Sep 28, 2008

U.S. Air Force Might Modify Nuclear Bomb

By Elaine M. Grossman
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. Air Force is studying the option of adding significant new features to one of its aging atomic bombs, according to a senior service official (see GSN, Sept. 12).

The proposed modifications to the B-61 gravity bomb — which service officials are dubbing the “B-61 Mod 12” — would exceed the extent of parts repair or replacement typically performed to increase a weapon’s service life.

The new plans would infuse the bomb — originally designed and built in the 1960s — with state-of-the-art capabilities to reduce the risk of theft and prevent an accidental detonation, the senior Air Force official said in a Sept. 10 interview. The official asked not to be identified because of sensitivities associated with discussing the attributes of U.S. nuclear weapons.

The initiative would also lend the weapons another 20 to 30 years of service life, a service spokesman said.

Yet the inclusion of a large array of upgrades in the overhaul could raise hackles on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have strongly opposed anything that appears to be a “new” nuclear weapon.

Beginning with an initial design investment of roughly $120 million over the next two years, the Mod 12 would eventually replace all but the very newest versions of the B-61, the official said.

As many as 920 B-61 Mods 3, 4 and 7 could undergo the upgrades beginning as early as 2015, though the figures could decline if the arsenal shrinks in the coming years, the official said. An estimated 35 B-61 Mod 11s remaining in the force are modern enough that they would not have to undergo the refurbishment.

The move comes in response to congressional rejection of Bush administration efforts to develop a new nuclear warhead to modernize the entire U.S. arsenal. For the second year in a row, Capitol Hill has zeroed funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, touted as offering increased reliability, maintainability, safety and security relative to today’s stockpile (see GSN, July 10).

Lawmakers have demanded that the government show how such a new weapon would fit into its overarching nuclear strategy before they would consider funding.

One key sticking point has been concern about building a new nuclear warhead at a time when the United States is spearheading efforts to discourage proliferation around the globe. Another worry is that the Energy Department might need to test the design through underground explosions, despite a U.S. moratorium in place for more than a decade.

“It’s dead under this administration, that’s pretty clear,” the senior service official said of the Reliable Replacement Warhead. “Let’s see what happens in a new administration. But it’s not going to come out of this one.”

Both presidential candidates have left open the possibility of developing a new nuclear warhead, while still expressing a degree of caution. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has said he does not support “a premature decision to produce” the weapon, while Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said he would support only a warhead “that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent” and helps facilitate force reductions.

A Demand for ‘Real Estate’

Air Force interest in an expanded upgrade effort aligns with a new approach laid out recently by U.S. Strategic Command, under which some of the advanced technologies previously imagined for the Reliable Replacement Warhead might now be retrofitted into existing weapons as they undergo maintenance. The idea would be to fulfill as many RRW objectives as possible without a wholesale replacement of the warhead.

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous nuclear weapons agency has said that short of building a new Reliable Replacement Warhead, it is already incorporating all the safety and security features it can into existing weapons in the stockpile via ongoing Life-Extension Programs.

The National Nuclear Security Administration view reflects size and yield constraints on the current array of weapons in the U.S. stockpile, according to experts. However, if the Pentagon could either increase the size of a given weapon system or reduce its explosive yield, additional safety and security features imagined for the replacement warhead might instead be incorporated into existing hardware as it is overhauled, the Air Force official said.

“It’s that sort of thing that really allows you to get into this design space, that gives you a little more margin, without testing,” Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in a telephone interview this week.

While declining to describe specific safety and security upgrades under contemplation, the Air Force representative said they are modifications that “we know how to do, but they take ‘real estate’ [inside the weapon package]. They take volume. They take weight and mass.”

The official explained that desired security features would improve on “permissive action links” that for years have served as “a lock on the door” of each nuclear warhead, the official said. Little public information is available about how such security devices work, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff describes them as mechanisms “in or attached to a nuclear weapon system to preclude arming and/or launching until the insertion of a prescribed discrete code or combination.”

Amid growing concern about potential workarounds that might allow unauthorized access to a weapon, older permissive action links should be upgraded or replaced by the latest tools, the Air Force official argued. More modern devices might effectively neutralize the weapon upon any intrusion, this and other defense officials have said.

Moving to ‘Plan B’

The service has received initial indications that Capitol Hill might be amenable to altering the B-61’s size to allow for RRW-like improvements. However, legislators still might find it difficult to accept that the initiative remains within the bounds of a traditional Life-Extension Program, the official acknowledged.

“If you can put it in a bigger case, some people in the past thought that was not an LEP,” the official said. It is even less clear whether lawmakers would allow a change in yield, the official said.

“We are in discussions with staffers on the Hill on that, [having] talked to some of the people on the authorization committees very recently,” said the senior official. The service also planned to consult with the House and Senate appropriations committees “in the very near future,” the official added.

“Initial feedback” has been that lawmakers might “allow some exploration in more volume [or to] change the shape” of the B-61, if that would open up space for additional safety and security features, the official said. However, in keeping with congressional mandates against creating a new atomic weapon, legislators want to preserve “the same military capabilities” that the B-61 currently has, the official said.

The Energy Department’s nuclear weapons arm is wrapping up a limited life-extension effort for two variants of the B-61 — the Mod 7 and Mod 11 — that can be delivered by strategic bomber aircraft. John Broehm, an NNSA spokesman, said his organization would complete the refurbishment by the end of fiscal 2009.

The Air Force told the National Nuclear Security Administration “about a year ago” that it wanted to study expanding the scope of the B-61 life extension effort, given early congressional resistance to the replacement warhead idea, the service official said.

The study is scheduled to begin as of the new fiscal year next month. Depending on its results, the Air Force might offer the nuclear agency more detailed guidance on how much new room would be available on the bomb to include additional features.

“Say we can still meet the same mission … and we get agreement from the Hill that [we can] grow the case by, say — just to pull a number — an inch in diameter, and could add, say, 500 pounds of weight to the bomb,” the Air Force official said. “[If] we show them it’s the same mission set, and that’s still a B-61 Mod 12, then they can do so much more.”

The Air Force defines a “mod” as a change to a weapon that reflects new or different performance standards, such as explosive power or destructive capability against reinforced targets. Smaller changes, called “alterations,” replace a part or subsystem but do not involve a change in performance. Life-extension efforts typically constitute only an alteration.

The first weapon the RRW program was to replace was the Navy’s W-76 warhead. The initial concept for the B-61 Mod 12 grew out of plans for an RRW-2 weapon – a provenance that might not sit well with lawmakers who have opposed the replacement warhead.

The RRW-2 variant was to replace not only the B-61s but all air-delivered nuclear warheads, including cruise missiles, the official said.

“Remember, this is the second year in a row” that Congress has cut the replacement warhead from the administration’s budget, the official told GSN. “[The] B-61’s getting kind of long in the tooth. So a Mod 12 was always our backup if RRW did not go forward.”

When House and Senate appropriators opted this year to deny funding again, “that was not a surprise,” said the official. For the Air Force, “it was, ‘OK, Plan B: Mod 12.’”

An Initial Look

While a boost in the B-61’s casing might be more politically palatable, the upcoming life-extension study is also expected to assess how a decrease in yield might be traded for additional safety and security features, the senior service official said.

The service must assess whether a B-61 with less of an explosive punch would remain capable enough to reliably destroy the same targets as it could today, the official said.

Would the Air Force be able to “hold the same targets at risk?” asked the official, in describing performance alternatives the design study would consider. “What’s the same? What can be allowed to change?”

