Jun 24, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

No Pits for LANL

I'd say the fat lady is beginning to clear her pipes.

Will the last one out please turn off the lights.

Anonymous said...

I think the term "continuing resolution" needs to be put in some sort of time capsule or perhaps placed in Websters Dictionary since it's become a regular part of our lexicon. Maybe one of the definitions could say something like: 1) the TYPICAL result in any given fiscal year when Congress cannot get their SH*T together.

Anonymous said...

If your position at LANL involves working with pit production or weapons engineering, then watch out! Congress is about to relieve most of you of your nice paying jobs.

It will all be over within the next two years. The cuts that are coming LANL's way are draconian and will likely cause financial panic throughout Los Alamos County and Northern New Mexico. Don't act surprised when LANL pink slips start flying about like confetti sometime late next year.

Too bad LANS and NNSA never work out a suitable backup plan for this scenario. They should have seen it coming and begun a much more serious attempt to diversify the project base at the LANL. The clock has run out.

Anonymous said...

OK, so it's clearly going to be no pits and no RRW work for LANL. And that means not just cutting back to a dozen or so pits per year. It means *no* pits at all, so the need for TA-55 is now in serious doubt.

We can expect some limited growth in TR but that won't help stop the financial train wreck that is heading LANL's way.

This leaves the good ol' Stockpile Stewardship slush fund. How much is Congress going to be cutting back on that big pile of cash?

Anonymous said...

Why should a government facility or a managing contractor diversify or have a back up plan?

Government facilities are supposed to perform what Congress tells them to perform, not go seeking other missions.

Eric said...

Finally, an easy one.

At LANS, there are no 'government employees'. There are only private sector employees of LANS. LANS is a private company whose main goal is to make a profit for itself by finding work for its profitable employees.

Hence, LANS or its owners win by finding profitable work for its employees. This work may be governmental or not.

A company that would go out of business when its main customer cuts back on its needs is not much of a company.

Hence, there is a strong need for a back up plan. All credible companies have one.

Anonymous said...

It's not at all clear that there won't be any pit work at LANL. It's the House Committee... they're supposed to make "statements."

Anonymous said...

If you're one of my colleagues on the LANS senior management team no need to worry. I've made certain we have plenty of golden parachutes on reserve for us, just in case. But he rest of you better grow feathers and learn how to fly, quick.

--Sir Richard of LANS

Anonymous said...

It's not at all clear that there won't be any pit work at LANL. It's the House Committee... they're supposed to make "statements."

The House has said EXACTLY the same thing
numerous times in the past. The new
leadership of the House said that we were
going to have a "timetable" for getting
out of Iraq. Where did THAT go?

If you don't have a means of refurbishing
nuclear weapons; you might as well not
have them at all. That also means you
don't need over a dozen subs with a
couple dozen missiles each.

The logical conclusion would be to shut
down a lot more than just a pit facility
at LANL - you should shut down the
whole nuclear deterrent.

I DOUBT many in the Congress or the USA
as a whole will go for that.

Leftist loons might like it - but I
don't think many others would.

Frank Young said...

Aren't you the 'honest lawyer' who predicts the outcome of lawsuits too?

Anonymous said...

7:14 am: "LANS is a private company whose main goal is to make a profit for itself by finding work for its profitable employees."

What a crock. LANS has no existence outside of the NNSA contract to run LANL. Why do you think LANS and LLNS are different LLCs? LANS will disappear like smoke when the NNSA/LANL contract is won by another company, or (more likely) when the LANS parent companies decide to bail.

Anonymous said...

I anticipate that we will be under a CR for the whole year (or at least most of the year). This will probably result in nearly flat-line budgets for the lab in most projects. The real issue is what happens in FY10. The FYNSP how most of those budgets going down. The issue is how will the Lab deal with the definite decrease in budget over the next 1-3 years. I am starting to hear of "more aggressively managing attrition". There is the option to RIF now and use the "extra" budget to invest in facilities, equipment, computing, etc. so that those staff that remain can better support any funded projects.

I wonder if the House knows a CR will result this year and this is the best statement for their Fall re-election campaigns? I also am curious as to when the DoD and White House will submit a nuclear strategy to Congress that includes RRW with clear, actionable logic. I expect that dismantlements at PX will continue and LANL could have a huge mission to convert the Pu to oxide for either safe storage or for MOX fuel. There is also the work to evaluate the aging defects in Pu and correlate that with the Pit Lifetime and best options for LEPs etc.

Anonymous said...

No pits, no science, no LANL.

Anonymous said...

So Eric, does the LANS profit rise significantly with new work? Or does it fall significantly with cutbacks? I might be wrong, but I am pretty sure that the answer is no to both questions.

On the contrary, the variable fee portion of the profit is highly dependent on LANS doing exactly what NNSA tells it to do.

So this is a situation where the profit would go up with cutbacks and layoffs, if that it what NNSA wants. And the profit would likely go down with growth, if growth is not what NNSA wants.

Eric: Assuming that LANS did manage a WFO project, what profit margin does it make?

