Jun 30, 2008

DOE Concerned About LANL’s Capability to Protect Workers

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently wrote the Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in which they raised concerns about how the new management is not protecting workers from occupational hazards as required by federal safety and health requirements. DOE is also concerned about the delays in responding to the non-compliance reports by the new manager, the Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS).

On June 16, the DOE Director of the Office of Enforcement in the Office of Health, Safety and Security wrote LANL Director and President of LANS, Michael Anastasio, about “fundamental, laboratory-wide non-compliances in the LANL worker safety and health program.” DOE stated that LANS “failed to complete a review of laboratory work activities to identify locations where exposure assessments are appropriate to characterize and control occupational hazards.” This failure may result in increased exposures to airborne contaminants and adverse health effects for employees working in areas where the necessary controls have not been installed because there is inadequate hazard information.

In 2007, DOE conducted their annual environment, safety and health inspection at LANL. They reported continuing failures by LANL in identifying and controlling worker exposures to biological, chemical and physical hazards. DOE is so concerned about the continued failures that they have required LANS to respond within 30 days about how the failures have been addressed.

The letter comes at a time when current and former DOE workers held rallies across the country petitioning for reforms of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Rallies took place in Las Vegas, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Cleveland, Ohio; Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Espanola, New Mexico.

Many of these workers became ill when they were exposed to radioactive, toxic and hazardous materials while working at DOE nuclear weapons facilities. Sick workers are eligible for compensation and medical coverage under the Program. But under the existing guidelines, the sick workers are required to prove the link between their illness and occupation. The workers are petitioning for reforms to streamline the process.

The Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety, an organization of former and current LANL workers who became ill from such exposures, hosted the rally in Espanola on June 25, which was attended by about 100 people. Speakers included Michele Jacquez-Ortiz, District Director for Congressman Tom Udall. She read from a prepared statement. Representative Udall said, “These workers are the unsung heroes of American military strength. Their work has made it possible for America to build the most powerful military and science system on earth. They should not be forced to spend their remaining years battling both cancer and their government.” Representative Udall introduced legislation so that the Program would automatically covers LANL workers.

Activists are distressed by the continuing problems with protecting workers at LANL. Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “Whether during the Cold War or today, workers are being exposed to dangerous materials without the necessary protections. LANL and LANS must comply fully with the federal worker safety and health regulations. To do otherwise, is just plain wrong.”

This has been the CCNS News Update. For more information about this or other nuclear safety issues, please visit our website at nuclearactive.org.

[Download a copy of the enforcement letter here.]

The Six-Per-Cent Solution (Almost)

Anonymous please....

HR will be requesting nearly 6% increase for raises.

In a recent meeting of the phase 2 working compensation group, it was mentioned that this years request is nearly 6 a percent increase. 5.9% to be exact. Seems we're behind the average market pay by nearly 6%.

Jun 27, 2008

NNSA Plan Addresses Science Panel’s Concerns About Producing Reliable Nuclear Weapon Cores

By Elaine M. Grossman
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration has offered new details about how it would produce new nuclear weapon cores — or recycle existing ones — for its proposed next-generation Reliable Replacement Warhead (see GSN, Oct. 1, 2007).

The information is included in a new plan addressing concerns from a panel of experts, voiced last year, about establishing the reliability of a new nuclear weapon absent explosive testing.

The White House has proposed building the Reliable Replacement Warhead as a safer, more reliable and affordable nuclear weapon than those currently in the stockpile. Its advocates say the new weapon could be produced and maintained without explosive testing, a feature that many lawmakers demand but one that might be technically daunting to achieve.

The National Nuclear Security Administration submitted the 11-page executive summary of its “Advanced Certification” program plan to key congressional committees last month. The document outlines both existing and new efforts dedicated to increasing confidence that the next-generation Reliable Replacement Warhead would function as expected.

The document responds point-by-point to the 2007 recommendations issued by the JASON group, a panel of scientists often tapped by the national security and intelligence communities to review technical issues. The nuclear agency, a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department, in its report accepted all of the panel’s recommendations and detailed several steps it is taking to implement them.

One concern the JASON panel raised was that any slight changes in manufacturing the first RRW design — compared to the production of older warheads with proven designs — could mean the difference between the new warhead firing or misfiring, if ever used in combat.

“This will require additional experiments and computer simulations beyond those presented in the certification plan,” the group said, referring to the nuclear agency’s initial concepts for verifying the new warhead’s reliability.

One area of particular worry for the panel related to manufacturing pits, the core of a nuclear weapon. The scientists questioned how the U.S. national laboratories could reliably predict whether these complex components could actually produce an explosion, in cases where a pit either was recycled from a dismantled weapon or manufactured for the new warhead.

The NNSA plan offers some examples of where it plans to explore “alternate methodologies” to build and certify reliable pits:

—Sensitivity to chemistry: The current approach to building pits holds plutonium impurities to a bare minimum to boost reliability. However, the production processes to remove impurities “are labor intensive and generate an expensive waste stream,” according to the report. So the agency would attempt to determine if more impurities could be tolerated. “Efforts to better define primary performance sensitivity to the presence of impurities could result in improved ease of certification if higher contaminant levels are allowed,” the NNSA program officials stated.

—Inspection requirements: Similarly, current inspection techniques can be expensive and challenging. “Preliminary studies have indicated that inspections requiring fewer data points and using modern techniques could provide adequate confidence,” according to the report.

—Surface specification: Presently, specifications for the exterior surface of finished pits are extremely rigorous, requiring that they are “defect- and anomaly-free,” according to John Broehm, an NNSA spokesman. That makes for a high rejection rate, the report states. Yet, “the uncertainty increases due to these conditions [are] not well defined, making part rejection somewhat arbitrary,” according to the document. The agency proposed taking additional efforts to better define the uncertainties related to finished pits.

“The NNSA report is nothing earth-shattering,” said one House aide familiar with the issue. However, lawmakers intend to continue to monitor advanced certification plans closely in the event they are needed, the staffer added.

The agency plans to spend $20 million in fiscal 2009 on advanced certification activities, increasing to nearly $30 million next year and maintaining a similar level through 2013, according to a chart included in the report.

The fiscal 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act required the Bush administration to submit the report. Lawmakers sought the report as a means of forcing the nuclear agency to specify how it would address the JASON concerns, according to one aide close to the issue. An additional motivation, this source said, was to help Congress discern what RRW-related activities continue to take place in the absence of substantial funding for the new warhead.

For the coming fiscal year, the House Appropriations Committee this week passed an energy and water bill that zeroes the administration’s RRW request of $10 million for RRW design activities (see GSN, June 26).

“The administration promotes the advantages of a new design offering better surety, better reliability and lower yield,” House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) said June 17, “but RRW was offered in a vacuum and there was no new strategy behind it.”

[Download the NNSA's Program Plan Outline for Advanced Certification Executive Summary here.]

Diversification Eyed

By John Fleck
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Los Alamos National Laboratory needs to reach beyond the nuclear weapons program to find the money to support its national security work, lab director Michael Anastasio said Thursday.

At a time of shrinking nuclear weapons budgets, the lab must pursue work outside the weapons program to support the lab's scientific base, according to Anastasio.

Anastasio's comments came during a briefing Thursday morning for lab employees and in subsequent news media briefings.

The new approach involves seeking out work for agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and the energy research arm of the Department of Energy.

That type of work already makes up $700 million a year of the lab's $2 billion-plus budget, Anastasio said, and is rising at 10 percent annually.

Nuclear weapons work has been the heart of Los Alamos' mission since it was founded during World War II to build the first atomic bombs. But with decreasing federal support for weapons work, Anastasio said the lab must diversify its base of support in order to maintain the supercomputers, laboratory space and personnel needed to tackle whatever problems of national importance the federal government needs the lab to solve.