The roughly $120 million required for the two-year assessment would likely come from an $80.4 million catch-all line item for “B-61 Stockpile Systems” in the fiscal 2009 NNSA budget, along with a projected $111.3 million for B-61 efforts in fiscal 2010.

Between 2010 and 2013, NNSA officials, “in coordination with the DOD, will initiate a new LEP for the B-61 while researching, developing, and producing required weapon upgrades/modifications,” according to budget documents the nuclear organization provided to Congress this year.

The cost to actually undertake the B-61 life extension is unknown at this point, and “really depends upon what you put in,” said the Air Force official. Cost estimates also vary depending on how many bombs would be upgraded.

A Nuclear Posture Review that the incoming presidential administration is expected to launch next year could lead to changes in the size of the U.S. arsenal. In turn, that could affect the quantity of B-61s undergoing life extension, the official said.

“The beauty of the timing here, though, is the engineering study needs to go on no matter whether you build 10 or 300 or 500,” the official said. “So while the NPR’s going on and we’re deciding that path forward for the next administration, we still do that [B-61 design] work in parallel.”

Ultimately all of the Air Force and Navy nuclear warheads would undergo life extension, absent a warhead-replacement program, a senior Strategic Command official said in an interview last month.

After initiating the B-61 bomb project, the weapon next up for Air Force life extension would be the Minuteman 3 ICBM’s W-78 warhead. To improve that weapon’s safety and security components, the Air Force would have fewer options compared to the gravity bomb.

Warheads customized for ballistic or cruise missiles cannot grow in size to accommodate additional features because they must continue to fit on their delivery platforms, the Air Force official noted. There is more latitude to change the size or shape of a gravity bomb, which is delivered from bomber or attack aircraft.

“You can gain some [room] with modern electronics. They’re more compact than what we used in the ’70s,” the service official said. “And if that’s not enough [for the W-78 modernization], then you need to get a smaller physics package, which makes a smaller yield.”

The “physics package” includes all the explosive components of the warhead, so reducing its size to allow for the addition of other features would result in a less powerful weapon.

Along with the Energy Department, the Air Force is drafting a “Joint Life Extension Study” to lay out when each warhead in its stockpile should be modernized. The organizations launched the study over the past year and expect to complete it in fiscal 2009, the official said.

What Constitutes ‘New’?

For the near term, as the Air Force crafts a more ambitious life-extension effort for the gravity bomb, it could run afoul of congressional efforts to block a new nuclear weapon, according to Jeffrey Lewis, head of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation.

However, Lewis said he would “not necessarily [be] opposed to an LEP approach” if it could offer safety or security benefits, short of building a new warhead.

“We don’t know how far you can press the LEP program,” said Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. “Can you press it so far that it constitutes a new weapon?”

The Air Force official said that while the proposed changes would exceed a typical life extension, they would not require building a new “pit,” the atomic core of a weapon. By contrast, officials planned on a new pit for the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

That distinction, combined with the widely supported objective of increasing nuclear weapons safety and security, might ultimately garner congressional support for the effort, according to several Washington insiders.

“If you can combine the best features of an RRW program” with a refurbishment of the existing stockpile, “then you’ve potentially got a more marketable product” on Capitol Hill, a House aide said last week.

To the extent that a B-61 Life-Extension Program “can incorporate more safety and security functions … that would be a good idea,” Kristensen said. “Nobody is against that.”

He added, though, that Capitol Hill should ensure that safety and security risks to U.S. nuclear warheads are assessed realistically so that the cost to modify the weapons remains reasonable.

“The question is: Who sets the requirement for how much safety is necessary?” said Kristensen, who directs his organization’s Nuclear Information Project.

Similarly, without rigorous oversight, escalating concerns about the potential for nuclear terrorism could mean that virtually “anyone who comes around with new security features will get the go-ahead” to produce such components, he said.

Other thorny issues that first arose with the replacement warhead could also dog the new administration next year if it embraces the life-extension concept, several analysts noted. Among the questions raised would be whether warheads undergoing an expanded life extension could continue to be certified as reliable without explosive testing, the House aide said.

Hecker, the former Los Alamos lab director, advocates undertaking detailed studies and prototypes prior to any ambitious LEP overhauls, to prove the designs would be dependable without underground tests.

“If you can’t do it without testing, you can’t do it,” said Hecker, now a scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Expanded life-extension efforts “take you through as many questions as you had” with the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a program he supported, he said.

The Strategic Command official interviewed last month voiced confidence that additional life-extension measures could be implemented without a need to break a U.S. test moratorium in place since the early 1990s.

“I can test the fuses, I can test the high explosives that are in there, I can test a lot of the pieces. I can test all those both independently and [integrated] all the way to short of a [nuclear explosive] test,” the senior command official said. “So I can tell you everything in the weapon short of nuclear explosion happens in the way we predict it to happen. We do that still today with the current weapons.”

Another lingering uncertainty, even after an expanded life-extension effort is complete, is whether today’s sizable stockpile of backup warheads would still be needed as a “hedge” against potential technical failures, the House aide noted.

The administration this week reaffirmed that, absent an RRW program, an unspecified number of warheads above a future 2,200 limit on operationally deployed weapons must be retained, in part to mitigate the risk of discovering any malfunctions in the aging arsenal (see GSN, Sept. 24). It is unclear if the emerging plans for life extension might alter that calculus.

Council, NNSA close to deal on fire services

By JENNIFER GARCIA, Los Alamos Monitor County Reporter

An agreement to provide fire department services for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County may have passed a hurdle at Tuesday night’s County Council meeting held at the White Rock Town Hall.

County Administrator Max Baker presented a motion to council, which would authorize him to sign on behalf of the county and accept a financial assistance award from the National Nuclear Security Administration for a cooperative agreement to provide fire department services for the protection of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County with a county cost share not to exceed $17.8 million net total aggregate for five years.

“It’s a financial assistance agreement,” County Attorney Mary McInerny said. “Think of it as an award or grant. The term is five years, which will limit the amount of the cooperative agreement. Another (agreement) can be made at the end of five years.”

Council Chair Jim Hall moved to approve the motion to allow Baker to sign on behalf of the county. Councilor Frances Berting seconded the motion. After a vote, the motion was passed 5-0.

County staff is finalizing negotiations of elements of the cooperative agreement with NNSA and is expected to complete all negotiations by the end of the current federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.

The county administrator is seeking council approval of the parameters of a cooperative agreement so that it can be accepted and signed by the county by Sept. 30.

“We’re close to finalizing negotiations, that brings us great joy,” Baker said. “But there are still some issues remaining.”

Under federal financial assistance regulations, if the NNSA shares in responsibility for the performance of the project, — such as the protection of LANL and the county through fire department services — then NNSA is substantially involved throughout the term of the cooperative agreement with the county as the recipient of the financial assistance.

NNSA, the customer, has determined that substantial involvement will include the specification of overall minimum staffing levels, station 1 and 5 staffing levels, response times to major nuclear facilities and compliance with applicable fire protection standards for nuclear and high hazard facilities.

It will also require additional activity reporting and collaboration on, and review of, the county’s incident command system, pre-incident plans, training plans and operational response procedures. LAFD fire response personnel will continue to be trained for the hazards present at LANL and must have security clearances. The county’s fire department will continue to operate as a unified department.

Councilor Ken Milder made clear his feelings on the contract.

“It’s been a long, frustrating battle,” Milder said. “I’ve stated my concerns. Getting this contract finished will relieve concerns by firemen and employees. The grant is better than a three-and-a-half to one match. For every taxpayer dollar, the grant provides three-and-a-half to four dollars.”

