Mar 30, 2008

Proposed Buckman Project Site's Proximity to LANL Concerns Some

By Dan Boyd
Journal Staff Writer

Just two miles or so above the spot where a multi-million-dollar project will divert river water and pipe it southeast to Santa Fe, Los Alamos Canyon empties into the brown waters of the Rio Grande.

The canyon carries storm water from two watersheds in which low levels of "remnant contaminants" such as cesium, strontium, plutonium, all radioactive isotopes, and the toxin PCB have been detected.

It's also the only way in which water— and water-borne contaminants— from Los Alamos National Laboratory can reach the Rio Grande above the proposed site for the Buckman Direct Diversion Project. All other canyons empty into the Rio Grande below the diversion site.
During most times of the year, water from Los Alamos Canyon dries up before reaching the Rio Grande.

But it's currently running strong, surging toward a confluence with the Rio Grande and the spot where the $181 million Buckman project, paid for by local governments, will soon be built.
The proximity between former nuclear weapon-making sites and Santa Fe County's most expensive public works project ever undertaken is startling to many and unnerving to some.
And it raises one very important question: Will the water be safe to drink?

"There is no risk"
Standing atop a rock outcropping overlooking Los Alamos Canyon, Danny Katzman pointed to the river below and tried to put the contamination into perspective.

Katzman, the program manager of LANL's water stewardship program, doesn't deny the presence of contaminants along the stream's banks.

But he says a series of tests have shown the contaminants exist in such small quantities that even a hiker who traversed the affected area 200 times a year wouldn't see his or her health suffer.

"What we've determined is there is no risk," Katzman said.

LANL officials are sensitive about the "bad neighbor" label some area residents have affixed to them since a July 2006 reading at a Buckman well site west of Santa Fe detected trace amounts of plutonium, an element that can do serious harm to internal organs if consumed.

LANL officials cast doubt on that test result but are taking preventive action just in case.
Katzman and others point to a series of measures— such as water monitoring stations, an early warning system in case of flooding and the building of weirs, capped basins and a wetland area to trap water-borne sedimentation— as proof the lab is going above and beyond what it is required to do.

"We understand the need to protect the resource, period," Katzman said.

Lingering concerns
Nuclear watchdog groups aren't convinced LANL has done all it can, however.
Joni Ahrends, the executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said LANL received $345 million from Congress in the aftermath of the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire to prevent contaminants from getting into the Rio Grande.

But she says LANL didn't do enough to address the situation.

"They didn't do the necessary work to keep the contaminants from going off site," Ahrends said. "It's not enough, and it hasn't been enough and they've had the resources."

The fire, which burned about 48,000 acres, has caused run-off season to occur earlier in the year since much of shade-giving trees were burned to the ground.

In addition, Ahrends said more erosion now occurs, meaning much of the contamination that previously lay on hillsides has been swept to the canyon floor.

She's particularly worried about contaminants that travel on small particles called colloids, in which one substance is evenly dispersed throughout another— in this case, water.

Much of the contamination stems from testing conducted when the current Los Alamos town site was a key testing area that held inventory from the Manhattan Project, a famous atomic bomb-building endeavor.

Pueblo Canyon, which runs into Los Alamos Canyon, has been the primary recipient of the legacy and is one of Ahrends' largest concerns.

In fact, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety has filed an appeal of the final environmental impact statement that paves the way for the Buckman project to move forward.

Treating the problem
To city and county officials, who have largely staked their reputations to the success of the Buckman project, the clean-up actions at LANL aren't being counted on.

Santa Fe City Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, who chairs the Buckman board, has touted the state-of-the-art water treatment process that will be utilized before Buckman water reaches local taps.

"We are not relying on LANL to do what they're supposed to do," Wurzburger said. "Our system will be designed to remove contaminants of all kinds."

An independent study by University of New Mexico civil engineering professor Kerry Howe concluded the treatment plant will be using the best available technology to remove contaminants, Wurzburger said.

Despite the reassurances, there's still public wariness about the Buckman project.

Santa Fe County Commission candidate Joe Auburg has made the Buckman issue one of his top talking points.

Auburg, a water planner for 40 years, said local officials have only secured three of the 28 permits needed to break ground on the project this fall.

"If they're committed to that process, they better get busy," Auburg said Friday.

And Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, who recently traveled to LANL for a site tour of potential pathways via which contaminants could reach the Rio Grande, admitted he's not immune from the winds of public unrest.

"It is a concern," Coss said of the project's public perception.

While Coss told the Journal his comfort level with the project is high, he said he plans to encourage New Mexico's congressional delegation to push for more federal appropriations aimed at cleaning up LANL contamination dating back to the 1940s and '50s.

According to a 2005 consent order filed by the state Environment Department, residual contaminants on LANL's 36 square miles must be identified and cleaned up by 2015.

But state Environment Secretary Ron Curry said earlier this week recent events have led him to believe the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates LANL, wants to renegotiate and weaken the terms of its cleanup agreement with the state.

The state agency has already fined the lab $750,000 for violations of the cleanup agreement, and Coss also said he wants to see a pro-active approach from laboratory officials.

"It needs to be a priority in their funding requests," Coss said. "They need to be cleaning up at the source so we're not managing sediment for the next 60 years."

A global legacy
The odd-looking stations along Los Alamos Canyon appear to be something left behind by a NASA expedition.