Anastasio's comments Thursday coincided with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman's announcement of an initiative to broaden the national security mission of Los Alamos and its sister nuclear weapons labs, Sandia in Albuquerque and Lawrence Livermore in California, along with the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear materials testing is done.

Bodman's announcement reflects a consensus among the managers of the labs and the test site that their mission should not be limited to nuclear weapons, but “rather is one encompassing the full spectrum of national security interests,” according to an announcement of the plan.

Anastasio's comments and the new Energy Department initiative reflect an approach that has already been successful at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia in recent years has been buffered from the effects of nuclear weapons budget cuts by expanded work in other areas, especially for the intelligence community and the Pentagon's non-nuclear military programs.

Los Alamos, meanwhile, has cut some 2,300 people from its work force in recent years, according to Anastasio.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., praised the new initiatives, but cautioned that achieving the goal of scientific diversification would not be easy.

Domenici has voiced concerns that plans to shrink the U.S. nuclear weapons complex did not take into account the importance of the labs' scientific capabilities.

“I've always believed that the scientific capabilities at our labs have broad applications, but those capabilities require investments in computing, science and infrastructure,” Domenici said in a statement. “Secretary Bodman's commitment is welcomed but we obviously have ongoing challenges to meet it.”

Jun 26, 2008

Beryllium Health Forum

Beryllium Health Forum - Espanola, NM
Saturday, June 28 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Contact: Paul Montoya (753-6786) or Ken Silver (423-439-4542)

1st Location: JCI Building (1027 N. Railroad Ave., just south of Angelina’s Restaurant)

9 AM Dr. Laurence Fuortes, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Iowa

10 AM Panel: Ask the Experts

11 AM Update on ETSU Genetic Testing “knowledge, beliefs and attitudes...” study: Dr.
Gary Kukulka, Professor of Family Medicine, East Tennessee State University

2nd Location: Northern New Mexico College “ITV” Classroom (Lunch, ordered in AM)

12 noon Teleconference with Oak Ridge beryllium worker advocates in Knoxville, TN & Guest Speakers:

Lisa Barker, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver
  • Beryllium biorepository
  • Patient support activities
Dr. Laurence Fuortes, University of Iowa: Case Presentations

2 PM Conclude

Made possible by a generous contribution from Alex and Adeline Smith of Albuquerque.

Jun 24, 2008

Full Committee Markup-FY09 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act

Update - 26 June 2008:

HAC and HEWD FY2009 Markup available on the Los Alamos Study Group website. Click here to download a copy.

I still do not have anything that includes yesterday's amendments. I'll post a link as soon as it is available. Thanks Greg Mello!

This morning at 10:00 AM the House Appropriations Committee markup of the energy and water appropriations bill will be webcast live. The webcast can be viewed here. I will also post a link to the text of the bill as soon as I have it.

Director speaks to Laboratory workforce on Thursday

Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio is holding an all-employee meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday (June 26) at the National Security Sciences Building.

Anastasio will talk about the Laboratory's accomplishments during the second year of management and operations of the Laboratory by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, and talk about the outlook for the future.

The talk also can be viewed on LABNET Channel 9. Employees can watch in auditoriums or conference rooms with LABNET capability, and on desktop computers using Real Media Stream and IPTV technology.

The NSSB is now Q-cleared only. Click here to see the Security Smart on access requirements for the NSSB.

House Calls for Halt to Plutonium Work at Los Alamos

Written by John Fleck, The Albuquerque Journal

A key house committee wants Los Alamos National Laboratory to stop making plutonium nuclear warhead parts.

In a report to be made public tomorrow, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee calls for a halt on production of plutonium pits for the W88 warhead, a warhead carried aboard Navy submarines.

Los Alamos has worked for a decade to establish the pit-making capability, replacing on a small scale the work that was done at Rocky Flats near Denver before it was closed in 1989. A grand ceremony last summer marked the completion of the first stockpile-ready Los Alamos pit.

The National Nuclear Security Administration says the pits are needed to replace W88 pits be routinely removed from the stockpile for testing to look for signs of aging problems.

But the House subcommittee, in striking language, says there is no need for the new W88s:
[T]he W88 warhead, with its very high yield and yield/weight ratio, serves obsolete Cold War concepts rather than current or future needs, and manufacture of additional pits in order to avoid reducing the W88 force is not warranted. Therefore the committee recommends no funding for Pit Manufacturing.
The bill also zeroes out funding for work on the CMR Replacement building - the big new plutonium lab the weaponeers want to build at Los Alamos - and the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, also at Los Alamos.

A source told me a preliminary analysis by NNSA has concluded that the plan would require cutting 1,700 to 1,800 jobs throughout the nuclear weapons complex. No clear picture yet of how many of those would be in New Mexico.

It is the latest from an increasingly belligerent House committee, which now must go head to head with its Senate counterpart, where Pete Domenici is the ranking Republican and historic lab defender.

The significance remains unclear. The most likely scenario at this point seems to be that the House, Senate and White House fail to come to any sort of agreement on a spending bill for 2009. In that case, we'd get some sort of "continuing resolution" to bridge the weapons program into 2009, when a new president and congress put together the spending plan. In that scenario, this House bill provides an important guideline for what next year's nuclear weapons budget might look like.

Jun 22, 2008

LANL Workers Claim Breach of Contract

On Friday the New Mexican reported another lawsuit by LANL employees. Details are few as yet. A case summary is available for download here. The full text of the New Mexican article can be read here. Hopefully our readers can provide the rest of the story.
One former and two current Los Alamos National Laboratory employees have filed a lawsuit against Los Alamos National Security LLC, which operates the lab, alleging retaliation and breach of contract.

Former employee Maxwell Sandford and current employees Christina Files and Christine Treml accused the lab of removing them from a classified project after they raised concerns about security procedures.

In the suit, all three say they were removed from project work, relocated off the immediate premises and barred from entering the building where the project was located. They also say they were denied access to retrieve personal belongings for months, were stripped of high-level security clearances, and were reassigned to insignificant nontechnical work where they were harassed and humiliated.

Through their attorney, Timothy L. Butler of Santa Fe, the three are seeking actual and compensatory damages, punitive damages and equitable relief to remedy the wrongs and prevent future violations.

Jun 20, 2008

Are We Better Off Today Than Two Years Ago?

On June 1, 2008, we hit our two year anniversary of LANS being in charge of the Lab. Back in May/June 2006 we were told by numerous ADs, PADs, and even Mikey himself (when he actually held manager meetings) that in two years we would all feel the benefits of massive improvement and that things would be so much better. I think we should have have top-level post on the topic of how things have improved over the past two years, how people are feeling things are better, how things are "better-cheaper-faster" with LANS and all the business improvements put into place (another quoted promise), how we have less not more directed training (again, I quote from a manager meeting), how morale has improved (Mike said so), and what a great investment Congress made by putting LANS in charge. How has science improved under Terry Wallace's direction and calling out his grand-challenges? I could go on and on but I think a post where everyone can contribute would be good for the senior managers and congress to hear about all the improvements over the past two years and how grateful we are for the superb selfless leadership that we have in Anastasio and company. Personally, the only improvements I have seen are in the bank account balances of our ADs, PADs, and Mikey.

Jun 19, 2008

New GAO report on DOE Management of Costs and Liabilities for Contractors' Pension and Postretirement Benefit Plans

GAO released a 59 page report today on DOE management of costs and liabilities for contractors' pension and post-retirement benefit plans. Hopefully some LANL blog readers will download a copy and help us decipher what it all means.