The major difference between the cooperative agreement and current arrangements between NNSA and the county will be direct sharing of the total costs of the cooperative agreement. The county will annually contribute money to the budget for a net total of $17.8 million for five years in accordance with the approved annual budgets included as part of the cooperative agreement. The county also provides the personnel for the department and housing for fire department personnel in three fire stations owned and maintained by the county.

“To the public, this is transparent,” Councilor Michael Wheeler said. “The county will continue to operate the fire department. Negotiation was done for the citizens. To the community it looks like the county didn’t do anything. We’re providing services as agreed to through the (Department of Energy).”

GAO: Los Alamos Lab has cybersecurity gaps

By Alice Lipowicz, Federal Computer Week
Published on September 26, 2008

The Los Alamos National Laboratory suffers from cybersecurity weaknesses that affect how it protects information on its sensitive but unclassified network, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

That network includes sensitive data such as controlled nuclear information, export control information, and personally identifiable information about employees of the national lab, the GAO report released Sept. 25 explained.

The nuclear weapons lab, in Los Alamos, N.M., has experienced breaches in its security in several incidents over the last decade. It was budgeted nearly $200 million in fiscal 2007 to provide for physical and cybersecurity. Despite improvements, the facility continues to have gaps in its physical security and cybersecurity, the GAO report concluded.

“Our review of cybersecurity at Los Alamos National Laboratory found that the laboratory has implemented measures to enhance its information security, but weaknesses remain in protecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information on its unclassified network,” the report said.

Vulnerabilities exist in identifying and authenticating users; encrypting sensitive information; and monitoring and auditing compliance with security policies. Furthermore, the lab has not fully implemented an information security program.

GAO made 52 recommendations to fix the lab’s cybersecurity gaps, some of which had been documented in prior years.

Lab officials have said that their cybersecurity funding amount is inadequate to address all the security concerns, but that assessment has been questioned by the National Nuclear Security Administration. From fiscal years 2001 through 2007, the lab spent $51.4 million to protect and maintain its unclassified network.

[Download the GAO report here.]

LANL begins soil sampling in Los Alamos

The Associated Press
Article Launched: 09/25/2008 05:25:21 PM MDT

LOS ALAMOS, N.M.—Los Alamos National Laboratory has started sampling soil in the northern New Mexico community of Los Alamos under a consent order with the state Environment Department.

The lab said the sampling effort is an environmental assessment of areas that have been or could have been affected by lab operations from the days of the Manhattan Project to the early 1970s.

Lab officials say they don't expect to find contaminants at levels that pose any risk to human health or the environment because most parts of the Upper Los Alamos Canyon area have been investigated in the past and soil removed from some areas.

Should any samples indicate a risk, the lab said those areas will be cleaned up in coordination with the state and the U.S. Department of Energy.

'Catastrophic Consequences' Could Befall Weapons Lab

Former Counterintelligence Official: DOE Misleading Congress on Security

September 25, 2008

The Department of Energy is misleading Congress about security at the nation's nuclear weapons labs and left unchecked it could lead to "catastrophic consequences," a former counterintelligence officer at Lawrence Livermore National Lab wrote in a letter to a top member of Congress this month.

"Congress is being misled on the true nature of the effectiveness of counterintelligence within the Department of Energy," wrote Terry Turchie in a Sept. 1 letter to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The problem, he wrote, is last year's consolidation of the two counterintelligence offices at the Department of Energy into the broader Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. That change, he wrote, has diminished the emphasis and management of the agency's efforts to ferret out espionage.

"Counterintelligence capabilities have been greatly undermined," wrote Turchie, who headed Livermore's counterintelligence from 2001 to September 2007 and was one of the lead FBI agents investigating Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski. "As a result, the vulnerability of DOE personnel and facilities to hostile intelligence entities has increased exponentially."

Security at DOE's weapon's labs has long been a concern. But the new allegations, which will be among the topics addressed at a hearing Thursday by Dingell's committee, raise questions about one of the more recent changes to DOE oversight.

"Mr. Turchie's letter raises a number of concerns about how merging the counterintelligence and intelligence functions at the Department of Energy may have impaired the Department's counterintelligence capabilities," Dingell said in a statement.

A Department of Energy spokesperson defended the consolidation and noted that it had been mandated by Congress. The office "provided and continues to provide the Secretary and other decision-makers within the Department, other government agencies, and Congress timely, technical intelligence and counterintelligence analysis on all aspects of foreign nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and energy security issues worldwide," Andrew Beck said in a statement.

Among the concerns highlighted in the letter.

*That the new director put more emphasis on intelligence than counterintelligence.

*That the senior counterintelligence officers in the field have "drastically reduced" communication with headquarters.

*That lab directors had not had as much input in the development of counterintelligence principles.

*That counterintelligence field positions were reduced and not filled quickly enough.

The allegations highlight similar concerns raised in a July report by the Congressional Research Service. But proponents of the change, CRS noted, found that most favored the consolidation, which they said reduced overlap, gave a unifying structure and put one individual ultimately accountable for any counterintelligence problems.

How to handle counterintelligence at the labs has a long history. Following revelations 1998 that indicated China had stolen nuclear weapons secrets from the DOE lab, President Bill Clinton created a special Office of Counterintelligence in the department to come up with a comprehensive plan to ferret out espionage. In 1999, Congress, based on recommendations from a series of experts, created a separate semi-autonomous agency within DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration, to oversee counterintelligence at the DOE weapons labs. The original office of counterintelligence remained at DOE, with oversight of the non-weapons labs.

There was some sharing of intelligence but by 2002, critics were already pointing to problems in the bifurcated counterintelligence approach and by 2003, the Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham publicly said that the this structure was "not optimal."

So in 2007, on the recommendation of DOE, Congress consolidated the two counterintelligence offices.

Budgeting by Continuing Resolution Continues, Congress Earns its Dismal Approval Ratings

September 27th, 2008
By David Bruggeman, Prometheus - The Science Policy Blog

Both NPR and Congressional Quarterly are reporting that amidst all of the financial bailout negotiations, Congress today did clear a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government until early March 2009. This marks the third consecutive fiscal year (which starts October 1) in which the Congress has failed to pass even a majority of its appropriations bills before the start of that fiscal year. This is just one reason why their approval rating is lower than the President’s.

This professional incompetence is both not surprising and a bad sign for any programs depending on consistent funding - whether that funding is constant or promised with a constant rate of growth. I think research communities need to seriously consider finding alternative sources of funding. Independent of the twin fiscal drains of war and bailouts (the auto industry got $25 billion today), federal funding can no longer be counted on, even at the more meager levels. The biomedical community completely failed to manage its wealth of riches when the NIH budget was doubled, and they have too many students and too many researchers landing hard. I am concerned that all research communities in this country will be neither ready nor able to handle a decrease in resources. We’ve just been on the gravy train too long to see it crashing into the painted hole in the rock.

I’m afraid I can’t describe this in stark enough terms for people to act accordingly. If you thought science and technology were ignored before, get ready for fiscal apathy. If you think the expected crunch of the mid-90s following the Cold War was successfully avoided, consider the possibility that it was only delayed 15 years. To borrow climate science language - adaptation strategies are needed now that mitigation appears to be unsuccessful.

Sep 26, 2008

Russia to upgrade nuclear systems

BBC News

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans to build a "guaranteed nuclear deterrent system", to be in place by 2020.

He said he wanted military chiefs to submit plans by December.

He called for a programme to build new nuclear submarines as well as "a system of aerospace defence".

