Aug 14, 2008

Livermore Lab withdraws application to set off more open-air explosive tests

San Francisco Business Times - by Steven E.F. Brown

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory withdrew a permit seeking to set off more explosives in the open air at its Site 300 testing ground in the Altamont Hills between Livermore and Tracy.

The laboratory had sought to set off three tests using 350 pounds of explosives each, and was required to get permission from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Center. Current permits -- dating from 2006 -- allow tests of up to 100 pounds of explosives per day and up to 1,000 pounds per year.

Lab officials said that "research programs that would have required increased explosives limits have evolved" and that bigger test explosions aren't needed as a result. However, the lab may submit another permit application if it decides it needs to test larger amounts of explosive.

Since new managers -- led by the University of California and San Francisco's Bechtel Corp. -- took charge of the lab in October, federal funding for research has been reduced, and costs have gone up. The lab has cut as many as 900 jobs, held by both contract and permanent workers, since then. It didn't say whether changes to the explosives research were related to funding cuts.

George Miller is head of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was set up in 1952 to improve atomic weapons technology. Its first noted breakthrough was the design of an atomic warhead that fit on a missile launched from a submarine. Later, the lab did work on so-called MIRV warheads, which packed several independently steered warheads onto the tip of a single missile.

In time, the lab added many non-weapon programs, like biomedicine, laser and fusion energy research.

As supercomputers improved, the lab used them more and more to simulate nuclear explosions, which had been banned by treaties.


Anonymous said...

LLNS needs to rebrand LLNL as a national science and basic research laboratory. LLNL's so called core nuclear weapons design mission is quickly going away... RRW is dead as can be... Superblock will have special nuclear materials removed and closed in three years, Site 300 will be in cold shutdown. LANL will be the center of nuclear weapons science and design, not LLNL. NIF as a project is stronger than many realize, but its really an user facility and basic science instrument. Its direct link to stockpile stewardship is tenuous at best. Supercomputing could be a star at LLNL, but its restricted by NNSA to classified work.

LLNS (using money from its fee) should push/lobby Congress hard to diversify the lab's customer base - 1/5 NNSA, 1/5 DOD, 1/5 Dept Homeland Security, 1/5 DOE Office of Science, 1/5 WFO (Government and Private Industry along the PNL/Battelle model).

Anonymous said...

I love this line: "Its first noted breakthrough was the design of an atomic warhead that fit on a missile launched from a submarine."

Actually, it's first noted atomic weapons "contribution" was a test failure! Los Alamos staff called Livermore post-test and asked if we could re-use their tower.

Not until 2006 did another nuclear design authority join LLNL as having failed their first nuclear test, and that would be.... North Korea.

Frank Young said...


Anonymous said...

"Actually, it's first noted atomic weapons "contribution" was a test failure! Los Alamos staff called Livermore post-test and asked if we could re-use their tower."

I do not think it helps to point out either labs failures on this blog (or anywhere for that matter). And let's be clear; both labs have their failures.

Anonymous said...

"I do not think it helps to point out either labs failures on this blog (or anywhere for that matter)."

Oh, my aching sides. This is so funny, it's beyond words. Are you kidding??? Reread that line. Don't point out failures of the lab on this blog? Oh, man, this hurts now, I'm laughing so hard. That's ALL this blog does, every post. And the predecessor blogs as well. Please, make it stop, I can't breath...

Anonymous said...

6:39 - Does that mean we can't have the tower?

Anonymous said...

900 my ars! Try 2100! and more are leaving weekly of their own accord.

What an absolute catastrophe this change over has been.

Anonymous said...

The US would not be where it is now without the designs LLNL tried. Who cares how their first tries went back in the 50s or 60s. Anyone who has looked at the history of designs would know that LLNL made some significant, BIG contributions. If you've got the Q and the sigmas, sign up for some of the TITANS lectures that cover the history of designs -- it's fascinating, especially when it covers the little race between LASL and LLNL in the early days. The history of how we got from Mike and Bravo to the designs of the 70s is quite fascinating.

Anonymous said...

From a manufacturing perspective, LLNL designs generally cost more than LANL designs and the LLNL designs had a history of flaws requiring major corrective actions.

Anonymous said...

LLNL so badly hoodwinked the Navy back in the late 60s, that the Navy won't have a thing to do with them in the 40 years since.

When RRW was awarded to LLNL, the Navy vowed to kill the program. And they did.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, my aching sides. This is so funny, it's beyond words. Are you kidding???"