The report can be downloaded at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08642r.pdf

Jun 18, 2008

Bomb Work Dumping Confirmed

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

The University of California has acknowledged the releasing of radioactive liquid waste into a Los Alamos canyon during the Manhattan Project that today is the subject of a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The university said in court filings Monday that "nondangerous quantities" of waste were released into Acid Canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, continuing until 1951.

While the lack of environmental safeguards during the early days of the lab have been well-known, the historic dumping recently lead to a wrongful-death and negligence lawsuit in federal court that could be the first of its kind.

The family of Lowell Ryman, who died of the cancer in 2005 at age 63, claims that he was exposed to radioactive wastes while playing in Los Alamos-area canyons in the 1950s as a boy. The family says that exposure led him to develop multiple myeloma as an adult.

Ryman was 9 years old when he and his family moved into a home on Walnut Street in Los Alamos, where his father worked at the lab, according to the suit.

Between 1950 and 1953, Ryman was exposed to radioactive wastes including plutonium while playing in Acid Canyon, where the lab had dumped waste from Technical Areas 1 and 45, the family claims.

Ryman was also exposed to radiation from contaminated food, water and air, according to the complaint.

While no causes for multiple myeloma have been identified, research has found possible associations with a decline in the immune system, genetic factors, radiation exposure and other factors.

The complaint names as defendants the University of California, which ran the lab until 2006, and The Zia Company, the contractor that performed management, construction and maintenance duties until 1986.

In court filings Monday, the Regents of the University of California acknowledged solvents, metals, plutonium and other radioactive materials were discharged from the former Technical Area 1 into a tributary drainage of the canyon informally known as "South Fork" until 1951.

"Defendant further admits that former TA-45, located at the top of the South Fork of Acid Canyon, served as the radioactive liquid waste treatment plant and vehicle decontamination facility for the Laboratory, operating from 1951 through June 1964, treating the waste and discharging the remaining liquids from the mesa top down the canyon to the stream channel," the response states.

Both the University of California and The Zia Company filed separate motions to dismiss. Among other things, the motion argues the lawsuit's liability claims under state law are inconsistent with the federal Price-Anderson Act.

The federal law, enacted in 1957, governs liability-related issues at nuclear facilities and indemnifies government contractors involved in nuclear accidents.

The suit was brought by Ryman's daughter, Rene Ryman. Her attorney, Michael Howell of Houston, did not return calls for comment Tuesday. Howell has said the lawsuit could turn into a class-action suit if enough people come forward.

Jun 17, 2008

FY09 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act

Below are excerpts from Congressman Visclosky's press release this evening. The full text of the press release is available here.

June 17, 2008

Statement of Chairman Peter J. Visclosky
Subcommittee Markup: Fiscal Year 2009 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act
Ensuring Effective Project Management
Poor project management negatively affects every facet of the Department of Energy’s endeavors, and it is the Committee’s number one organizational concern at the Department. DOE spends 90 percent of its annual budget on contracts, more than any other government agency, to operate laboratories, production facilities, and environmental restoration sites. Since 1990, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has made an annual assessment of programs that are at high-risk for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, and every year DOE has made the high-risk list. In the fiscal year 2008 bill, the Committee directed DOE to work with GAO to develop a concrete plan to get off the high-risk list and we have seen little if any progress made. This year we renew that directive.
The bill recommends over $4.86 billion for science, $140 million above the President’s request and an increase of $844 million over the fiscal year 2008 enacted level. Science funds cutting-edge energy research which will be critical for addressing our long-term energy needs. This bill substantially funds the increase in the Science account authorized in the America COMPETES Act. It will provide for 2,600 more research personnel, including graduate students, to address major concerns over the availability of highly educated scientists and engineers whose innovations drive economic growth. The Committee also makes major investments in laboratory infrastructure, embraces proposals to build two dozen Energy Frontier Research Centers focused on addressing critical energy research needs, and provides $539 million, $15 million above the President’s request, for climate change research and scientific computing efforts.
Confronting Nuclear Threats
The President’s request is long on weapons and short on nonproliferation. Compared to the previous year, the weapons request is up five percent while the nonproliferation request is down six percent. This request is not well focused on the threats we face in 2009 and beyond.

The Energy and Water Development bill reduces Weapons Activities from the requested $6.6 billion to $6.2 billion. It increases Nuclear Nonproliferation from the requested $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion. I hope that the next Administration will better recognize the national security benefits of nuclear nonproliferation.

Last year, the Administration proposed the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) as the first of a new generation of nuclear warheads. The Administration promotes the advantages of a new design offering better surety, better reliability, and lower yield, but RRW was offered in a vacuum and there was no new strategy behind it. There was no plan for what the weapons were to be used for, how many there were to be, or how they were to be made. So, Congress refused to fund the RRW.

This year, the Committee again reiterates that before considering funding for most new programs, substantial changes to the existing nuclear weapons complex, or funding for RRW, the following sequence must be completed: First, replacement of the Cold War era strategies with a 21st Century nuclear deterrent strategy sharply focused on today’s and tomorrow’s threats that is capable of serving the national security needs of future Administrations and future Congresses without the need for nuclear testing; second, determination of the size and nature of the nuclear stockpile sufficient to serve that strategy; and finally, determination of the size and nature of the nuclear weapons complex needed to support that future stockpile. Of course, we need to be looking at all three at once, but the decisions have to flow in that order. With no such plan delivered, the fiscal year 2009 bill again denies all funding for RRW. There is no sense in expending the taxpayer’s hard earned dollars absent a clear plan for the complex.

Our greatest threat is the use of a nuclear weapon, or nuclear material, in an act of terror. Because of this fact, the Committee recommends adding $283 million to the request for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, of which $237 million is for the critical areas of safeguards, material protection and removal, and de-enrichment. The recommendation also doubles the Administration’s request for nuclear weapon surety, since surety is our last line of defense against an adversary’s attempt to use our own weapons against us.

Environmental Cleanup
There is a large and unfortunate legacy of contamination from the past 60 years of nuclear weapons manufacture and various cancelled approaches to handling spent fuel. This bill enables completion of several smaller sites in fiscal year 2009, and sustains cleanup of a number of larger sites. The bill provides an increase of $221.5 million over the request for Defense and Non-Defense Environmental Management programs, and the Uranium Decontamination and Decommissioning account.

Los Alamos Sick Nuclear Weapons Workers to Hold Rally June 25th 2008 Calling for EEOICPA Reforms

For Immediate Release:

June 17th, 2008

Contact: Joyce Walker, Bethlehem Steel Action Group (716) 627-5214
Terrie Barrie, Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (970) 824-2260
Dr. Maureen Merritt, New Mexico Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocates (505) 455-0550
Jerry Leyba, Los Alamos Project On Worker Safety (505) 660-0632

Sick Workers from the Los Alamos National Laboratories, along with members of local communities living near LANL, will rally on June 25th, 2008 from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM to protest the federal agencies’ implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA), for unfair practices and illegal actions regarding compensation for sick worker-claimants and their survivors. These Cold War patriots became ill when they were unknowingly exposed to radioactive and hazardous materials while working at the various DOE nuclear facilities sites across the country.

Los Alamos Workers and their supporters will join Bethlehem Steel Action Group (BSAG) and their local AFL/CIO’s call for a nation-wide rally. “We will not quit, we will not go away, and we will not rest until justice has been served for the workers and families of all who have suffered” says Joyce Walker, widow of the late Ed Walker, founder of BSAG.

“We are asking that our Representatives and Senators, claimants, families and friends unite to demand reform of the EEOICP Act. In the last 7 years it has become clear that thousands of valid claims for compensation have been flat out denied or delayed endlessly by intentional acts of the federal bureaucrats tasked with administering the program fairly and equitably. This must change.” stated Dr. Maureen Merritt, physician advocate.