In fact, the 80 or so devices scattered around the Pajarito Plateau sit motionless for much of the year. But when water levels reach a certain height, the contraptions spring into action, taking samples of water in small cylindrical tubes.

If the tubes detect contamination, a signal can be sent to the Buckman operator, who can close the diversion gate and prevent any of the contaminants from reaching the pipeline even before it reaches the water treatment center.

The "early warning" system was actually suggested by Katzman and was adopted as one of six requests made by the Buckman board in a letter sent to LANL in October 2007 to help ensure contamination doesn't shut down the Buckman project.

Claiming all six of those requests have been addressed, Katzman plans to send a formal response back to the board in the next two weeks.

But he and other LANL officials don't feel they should be viewed as the only source of harmful pollutants.

"People talk about Los Alamos contamination like it's somehow worse, but it's really no different than the other stuff that's out there," Katzman said. "The amount of global fallout going down the Rio Grande is equally impactful."

After his site tour, Coss came away with positive things to say about LANL's efforts to address Buckman-related concerns.

"I'm reassured the situation can be managed," Coss said.

Holding secrets
The Buckman project, once it's operating at full bore, will divert nearly three billion gallons of water per year from the Rio Grande.

But even that much water won't be able to fully quench Santa Fe's thirst. Groundwater from area wells and flows from Santa Fe's twin reservoirs located just east of the city will be used to balance the regional water portfolio.

So while the Buckman project will use surface water, the condition of ground water near the Buckman site is also a concern.

Certain contaminants are known to work their way down through geological layers to aquifers, though such a process takes decades at a minimum.

For that reason, LANL has installed monitors at varying depths to keep track of potential contaminants.

Katzman said it's unlikely, if not impossible, that unknown contaminants could be working their way toward ground water supplies. But others aren't so sure.

Ahrends said the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have safety standards for some of the substances that may have been tested at LANL during its bomb-building heyday.

"They've used every single element in the periodic table to discover if they can be used in nuclear weapons," she said. "We don't know (the potential impact)."

Buckman Direct Diversion Project Details:
  • Tentatively approved $181 million contract.
  • 11-mile pipeline from Rio Grande to Santa Fe.
  • Includes state-of-the-art water treatment plant.
  • Expected to be operational in 2011.
Potential contamination
Low levels of cesium, strontium, plutonium and toxic PCBs have been found in Pueblo and Los Alamos Canyons within the confines of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

But data compiled by LANL indicates the Santa Fe River actually has a higher PCB level during recent run-off testing than seven different Rio Grande sites.

Mar 28, 2008

Driver convicted in good Samaritan killing, sentenced to life in prison

Jason Auslander | The New Mexican

TIERRA AMARILLA — A Hern├índez man accused of running down a good Samaritan nearly a year ago was sentenced to life plus 12 1/2 years in prison after a jury convicted him Thursday of first-degree murder and other charges.

Christopher Branch, 24, showed no reaction as the jury foreman read the verdicts, though his mother and one of his young cousins, seated in the front row, began sobbing. Araceli Rutkowski, widow of 44-year-old Michael Rutkowski, also began crying and shaking after the verdict was read as she huddled with Rutkowski's mother, sister and another friend.

"We consider it a win," John Hollabaugh, Rutkowski's boss at a Los Alamos National Laboratory contractor and spokesman for the family, said afterward. "I think justice is served."

[Read the full story here.]

Mar 27, 2008

Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program

The DOE IG's Office of Audit Services released a Special Report today on The Department's Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, perhaps our readers could help out. Here's an excerpt:
Mitigating Security Risks
Weaknesses in the Department's foreign visits and assignments program increase the security risk for the Department's facilities and information. For example, at least one visitor accessed a laboratory using a valid identification badge on two occasions the month after his assignment had been revoked. Site officials were unaware of the unauthorized access until we brought it to their attention.

The unauthorized access is exacerbated by the fact that the same visitor's background check had expired four months prior to the two unauthorized visits, which were made after the site's normal operating hours. Due to the fact that foreign national maintained an active visit and security badge in laboratory systems, he was able to access the site without question. Neither the host nor other site officials could explain his purpose or whereabouts on the site. The situation could have been avoided had the visit been closed and site access terminated at the same time the assignment was revoked.
[Download a copy of DOE/IG-0791 here.]

Mar 26, 2008

CMRR project update leaves unanswered questions

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A much-discussed topic in recent days and months, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility, had another public airing Tuesday night.

This time the semiannual meeting was at Fuller Lodge. About 30 people attended, mostly employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Department of Energy (DOE), as well as others affiliated with the project, but also several representatives of the “interested parties,” the seven public interest groups named in a legal settlement in September 2005.

By the end of the evening, members of the “interested parties” expressed disappointment that the four pages of questions they had prepared and submitted well in advance were not more fully answered during the two-hour meeting.

The agreement under the auspices of the state environmental department spelled out the terms by which an air-quality permit was granted to the first two phases of the CMRR project, which have to do with the Radiological Laboratory/Utility Office Building (RLUOB) the smaller of the two buildings under construction and its utility area.

RLUOB has a projected cost of $164 million and aims for occupancy and operations in 2010.

Tom Whitacre of the DOE site office gave a project overview of the RLUOB construction, now considered 40-percent complete, with an emphasis on progress during the fall and winter seasons. Work on the structural steel columns that will support the top three floors has now started at the site.