The announcement comes just weeks after Russia accused the US of starting a new arms race by siting part of its missile defence shield in Poland.

"We must guarantee nuclear deterrence under various political and military conditions by 2020," Mr Medvedev told military commanders.

He said it was necessary to build "new types of armaments" and to "achieve dominance in airspace", according to quotes carried by the Itar-Tass news agency.

"We plan to start serial production of warships, primarily nuclear-powered submarines carrying cruise missiles and multifunctional submarines," Mr Medvedev said.

"We will develop an aerospace defence system, as well," he added.

Russia's move would not change the balance of power, said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

She told Reuters: "The balance of power in terms of nuclear deterrence is not going to be affected by those measures."

She said the US nuclear deterrent was "capable" and "robust".

Moscow has repeatedly criticised the US for going ahead with plans for a missile defence shield, using rockets based in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, saying it destabilises the strategic balance and builds "a ring of steel" around Russia.

Russia warned it would be "forced to react".

This, it seems, is Russia is showing its own determination to bolster its nuclear deterrent, says the BBC's defence correspondent, Caroline Wyatt.

Sep 25, 2008

Stop-Gap Funding Bill Avoids Lab Cuts

By John Fleck
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

The House of Representatives approved a stop-gap funding bill Wednesday that sidesteps a battle over proposed budget reductions that could have forced job cuts at New Mexico's nuclear weapons labs.

The bill is a response to congressional failure to complete a budget for the nuclear weapons work, and a wide range of other federal programs, before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. In lieu of a new budget for fiscal year 2009, the spending plan largely continues federal spending at 2008 levels.

That is good news for Sandia and Los Alamos labs, according to Chris Gallegos, spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. An earlier version of the budget passed by the House in June would have cut $360 million in nuclear spending at Los Alamos and Sandia, potentially costing more than 2,000 jobs in New Mexico. A counteroffer developed by a Senate committee in July would have replaced much of that money.

By approving a "continuing resolution" to fund most federal operations at 2008 levels, the House action avoids a potentially bruising fight between the House and Senate over the House's proposed nuclear weapons cuts.

"A CR puts off for today the divergent funding priorities between the Senate and House when it comes to our labs," Domenici said in a statement. "But stabilized FY2008 funding levels is acceptable when compared to alternatives that would impose arbitrary cuts to the labs' national security work."

Anastasio speaking to House subcommittee today

September 25, 2008

Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio is scheduled to testify before a congressional subcommittee this morning. The House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations is holding a hearing on security at Department of Energy national laboratories.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (MDT).

A link to a video Web cast of the hearing is here.

Sep 24, 2008

U.S. Nuclear Arms Paper Underlines Need for RRW

By Elaine M. Grossman
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — Despite congressional action that has indefinitely shelved Bush administration plans to develop a new nuclear weapon, the defense and energy secretaries yesterday released a white paper underscoring the need for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (see GSN, Aug. 5).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman circulated the nuclear weapons policy paper on Capitol Hill on Monday and it was posted to the Defense Department Web site late the next day without fanfare. The document expands on a five-page statement about nuclear arms issues that Gates, Bodman and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released more than one year ago (see GSN, July 25, 2007).

A defense spokesman said he could not explain why the Pentagon opted to forgo a long-anticipated press conference to “roll out” the document in favor of an unannounced release late in the day.

A classified version of the report on “National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st century” was submitted to Congress in March, according to Thomas D’Agostino, head of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration.

As first reported last month by Global Security Newswire, Rice opted out of signing the 28-page white paper, despite having joined the other two Cabinet principals on last year’s statement. Rice’s aides said this document’s discussion of “technical issues” fell outside her diplomatic purview. Nonetheless, they acknowledged that the State Department helped to prepare its wording.

Like the earlier statement, the new white paper insists that the Reliable Replacement Warhead would be necessary to retain confidence in the nuclear arsenal without explosive testing. Buying the new weapon would also allow the United States to reduce a sizable stockpile of warheads kept in reserve as a “hedge” against the rise of a belligerent power or the discovery of flaws in one or more types of warheads, the document states.

“Ultimately, a reliable replacement warhead will be needed to sustain nuclear force capabilities, revitalize the nuclear infrastructure, and reduce the nuclear stockpile in a manner that is consistent with U.S. security objectives, including alliance commitments,” Bodman and Gates state in foreword to the report.

Since the July 2007 statement was released, Congress has moved to eliminate RRW funding for both fiscal 2008 and 2009 (see GSN, July 10). Lawmakers said they would consider supporting proposals for a replacement warhead only after the administration explained how the weapon would fit into an overall nuclear arms strategy.

Many Washington officials have concluded that the RRW program would go no further in the fewer than four months left in President George W. Bush’s term in office.

Both presidential candidates have left themselves ample room to decide at some future date about the new warhead. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has said he does not support “a premature decision to produce” the weapon. His Republican counterpart, Senator John McCain (Ariz.), has said he would support only a warhead “that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals.”

The white paper offers scant acknowledgement of the political hurdles the proposed new warhead has faced. In a somewhat oblique reference, though, the document states: “Maintaining a credible nuclear force for the nation will require partnership between the Executive Branch and the Congress.”

Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons specialist at the Federation of American Scientists, found it noteworthy that the white paper “continues to advocate [Reliable Replacement Warhead] by name despite congressional opposition.”

However, a former Bush administration policy official at the Pentagon offered the two secretaries kudos for continuing to lay out their vision for a modernized nuclear force for a new century, despite critics on Capitol Hill.

“Although the paper highlights the need for a robust and responsive nuclear infrastructure, movement toward that goal has been stymied by a combination of misplaced concerns and congressional actions,” David Trachtenberg said today in e-mailed comments.

The secretaries’ paper discusses at length why the United States continues to need nuclear weapons at a time when several former national security leaders from both parties have called for international disarmament (see GSN, Feb. 26).

“The United States continues to maintain nuclear forces for two fundamental reasons,” the white paper states. “First, the international security environment remains dangerous and unpredictable, and has grown more complicated since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Political intentions can change overnight and technical surprises can be expected. Second, nuclear weapons continue to play unique roles in supporting U.S. national security strategy.”

The paper does not address in much detail critics’ concerns that the development of new nuclear weapons might make it more difficult for the United States to lead nonproliferation efforts around the globe.

The document, though, does respond to the notion that advanced conventional weapons — with their precision targeting and limited destructive capabilities — might substitute for nuclear arms under many circumstances. The two secretaries suggest that there are limits to the utility of conventional weapons that will continue to make nuclear arms indispensable into the “foreseeable future.”

“Against many targets, U.S. nuclear weapons have a lethality that cannot be matched by non-nuclear munitions,” the paper reads. “Both advanced conventional weapons and missile defenses can enhance deterrence, but the ability to deter certain threats rests ultimately and fundamentally on the availability and continued effectiveness of U.S. nuclear forces.”

The white paper includes a four-page section describing potential threats that help justify the maintenance of a robust U.S. nuclear arsenal. Three groups are outlined:

—“States of Concern: States that either have or seek weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them and whose behavior is outside of international norms;

—“Violent Extremists and Nonstate Actors: Nonstate organizations that are motivated by goals and values at odds with our values, and that resort to violent means to further their goals; some seek [weapons of mass destruction] and the means to deliver them; and

—“Major Existing Nuclear States Outside of NATO: China and Russia are each modernizing their nuclear capabilities; the future political direction of each remains uncertain.”

For the latter category, the white paper lists several advanced delivery systems and training initiatives that these two nuclear powers have under way, pointedly noting that “Russia and China continue to attach great significance to their nuclear forces and their modernization.”