The local rally will be held outside Energy Employee Compensation Resource Center offices, 412 Paseo de Onate, Suite D, Espanola, New Mexico. Other national rallies will be held on public streets near DOL facilities in Cleveland, Ohio, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Denver, Colorado.

Jun 13, 2008

Settlement Update

Please get word out on this.

On December 10, 2003, a complaint alleging violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and breach of contract was filed in United States District Court by Veronique A. Longmire and Laura Barber, on their own behalf and as representatives of a class of similarly situated employees at the Laboratory (the “Barber Action”). On January 6, 2004, a second lawsuit was filed in Rio Arriba County District Court by Yolanda Garcia, Loyda Martinez, Gloria A. Bennett, Yvonne Ebelacker, Hispanic Roundtable of New Mexico, and University Professional & Technical Employees CWA 9119 (AFL-CIO) alleging violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), breach of contract and other claims (the “Garcia Action”). The Garcia action was removed to United States District Court and consolidated with the Barber Action to become the Consolidated Actions.

The Plaintiffs in the Consolidated Actions claim that the Regents, which operates and manages the Laboratory, and G. Peter Nanos, discriminated against female and Hispanic employees in terms of pay, promotion, educational opportunities, and other terms and conditions of employment.

The distribution of claimant awards will occur on Thursday, June 12, 2008. Individual award amounts will not be available until then. If you do not receive your award payment within one to two weeks following June 12, 2008, please call the Claims Administrator at: 1-800-680-3841. The amount of money paid to any particular Class member from the Settlement Fund will be determined by a formula described in the Settlement Allocation Plan, which is part of the Settlement Agreement. You can access the Settlement Agreement here. Based on a preliminary analysis of the number of potential Settlement Class members, it is estimated that, if each Settlement Class member employed by The Regents at the Laboratory full time between December 10, 2000 and June 1, 2006, submits a claim for compensation, he or she could expect to receive approximately $200 to $9,200, depending on various factors set out in the Plan of Allocation. Settlement Class members who are or were not full time employees, or who were not employed by The Regents at the Laboratory for the entire period of December 10, 2000 to June 1, 2006, could expect to receive less from the Settlement Fund. These are estimates only and subject to change.

CPD Phase 2

Since everyone's depressed and angry already, this might be a good time to post some current info on CPD Phase 2. This comes from a briefing that is marked "not a finalized product" so YMMV.

For the R&D Engineers and Scientists there are six proposed levels with the following descriptors and salary bands:

Level 1 "Assists": Entry Level
Approximate Estimated Mapping: 20% (includes most postdoc conversions)
Salary band = $69-113K

Level 2 "Performs": Fully-Functioning and Self-Sufficient
Approximate Estimated Mapping: 30%
Salary band = $76-126K

Level 3 "Leads": Advanced/Specialized Technical Leader
Approximate Estimated Mapping: 30%
Salary band = $83-140K

Level 4 "Builds and Develops": Discipline Authority; Laboratory/National Leader
Approximate Estimated Mapping: 16%
Salary band = $101-171K

Level 5 "Inspires": Recognized Authority; International Leader
Approximate Estimated Mapping: <3%
Salary band approximately $120-210K (note that there is no phase 1 job with this exact band, so I am interpolating between two existing levels to arrive at this guess)

Level 6 "Transcends": Recognized, World-Class Authority
Approximate Estimated Mapping: <1%
Salary band: off the chart, exceeds Division Leader salary band.

Jun 12, 2008

Burning questions draw explosive answers

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Long-time residents of Los Alamos say they seldom notice the periodic booms that punctuate the silence of their mountain settlement.

But newcomers and some of the neighbors across the river and down in the valley have complained that the blasts lately have rattled their windows in Santa Fe and beyond EspaƱola and that they can hear the sounds of explosives testing from the nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos.

These complaints were included with 24 questions submitted to the laboratory in May by community groups including Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group and neighboring pueblos.

On Wednesday, the official in charge of open-air burns and detonations at Los Alamos National Laboratory answered many of the specific questions about what explosives work the lab is currently doing, how the practice is monitored and regulated, and how it is changing.

Jay Dallman, the head of the lab’s Dynamic and Energetic Materials Division gave a picture of a shrinking footprint and a declining role for burns and detonations at the laboratory in recent years.

He gave a presentation to the Community Radiological Monitoring Group, an ongoing community forum mediated by the New Mexico Environment Department where regional environmental issues with the laboratory are regularly discussed.

Dallman said the laboratory conducts an average of 600 experiments a year that involve explosions, but that the majority of these tests involve less than 20 pounds of explosives.

The laboratory calculates that 99.9 percent of the explosive material is consumed in the detonation. Efforts are made to clean up afterward and to resurface the area with clean soil.

For comparison, Dallman said, 100 pounds of high explosives has an energy equivalent of eight gallons of gasoline or two cars traveling about 60 miles.

Much recent activity he said has been associated with reducing the laboratory’s inventory of explosives under an agreement with the Department of Energy Inspector General.

In June 2006, an IG audit found a number of problems at both Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories involving management of an accumulating inventory of explosive materials.

Specifically at LANL, the audit found significant amounts of high explosives that were unlikely to be used. A collection of 63 anti-personnel rockets that had not been tested in at least 10 years, for example, were being held without plans for future use. Further, required examination related to the safety and stability of the materials was not being performed.

“For example, Los Alamos inventory reduction effort found about 32,000 pounds of bulk powders and propellants and 359 munitions units such as rocket motors, warheads and missiles – some of which had been stored at the site for over 40 years – had not been examined to determine whether they remained stable and safe for use and/or continued storage,” the auditors found.

In reporting progress, Dallman said that 4,000 pounds of classified High Explosives were treated in 2007 and 20,000 pounds of rocket motors were moved off-site, with another 10,000 pounds sent for reuse to the Navy’s China Lake Facility.

These High Explosive reduction activities are expected to ramp down during the next fiscal year.

He said the laboratory has reduced the number of facilities permitted for explosive waste treatment to five places and is moving toward more containment, notably at the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility, where a confinement system has been introduced for mock nuclear weapons experiments. Long-term plans are heading in the direction of containment.

“I am a proponent for contained firing,” he said.

Participants at the meeting included several officials from the New Mexico Environment Department, including the Hazardous Waste Bureau and Air Quality Bureau.

An additional concern that came up during the meeting had to do with areas where the laboratory has been operating under an interim permit that has not been updated in 30 years.

Among other issues, Dallman said that sonic disturbances have been studied and submitted to computer programs for modeling.

Dallman said some things have changed because of public concerns. Compared to a crack of thunder, measured at 140 decibels, nothing noisier than 130 decibels can now go outside the boundary of the laboratory.

Currently, the maximum size for an experiment is 400 lbs. of explosives he said, but a year ago there were larger blasts, including at least one that was 800 pounds.

He said tree-thinning after the Cerro Grande Fire, along with the loss of juniper and pine trees from the subsequent beetle infestation, may have opened the terrain and changed the sound of the lab’s explosions, but this has been modeled in programs that take weather and terrain into account. They are experimentally compared to predicted effects in the local communities.

“One hundred and thirty decibels has a startling effect,” he said, “but it is not physically harmful.”

The meeting was held at Fuller Lodge.

For more information:
The meeting was recorded and the audio will be posted on the Cultural Energy website, http://www.culturalenergy.org/listenlinks.htm

Jun 11, 2008

You might post the most recent article in the Los Alamos Monitor about Los Alamos apartments undergoing foreclosure. Interesting to note--the biggest impact resulted from LANS and their decision to get rid of contractors and discontinuing their summer housing program. Clearly LANS is not doing much to support the local economy.