Further attention was given to describing the quality assurance program on the project in response to questions at the last meeting.

The air-quality permit for the second building, the far more complex Nuclear Facility (NF), would normally be submitted about a year before the start of construction, according to Bill Blankenship, LANL’s air quality official on the project.

Rick Holmes, who heads the CMRR project for LANL said the schedule for construction of the NF are in the 2010-2016 time frame. He said the $74.5 million received for the RLUOB project this year would fund this year’s work, purchase and install equipment, and underwrite the final design authorization on the NF.

He said it was “just decided” to propose a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) goal for the NF.

The RLUOB already has a goal of a silver certification under the Green Building Rating System, but the proposal for the NF would be a first for a major nuclear facility.

Holmes said it was “a very big thing.”

CMRR is many things to many people, as the wide-ranging yet legally constrained discussion attested. For the laboratory, CMRR is the long-awaited replacement to its aging predecessor, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility, more than 50 years old, virtually on life-support and with a safety authorization basis set to expire in 2010.

For laboratory critics, including the parties to the air quality permit settlement, the CMRR is at the front of a larger issue about whether the country will move toward or away from international agreements on nuclear disarmament.

Another $100 million is included in the administration’s budget for the CMRR project this year. A clear-cut success or failure of that piece of the appropriations process may mark a decisive moment for the larger project.

For the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration, the CMRR is a key facility in a long-playing effort to transform the nuclear weapons complex into what they have envisioned as a smaller, safer, more efficient and sustainable formation.

A stream of visitors – from Congress and DOE and lately tours of community leaders – have visited the CMRR construction site in recent weeks as a part of a major public-relations effort by the laboratory in support of the project.

Holmes was asked how the budget for the project had grown from $600 million in 2004 to more than $2 billion now.

He said the original budget was not updated until 2006, when he began working on the project.

“The cost of materials has escalated dramatically,” he said, along with quantity of materials and normal productivity increases.

A response to preliminary seismic reports, which increased precautionary building standards by 50 percent, meant that walls, once specified to be 3 feet thick are now 4.5 feet, he said.

The matter of the seismic report, which has indicated a greater earthquake risk at the site than had been foreseen, was supposed to be a major topic at the meeting. At the previous meeting, an engineering report and a hazard report were said to have been completed and were promised for the next meeting.

But Steve Fong, the federal project director of the CMRR said the document had been delayed again and now would not be ready until later in the spring, which seemed to indicate it would not be available for discussion for another six months.

Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, provided a reminder of the legal framework under which the meeting was taking place. She insisted on a more definite plan than the vague promise to answer still-unanswered questions that the “interested parties” had submitted before this meeting.

“I would like the questions to be answered within 30 days,” she said. “We were asked to submit (our questions) 30 days in advance of these meetings.”

Fong said he would try to make the date for the next meeting a little earlier.

Mar 25, 2008

The Blogfather Weighs In On LANS

Doug Roberts, the original LANL: The Real Story blogger was quoted today in an article by Sue Vorenberg of The New Mexican:

LANL operator scores poorly in review

Los Alamos National Security receives bad marks for management, environmental work

Sue Vorenberg | The New Mexican

[...]
From Doug Roberts' point of view as a former 20-year-employee at LANL, the 13 grades make LANS's big brother, the University of California, which ran the lab until mid-2006, look downright stellar, he said.

Roberts ran a blog from December 2004 to June 2006 called lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com, which chronicled problems and issues while the lab's contract went through the bidding process.

"I'd say, based on the report, that LANS is doing a worse job up there than UC was doing," Roberts said. "And UC had a long list of operational problems."

Some of UC's problems were reports of missing computer disks, later to be attributed to an accounting error, a laser-related injury to an intern and other security leaks, Roberts said.

Roberts said he's still somewhat mystified as to why LANS, which includes UC as a partner, along with Bechtel, BWX Technologies and Washington Group International, was awarded the lab's seven-year operations contract that started in 2006, rather than Lockheed Martin Corp.

"It seems to me that Lockheed Martin would have been a better choice," Roberts said, noting that company's relatively clean record for safety and security while running Sandia National Laboratories. "It sounds like most of the problems from UC have remained, and that LANS has even created some new ones."
[Read the full story here.]

Doug runs another blog these days, one devoted to a much happier subject material than that of the original LTRS. You can visit it here.

The U.S. nuclear weapons complex: Pushing for a new production capability

On January 15, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Georgia Republican Sen. Sam Nunn, which 37 other national security experts also endorsed. Entitled "Toward A Nuclear-Free World," it was the second such essay in the Journal by these authors in as many years. (See also "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.") Both essays concerned the benefits--some immediate, others long-term--of specific nuclear policies the authors believe would be best advanced under the nuclear disarmament banner.

These authors do not mention that the United States and four other nuclear states (Russia, Britain, France, and China) are already legally bound to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament . . ." by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The opinion of the World Court and subsequent U.S. diplomatic agreements has confirmed the binding character of these twin commitments to end the arms race and achieve nuclear disarmament. 1 Most observers agree that the collective unwillingness of the five NPT nuclear weapons states to persuasively implement these Article VI obligations has harmed the NPT and the law-based nonproliferation regime it underpins. 2

If the disarmament aspiration expressed in these two essays means anything, it means refraining from long-term investments in the specialized, "responsive" infrastructure needed to make novel warheads. Nuclear weapons infrastructure investments that require large, long-term commitments of capital and skilled technical labor--scarce resources in any country--are good indicators of national nuclear intent. In other words, infrastructure investments make, and are, nuclear policy.