Perhaps I needed to be more clear for the morons on this blog. I was referring to failures that directly affect the stockpile (as may be inferred from a failed nuclear test).

Other failures (in particular, lab management, DOE, and Congressional) appear to be receiving the airing they deserve.

Anonymous said...

"I was referring to failures that directly affect the stockpile (as may be inferred from a failed nuclear test)"

Many nuclear tests were not associated with stockpile development or confidence, especially in the 50s. Concept development, physics principals, and unique weapon effects were all part of testing.

Details of the first LLNL test failure are of course classified, but it was not a stockpile device nor did it call into question a stockpile defect or failure.

Anonymous said...

Maybe LLNL should just get out of the nuclear business and work for DOD...
Non-Nuclear Warhead Urged for Trident Missile

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008

A National Research Council blue-ribbon panel of defense experts is recommending development and testing of a conventional warhead for submarine-launched intercontinental Trident missiles to give the president an alternative to using nuclear weapons for a prompt strike anywhere in the world.

In critical situations, such an immediate global strike weapon "would eliminate the dilemma of having to choose between responding to a sudden threat either by using nuclear weapons or by not responding at all," the panel said in a final report requested by Congress in early 2007 and released yesterday.

Congress has delayed funding the conventional Trident program for two years while providing more than $200 million for research and development of additional, longer-term concepts for quick global strikes. One major congressional concern was that to other countries, such as Russia or China, the launch of a conventional Trident missile could not be distinguished from a nuclear one and could be mistaken for the start of a nuclear war.

The panel recognized that problem and suggested several ways to mitigate it, but in the end it concluded that the benefits outweighed the risks. The panel said that before any deployment takes place, there should be diplomatic discussions, particularly with partner countries. It said these talks should include "the doctrine for its use, immediate notifying of launches against countries, and installing devices (such as monitoring systems) to increase confidence that conventional warheads had not been replaced by nuclear ones."

The panel also said that few countries, other than Russia and perhaps China, would be able to detect a sub-launched missile "in the next five years," and that because of the few warheads that would be involved, "the risk of the observing nation's launching a nuclear retaliatory attack is very low."

In its study, the panel focused on scenarios in which it said the Defense Department in the past "seriously contemplated strikes." These involved the need for an immediate conventional strike to preempt an adversary whose missile system was poised to launch a nuclear weapon at the United States or an ally; a gathering of terrorist leaders; a shipment of weapons of mass destruction during a moment when it could be hit; and an opportunity when an opponent's command and control capability could be struck before broader combat operations began.

The panel also adopted the Defense Department's idea that the goal of having one-hour capability for execution of a strike anywhere in the world is "sensible." It noted that in the 1990s, several attempts to kill Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders failed because weapons systems available then, such as sub-launched cruise missiles, were not fast enough.

The panel described sub-launched conventional missile programs as "attractive in the near term" as well as the longer term because they have lower technical risk and could be modified as time went on. But the panel added that technology development of longer-term delivery options, such as hypersonic cruise missiles, though technically risky "could provide some advantages" to sub-launched missiles.

The fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill, which has yet to pass Congress, authorizes additional funding for conceptual studies, and the Senate Armed Services Committee's version requires a report on all concepts before the presentation of the fiscal 2010 budget.

The panel was chaired by Albert Carnesale, former chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles and former provost at Harvard who served as a negotiator on the SALT I arms-control treaty. The panel also included John S. Foster Jr., a former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Defense Department director of research and development and chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger; Richard L. Garwin, IBM fellow emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center who from 1993 to 2001 chaired the Arms Control and Nonproliferation Advisory Board of the State Department; and retired Air Force Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, former head of Strategic Command.

Anonymous said...

Of equal mishandling of the RRW by the NNSA, where LANL did win the technical competition as Dr. John Pedicini and other has proven, but LLNL is awarded the RRW-1 competition, March 2, 2007, and now it´s put on hold by the Congress, Navy, and uncertainty in general, is the tanker contract competition, still undecided between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS/Airbus, despite the fact it has been ongoing since 2001/2002, and OSD has taken over as final decisionmaker over the Air Force, and with the risk that the Air Force get the oversized Airbus A330-200 tanker in the final end, instead of the medium sized and more practical tanker, Boeing KC-767.

NNSA should address the best national security in general, and not what suites LLNL best.

There is a similarity between the head of NNSA Tom D´Agostino, and the acquisition czar of DoD John Young, they don´t establish a momentum for their respective organizations and personnel, and as result create confusion, uncertainty and a stand still.