Los Alamos Apartments fall into foreclosure

By CAROL A. CLARK, Los Alamos Monitor

The largest property foreclosure in the history of Los Alamos is underway.
The Los Alamos Apartments, with a foreclosure value of approximately $3 million, run east of the Bradbury Science Museum to 9th Street between Central Avenue and Iris Street, and includes two buildings immediately adjacent to museum park housed the Los Alamos National Laboratory student housing.

Assistant County Administrator Tony Mortillaro made the announcement during Tuesday’s county council meeting held at the Community Building. Mortillaro told the board that the county had been notified of the foreclosure by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), adding that the Bradbury Row development project intended for the property is probably not going to happen.

The foreclosed property is one of the highest density residential properties in Los Alamos with 132 units on some four acres of land. It’s owned by Los Alamos Apartments Inc. of which Kent Waterman owns 100 percent of the stock. He purchased the property in 1994 from a California man. The man had inherited the apartments from his father who owned them since 1965.

“They had become slums,” said Kent’s brother, Roger Waterman, during a meeting Tuesday.

The Waterman brothers own TRK Management, which has managed the Los Alamos Apartments since 1995.

“There was a motorcycle repair shop operating out of the apartments and all kinds of crazy things like that going on there,” he said. “It took us about a year to clean them up in terms of tenants not paying rent, residing there under no leases, then another year to secure the funding to remodel the apartments.”

The remodeling was completed in 1997, he said.

The Watermans have lived in Los Alamos since 1947 and have carried on the tradition started by their father, Robert Waterman, of building and managing properties throughout Los Alamos and White Rock. The Watermans own and manage many familiar landmarks such as Oppenheimer Place and the property housing the Bradbury Museum, which is leased by LANL. They also own the Hampton Inn in White Rock and developed Oppenheimer Place and Quemazon.

“The Los Alamos Apartments property was operating profitably until transitions forced on the Los Alamos National Laboratory had as expected impacts on the apartments,” Waterman said during the interview. “The property is currently running at about a 40 percent occupancy rate. We lost about 20 percent of our units rented to contractors a year ago last fall when the laboratory laid off several contractors. Then last year the laboratory discontinued their summer housing program, which affected another 59 units. Since last fall Los Alamos Apartments lowered rates by 15-20 percent, depending on lease term, but the market does not appear to have recovered.”

On May 30, HUD sent a foreclosure notification to the tenants living in the Los Alamos Apartments. In the letter, the agency urged tenants to complete an enclosed income survey by June 30. The survey results are meant to help HUD determine any assistance that may be available to the tenants at the time the property is sold, according to the letter.

“If HUD is not outbid at (the) foreclosure sale and acquires title to the property and the property is sold to a unit of local government, 10 percent of the units in the complex will be restricted for future occupancy by chronically homeless persons,” HUD states in the letter.

A chronically homeless person is defined by HUD as an unaccompanied, disabled individual, who has been on the street for more than one year or has four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.

HUD states that no tenant will be displaced as a result of the 10 percent homeless restriction but rather that the requirement will be met by filling vacant units.
Director of Property Disposition Ruth Pompa in HUD’s Fort Worth regional office said this morning that the property is scheduled to be auctioned off on the courthouse steps in August or, more likely, in September.

County Administrator Max Baker commented on the foreclosure following the council meeting Tuesday evening saying, “The county continues to struggle with a number of issues in our commercial sector and we are working proactively to bring about the changes in which the private sector can find more success.”

Questions regarding the foreclosure should be directed to HUD representative Debie Bolin at 888-805-8993.

Jun 10, 2008

Military Supercomputer Sets Record

A LANL story that isn't all doom and gloom.
- anonymous


SAN FRANCISCO — An American military supercomputer, assembled from components originally designed for video game machines, has reached a long-sought-after computing milestone by processing more than 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second.

The new machine is more than twice as fast as the previous fastest supercomputer, the I.B.M. BlueGene/L, which is based at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The new $133 million supercomputer, called Roadrunner in a reference to the state bird of New Mexico, was devised and built by engineers and scientists at I.B.M. and Los Alamos National Laboratory, based in Los Alamos, N.M. It will be used principally to solve classified military problems to ensure that the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons will continue to work correctly as they age. The Roadrunner will simulate the behavior of the weapons in the first fraction of a second during an explosion.

Before it is placed in a classified environment, it will also be used to explore scientific problems like climate change. The greater speed of the Roadrunner will make it possible for scientists to test global climate models with higher accuracy.

To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas P. D’Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day.

The machine is an unusual blend of chips used in consumer products and advanced parallel computing technologies. The lessons that computer scientists learn by making it calculate even faster are seen as essential to the future of both personal and mobile consumer computing.

The high-performance computing goal, known as a petaflop — one thousand trillion calculations per second — has long been viewed as a crucial milestone by military, technical and scientific organizations in the United States, as well as a growing group including Japan, China and the European Union. All view supercomputing technology as a symbol of national economic competitiveness.

By running programs that find a solution in hours or even less time — compared with as long as three months on older generations of computers — petaflop machines like Roadrunner have the potential to fundamentally alter science and engineering, supercomputer experts say. Researchers can ask questions and receive answers virtually interactively and can perform experiments that would previously have been impractical.

“This is equivalent to the four-minute mile of supercomputing,” said Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee who for several decades has tracked the performance of the fastest computers.

Each new supercomputing generation has brought scientists a step closer to faithfully simulating physical reality. It has also produced software and hardware technologies that have rapidly spilled out into the rest of the computer industry for consumer and business products.

Technology is flowing in the opposite direction as well. Consumer-oriented computing began dominating research and development spending on technology shortly after the cold war ended in the late 1980s, and that trend is evident in the design of the world’s fastest computers.

The Roadrunner is based on a radical design that includes 12,960 chips that are an improved version of an I.B.M. Cell microprocessor, a parallel processing chip originally created for Sony’s PlayStation 3 video-game machine. The Sony chips are used as accelerators, or turbochargers, for portions of calculations.

The Roadrunner also includes a smaller number of more conventional Opteron processors, made by Advanced Micro Devices, which are already widely used in corporate servers.

“Roadrunner tells us about what will happen in the next decade,” said Horst Simon, associate laboratory director for computer science at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Technology is coming from the consumer electronics market and the innovation is happening first in terms of cellphones and embedded electronics.”

The innovations flowing from this generation of high-speed computers will most likely result from the way computer scientists manage the complexity of the system’s hardware.

Roadrunner, which consumes roughly three megawatts of power, or about the power required by a large suburban shopping center, requires three separate programming tools because it has three types of processors. Programmers have to figure out how to keep all of the 116,640 processor cores in the machine occupied simultaneously in order for it to run effectively.

“We’ve proved some skeptics wrong,” said Michael R. Anastasio, a physicist who is director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This gives us a window into a whole new way of computing. We can look at phenomena we have never seen before.”

Solving that programming problem is important because in just a few years personal computers will have microprocessor chips with dozens or even hundreds of processor cores. The industry is now hunting for new techniques for making use of the new computing power. Some experts, however, are skeptical that the most powerful supercomputers will provide useful examples.

“If Chevy wins the Daytona 500, they try to convince you the Chevy Malibu you’re driving will benefit from this,” said Steve Wallach, a supercomputer designer who is chief scientist of Convey Computer, a start-up firm based in Richardson, Tex.

Those who work with weapons might not have much to offer the video gamers of the world, he suggested.

Many executives and scientists see Roadrunner as an example of the resurgence of the United States in supercomputing.