The U.S. government says as much. In 2006, Linton Brooks, the then administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), emphasized the importance of long-term manufacturing investments as a foundation of more aggressive nuclear policies a "couple of decades" hence. "We can change our declaratory [nuclear] policy in a day," he said during a speech [PDF] to the East Tennessee Economic Council. "We can make operational and targeting changes in weeks or months. In a year or so we can improve integration of nuclear and non-nuclear offense. By contrast, the infrastructure and the stockpile it can support cannot change as quickly. Full infrastructure changes may take a couple of decades."

Brooks is right. The factory complex at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) needed to produce the fissile plutonium cores, or "pits," for RRW or another new warhead isn't expected to be completed until at least 2017. But as long as design and construction of these production facilities proceeds, Congress could "halt" RRW for a few more years, as it did in late 2007, without significantly affecting its final delivery schedule, assuming it were eventually approved.

Warhead design and engineering development are short-term activities compared with designing, constructing, equipping, and standing up operations in the facilities needed to actually build RRWs. The new buildings needed are orders of magnitude more complicated than the warheads and there is considerable managerial risk involved in acquiring them. 3 For example, the nuclear explosive portion in a warhead or bomb contains at most a few hundred components, nearly all of which are inert until use. By contrast, a typical automobile has more than 10,000 parts. A plutonium production complex contains millions of parts, and such a complex is anything but inert. To successfully operate it would require training and coordinating at least 1,000 people and would also require some success in meeting safety, security, and environment standards. Construction of the most recent large-scale U.S. pit production facility, Building 371 at Rocky Flats in Colorado began in 1973 and was completed in 1981 at a cost of $225 million ($524 million in today's dollars). It operated for only one month before the Energy Department realized that the technology on which it was based would not work. The repair cost $400 million and took eight years. Energy called it a "fiasco."

NNSA describes the proposed new factories at LANL as merely providing "capacity," as if "capacity" could be created and then mothballed. One cannot build, equip, and stand up highly specialized factories that cost billions of dollars and hire and train hundreds of highly specialized technicians over many years without actually making the objects these costly and complex arrangements were meant to produce.

The proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility at Los Alamos. The United States has now begun to heavily invest in the specialized manufacturing infrastructure needed for new nuclear weapons, pivotally at LANL. The flagship of this complex is the CMRR project to be built at LANL's Technical Area (TA)-55. NNSA describes the current cost for CMRR as at least $2.2 billion. But if completed, it would probably cost more. 4

The CMRR consists of two buildings--the Nuclear Facility (NF), comprising roughly nine-tenths of the project in dollar terms, and the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB). Together, the two buildings would comprise some 400,000 square feet of new interior space, and the NF's 6-metric ton vault would approximately triple LANL's plutonium storage capacity. 5 If completed, the CMRR would be the largest construction project in the history of LANL in inflation-corrected dollars.

The two CMRR buildings would be linked by tunnels and connect to LANL's existing 30-year-old plutonium facility (PF-4), which has been modified for production using operational funds over the last decade or more. NNSA has now begun a more extensive renovation of PF-4 in an open-ended, long-term construction line item called the "TA-55 Reinvestment Project."

At present, pit production utilizes approximately one-quarter of PF-4's 59,600 square feet of nuclear floor space; the CMRR NF would add at least 22,500 additional square feet of this type, some with greater ceiling height, providing greater operational flexibility. Ceiling height has been a limiting factor regarding manufacturing equipment and production processes in PF-4.

RLUOB construction is approximately 40 percent complete, while after four years, the Nuclear Facility is still in preliminary design and it's unclear when, or if, it will be completed or when construction might begin if approved. Physically, the 90,000-cubic-yard pit dug at the NF site, ostensibly to investigate seismic conditions, is now the staging yard for RLUOB construction. Therefore, the earliest possible construction start date for the NF is spring 2009--the earliest RLUOB could be completed. 6

Such a schedule seems optimistic, as a number of significant NF design issues remain unresolved, including seismic design, overall safety design, and building size. (See the summary of the "Draft Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement" [PDF].) As of March 2007, conceptual vault design, including provisions for fail-safe cooling of plutonium stores, hadn't been finalized. 7

It's difficult to predict the ultimate capacity of a LANL pit production complex anchored by a renovated PF-4 and the two CMRR buildings--especially if additional production space or an additional two production buildings were subsequently added, as NNSA suggests might happen. 8

Whether built with just the RLUOB, the RLUOB and the NF as planned, the RLUOB plus a "supersized" NF, or with the whole project doubled in size by subsequent construction, the CMRR is unnecessary to maintain the present nuclear arsenal or any subset of it for several decades. The CMRR is needed, however, to manufacture significant quantities of pits for novel nuclear explosives. 9

How many pits could LANL make--with and without CMRR? LANL has possessed the capability to make pits since 1945. But until last year--when it produced 11 new pits, some or all of which were assembled into W88 Trident warheads at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant near Amarillo, Texas--LANL hasn't made pits for the stockpile since 1949, with one or two possible exceptions. 10

LANL's current pit manufacturing capacity is uncertain and open to interpretation. On the one hand, NNSA could choose to displace or terminate certain programs currently housed in PF-4; on the other hand, some of those programs are likely needed for new-design nuclear explosive package certification, without which pit production has no reason to proceed.

