to cling to their jobs after the next wave of funding cuts hits the lab in the coming years. Each day brings news of yet another "best and brightest" scientist leaving the USS LANL before it makes a final death plunge beneath the waves, thanks to NNSA.

John Fleck makes the point that many others have made regarding LANL's funding support in Congress. In doesn't look good.


The loss of New Mexico's appropriations influence - ABQ Journal

Written by John Fleck
Saturday, 03 May 2008

Mike Lillis lays out the trouble New Mexico faces with the coming loss of its Congressional clout as Pete Domenici retires and everyone else scraps their current seats to run for Senate:

"The shakeup could be particularly tough for New Mexico, which receives more federal dollars per capita than all but five other states, according to the most recent U.S. Census report. Salting the wounds, the state is set to lose two spots on the powerful appropriations committees. Both Domenici and Udall have seats there now, but freshman lawmakers almost never gain membership. The loss of appropriators, combined with the loss of incumbency, will be a double-blow to the state's influence over federal politics and policies, some experts say. The influx of federal dollars, they add, will almost certainly fall."

I think Lillis gets it wrong when he suggests that Los Alamos has "a history of securing federal funds regardless of the political climate in Washington." The bipartisan pressure the last several years has clearly been in the opposite direction, and it's only been Domenici's clout and seniority that have prevented deeper cuts than those we're now seeing. But Lillis's underlying premise here is sound.

Anonymous said...

Sen. Domenici has performed 'miracles' for LANL in the past, all who are have any inside knowledge of his clout in funding LANL will know what is in store for Los Alamos, after he's gone. Both the Lab and the town will be 'downsized' while the remaining employees' argue about how screwed up this place has become, the doors will slowly close, only to become a "Pit Manufacturing Factory". And this Pit Production may also have a limited life at LANL of about 10 years, depending on the new consolidation effort.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the majority of the employees at LANL really grasp the political changes that are coming and how they will adversely effect the lab? There is no way that funding at LANL will continue at current levels unless LANS takes on a program of aggressive growth in new areas of science and brings in additional sponsors. The SNL model is the only thing that will stop a financial disaster from occuring, yet LANS executive management keeps fighting against this idea and LANL labor rates and program costs just keep going higher.

From what I've seen of LANS, it's very clear that they don't care to follow SNL's model as LANS will make the same profit fees and have the same executive management job protections no matter what happens to LANL. That's the saddest part of this whole situation. The interests of LANS management and the interests of the general scientific staff who work under them appear to be at odds with each other.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't anyone see what has happened?
The Lab has deteriorated because of the power of Dominici over the DOE. There has been no peer review of LANL programs for a long time, thanks to Pete, and quality and accomplishment has disappeared. Funding had come in even when programs failed.

Anonymous said...

6:42 pm: "There has been no peer review of LANL programs for a long time"

Obviously you have no idea what you're talking about. Part of DOE's ranking of LANL has been for many years peer review of its programs. Those reviews, by independent committees of major university faculty, senior government scientists. and other renowned experts, have consistently been outstanding. Try to do a little bit of homework before you spout your anti-LANL nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Most employee's may understand what is about to happen, but are going to ride this pony to the ground. The entire complex is going to change and we do not have any more clout in Washington. Domenici was our clout, a very powerful force in the funding of LANL. Without him we will be at the 'mercy' of a new Democratic President and Congress. The Pit Facility will be our only large source of funding.

Anonymous said...

I'm seeing MBAs taking precedence over solid technical training in low/middle management of technical divisions/groups. Elsewhere facility engineers are calling the shots on technical operations of which they are hopelessly clueless...The Bechtel Way.

Anonymous said...

To 3:55PM - But Max Baker, the LA County Administrator, says that Los Alamos is here to stay. It is no longer a "company town" and everything is coming up roses. We are self-sufficient and the best of shopping and entertainment will soon be right here in good ol' Los Alamos. Funny how some folks are so naieve they can't even know they're naieve.

Anonymous said...

"The Pit Facility will be our only large source of funding. 5/3/08 9:50 PM"

...and work-for-others is being carelessly priced out of the ballpark. If it ain't in the DOE Budget, LANS don't wanna work on it.

Anonymous said...

9:50 pm: "Domenici was our clout, a very powerful force in the funding of LANL. Without him we will be at the 'mercy' of a new Democratic President and Congress."

Well, I agree the congess will probably remain democratic. But neither Obama nor Clinton can win the presidency. Obama because he's black and thinks he's smarter than anyone, and Clinton because she's female, and Clinton. Simple facts. Otherwise explain why less that 30% of the electorate likes the republican party, but McCain runs even with either democratic candidate. If the democrats keep up their self-destruction a few more months, it will all be over - the only adult in the race will win. Unfortunately, the democrats parlayed their "inevitability" as winners into losing because they chose to air publicly their inner battle about color vs gender. Hubris leads to defeat, always.

Anonymous said...

Got a friend who is a facility manager contractor here. He just got a better deal at Y-12 and is out the door this week. He says there is an even larger flock of management about to come into town to contribute to the top-heavy style of Bechtel and WGI.

Seems to me that the more management layers you have, the better insulation for the top tiers.
That, and the practice of Omerta.

Anonymous said...

5/3/08 8:26 PM, stop it, you're killing me! The external review committees are handpicked by LANL managers, brought in and wined and dined and paid a handsome honorarium to lob softballs at the projects that we handpick to showcase.

Anonymous said...