Although American companies had dominated the field since its inception in the 1960s, in 2002 the Japanese Earth Simulator briefly claimed the title of the world’s fastest by executing more than 35 trillion mathematical calculations per second. Two years later, a supercomputer created by I.B.M. reclaimed the speed record for the United States. The Japanese challenge, however, led Congress and the Bush administration to reinvest in high-performance computing.

“It’s a sign that we are maintaining our position,“ said Peter J. Ungaro, chief executive of Cray, a maker of supercomputers. He noted, however, that “the real competitiveness is based on the discoveries that are based on the machines.”

Having surpassed the petaflop barrier, I.B.M. is already looking toward the next generation of supercomputing. “You do these record-setting things because you know that in the end we will push on to the next generation and the one who is there first will be the leader,” said Nicholas M. Donofrio, an I.B.M. executive vice president.

By breaking the petaflop barrier sooner than had been generally expected, the United States’ supercomputer industry has been able to sustain a pace of continuous performance increases, improving a thousandfold in processing power in 11 years. The next thousandfold goal is the exaflop, which is a quintillion calculations per second, followed by the zettaflop, the yottaflop and the xeraflop.

Jun 9, 2008

WIPP to return another errant drum

By Kyle Marksteiner, Current-Argus Staff Writer

CARLSBAD — Another drum of transuranic nuclear waste will be removed from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and returned to sender.

The drum, which contained a prohibited amount of liquid, will be removed from its underground location at WIPP and sent back to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"The administrative record is not clean on this drum," said Dave Moody, the Department of Energy's Carlsbad Field Office Manager. "There is more liquid than is allowed by the permit for that container."

The drum was identified to have an excess amount of liquid during the characterization process in Los Alamos.

"When we find conditions that are in excess of permit conditions, we issue a non-conformance report on that container," Moody said.

The drum was tagged, both physically and electronically, as not conforming to the standards required for shipment to WIPP. But it was mistakenly placed in a standard waste box with three other drums for shipment to Carlsbad. Waste drums are sometimes placed together in "overpack" containers to prepare for shipment. An investigation into how the error occurred is ongoing.

The overpack container was shipped from Los Alamos and arrived in Carlsbad on May 21. The waste was disposed underground on May 28.

Moody said the issue was discovered by WIPP employees in Carlsbad Thursday afternoon.

"As employees normally go through and try to resolve these nonconformance reports on drums, this drum still had an open NCR (non-compliance report) and was disposed in the repository," he said.

Moody said the percentage of liquid in the entire overpack container met all permit requirements.

"We don't believe we have a permit violation issue, because of the fact that the liquid in the overall waste container does not exceed permit requirements," Moody said. "But rather than splitting hairs, we decided to remove it."

Shipments to WIPP have come to a halt. The container in question is nine rows back.

"We had some shipments en route and we allowed those to proceed to WIPP," said Casey Gadbury, National TRU Program director. "But we've suspended shipments to the site."

Shipments of transuranic waste to WIPP had resumed on May 7 after a two-week hiatus caused by a water line leak outside the waste handling building.

Moody noted that the incident was different from an incident last year, in which the wrong drum was sent from Idaho Falls to WIPP. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry ultimately ordered the drum's removal and return to Idaho.

"This drum had undergone characterization, but it had not passed all the requirements," Moody said of the present circumstance. "This was the right drum, but unfortunately all the characterization activities were not closed out on this."

The drum will be returned to Los Alamos, Moody said, where liquid will be absorbed before the contents are returned to WIPP.

Last year's errant drum resulted in a $110,700 settlement with the NMED. The Department of Energy also had to remove the drum from 36 rows back, resulting in expenses of more than a million dollars, officials said.
The good news is that DOE now has experience removing contents from WIPP.

"All the mockups and training, as well as the decisions on where to position the waste as you move it out of the way, that will all be considered as we put together a retrieval plan," Moody said.

Moody said the DOE will conduct an extensive root cause analysis to make sure the recent issue isn't repeated in the future.

"We're committed to complying to all aspects of the permit," he said.
Environmentalist Don Hancock chastised Los Alamos for attempting to work too quickly to bring waste to WIPP.

"The source of the problem, in my view, is Los Alamos' incompetence on one hand and their hurry on the other," he said. "It sounds like there is no way this should have ever come to WIPP."

Hancock, with Albuquerque's Southwest Research and Information Center, also said he didn't understand why the error was not caught during a conformation process at Los Alamos.

"After the mistake in Idaho, things were done to make sure it didn't happen again," he said, noting that changes made in Idaho should have been made at other sites such as doing more to physically separate complaint and non-complaint drums.

"The good news is that (the DOE) is going in to get the waste out this time instead of waiting for an order to remove it," he said. "At least they've learned that lesson."

Hancock said he didn't feel the DOE's arguments that the percentage of liquid in the overpack container met all permit requirements would have been valid. For one thing, he noted, the permit requires removing as much liquid as possible from any container.

Curry said he found the report of improper handling at LANL and disposal at WIPP to be "very troubling."

"WIPP's state-issued permit includes strong disposal prohibitions on liquids to ensure that the repository will continue to operate properly and protect the health of New Mexicans long into the future," he said in a prepared statement. "I am pleased that WIPP plans to remove this drum voluntarily. NMED will conduct a full and thorough investigation of this incident including the potential of future enforcement actions."

Jun 7, 2008

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

A day late and a dollar short, as usual.

To/MS: Master Management
From/MS: Michael R. Anastasio, A100
Phone/Fax: 7-5101/7-2997
Symbol: DIR-08-142
Date: June 6, 2008

SUBJECT: Organizational Changes and Personnel Assignments

At a recent senior leadership meeting I announced several organizational changes and personnel assignments. These changes further my objective of aligning our organization and management team with a strategic direction that enables the Laboratory to successfully address future challenges and opportunities. This includes the need to be more efficient and effective in providing infrastructure and project management support that enables science and mission delivery.

Asa Kelley, Associate Director for Project Management (PM), has accepted a new Bechtel assignment in Tennessee. Tom McKinney, a Bechtel Principal Vice President with strong management experience, has been selected to replace Asa effective June 9, 2008. Tom's most recent assignment was as Deputy General Manager of Bechtel SAIC Company, LLC, for the design and licensing of the Yucca Mountain Project. Tom holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Nuclear Engineering. With the projected volume of construction activity at the Laboratory and the varied and complex project management portfolio, this position is critical to the Laboratory's future and the shaping of a modern infrastructure. I greatly appreciate Asa's contributions to setting a solid baseline and correct path for project management improvement and wish him continued success in his career.

In addition, I have decided to reorganize functions that currently reside in the Infrastructure and Site Services (ISS) Directorate. The Emergency Operations Division will be transferred into the Safeguards and Security Directorate, the Facility Management and Operations functions will transfer to the Nuclear and High Hazard Operations Directorate along with the fire protection engineering functions, and the balance of the ISS functions, including maintenance and infrastructure planning, will be transferred to the Project Management Directorate. Jerry Ethridge, currently Associate Director for ISS, will be reassigned to the Weapons Physics Directorate. Jerry has been instrumental in facility management improvements over the past two years, including the assumption of work planning functions from KSL and the Footprint Reduction initiative, and I look forward to his continued contributions to the success of the Laboratory.

We recently announced the in-sourcing of the balance of KSL activities. Jay Johnson, Acting Deputy Associate Director for Project Management, has been assigned to lead the transition and will report to Mike Mallory, Principal Associate Director for Operations. John Bretkze, who has been on temporary assignment to manage operations for the Environmental Programs Directorate, will be reassigned as Deputy Associate Director for Project Management. Jay and John bring a wealth of Laboratory management experience to these two key assignments and they will no doubt continue their track record of success.