At a minimum, successful certification of new-design nuclear explosives requires the use of extensive design, testing, and simulation capabilities. These might not be sufficient; nuclear testing might also be required. So any decision to resume pit production has long coattails, tasking most of PF-4 and much of the nuclear weapons complex as a whole.

In February 1996, Energy said LANL's pit production capacity, prior to any investment, was "10 to 20 pits per year." 11 Later that year, Energy stated that LANL pit production of "up to 50 [pits] per year" is "inherent with the facilities and equipment required to manufacture one component [pit] for any stockpile system." 12 In 2005, the Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board (SEAB) Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force [PDF] said LANL's existing pit production capacity could (and should) be increased by a ratio of "1:20." This twentyfold increase wasn't a rhetorical flourish; rather, it was predicated on producing an RRW or RRW-like pit designed for mass production involving simpler design, broader tolerances, robotic production technologies in some steps, and fewer toxic materials, which would allow greater ease, flexibility, and speed of production. 13

This year, NNSA stated, "A reasonable judgment of the inherent capacity of a production line for nuclear components exceeds 50 per year. A modern factory-style layout could result in a minimum [emphasis added] inherent capacity in the range of 125 components per year." 14

Existing LANL pit production capacity is somewhat predicated on the nine-wing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building in TA-3. Despite extensive recent upgrades, much of the CMR may be nearing the end of its usefulness for this purpose. According to NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino, pit production could continue at LANL without either the CMRR or CMR, or possibly with part of the CMR, as NNSA wrote in response to congressional questions in 2007. 15

How many pits per year LANL could produce if CMRR were built is even less clear, as the uncertainties--including uncertainties in CMRR's size and the number of facilities ultimately available at TA-55--are compounded. In addition, as a senior Energy official explained to me in 2002, the achievable production rate in a given number of square feet of plutonium space is a sensitive function of the technology used. It is also a function of the complexity and tolerances required in the type of pits produced. Any capacity cited today isn't necessarily what might be available 10 years from now if technology development were to continue--and RRW were approved.

Production capacity is also a function of flexibility, e.g. whether two or more kinds of pits are to be produced simultaneously or in rapid succession.

The lowest capacity is governed by what might be called the "fiasco factor." Accidents and malicious acts, previously unknown or undisclosed infrastructure or management inadequacies, enforcement actions, and preventive stand-downs have all occurred at LANL and are real possibilities. A production capacity of zero could easily result from any of them, possibly for a long time.

The highest capacity achievable could be significantly greater than the advertised maximum of 200 pits per year.

CMRR's congressional funding. CMRR appeared in 2003 as a "project engineering and development" line item, becoming a standalone construction project the following year. Since then the Senate, thanks to New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, has reliably backed CMRR funding. The House of Representatives, however, has zeroed out the CMRR in three of the past five years and proposed cuts of more than one-half in the other years. The Senate has largely won these battles.

In its most recent markup (for the fiscal year 2008 appropriation), the House Appropriations Committee zeroed out the project and wrote: "Proceeding with the CMRR project as currently designed will strongly prejudice any nuclear complex transformation plan. The CMRR facility has no coherent mission to justify it unless the decision is made to begin an aggressive new nuclear warhead design and pit production mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory." The House as a whole agreed with this assessment by a wide margin, rebuffing an amendment introduced by New Mexico Democratic Rep. Tom Udall to restore funding for the CMRR, pit production operations, and nuclear weapons overall.

But Senate appropriators had fully funded the project. When the omnibus appropriations bill finally passed in mid-December, the CMRR was funded at $75 million for fiscal year 2008, about 86 percent of NNSA's request. Neither the bill nor the report contain specific guidance as to which parts of the CMRR project are to receive the abridged funding; project management is privileging RLUOB construction. 16

What dire consequences would occur if the CMRR Nuclear Facility wasn't built? None. Halting the CMRR would not even remotely threaten any existing U.S. nuclear capability--not now and not for many decades to come. But such a step could reflect an aspiration toward disarmament, depending on other policies adopted. In that case, it would express the spirit of the Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn editorials.

If the United States isn't prepared to take even this kind of baby step toward fulfilling its NPT obligations, it's difficult to see how Washington could ever play a constructive role in the international cooperation necessary to prevent nuclear proliferation.

This article has been adapted from a larger piece entitled "Build Warhead Factories Now, Worry About Weapons Policy Later: Will Congress Take Back the Reins?" [PDF], available at the Los Alamos Study Group website.