Anonymous said...

The real question for us to ponder is whether the next Congress under President O'bama will choose to let the US nuclear weapons complex wither as the defacto US policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament by attrition.

If this is the chosen course there is no need for LANL, LLNL or any elements of the weapons complex other than the temporary recycle houses.

Anonymous said...

"This will probably result in nearly flat-line budgets for the lab in most projects. The real issue is what happens in FY10." (9:33 AM)

With flat or declining budgets and inflation accelerating, the situation is more dire that it first appears for the lab. LANL may soon be struggling with about an 8% inflation rate eating away at many of the costs in the operating budget. Under this bleak scenario, any flat budgets would mean that LANS would need to start laying off employees on almost a yearly basis.

Does anyone think Congress is about to boost LANL's budget to help compensate for high inflation rates? Dream on. Just this week, Congress decided to come up with $300 B to bail out the US housing market. There is going to be precious little extra money in the Federal budget to help bail out LANL in future years.

Anonymous said...

The contractor working the first phase of CMRR project has claims against LANS for about $30M. No wonder the Rechtel manager was removed. How do you think Congress and NNSA will react when they find out about this cost overrun? Oh but right, Rechtel is an expert at project management! The truth of why the CMRR replacement will not get funded is that the first phase is a perfect example of how poorly Rechtel manages big construction projects at the Lab. Wow, $30M in claims, project has a way to go, funding has to come from Congress to add funding to the line item. There is some satisfaction that Anastasio probably has to personally explain to Congress. Lucy, you have some splaining to do.

Anonymous said...

"I expect that dismantlements at PX will continue and LANL could have a huge mission to convert the Pu to oxide for either safe storage or for MOX fuel. "

Good idea but MOX was zeroed out this year and ARIES (the dismantlement and conversion to oxide piece) has been hobbling along with miniscule budget. Thank you Congress and DOE. Both programs have been trying to maintain capability and personnel via pit man funding. Lots of people have left for other groups (adios--see the writing on the wall) while the core personnel
are wondering what the hell next year will bring.
Morale is low, people are worried and planning exit strategies.

Anonymous said...

The party is over, with Domenici gone it's gonna hurt, you better find employment where you can. Domenici is the only Sen. with enough clout to fight off the Dems, and without him...LANL will be a relic of the past.

Anonymous said...

The only question remaining is who is going first, Sen Dominici or LANL? They are both on their way out. How much longer can we live in a CR not knowing if we will have a job and if so for how long, talk about Stress! And then there's the County would don't want to belive what they see,and continue to spend, spend and spend.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God, the sky is falling.....

Anonymous said...

"Oh my God, the sky is falling....."
( 5:46 PM )

No, it is not the sky that is falling. It's just the ground beneath your feet that is suddenly giving way and letting you fall, down, down, down... ever downward.

Anonymous said...

Well it looks like the fun has just begun at LANL. 1,800 to 2,000more out the door soon. I can only assume that what happens at LANL ( WILL ) happen at LLNL since this transition has been a monkey see, monkey do event since day one. It's what's been on the table at LLNL for a long time. The work force at LLNL's facility should be down to 4,000 by the end of 2009 even though this fact has been denied since LLNS took over.

Anonymous said...

"The party is over, with Domenici gone it's gonna hurt"

No, just means it's time to mature and sober up. Domenici was the master of pork-spending. But his kind of leadership is short sighted. Nuclear pork wasn't going to last forever, but did we prepare for change? Were we mature enough to accept change? Of course not. We resisted, and resisted, and resisted. We only have ourselves to blame! We were too damn arrogant for our own good.

Anonymous said...

6:33, who exactly, is "we"?

Anonymous said...

Yes, 6:33 am, who exactly is "we"?

Are you blaming the many talented scientists and engineers who poured their blood sweat and tears into the W76 LEP or the certification of the W88? Were they supposed to abandon the missions that the President and Congress assigned to them just a few short years ago, and what? Leave the lab so there wouldn't be an overstaffing situation a couple years later when the tide turned?

Or by "we" do you mean the LDRD welfare queens, and the self-referential review committees who stoked their navel gazing habits? Are they to blame for squandering the Lab's only discretionary source of funding, when it could have been turned toward building new capabilities and missions for an uncertain future?

Or is there some other "we" that should be blamed?

Anonymous said...

According to an article in Thursday's ABQ Journal, the FY08 House committee cuts that just passed (with a lone dissenting vote by Tom Udall) will result in the loss of about 2,000 jobs at LANL. It may not happen this fiscal year, but you can bet that it's coming by next year.

When these cuts hit there are going to be a lot of "we's" losing their jobs, including both weapon scientists and those doing LDRD funded research.

Congress is making it clear that they want significant cuts across the board at LANL, including pits (zeroed out completely), stockpile stewardship, non-proliferation, and super-computing. From the looks of it, almost nothing will be left untouched by the budget axe when it finally hits, except for perhaps clean-up operations.

With each passing year, LANL begins to look more and more like it is following the path of Rocky Flats.