Bruce Schappell and Mark Schmitz have joined our management team. Bruce was most recently assigned to Bechtel Savannah River, and will support Sue Stiger, Associate Director for Environmental Programs, as Operations Deputy. Bruce brings twenty-eight years of project management and environmental program experience and will provide valuable expertise in support of our day-to-day environmental clean up activities. Bruce holds a Bachelor of Science as well as a Masters of Engineering.

Mark Schmitz will be supporting Bob McQuinn as the Deputy Associate Director for Nuclear and High Hazard Operations. Mark has twenty-seven years Department of Energy nuclear facilities and twenty-one years multifunctional management of complex nuclear facilities, including tritium, uranium, plutonium, and spent fuel processing facilities experience. Mark is well respected within the DOE Complex nuclear facilities and operations community and will be an excellent addition to the team.

Finally, David McCumber has expressed a desire to resume his legal career. As such he will transfer to the Laboratory's Office of Chief Counsel and will relinquish his position as Division Leader of Communications and Government Affairs. This change will be effective as soon as we are able to fill this critical vacancy for which we are currently conducting a national search. David has served in this position since 2004. He has done a commendable job serving an institution that has undergone continued change during that period.

Thank you for supporting these changes. Our goal is continuous improvement and these changes will further advance the strategic goals of the Laboratory.

Jun 5, 2008

ORNL pulls contract of top scientist, outspoken critic

By Frank Munger, KnoxNews.com

Ward Plummer, a distinguished scientist with joint appointments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, said today that ORNL had eliminated his lab position — effective June 30.

“ORNL terminated me,” Plummer said. “I got terminated without a review.”

The experimental physicist said he was informed of the situation by Jim Roberto, ORNL’s deputy lab director for science and technology, but was not given a specific reason. Plummer said he’s convinced that the action was taken because of his outspoken criticism of the lab’s leadership — or, as he stated, “the lack of it.”

Michelle Buchanan, the associate lab director for physical sciences, confirmed that ORNL had decided not to renew the scientist’s contract, but she said the decision was not driven by Plummer’s criticism of lab management.

“I think it was just primarily because his interest in the science was going in a different direction than ours and our sponsor,” Buchanan said. She said the Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences is increasingly interested in “use-inspired” research that supports energy missions, whereas Plummer wanted to do “discovery-based” research with broader potential.

Plummer will become a full-time faculty member in UT’s Physics Department, where he holds tenure as a professor. UT and ORNL previously shared the costs of the Plummer’s salary — listed at $289,090 — and a discretionary fund roughly equal to that amount. He split time between the institutions.

Tom Milligan, UT’s vice chancellor for communications, confirmed that the university would pick up the full costs for Plummer.

“He is a leading scientist, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and we are going to continue to support him,” Milligan said. “We’re proud to have him on our faculty.”

Roberto initially declined comment, but later said, “I think this is the right evolution ... I actually think this is a good outcome for him.”

The Distinguished Scientists Program was started in 1984 as a way to recruit top-level scientists to East Tennessee, and it’s considered the anchor program of the UT-ORNL Science Alliance. There currently are 11 people in the program, although not all of them have dual appointments.

Plummer, 67, is a star researcher in surface physics, using advanced microscopes and other techniques to study the chemical and physical characteristics of materials at the atomic scale. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, a strong validation of his career achievements.

The physicist accepted the joint position at UT-ORNL in 1993 after spending 20 years at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a physics professor and director of the Materials Research Laboratory.

Plummer said the Distinguished Scientists are supposed to come up for review every five years, and his review came due last fall. However, he said ORNL managers did not submit their part. He said he believes lab managers did want not to spell out reasons for his termination in writing because they couldn’t defend it.

“I’ve been openly critical of the leadership out there, and you can’t write that down (in a review),” he said.

Plummer said he was particularly critical of Buchanan and the decision to dissolve ORNL’s Solid State Division.

“I view what they have done and what (UT President John) Petersen has done as sort of a reign of intimidation,” he said. Plummer said the message is clear: “If you disagree, you’re gone.”

Buchanan praised Plummer as an “incredible scientist,” but she said there were clear differences on future research paths. “He would really like to do things where he breaks the cutting edge of general scientific knowledge ... Sometimes your science just takes you in a different direction.”

Asked about Plummer’s criticism of her leadership, Buchanan said, “Who isn’t criticized as a manager? He’s a great scientist, and I’ve always enjoyed talking to him about science. He doesn’t always agree with anything. That’s his prerogative. There’s absolutely no animosity as far as I’m concerned.”

Much of his Oak Ridge research was done at Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a new $65 million nanoscience facility. Linda Horton, the center’s director, said Plummer would continue to have an office there and be a welcome researcher and senior consultant.

“He’s obviously a very creative person and has great ideas,” Horton said.

Buchanan and Horton both said they didn’t think the decision would affect the UT-ORNL Science Alliance and the Distinguished Scientists Program.

“We are committed to supporting this relationship because it has really been a wonderful program,” Buchanan said.

More details as they develop online and in Friday’s News Sentinel.

Groups take aim at nuclear program

By: Jen DiMascio, Politico.com
June 4, 2008 02:24 PM EST

Nuns, Quakers, arms-control wonks and liberal scientists may not appear to have a chance of killing the savior of the administration’s nuclear weapons stockpile, the next-generation Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

But for the second year in a row, the anti-nuclear-weapons coalition has more than a prayer in its fight against the administration, the national laboratories and the New Mexico congressional delegation.

Ultimately, the next administration will decide the fate of the program that upgrades existing nuclear weapons without the need for further nuclear testing. This year, the coalition’s outlook is not good.

“My intention would be to provide no funding,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee.

But killing government programs of this kind is about as difficult as getting rid of nuclear waste. Even though leading appropriators oppose the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, it retains widespread support among lawmakers for strategic and parochial reasons.

The program is projected to cost up to $100 billion. And as much as the administration lays out arguments about updating the nation’s nuclear arsenal, the program would certainly provide future work for scientists at national laboratories in California and New Mexico that have already seen budget cuts.

Key support has come from Republican Sens. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

They back the National Nuclear Security Administration’s view, seeing the Reliable Replacement Warhead program as an upgrade to current programs that extend the life of nuclear weapons. The new program would be cheaper to maintain as well as smaller and safer than the current stockpile of nuclear weapons that degrade over time. Refreshing the nuclear arsenal would also bolster the nation’s effort to deter attacks, advocates say.

In New Mexico, the program would mean plenty of high-end jobs at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Republican Rep. Steve Pearce failed to restore funding on the House side for design plans cut from the defense authorization bill last month, citing work force concerns in a floor statement.

“I would note that $10 million, the amount that is designated for the RRW, is just enough to keep the doors open — that once we allow this team of experts to dissipate, once these people are hired away, then we will never build another team,” Pearce said.

Pearce’s staff is working directly with Los Alamos and other national laboratories to impress upon the rest of Congress that the Reliable Replacement Warhead program represents the future for maintaining the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrence.

The national labs do have ties to corporations. For example, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is managed by Bechtel National Inc., the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Co., the Washington division of URS Corp. and Battelle Memorial Institute. But, according to one lobbyist, the companies try to stay out of policy debates as hot as the one over the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

In the past, the program enjoyed bipartisan support. Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), whose district includes Livermore and Sandia national laboratories, initially backed the program. This year, Tauscher diverted $10 million for design work on the program to address technical questions raised by an outside review of the program.

Support among appropriators deteriorated last year, even among the program’s initial backers.

The program was first pitched in 2005 as a fairly innocuous study to Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), then-chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee. Hobson, who helped move the program forward, was chagrined to learn the administration’s plans for the program were far more extensive than he had been led to believe.