Here is the situation and the solution in summary. The situation is that NNSA only wants work that is tightly focused toward nuclear weapons at their labs. Many of you don't like this situation, but there is nothing you can do about it. NNSA has made a decision on the path they wish to follow and LANS will faithfully carry it out. LANL is going to take on a much stronger production flavored atmosphere over the next decade. The fact that this is going to happen should be clearer today than it was two years ago at the time of the transition. In fact, the key reason Tom D'Agostino picked LANS has to do with the fact that Bechtel and BWXT were attractive to him given his decision to emphasize production work at LANL.

Because of NNSA decisions and the political landscape, the NNSA labs are going to be downsized by around 30% over the next five years. If you are not directly involved in either weapons production efforts or plutonium flavored research then your job may be in jeopardy. To be blunt about it, NNSA doesn't care about losing many of the scientists from their labs. The only ones they wish to keep are those who are doing specialized work involving nuclear weapons. Many of these scientists are unlikely to find jobs outside of an NNSA lab that pay them what they currently make at LANL.

The solution? If you are not in the narrow scientific categories that NNSA favors or involved in production work, then consider moving over to a DOE lab. Funding at the DOE labs will fare much better over the coming decade. Many of the DOE labs are set to grow in size given the new political landscape.

At a DOE lab your job will be more secure, the work atmosphere much improved, your pay will be higher going forward, and most of the DOE labs welcome outside sponsors and try to keep their costs under control. Holding a Q-clearance eases the transfer process and makes many NNSA scientists a desirable commodity to the DOE labs.

The DOE labs (ORNL, PNNL, ANL, etc., and even a "DOE-flavored" SNL) would love to have good NNSA scientists join their staff. NNSA may not value your contributions and the NNSA labs may be headed for decline but the DOE labs want you aboard and have a bright future. Some of the savvy scientist at LANL have already figure this out and made the leap. Housing is the main problem holding back others from making the same decision to abandon LANL before the situation here become even more dire.

Anonymous said...


Just for those that are interested check out this link to jobs posted on the Bechtel web site. Today there are 13 posted. In the past weeks the count has been as high as 30 at any time. Who’s in charge here? Is there a correlation between these jobs and postings on the LANL site?


Anonymous said...

The observation about the numerous Bechtel job postings for Los Alamos fit with the pattern. Don't listen to what Mike and company are saying. Watch what they are doing in stealth mode.

LANL is being prep for an emphasis on production work. Bechtel and BWXT will be calling most of the shots in the future.

Out go the Phd educated SSP employees and other disgruntled scientists only to be replaced with BS education Bechtel construction engineers and Bechtel managers who will all be put on LANL overhead.

Costs go higher, policies get crazier, the manager-to-staff ratio gets worse, science standards go lower, and LANS PR yells "Rah-rah, we're #1!".

Anonymous said...

9:53 am has it exactly right. If you are interested in science for science's sake, you no longer have a home at LANL. Get out now - you will be welcomed at the DOE labs. Even if you have to take a big hit on your home sale, the money you get will be worth so much more at (most of) the DOE lab sites.

Anonymous said...

9:12 am: "The external review committees are handpicked by LANL managers, brought in and wined and dined and paid a handsome honorarium to lob softballs at the projects that we handpick to showcase."

Well, the lists of DRC members contain some pretty stellar names in their fields. I assume they will not appreciate having their integrity, reputations, and expertise impugned by you. Actually, I assume they'll just ignore it given their credentials, of which you haven't given any.

Anonymous said...

You know, there are many other operations and programs that go on inside PF-4 besides pit production. Referencing a "Pit Manual" will not give you the full flavor. Anyway, still haven't heard one iota about this illustrious cracked window incident.

So original poster. Where did this cracked window occur and what operation? was it pit man land or somewhere else?

Anonymous said...

Hi 8:20!

Haven't seen your nonsense in a while.

If you don't think professors can bought, wow, you are even dumber that I thought.

I think you would be shocked at how inexpensive they are.

Anonymous said...

8:34 pm: "If you don't think professors can bought, wow, you are even dumber that I thought."

I didn't say they couldn't be bought. I just implied they wouldn't be bought. Well, they obviously are very successful personally, professionally, and financially, with world-class credentials (and salaries to match). How about you?

Anonymous said...

Hey 8:30 -- "Original Poster" here

The operation was the startup of some new furnaces in the Pu Foundry room (not sure if giving the room number would be UCNI or not). This GB has 4 furnaces and is part of the pit production effort. It has been years in the design/installation process. No injuries so I am not sure it is a reportable incident in any way. You probably will never here about. Many outside of TA-55 have heard about it though so it is "out". I bumped into 3 old buddies and they asked me about it this weekend.

I will keep the blog posted on the fallout...

Anonymous said...

Open up the front gates and bring in the Bechtel transplants. I want to have a chance of selling my Los Alamos home at a decent price and get out of this place.

Anonymous said...

“Well, they obviously are very successful personally, professionally, and financially, with world-class credentials (and salaries to match).”

And they are tall, thin and handsome, with supermodel spouses. None of them have receding hairlines or bad breath. They are incorruptible, and possess the secret to happiness.

Oh come on... Even top professors make less than mid-caliber investment bankers. They love traveling and hanging out with their buddies. They may be professionally successful, but they are not financially stellar. Many of the ones I know are divorced because of the time demands of their jobs. They live for serving on review committees, and they know that if they gave a bad review, their committee career would be over.

They don’t cost less than crack whores, but the price scales are close.

Anonymous said...

Ah well, its all a moot point since pit man is indefinitely shut down..

(and not because of the furnace issue)....