Oct 10, 2008

LANL Would Be Plutonium Center

By Raam Wong
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Federal officials Thursday unveiled a proposal to make Los Alamos a center for plutonium research as part of an overhaul of the nation's nuclear weapons complex — although a change of leadership in Washington could send them back to the drawing board.

“I recognize that these can be politically charged topics,” said National Nuclear Security Administration chief Thomas D'Agostino, explaining that he would not rush to make a decision on the plan just because a new president takes office in January. A decision on whether to adopt the plan is expected as soon as next month.

The proposal calls for transforming the Cold War-era way of doing things to a modern system that the NNSA says is efficient, safe and responsive to 21st-century threats.

“We have to make sure that we don't get ourselves into a situation where we outrun our headlights,” D'Agostino said in a conference call with reporters.

But that may already be the case at Los Alamos. The proposal would make the lab the center for cutting-edge nuclear weapons plutonium research, development and manufacturing, much of it crammed inside a 56-year-old laboratory that's showing its age.

D'Agostino stressed that it's vital to push forward with the construction of a replacement facility, even as lab managers lay plans to remain in the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building for as long as a decade.

The proposal also punts on the question of whether Los Alamos should ramp up the production of plutonium bomb cores known as pits. Pit production would continue to be limited to 20 per year, though D'Agostino said the plan would give Los Alamos the annual manufacturing capability for as many as 80 pits.

D'Agostino said, even without pit manufacturing, a new plutonium lab is necessary at Los Alamos for the study of nuclear forensics and nonproliferation, the maintenance of the nation's stockpile and other national security needs. “We still have to maintain our nuclear deterrent,” he said.

Besides Los Alamos, the proposal would consolidate weapons-related work at NNSA sites known as “distributed centers of excellence.” Tritium work would go to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, for instance, while the Pantex plant outside Amarillo, Texas, would continue assembling and taking apart weapons.

The unveiling of the proposal follows 20 public hearings and more than 100,000 public comments. Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group applauded the NNSA's efforts in producing the environmental analysis of the plan, but faulted its conclusions.

“Today's weapons complex plan includes the construction of large new production facilities at Los Alamos” and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Mello said in a statement. “These projects would commit massive resources to largely obsolete, ineffective, 'sacred-cow' missions.”

Republican Sen. Pete Domenici praised the plan for highlighting the need to move forward with what's known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement building at LANL.

“It is important to understand that the CMRR nuclear facility is not a pit production facility,” he said in a statement. “Instead, it will support a broad range of national security missions, ranging from providing power for satellites to nuclear forensics.”

But Domenici said the proposal failed to clearly outline strong science missions for Los Alamos and Sandia national labs. “In my view, it is a shortsighted decision that ignores the fact that strong science and engineering missions are important to attracting the best minds to work within the complex,” he said.

D'Agostino signed off on the final environmental analysis of the plan Thursday, and notice of its availability will be posted in the Federal Register Oct. 24. At least 30 days after that, the NNSA can decide whether to adopt the plan, referred to in the environmental analysis as a “preferred alternative.”


Anonymous said...

"But Domenici said the proposal failed to clearly outline strong science missions for Los Alamos and Sandia national labs." (Article)

Is anyone surprised by this?

NNSA doesn't need those high cost stink'n scientists any more. They don't even need much of a science mission at the labs. They want to move to a production flavored complex. That's been clear for several years now.

This means "transforming" the complex by handing it over to politically conected contractors so that the NNSA aparatchiks can move into high paying jobs with the contractors once they leave NNSA.

It also means getting rid of large segments of the science mission at LANL and LLNL (high costs should do the trick on killing it off) and redirecting resource into production flavored activities, whether Congress wants this or not.

It past time that NNSA be ripped away from the responsibility of running the nuclear weapons complex. They've made a complete mess of it.

Anonymous said...

But...was this Monster ,Pete Domenici's idea in the first place?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tom D.. Dumbass.

Anonymous said...

Such harsh language from such a gentle soul.

Anonymous said...

What does this really mean, duh like where else is the NNSA going to produce pits? Just a play on words, to keep the emmployee's at bay for a few more months. This is non-sense at it's finest.

Rocky Flats #2, Pits may be our only funded mission. Wow what a mess.

Anonymous said...

Pit Production, now at a all time low, maybe 20 Pit's per year, that my friends is the bright senerio, but with the Federal budget the way it is we may see reductions in non-pit associated work fall by 40% in March of 09.

Anonymous said...

Op Ed - Los Alamos Monitor, Oct 12, 2008

Failure of national government beyond words

By Ralph Damiani

End to uncertainly is certainly needed.

We would hope that those who are supposed to be in the know – you know, our leaders – would understand the critical importance of Los Alamos National Laboratory to this nation’s security and future and stop playing political football with it.

But such rational thought seems far beyond those in national government. At that is tragic.

So this fantastic institution continues to limp along and we all here – not just in Los Alamos but also in northern New Mexico – suffer.

Yet we are lost in all the noise coming out of Washington and the nation. The failure of Congress to do its prime job and protect the American people has clearly been demonstrated with the economic crisis we are facing.

Where were they as this was going down?

The finger-pointing going on now is the most disgusting thing in recent memory. Everyone is willing to blame someone else – but of course they did no wrong. It is vile.