1The United States reiterated its commitment to nuclear abolition in the consensus statement of the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, agreeing to a set of 13 detailed, "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI." Prior to this, the World Court unanimously ruled in 1996 that "there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion [Emphasis added.] negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."
2The author speaks from personal observations at several NPT preparatory and review conferences but also see the formal conclusions of Lewis Dunn et al, Science Applications International Corporation, "Foreign Perspectives on U.S. Nuclear Policy and Posture" [PDF], December 4, 2006, prepared for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Another recent testimony to this view is a speech delivered by IAEA Secretary-General Mohamed ElBaradei on February 11, 2008.
3Keith Schneider, "U.S. Spent Billions on Atom Projects That Have Failed," New York Times, December 11, 1988, p. A1.
4 Energy Department Congressional Budget Request for FY2009, Vol. 1 [PDF], National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), p. 298. The cost of more than $2.2 billion for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility (CMRR) is derived from NNSA's estimate of "above" $2 billion for the CMRR Nuclear Facility (NF), its estimate of $164 million for the Radiological, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB), and an allowance in the low tens of millions for specialized RLUOB equipment and furnishings--carried now in a separate CMRR project account, "Phase B"--bringing the total to "above" $2.2 billion. Construction costs for even ordinary construction are inflating rapidly and can be expected to continue to increase for the next decade. The CMRR NF is a complex project that involves large quantities of concrete and steel. For these reasons, the CMRR can be expected to increase in cost significantly over the nine years NNSA allots for further design and construction. These CMRR costs don't include the required new $240 million Technical Area (TA)-55 security perimeter, which must in part be built twice to accommodate construction, the new Pit Radiography Facility ($47 million), the TA-55 Reinvestment Project (at least $200 million), the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility Upgrade ($80 million), or the TA-54 nuclear waste disposal expansion project (at least $60 million). Nor do they include demolition and disposal of the existing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility ($400 million). All of these projects (save for CMR demolition and disposal) are functionally required for CMRR operation.
5Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), CMRR briefing slides, p. 8, no date.
6Personal communication with Steve Fong, NNSA CMRR project staff, January 18, 2007.
7Oral response to author's questions, CMRR public meeting, Fuller Lodge, Los Alamos, New Mexico, March 2007.
8See NNSA, "Draft Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement," pp. S34, 35. Similar plans have been internally available at LANL since at least 2001, e.g., LANL 2001 Comprehensive Site Plan, "TA-55 Preconceptual Plan," Los Alamos Study Group files.
9Neither the CMRR nor Technical Area (TA)-55 as a whole is needed to produce nuclear explosives made with uranium.
10According to a personal communication with Ken Silver at East Tennessee State University, there are indications LANL's TA-21 site may have briefly resumed quantity pit production in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous 1969 fire at Rocky Flats.
11Energy Department, Draft Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SSM PEIS), Los Alamos Study Group.
12Energy Department, Final SSM PEIS, Volume 1, pp. 3-4, Table 3.1.1.2-1, note "A," September 1996. Note: "A" is note "1" there.
13Anonymous congressional source.
14NNSA, "Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (CTSPEIS)," pp. 2-22, December 2007.
15House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, March 29, 2007, supplemental questions for the record, p. 584 in printed version of "Energy and Water Development Appropriations for 2008." The use of CMR as solely a radiological laboratory rather than a nuclear facility, to my knowledge, hasn't been investigated. Neither to my knowledge has there been any comprehensive study of current and planned mission requirements for LANL's nuclear facilities or radiological facilities.
16Personal communication with Steve Fong.

Mar 23, 2008

LANL leadership rates low in first-year evaluation

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Editors note: On Jan. 17, 2008, the Monitor filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the FY 2007 Performance Evaluation Report of Los Alamos National Security, LLC, Management and Operation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos National Laboratory declined to make public the key document for assessing the first year of a new contract. After the formal request, the document was made available and forms the basis for the following story.

One version of an old joke asks, “How do you go about watching an 800-pound gorilla?”

The answer: “Very carefully.”

But the same answer more seriously seems to apply equally well to the question of how the National Nuclear Security Administration goes about evaluating the job performance of a $2-billion-a-year national nuclear weapons laboratory.

Very carefully, in more than 180 pages, the report represents the essential annual assessment of the contractor under the terms of the contract. It is used to establish the bottom line, the amount of performance fee the contractors will be paid, based on how well they have met the challenges of the job.

The total fee available was $73,280,000, with $21,984,004 of that a fixed fee, regardless of performance. The remainder, $51,295,996, was available in incentives, of which LANL earned $36,224,982 or 71 percent of the available fee and $58,208,986 in total.

Roger Snyder, acting deputy site manager in the local NNSA office that supervises the laboratory, was involved in the evaluation.

“The department went into the contract with a larger fee than we have ever had, the largest fee in all the NNSA sites,” he said in an interview Friday. “We went into that as a demanding customer, knowing that we needed improvements and that it was a challenge that would have been hard to meet.”

In the future, the performance incentives will also provide a criterion for deciding whether there will be an automatic contract extension.

“The contract extension provision is not available in the first year,” Snyder said. “It would be an unfair bar at this point to get to the satisfaction level.”

Incentives

The evaluation categories consisted of 13 performance-based incentives (PBI), 12 of which were largely objective, as the document points out. Overall, there were 170 milestones with specific performance measures, which, if performed correctly, qualified for a full share of the available incentive fee. Most of the milestones or metrics or deliverables were pass/fail; if accomplished the reward is earned; if not, only a partial amount is earned, or none at all.

Among the objective measures, LANL’s percentage of fee was highest in the areas of the weapons programs (98 percent); weapons quality assurance (100 percent) and threat reduction (100 percent). In a category shared with other sites across the complex, all the sites were awarded 90 percent of fee for such things as coordinating interdependent projects within the nuclear weapons complex and sharing best practices.

The lowest percentages were earned in project management (73 percent), environmental operations and programs (58 percent), safety and health (53 percent), and facilities management (44 percent).

In the area of contractor assurance, the laboratory’s performance in identifying, self-assessing and responding to problems on their own, earned 49 percent of fee, despite “impressive progress,” against challenging goals, according to the report.