Taken together with the rise states of concern such as North Korea and Iran, as well as the potential for Hezbollah or other nonstate actors to obtain nuclear technology or materials from their backers, the international security picture would seem to discourage nuclear disarmament, the paper argues.

“Nothing in the developments highlighted above suggest that U.S. nuclear weapons are no longer needed,” the document states, noting that proliferation concerns are growing over time. “These trends clearly indicate the continuing relevance of nuclear weapons, both today and in the foreseeable future, and the need to maintain a viable U.S. nuclear capability well into the 21st century.”

Experts are already differing over whether the white paper employs outdated ideas about nuclear deterrence or takes a new tack more appropriate for current and potential threats.

“Whereas the 2007 version did not mention Russia or China by name, the new paper appears to return to a more traditional comparison of Russian and Chinese nuclear capabilities as a justification for U.S. forces,” Kristensen told GSN by e-mail today.

“By using traditional near-Cold War threat based analysis to argue why a U.S. arsenal ‘second to none’ is justified, the paper comes across as a line in the nuclear sand, an attempt to establish a bastion to counter public and congressional ideas to fundamentally change the U.S. nuclear posture,” added Kristensen, who directs his organization’s Nuclear Information Project.

By contrast, Trachtenberg sees the paper as embodying fresh ideas.

The piece “offers a clear articulation of the continued need for nuclear weapons and an effective nuclear deterrent in the 21st century,” he said. “In light of the greater emphasis by Russia and China on improving their own nuclear weapons capabilities, and the desire of rogue states and terrorist groups to obtain nuclear weapons, an effective and credible nuclear deterrent remains essential to U.S. security.”

For his part, Kristensen objected to the use of some emerging threats as helping justify the size and composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“The paper fails to discuss how non-nuclear forces might be sufficient in deterring or responding to ‘states of concern,’ and instead treats these lesser adversaries as logical targets for U.S. nuclear weapons,” he said, noting that he differs with the premise. Kristensen added that despite the document’s discussion of violent extremists, “most analysts agree that terrorists cannot or do not need to be targets for nuclear weapons.”

However, Trachtenberg sees the formulation as appropriate, noting that the white paper “clarifies the shift in thinking away from Cold War models of deterrence based on arithmetic calculations of numbers of weapons and target sets to a more flexible and adaptable posture capable of responding to a dynamic security environment.”

The paper describes French and British programs to modernize their own nuclear deterrents, noting that both U.S. allies have “made sober assessments of the risks and uncertainties in the new security environment, and each has reached similar conclusions” (see GSN, Sept. 18 and July 25).

In fact, the paper goes on to observe, “the United States is now the only nuclear weapons state party to the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] that does not have the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead.”

The document also includes some details about anticipated U.S. reductions to no more than 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons by the end of 2012 (see GSN, Oct. 30, 2007).

The nuclear force “available on a day-to-day basis” offers a “spectrum” of targeting options but is “much smaller” that the 1,700 or more warheads described under the U.S.-Russian Moscow Treaty.

“However, should unexpected developments pose a more imminent threat, the projected day-to-day alert force could be increased relatively quickly (a few weeks to months)” up to the 2,200-warhead cap, the paper states. “Such actions could be needed in response to an unexpected contingency, e.g., the emergence of a new WMD-armed adversary, or severe deterioration in a U.S. near-peer relationship resulting in a return to hostile confrontation and nuclear threats.”

The use of the term “near peer” typically refers to a future Russia or China.

At the same time, the paper acknowledges that an unspecified number of “additional warheads” beyond the 2,200 operationally deployable weapons would be retained after 2012. These would be used as logistics spares and to replace any warheads discovered to be defective. Some warheads would also be retained “for prudent risk management to mitigate geopolitical and technical risks.”

The secretaries also appear to be leaving to the next administration a judgment call about the composition of the future stockpile.

“No decisions have been made about the number or mix of specific warheads to be fielded in 2012,” the document states. “Factors bearing on these decisions will be addressed in periodic reviews of future geopolitical trends, the health of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and progress towards fielding the New Triad and restoring a responsive nuclear weapons infrastructure.”

The “new triad,” as defined by the Bush administration, comprises offensive capabilities — to include nuclear and non-nuclear weapons — along with defensive capabilities and a responsive national security framework.

L.A. Law

The following is from email I exchanged with one of the blog's readers:
Subject: Class Settlement Stats (per UPTE)

Total Available Settlement Amount: $12,000,000

Total Payout From Settlement Fund: $11,466,126.16

Average Payout: $3,598.91
Median Payout: $3,367.72
Minimum Payout: $34.59

Maximum Payout: $12,137.16 (probably went to C. Chandler of Lab Legal), note the following:

Chandler, Christine LC-LM
2006 Salary: $141,360.00
Title: Office Leader

Other Stats:
Total Class Rep Payout: $617,500
Average Class Rep Payout: $123,500 per

Total Consent Plaintiff Awards: $342,500.00 (payments to those not selected as class reps, but who were willing to submit application)

I replied with this question:
Do you think it was to some degree unethical or a conflict of interest for Chandler and Prando to receive part of this settlement? It seems to me that they were in a position relay information about the lab's legal defense to the plaintiff's attorneys.

And here is the answer I received:
Hadn't thought about it that way. You're absolutely right though. As attorneys in the Lab's legal office they would have had access to case-related information, including strategy discussions. And given that they did, as we now see, obtain a share of the settlement, they clearly were in a conflict of interest position as Lab attorneys. Whether they were directly involved in the case or not isn't even the issue. The issue is they had access, by merely being attorneys within the legal organization handling this case, to information related to the case and, as such, are in conflict with their duty to the Lab and their personal interest in realizing a personal gain from the settlement as well. Excellent point!

Sep 23, 2008

Fw: Low Mileage on Vehicles This Month

Anonymous please.
Please see the message below from XXX stating that 3 of our vehicles have not met the monthly requirements, which are for each vehicle, 250 miles per month OR 6 trips per day. In a conversation with YYY about this subject, he states that if a vehicle's monthly mileage totals are under the 250 minimum, then the vehicle logs are looked at to determine how many daily trips have been made. The trips need to include all the stops made on a particular trip; so for example, if one checks out the vehicle and goes to 2 meetings at different locations and then stops to add fuel to the vehicle before returning it to the office, that is considered 3 trips; thus each stop is to be listed on the log sheet for that trip.

Your assistance in recording trips, with all stops, and mileage accurately will help in keeping the number of vehicles we currently have.

>> Please we need mileages on your VEHICLES..........................
>> three failed this month...........................
>> will need at least the following miles for next month reporting......(will be due 10/15th)
>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>> Vehicle #0304D, Pickup w/lift gate, reported 163 miles will need 337 for this next month
>> Vehice # 1535A, Van reported 199 miles will need 301 for this next month
>> Vehicle# 2402B, Blue Tahoe reported 153 miles will need 347 for this next month
>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>> Thanks

[According to Google maps, the loop is 18.9 miles and about 42 minutes. Someone will need to spend 36.5 hours driving 52 times around the loop to put 985 miles on these vehicles before October 15th? Or make 18 trips per day until October 15th I suppose. Wouldn't it be cheaper to let this organization keep these vehicles and waive the silly rules?]

Budget Squeeze Has Lab Lease Facility

By John Fleck
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Los Alamos has had major successes of late, but is feeling squeezed by dwindling funding and aging infrastructure, the lab's director told members of the University of California board of regents on Wednesday.