He withdrew his support and helped cut funding for the program last year with the new subcommittee chairman, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.).

In addition to credibility concerns, the administration’s technical arguments about how rapidly a replacement is required were undercut by a third-party scientific review mandated by Congress that found the stockpile was not degrading as rapidly as initially projected.

Its technical findings fueled more congressional opposition last year. And this year, the administration scaled back its own expectations for progress on the program, whittling its main budget request.

The National Nuclear Security Administration is keen to fight any further budget cuts, said spokesman

Jun 3, 2008

Layoffs at nuke lab stir fears of a brain drain


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The nation's top nuclear weapons design lab has laid off hundreds of workers, raising concerns about a brain drain and stirring fears that some of these highly specialized scientists will sell their expertise to foreign governments, perhaps hostile ones.

Because of budget cuts and higher costs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory laid off 440 employees May 22 and 23. Over the past 2 1/2 years, attrition and layoffs have reduced the work force of 8,000 by about 1,800 altogether.

According to a list obtained by The Associated Press, about 60 of the recently laid-off workers were engineers, around 30 were physicists and about 15 were chemists. Some, but not all, were involved in nuclear weapons work or nonproliferation efforts, and all had put in at least 20 years at the lab.

Some lawmakers and others said they fear the loss of important institutional knowledge about designing warheads and detecting whether other countries are going nuclear.

Also, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the layoffs at Lawrence Livermore and two other big U.S. weapons labs represent "a national security danger point." These unemployed experts might take their skills overseas, Feinstein said.

"The fact is, these are all people who are human — they have homes, they have families, they have educations to pay for," she said. "And I very much worry where they go for their next job."

The possibility is also on the mind of the nation's top nuclear weapons official, National Nuclear Security Administration chief Tom D'Agostino.

"Always in a situation where people leave under less-than-ideal circumstances, we worry about that, and it's something I assure you we're looking at closely," D'Agostino said. "I'm always concerned about the counterintelligence part of our mission, and we have an active program to go make sure we understand where we're vulnerable and where we're not."

Asked to elaborate, NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes said the agency is "always on guard for foreign entities approaching our employees, active or retired, but it's their responsibility to alert us to those circumstances."

The NNSA is aware of no instance in which a U.S. nuclear weapons scientist had gone to work overseas, he said.

He said the agency regards the possibility of a hostile government picking up laid-off workers as "highly unlikely," in part because these are American citizens who have responsibly held high-level clearances for many years, and because federal law provide stiff penalties — which range as high as life in prison — for divulging nuclear secrets.

In an e-mail message, Wilkes said the very notion that these scientists would sell their country out is "an insult to their personal integrity and their patriotism."

Ken Sale, a physicist laid off from Lawrence Livermore on May 23, said that taking his knowledge of nuclear weapons overseas would be unthinkable, and that he knows of no laid-off colleague who would even consider it.

But "the recent history of spying has all been money-based," Sale said. "Being concerned about expertise you wouldn't want rattling around in the whole world, and workers being desperate for a job, is a reasonable concern."

Sale worked on nuclear weapons testing, nonproliferation and nuclear-detection projects.

"The specific experience you get doing that stuff doesn't have applications outside that narrow world," he said. "It's not obvious that I will be able to be fully employed."

Sale, 51, will receive one week's pay for each of his 23 years at the lab, which is in Livermore, about 50 miles from San Francisco.

For security reasons, laid-off workers like Sale immediately lost their access badges, their top-secret "Q" clearances were suspended, and they were promptly escorted off the grounds. Some, including Sale, may stay on for a few months doing unclassified work via telecommuting.

Lawmakers and others have expressed concern that wave after wave of work force reductions will diminish the lab's expertise. D'Agostino said he could not guarantee that national security would not be harmed.

With a self-imposed nuclear test ban in place since 1992, maintenance of the warhead stockpile — Lawrence Livermore's top responsibility — is performed on supercomputers. So is the task of designing a new generation of warhead, which Lawrence Livermore won the right to do last year.

The layoffs have reduced the lab's roster of experts with invaluable experience they had gleaned from taking part in actual nuclear tests, Sale and others said. "Designing, building and seeing a device go off is very different from designing a device and handing it to a computer jockey," Sale said.

Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney, whose district includes part of the lab, said the stakes are especially high as the United States tries to divine through science what other countries are doing inside their weapons programs.

"We need to be able to understand what the clues are about other countries such as Iran and North Korea and other countries that are potential nuclear weapons developers," he said. "Without those scientists that have been involved in that field for years, for decades, it's going to be a lot more difficult to know what's going on elsewhere in the world."

Los Alamos, the New Mexico laboratory that built the atom bomb during World War II, cut its work force last year by about 550 through retirements and attrition, and Sandia, also largely in New Mexico, plans to shed dozens of workers.

Congress cut $100 million from Lawrence Livermore's budget in the fiscal 2008 budget, and the lab has been hit with an additional $180 million in unexpected costs from its transfer last year to a new management company, lab spokeswoman Susan Houghton said.

Jun 2, 2008

GAO Findings on Pit Manufacturing

GAO has released a Report to the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives titled NUCLEAR WEAPONS: NNSA Needs to Establish a Cost and Schedule Baseline for Manufacturing a Critical Nuclear Weapon Component.
What GAO Found
NNSA achieved its major goals for reestablishing its pit manufacturing capability at LANL as defined by the agency in 2002. Specifically, NNSA’s goals were to create a capability to manufacture 10 pits per year starting in 2007 and to deliver a single W88 war reserve pit to the stockpile in 2007. War reserve pits must meet stringent specifications, while other types of pits, such as pits destructively tested for production quality control, may not meet the same standards. NNSA estimated that this effort would cost about $1.55 billion for fiscal years 2001 through 2007. According to NNSA, LANL produced 11 pits in 2007, eight of which were W88 war reserve pits, and spent about $1.29 billion for fiscal years 2001 through 2007. However, GAO found that NNSA did not establish clear, consistent goals for the number of W88 war reserve pits it planned to produce. Specifically, some NNSA documents, including budget requests to Congress, called for delivering 10 W88 war reserve pits per year starting in 2007. In addition, NNSA’s cost estimate did not include estimates for a variety of activities that directly and indirectly supported the pit manufacturing mission at LANL between 2001 and 2007. These support activities, which included scientific experiments and facility operations and maintenance, totaled over $1 billion.

Because of three major constraints on pit manufacturing operations at LANL, NNSA will not be able to substantively increase its current pit manufacturing capacity for the foreseeable future. Specifically, GAO found that LANL’s building for performing analytical chemistry, which deals with the separation and identification of the components in a pit sample, has major operational and structural limitations. LANL’s ability to store pits and associated waste is also constrained by limited vault storage space. Finally, a lack of available floor space in LANL’s main nuclear facility limits its ability to install a large scale, efficient production line for manufacturing pits.

NNSA’s plans for future pit manufacturing are still being developed and, as a result, no reliable cost estimates exist. Originally, NNSA and the Department of Defense (DOD) had planned to develop the capability to produce RRW pits beginning about 2014, pending the outcome of a RRW design definition and cost study in 2008. However, in fiscal year 2008 all of NNSA’s RRW funding was eliminated. While NNSA and DOD continue to support the RRW program, in the short run, NNSA plans to maintain the existing pit manufacturing capability at LANL. Over the long term, NNSA is planning, with DOD’s concurrence, to upgrade the existing LANL facility to achieve a production capacity of up to 80 pits per year. However, NNSA has not established a cost and schedule baseline to support its projected effort.
[Click here to download the full report.]