In the area of safeguards and security, LANL was awarded 89 percent of fee, despite a nationally publicized cybersecurity incident that occurred during the first month of the new management and led to Congressional hearings and numerous audits and investigations. The performance-related assessment of this event was shifted to the overall management category, officials said, because it was an emergent issue without a finite response and thus a more subjective judgment.

Management

The final measure, “Management Integration and Effectiveness,” is considered a subjective measure. In this category, with the largest amount of fee at stake, LANS received its lowest rating, 35 percent of the available fee.

Snyder compared the difference between the objective and the subjective measure to building a sidewalk.

“If you build the sidewalk, you can stand on it and you can measure it,” he said, describing the objective measurement.

“But how well did you do? Some of that is in the eye of the beholder,” Snyder said.

A further indication of how subjective this category might be can be found in the report.

Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio’s self-assessment stated that “significant progress” had been made.

“Focusing on results that we have delivered and the improvements that we have made, in spite of numerous obstacles, I can only assess our overall performance over the past year as highly effective,” he stated.

This statement is followed in the report by the Los Alamos Site Office evaluation which credits LANS for having recruited “significant talent in the form of key personnel” to help address “longstanding weaknesses” at the laboratory. The weaknesses included “the integration of mission planning and execution with safe, secure and environmentally sound operations.”

LASO’s summary credited “significant efforts,” to improve, but also found important shortcomings.

“As the initial year of performance under the performance-based contract, LANS was expected to integrate the organization, eliminate stovepipes, establish clear roles and responsibilities and develop and implement a framework for integrated planning and policy development and execution,” the summary stated. “They have been only partially successful in their efforts.”

On Thursday, Anastasio was asked in a telephone interview if he considered the 35-percent rating for management integration and effectiveness to be a failing grade.

“I don’t think of these as grades at all,” he said. “The government is offering to pay a significantly large fee to us in LANS to make significant changes and significant improvements. We all knew that it would be a challenging job that would take many years to accomplish.”

Snyder agreed that the numbers of the performance measures could not easily be converted into a final grade, because the performance was based on improvement.

“If this set of challenges were presented to the former contractor, the fee would have been lower,” he said. “We’d be surprised if a firm got an A-plus in the first year, because change is hard.”

“I feel it was a fair assessment on how well we did meeting the objectives that were laid out for us,” Anastasio concluded. “We did not get it all done. I don’t agree that’s a grade by which to judge the laboratory.”

[Download the FY 2007 Performance Evaluation Report here.]

Mar 21, 2008

U. of California's Lab-Management Contracts Draw Fire at Meeting of Regents

San Francisco — California’s lieutenant governor scolded the University of California this week for signing new contracts that continue the university’s lead role in managing the nation’s two premier nuclear-weapons laboratories.

During a contentious meeting on Wednesday of the Board of Regents, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi called the contracts a bad deal. The university could be “splattered by the mud” if new security lapses occurred at the two facilities, the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories, said Mr. Garamendi, a Democrat elected in 2006. He complained that the new contracts did not provide the university the right to escape a management obligation that the federal government could extend to 20 years.

The University of California system was the lead manager of the labs for decades until the U.S. Department of Energy announced in 2003 that it would put out for bid the labs’ management contracts. The university joined with corporate partners to form management teams that vied successfully for both contracts, in 2005 and 2007.

Mr. Garamendi may be the highest-ranking state official to knock the university’s role in the labs. Michael T. Brown, faculty representative on the regents’ board, also voiced opposition at Wednesday’s meeting, over plans to increase production of plutonium components at Los Alamos. Both labs have drawn opposition from faculty members over preliminary work to design a new generation of nuclear bombs to replace those in the nation’s aging arsenal.

The contracts were defended at the meeting by the system’s president, Robert C. Dynes, who is stepping down; by lab officials; and by Norman J. Pattiz, a prominent member of the board.

The discussion revealed some new details about the contracts, including that the university retains majority control of the management teams’ boards. When the contracts were awarded, Energy Department officials had hinted that the university would confine its role to science and scale back its role in security, following several embarrassing breaches.

In addition, even with the multiple partners, the new contracts have doubled the university’s annual management fee compared with what it had earned as the sole contractor. (The university has said it plows the fees back into scientific research.) —Paul Fain and Jeffrey Brainard

Players dispute script for mock emergency

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry announced Wednesday his continued support for a specific emergency preparedness exercise set in Los Alamos, despite recent complaints by Los Alamos National Laboratory that the scenario is “unrealistic.”

A planning process going back to late 2006 has been developing a scenario that included a “radiological release to the atmosphere from an accidental detonation of un-surveyed underground explosives by excavating contractors at LANL’s Material Area B,” known as MDA B.

The old dump, located on the edge of a mesa on DP Road across from the Monitor office, has been re-fenced and prepared for a major excavation project, although there has been very little movement in the last several months.

Curry sent a letter to LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Los Alamos Site Office Manager Donald Winchell Wednesday expressing “grave concerns” about current disagreements in the planning process.

A spokesman for the laboratory downplayed Curry’s reaction.

“We’re committed to continuing to work closely to develop an exercise that works for everyone and effectively tests everyone’s systems,” said Kevin Roark of LANL’s Communications Office Thursday, reading an approved statement.