With aging buildings and little money to replace them, the lab is trying a new approach to building a new science complex — having a private developer finance and construct the building, which the lab will then lease.

The lab last week chose Pacific Equity Partners to build the new Los Alamos Science Complex.

The problem, Michael Anastasio said at the California meeting, which was broadcast over the Internet, is a federal governmentwide squeeze on money for science.

Located in the Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe, Los Alamos is one of the nation's three nuclear weapons research centers. Anastasio took over as the laboratory's director two years ago when a consortium led by engineering giant Bechtel took over lab management from the University of California, which had managed Los Alamos since its founding during World War II.

The University of California is one of Bechtel's partners in the new management group set up two years ago to run the lab.

Anastasio called the current period “an important time of transition for the laboratory.”

The additional cost associated with the transition to private management, combined with a budget losing ground to inflation, has meant the equivalent of a 25 percent reduction in available money to run Los Alamos, Anastasio told the UC regents.

Lab employment has dropped by 2,200, he said.

Despite the tough times, Anastasio praised the science being done at Los Alamos, both in the nuclear weapons program and elsewhere.

The lab's new Roadrunner supercomputer is the world's fastest — the first computer in the world to break the petaflop barrier, a thousand trillion calculations per second.

The U.S. nuclear weapons program financed Roadrunner, but Anastasio noted that one of its first scientific calculations will be a simulation of the human brain.

According to Anastasio, Los Alamos has shown marked improvements in two areas that have caused problems in the past: safety and security.

Security incidents are down 75 percent from a year ago, and safety incidents are down 35 percent, he said.

Norman Pattiz, head of the regents' Lab Oversight Committee, said lab management at Los Alamos and the other two laboratories the university helps manage for the federal government have received “extremely positive feedback” from the federal officials responsible for the labs.

LANL Open Enrollment 2009

Hi Frank,

Benefits is starting the more in-depth phase of communications for Open Enrollment to active and retired employees of LANL. We've got letters in the mail, some newspaper ads, New Dimensions article etc. all in the works or on the way. Here is a copy of the summary of what's happening, in case you think your readership would be interested in this information. From a "benefit dude" perspective, this is pretty unprecedented good news in this modern era of increased health care costs etc. - no rate increases in Medical or Dental rates for actives or retirees, a new Life and Disability vendor with substantially better service and much lower rates for most employees, a new Vision offering for retirees (just like UC's recent offering, but slightly cheaper)... not too shabby!

The LANL Open Enrollment Web page should be up and running later this month also.

As always, thanks for your time and for maintaining a presence out in the blogosphere.


Thanks Greg! I'm sorry I couldn't post this a week ago when you sent it. No deadlines have passed so hopefully no harm done. Please send a link to the LANL Open Enrollment web page when it's available. The information for retirees you sent is available for download here.

"Houston, We've Had a Problem"

Since Hurricane Ike, folks here in Houston have experienced damage from turbulence, a loss of pressure in the fresh water systems, and a persistent undervoltage condition still affecting one third of the power system. For most of us these minor disruptions were not the end of the world.

Unfortunately my most ardent fan (the one Gussie calls "Little Prick") was overwrought with grief at my temporary absence. You have my sincere apologies. I shan't leave you again, my friend. I really do it all for you.

To Gussie, who never lets me buy the beer, I'm paying next time damnit.

To the blog's readers, I missed you and it's great to be back!

Sep 18, 2008

Frank's Absence

For those who have wondered about Frank's whereabouts lately (this is aimed primarily at one especially snide little prick who recently left a derogatory comment noting Frank's recent absence): Frank lives in Houston. Houston got hit by Ike; most of the city still does not have power or water.

Frank called me on his cell a few days ago to request that I tend his blog until he gets back on line.

I grudgingly agreed to approve comments, but I won't be posting any new articles until Frank is connected again. Deal with it.


Sep 12, 2008

Military’s RRW Alternative Is Warhead Life Extension

By Elaine M. Grossman
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — Convinced the time has come for an alternative to building a controversial new nuclear warhead, a key U.S. military command is laying the groundwork for Plan B: Dramatically extending the existing stockpile’s service life, Global Security Newswire has learned (see GSN, Aug. 5).

Yet this approach might also prove contentious once the details are sorted out, critics are already asserting.

Officials at U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for nuclear combat operations, say they now want to expand “life-extension programs” under way for aging weapons in the arsenal. Under ongoing efforts, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is infusing another 20 to 30 years into warheads already three to four decades old by refurbishing and replacing aging components.

Strategic Command chief Gen. Kevin Chilton had previously been among the most vocal advocates of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, and his aides said this week he continues to support it. Under the program, the Bush administration proposes to build a new series of new weapons aimed at offering increased safety against accidents, security against potential misuse, operational reliability, and maintainability to decrease annual costs.

Chilton has argued, as recently as this past spring, that design studies for the new warhead should be fully funded as a hedge against a potential discovery that the aging arsenal would not function as expected. Ongoing life-extension efforts might be insufficient to guarantee that the warheads would work, in the absence of explosive testing, in the future, according to past statements.

“We need to get on with this,” Chilton said in February (see GSN, March 6).

However, political realities are setting in.

His command’s about-face comes on the heels of congressional action to eliminate the Bush administration’s requested RRW funds for the second year in a row (see GSN, July 10). Congress has demanded that the administration spell out how such a new weapon would figure into a comprehensive nuclear deterrence strategy before lawmakers would consider funding the program.

Detractors have argued that a new warhead would send the wrong message at a time when the United States has led international efforts against known or suspected nuclear weapons programs in countries such as North Korea and Iran.

‘You Do The Best You Can’

Under Strategic Command’s new approach, some of the advanced technologies previously imagined for the Reliable Replacement Warhead might now be retrofitted into existing weapons as they undergo maintenance. The intent would be to meet as many RRW objectives as possible — principally increased safety and security — without a wholesale replacement of the warhead.

The fiscal 2010 budget request, which the Bush administration could hand off to the president-elect before the end of the year, is likely to include “an effort which just says, ‘Let’s look at [doing] as much as we can technologically, without actually doing ‘RRW work,’ which Congress didn’t want to approve,” a senior Strategic Command official said during an Aug. 21 interview.

Current LEP efforts are aimed at extending the service lives of the Air Force’s B-61 bomb warhead and the W-76 warhead used on the Navy Trident D-5 missile. These initiatives focus on overhauling or replacing corroded metal parts and other aging weapons components.

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous nuclear weapons arm in June 2006 delivered its first refurbished B-61 bomb to the stockpile. The agency expects to complete work on all the B-61 Mod 7 and Mod 11 versions undergoing this limited life-extension effort before the end of fiscal 2009, according to NNSA spokesman John Broehm.

Following deployed-warhead reductions in 2012, the United States would have roughly 420 B-61 Mod 7s and 35 B-61 Mod 11s, according to data compiled last year by Robert Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. An estimated 2,000 W-76 warheads would undergo life extension, Kristensen also reported last year.

Agency officials plan to complete the first limited overhaul of a W-76 warhead by January. That program is to wrap up in 2022, when the entire W-76 stockpile has been refurbished.

Strategic Command officials now hope to add RRW-like improvements to the menu of future LEP changes to these warheads.

“You do the best you can with the weapon systems that you’ve already got fielded,” said the command official. “And so you try to go back and retrofit those instead of building a fresher weapon.”

The official, who requested anonymity because of sensitivities surrounding the discussion of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, offered an analogy drawn from everyday life.

“It would be like adding a stereo to your car,” he said. “OK, I can’t buy a new car so I’ll go buy me a stereo and put it in my car.”