So naturally, Congress has no time to discuss or consider something as unimportant as one of the most important facilities in the nation – LANL. No, all they can muster is a continuing resolution to fund a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and its national laboratories, leaving all of it in the lurch.

There are not enough words to say how awful our government is right now. Congress has failed at every level, the administration has lost its focus and our leaders are only concerned with making sure they are not blamed.

Congress should get over it and pass budgets for areas critical to our national security. But don’t hold your breath that this will actually happen. They are too busy finger-pointing.

George Washington and those grand men of old are surely turning over in their graves.

Anonymous said...

"End to uncertainly is certainly needed."

No unknowns here, Mr. Damiani.

LANL's weapon budget will be taking about a $400 million haircut by next fiscal year. Congress has been trying to push this through for several years now and with St. Pete gone and the US in a severe financial crisis, these massive cuts will likely pass with no problems in the next Congress.

Anonymous said...

It seems entirely appropriate that Los Alamos is given a well-defined task. It has been an abject failure in directed research but its size or budget has ballooned during the Domenici tears when programs were awarded with out competition or peer review.
The time has come to compete for research funds on the merits of the proposals and based on its record of accomplishment. While some will snigger at those last three words, the bigger problem may be the cost of doing work at LANL. As a veteran of proposal reviews, I point out that it is not nearly enough to say that one has advanced degrees and should therefore be generously funded for a program where no one has experience. Nobody really believes that LANL is a brain trust
that can be effective with any given technical problem.

Anonymous said...

Like it or not, the LANL weapons budget is bloated. The bloat and waste are at the top. So, the cuts will come at the bottom, where the work is being done. A few more years of cuts, and there will be nothing but managers.

Anonymous said...

NNSA, here is an idea to save money - close LLNL!

Anonymous said...

How many jobs will be eliminated in FY 09?

Anonymous said...

A few more years of cuts, and there will be nothing but managers.

10/13/08 6:42 AM

The ratio of managers to workers at LANL is ridiculous and is driving costs to extremes. Many LANL managers must spend their time furiously looking for any project they can find to support their weekly labor charges, whether they work on the projects or not. Employees are being forced to engage in charge code fraud just to survive at the lab.

It's a broken system and "systemic failure" (gotta love that term!) is emerging. There will be no bailout.

Anonymous said...

But...was this Monster ,Pete Domenici's idea in the first place?

10/10/08 7:28 PM

Yes, but he also mentioned more than once that, in retrospect, it was a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

The only people left who think that privatization of the labs was a great idea are the idiots over at NNSA and the upper management at the labs who profit handsomely as executives of the new LLCs.

- Most of Congress (and St. Pete) don't like it.

- Sig Hecker doesn't like it (he now calls the labs "prisons").

- And the staff sure as hell don't like it and are leaving in protest.

The LLC experiment has become a failure, but no one in a command position wants to admit it and fix this error. Instead, NNSA trots out crooked stats that show that security and safety have improved (largely through non-reporting and the use of Work Free Safety Zones).

Even worse, this mistake now costs the US taxpayer an extra $450 million in profit fees, GRT taxes, etc. That's almost half a billion dollars at a time when the US budget is hemorrhaging!

A reversion of the weapon labs back to non-profit management would make the employees happy and save the US government a lot of cash. It would also help stop the precipitous decline in scientific talent at LANL and LLNL.

If nothing else, it has become so bad at the labs that it is now becoming a national security issue. It's time for Congress to consider stepping in to correct this fiasco.

Anonymous said...

"It's time for Congress to consider stepping in to correct this fiasco."

Relax.I'm sure the new Dem Pres along with the Dem Congress will get right on it :)

Anonymous said...

Two things.

Congress created this fiasco.

Is there anyone with funds that they can take out of the lab to some other organization?

Anonymous said...

6:19 pm: "Congress created this fiasco."

Actually, just a small group of members (Dingell at the lead) of a small committee of the House. Everyone else was otherwise occupied. "Congress" (i.e., a near-anonymous coterie) can create massive mischief if not observed and reported upon. Especially if the agency (DOE/NNSA) they sre "overseeing" is complicit and has no high public negatives of its own. Everybody thinks DOE worries about oil, gas, and electricy. Nobody knows what NNSA is. When you are setting public policy and spending public money, it is a good thing when nobody knows who you are.

Anonymous said...

9:30 PM has it right. Only a small segment of Congress was pushing the LLC solution for the labs. Most in Congress didn't have the foggiest idea about what was happening.

Did Congress really want to see the two premier US weapon labs turned over to management by a construction company (Bechtel)? I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

"Is there anyone with funds that they can take out of the lab to some other organization?" - 6:19 PM

I suppose there are still some staff members in this position at LANL. Should they do this?

Anonymous said...

"Actually, just a small group of members (Dingell at the lead) of a small committee of the House."

Ah yes, Congressman Dingellberry.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget Mr. Dingelberry's little sidekick, Stuppie ("Shut the place down!"). They're a pair, like father and son.

They both seem intent on spreading the Depression Era conditions in the state of Michigan to other parts of the country.

As far as the $50 B bailout for Detroit and GM, I think Congress should have just said "No, let's shut the place down!". There is no reason to reward failure, right, Stuppie?

Anonymous said...

I suppose its similar to Ren and Stimpy. Instead we have Dingellberry and Stuppie. LOL