Similarly, “in many cases, now you can go update the avionics or the electronics that are in the weapons,” the official said. “We had thought we were going to do this in an RRW program. So if we won’t do it in that, then we’ll do as much as possible [on] the LEP side of the house.”

As it stands, the existing LEP effort involves some amount of modernizing old parts, the official explained. Under the revised approach, “when I do this enhancement or depot modification and maintenance, I’d [also] like to enhance security and reliability,” the official said.

However, the NNSA spokesman said his organization is already doing everything possible to update nuclear warheads that undergo life extension, short of building a new weapon.

“With every LEP that we do, we are always enhancing the safety and security of the weapons,” Broehm told GSN this week. “We just won’t be able to do it [in life extension] on the scale that we were hoping to with an RRW.”

Under the emerging Strategic Command concept, the lines typically drawn between congressionally mandated life extension for existing warheads and a congressionally prohibited warhead-replacement program might become more blurry, nuclear arms expert Jeffrey Lewis said last week.

As the LEP effort evolves into something more ambitious, it might trigger alarms as to whether the refurbishments entail so much change as to effectively create the very sort of “new” nuclear weapon Congress has sought to block.

Reliable Replacement Warhead advocates in the administration “keep pushing that envelope just a little bit more,” said Lewis, who directs the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation. “And they’re going to keep getting their hands slapped.”

Putting More Warheads Into Life Extension

Strategic Command officials are also seeking life-extension programs for additional warheads in the arsenal, ones that would have simply been replaced by the Reliable Replacement Warhead if it had it gone forward.

The prior “strategy was to not do LEP [for some warheads] because we were assuming we would do RRW instead,” the command official said. “So, absent RRW, then we’ll continue to do maintenance on the existing weapon stockpile.”

The official would not specify which additional warheads would immediately follow the B-61 and W-76 in life extension, saying those judgments would be left to NNSA scientists and policy officials.

However, in the Air Force, next up would likely be the Minuteman 3 ICBM’s W-78 warhead, a senior service official said in an interview Wednesday. Significant life-extension design work for the W-78, though, would not begin until around 2020, the official said.

“All of them will eventually be done,” the Strategic Command official said last month, referring to the entire nuclear arsenal.

Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the United States is moving to a deployed stockpile of no more than 2,200 warheads by December 2012. Schedules and cost estimates for the overhaul concept are in the works, officials said.

Even without the new warhead on the drawing boards, “the intent is going to be the same,” explained the senior official. “It’s just not going to be accomplished to the same degree that it would have been with RRW, if I go down a pure LEP path.”

The NNSA spokesman said his agency still has not given up on the idea that the Reliable Replacement Warhead remains necessary and should go forward during a new U.S. administration.

“I would still argue for RRW,” Broehm said. “It would allow us to make the enhancements to a much greater degree.”

‘Little Chemistry Experiments’

Chilton has depicted the nuclear arsenal as nearing the edge of a precipice, in which U.S. officials could discover that one or more types of aging warheads have ceased to function as expected.

Nuclear warheads “sitting on the shelf” are “actually little chemistry experiments that are cooking away,” the general told a Capitol Hill breakfast audience in July. With the gradual degradation, “I sense there’s a cliff out there someplace, and I don’t know how close I am to the edge of that cliff,” he said (see GSN, July 22).

Others have voiced more confidence in the ability of an LEP effort to forestall indefinitely any serious nuclear weapons degradation.

“I don’t agree with the generally stated assumption that confidence and the reliability of our existing nuclear weapons will inevitably decline with time as the weapons age,” physicist and former weapons designer Richard Garwin said in March 2007 congressional testimony.

He said the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program — an NNSA initiative that encompasses the life-extension program — has resulted in greater confidence in the viability of weapons cores, or “pits,” over time.

So, too, “with the passage of time and the improvement in computing tools, I believe that confidence in the reliability of the existing legacy weapons will increase rather than diminish,” Garwin told lawmakers last year.

Chilton’s command now envisions a life-extension effort for the entire arsenal simply “because they didn’t get to do Plan A,” said nuclear arms analyst Lewis, referring to the RRW program. From the start, though, life extension “probably ought to have been Plan A,” he said.

Strategic Command is expected to convey to the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons branch in the coming weeks its ideas for expanded life extension, according to the official interviewed last month.

For its part, at least one of the national laboratories involved in both the RRW and LEP efforts has said it would remain agnostic.

“We will pursue the course of action decided by the administration, Congress and the DOD,” the Los Alamos National Laboratory is cited as saying in a Congressional Research Service report issued last year. “If they wish to pursue LEPs, then we’re fully committed to that path and will provide our best advice and service.”

LANL Salary Disparity Settlement Beneficiaries


Per UPTE web site:
It's been said you can judge a person's character not by what he says but by what he does. There are at least two Lab attorneys (Castille and Prando) on the list of salary disparity class settlement recipients referenced here, plus two Level 4 Managers from Lab Legal (Chandler and Woitte). How many other highly paid managers took a share of the settlement for themselves? How about HR and other personnel whose primary mission it is to discredit employees complaining of workplace abuse?

Honorable people don't abuse or try to cover up the abusive antics of others, nor do they behave in such a manner and then proceed to enrich themselves when, through the efforts of others, those abuses get exposed and remedied. Where's the integrity? Indeed, where's the shame?
- Anonymous

Sep 10, 2008

Success for 'Big Bang' experiment

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

Three decades after it was conceived, the world's most powerful physics experiment has sent the first beam around its 27km-long tunnel.

Engineers cheered as the proton particles completed their first circuit of the underground ring which houses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The £5bn machine on the Swiss-French border is designed to smash particles together with cataclysmic force.

This will re-create conditions in the Universe moments after the Big Bang.

But it has not been plain sailing; the project has been hit by cost overruns, equipment trouble and construction problems. The switch-on itself is two years late.


Read the latest on this story at 'Big Bang' experiment under way.

Sep 8, 2008

New book tracks nuclear wildfire

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Danny Stillman, whose book on nuclear science in China got bottled up by the intelligence community, has a new book up on

It won’t be out until January, but “Nuclear Express,” co-written with a former Secretary of the Air Force, may find an even bigger audience, given the growing dangers of nuclear proliferation in the world.

Stillman, who lives in White Rock and still feels constrained after years of legal wrestling with the CIA, referred questions to his partner, Thomas C. Reed.

A former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Reed described his own career trajectory as having been “caught up by politics that led to the White House and then to the Pentagon (as Gerald Ford’s Air Force Secretary).” His book “At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War,” was published in 2004.

Stillman worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1965 to 1993, including 13 years as director of the technical intelligence unit. From 1990 to 1999, he made nine trips to China where he was invited to visit many of China’s most important nuclear weapons facilities, talked to key officials and compiled a great deal of information on the Chinese nuclear testing program, including dates and events, their purposes, yields and lessons learned.

Some of this information is included in a new article in the current issue of Physics Today, “The Chinese Nuclear Tests, 1964-1996,” written by Reed in a way, he said, that avoided some of the pitfalls Stillman encountered.

“I’m aware that he has obligations and I have obligations,” Reed said, noting that that the government’s rights and informational courtesies have been respected, “But in the sense that we are trying to warn against nuclear proliferation, we’re all on the same team.”

He has walked a careful line with legal assistance to avoid classification problems. As an author, he was allowed to quote from Stillman, as long as he confirmed the information from a second source.

But the new book has a much broader canvas, with a global perspective on nuclear weapons that covers the period “from the discovery of fission in 1938 to the nuclear train wreck that seems to loom over our future,” according to the blurb on

“It is an account of where those weapons came from, how the technology surprisingly and covertly spread, who is likely to acquire those weapons next and most importantly why.”

“It is not written for physicists, although there are technical footnotes,” he said. “It is really about political history.”

Reed originally wanted to do a book called, “From Trinity to Teheran,” he said, because Iran seemed to be the big problem. “But the problem is not Teheran, but Islamabad and Pakistan,” he said. “We renamed it ‘Nuclear Express,’ to get at how every country starts, how their efforts are interconnected and how politics tie into the process.”

Reed was reluctant to get into details before the book is published.

“I don’t want to have one grenade after another rolling out,” he said. “The point is how it all fits together.”

Two items from the magazine article are especially tantalizing.

One brief section discusses the continuing role of Klaus Fuchs, the German physicist who came to Los Alamos as a part of the British scientific contingent. After the war he was exposed as a Soviet spy and sent to prison in England. But upon release nine years later he moved to Dresden in East Germany and taught physics.

According to the article’s sources, Fuchs met at length with Qian Sanqiang, who masterminded Chairman Mao’s atomic program, and the former Manhattan Project physicist passed along information that also accelerated China’s nuclear program.

Another consequential thread that the book may have a lot more to reveal has to do with Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping’s decision in 1982 to begin transferring nuclear weapons to third world countries, including Pakistan.

Reed said there would be a book tour that would include an event in Los Alamos.

See also:

Mirror mirror on the wall, has my ethnicity changed at all?

Survey of employees’ race/ethnicity, veteran status, and education begins

By Tatjana K. Rosev
September 8, 2008

Recent changes in federal reporting categories require all Los Alamos National Security, LLS employees to review and update their race/ethnicity and veteran status. The Laboratory also wants employees to review and update their education information.

Employees began receiving the short survey either via e-mail or interoffice mail this week. These surveys should be completed by Friday (September 12). The survey is every employee’s opportunity to ensure that the Laboratory is maintaining complete and accurate information regarding her or his selection of these statuses.

This information is being requested for statistical tracking and analysis purposes as required by the Lab’s status as a government contractor. This information will be kept confidential. When reported to the federal government, the data will not be linked to any specific individual.

Information about the survey also was in Wednesday’s Links.

If anyone discovers that their race/ethnicity has changed please send us a comment or email.

Sep 4, 2008

Lab safety, security show improving trends

By Tatjana K. Rosev
September 3, 2008

Safety and security at the Laboratory is showing continued improvement. A recent report confirmed that both safety and security showed positive tendencies in the time period from July 2007 to July 2008.

With worker injury performance measured in total recordable cases (TRCs) and days away, restricted or transferred (DART), the TRC rate went down by 35 percent and the DART rate decreased by 34 percent during the same time period.

According to the report, which was presented at an all-manager’s meeting on August 18, the number of severe security incidents also went down. While four IMI-2 incidents were reported during fiscal year 2007, only one IMI-1 and one IMI-2 incident was reported over the past 12 months. The number of incidents reportable to the Department of Energy also decreased in the time period from August 2006 to July 2008.

Dick Watkins, associate director for Environment, Safety, Health & Quality (ADESHQ), complimented Laboratory employees for the improving safety performance. “These measurable successes are a credit to each and every one of you. Your attention to safety and security while accomplishing your mission is laudable and key to success today and in the future,” he said.

Sep 3, 2008

Only 27 Days Left in Packet Sniffing Season

Employees must change e-mail preferences

September 3, 2008
Improving information security

Imagine that your password to get onto the Laboratory's computer network was available to someone outside the Lab. In order to ensure that Laboratory passwords are not viewed while being transmitted, the National Nuclear Security Administration now requires the use of encrypted passwords.

Unencrypted passwords, also known as clear-text passwords, may cross the network "in the clear" and create a security vulnerability, according to Dave Belangia of Information Systems and Technology (IST) Division. Encryption uses cryptography to scramble the password making the transmission of information more secure. For secure e-mail services, unencrypted passwords will not be accepted after September 30, Belangia emphasized.

Employees can follow specific step-by-step instructions for Information Architecture-supported Windows, Mac, or Linux e-mail to change preferences.

The Lab's network security improves by encrypting passwords and ensuring that passwords comply with Lab policy, according to Belangia. Although not required at this time, using a one-time pass code (generated by a Laboratory CRYPTOcard) wherever possible or practical does even more to improve the Laboratory's network security, Belangia added.

Employees also are reminded that their password(s) need to be changed at least every six months and must contain at least eight characters and at least three of the following four elements: English uppercase letters (A, B, C), English lowercase letters (a, b, c), Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), and non-alphanumeric characters (!, <, #, $).

State still has more questions about RH containers from Los Alamos

By Kyle Marksteiner, Carlsbad Current-Argus Staff Writer
Article Launched: 09/02/2008 09:25:29 PM MDT

CARLSBAD — A group of 16 containers of remote-handled transuranic waste in Los Alamos may not be going anywhere soon.

The drums were one of the key topics of discussion during last week's meeting of the state Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee, held in Espanola and Los Alamos. This month's meeting will be held in Carlsbad. The committee chair is Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad.

The 55-gallon drums of transuranic waste were generated in Los Alamos during the 1970s and 1980s. Remote-handled waste is dealt with at a safe distance, to meet safe-worker-exposure guidelines established by federal law. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad has accepted RH waste from Idaho and Argonne National Lab in Illinois, but not Los Alamos.

Heaton said the drums would be accepted as being eligible for delivery to WIPP under "acceptable knowledge" criteria meaning detailed documented information about the contents of the drums could be used instead of an actual inspection.

"We're coming to conclusions about what is in or isn't in the drums from knowledge that's known about the waste stream," he said.

Negotiations between the New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Energy over the group of drums have been going on for close to 18 months, Heaton said, and many officials felt the entire procedure was coming to a close.

"The anticipation was that negotiations were at its final stage, but the report released back to the DOE (from the state) contains some 22 to 24 pages of requests for additional information."

State officials, Heaton said, explained that the report was so detailed because it is a one-time approach.

"They said they were trying to do an all-exhaustive list to make sure there's nothing left," Heaton said. "If they don't get it right on the first request and some other items pop up, the acceptable knowledge determination could be denied."

The state elected officials who are members of the committee also listened to updates on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant from Roger Nelson, chief scientist with the Department of Energy's field office in Carlsbad, and James Bearzi, chief of the Environment Department's hazardous waste bureau.

Because the meeting took place in Los Alamos, much of the discussion revolved around Los Alamos' efforts to clean up radioactive waste.

"Their environmental management budget continues to get cut," Heaton said in defense of Los Alamos. "It seems to me that whoever is putting forth the budget doesn't quite get that it's a really important aspect of what goes on at our national labs."

Heaton also brought several presenters to the two-day event to help his fellow state officials learn more about the energy process, he said.

"I'm trying to bring our committee up to a highly informed level related to energy needs around the country," he said. "My belief is energy will be one of the major economic deliveries for New Mexico in the future. How we develop revenues is an important consideration at this point in our history."

Energy concerns, Heaton said, revolve around three issues: The need to double the amount of electricity produced by 2050, a formula which would have to include nuclear power along with solar and wind; the desire to make sure the United States is doing its part to prevent global warming, even if other countries are not; and the need to eliminate the country's dependence on foreign oil.

The meeting also included a presentation by Ned Elkins, program manager for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Carlsbad, who outlined options for interim waste storage and reprocessing of spent fuel.

[See also Legislators hear interim storage and reprocessing ideas.]