The emergency preparedness exercise is meant to test plans against actual coordinated activity by a wide range of northern New Mexico emergency managers, responders and several levels of government agencies. Participants are supposed to include LANL, four counties, eight northern pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation. Hospitals, school systems, community groups and the media will also be incorporated into the exercise.

“We agree that testing our emergency response systems alongside the emergency response systems in the region, is a very important thing to do,” Roark said. “Equally important, however, is that the scenario for an emergency exercise be technically credible; otherwise, the exercise yields results that are as unrealistic as the scenario.”

James Bearzi, the state’s hazardous waste bureau chief dismissed the laboratory’s objections.

“The scenario is something that is unexpected,” he said. “There is a release and it drifts over Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba County and it comes from a site that is not within the laboratory. They’ve told me an explosion by means of excavating an unknown thing can’t happen. You can’t have a release that would drift that far.”

Bearzi said the point was to have an exercise that went beyond normal expectations.

According to a fact sheet prepared for remediating MDA B, the 60-year-old dump may contain hazardous chemicals. A report about a fire that occurred at the site in 1948 said several cartons of waste caused minor explosions, and on one occasion, a cloud of pink gas arose from the debris.

The laboratory’s remediation project describes the wastes as a big mixture, “primarily radioactively contaminated wastes and debris, and limited liquid chemical waste; however, a formal waste inventory was not maintained,” according to a fact sheet on the lab’s website.

Curry’s letter states that LANL threatened to withdraw from the exercise and that an alternative scenario suggested by the lab – a fire at the LANL Tritium Facility – was presented very late in the process, at a March 4 meeting.

Philmont Taylor, Los Alamos County emergency management coordinator, said he preferred the scenario that has been under development for the last year-and-a-half, even if it needed some further tweaking.

“The reason we wanted it outside the normal fence line is so that the county has a higher stake,” he said. “The county is responsible for its citizens, residents and visitors, and this scenario will more accurately capture that.”

The state’s objection to the alternative scenario, inside the fence at LANL, stems from bad feelings going back to the Cerro Grande Fire in May 2000.

LANL’s response at that time, Curry wrote, “was to ‘lock the gates,’ retreat to its own emergency operations center and conduct very little communication with the outside world, at least for the first few days of the emergency.”

Bearzi said that the last item in the current planning schedule calls for a table-top exercise next month, in which the major players act out their roles in the emergency scenario as it is currently planned.

Mar 20, 2008

University of Texas chancellor named as top candidate to head UC

Tanya Schevitz, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

(03-20) 15:56 PDT SAN FRANCISCO --

University of Texas Chancellor Mark G. Yudof was recommended Thursday to become the next president of the 10-campus University of California system, one of the most influential institutions in the state.

A special committee charged with selecting a new leader to succeed Robert Dynes, who announced plans to resign last summer, forwarded its recommendation to UC's governing Board of Regents, which is expected to approve it next week.

"We believe Mark Yudof, besides being a brilliant lawyer and a visionary president also has a history of being a good manager," said Richard Blum, chairman of the Board of Regents and head of the 10-member selection committee. "We came to the conclusion that he is the best."

Blum, who spoke after a two-hour meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus between the selection committee and Yudof, declined to say how much the university would offer Yudof but acknowledged "He is expensive."

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Yudof is among the highest-paid leaders of a public university in the nation, with a total compensation of $742,209 in fiscal 2006-07.

In a previous interview about the presidency, Blum said he thought money should not be a consideration in getting the right person for the job. However, President Dynes is currently paid $405,000 in base salary plus a car allowance of $8,916.

As president of UC, Yudof will oversee the nation's most prestigious public university system, as well as have a strong influence in overseeing three national labs - Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore.

Yudof has been chancellor of the highly regarded University of Texas system, which has 185,000 students on nine campuses plus six health institutions since August 2002.

Dynes had been at the center of controversy after The Chronicle disclosed that millions of dollars in extra compensation and questionable perks had been handed to top executives without telling the public or regents. The Chronicle's findings, reported in 2005 and 2006, were followed by three state and university audits that showed a management meltdown in which UC administrators sometimes flouted, circumvented and violated university policies governing pay and perks.

Yudof has some ties to the University of California as a former visiting professor at UC Berkeley.

E-mail Tanya Schevitz at tschevitz@sfchronicle.com

UC regents open discussion on laboratories

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Meeting in San Francisco Wednesday, the University of California Board of Regents heard disagreements about the university’s role in the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Criticism came this time not only from students, who are often vocal during regents’ meetings, but also from California Lt.-Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat and an ex officio member of the board, who said he was “deeply disturbed” by what he heard.

An audio webcast of an open session of the Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy laboratories began with a complaint by the board’s faculty representative, Michael Brown.

Also the chair of the Academic Senate and an advisory member of the laboratory oversight committee, Brown said the faculty was concerned about the federal government’s plan currently under discussion to increase pit manufacturing from 50 to 80 nuclear triggers a year at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and that the university was locked into a long-term contract with the DOE from which it could not escape.

Later, in the brief segment of the three-day meeting, the regents heard a report led by Norm Pattiz, the new chairman of the board of the limited liability corporations that own Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Pattiz is the chairman and founder of Westwood One, the largest radio network in the country.

He reported that the National Nuclear Security administration was pleased at the “proactive approach of the lab and their communication network” during recent public hearings in New Mexico on the transformation of the nuclear weapons complex. He also passed along compliments from meetings in Washington that “our two lab directors are extremely highly regarded.”

During Pattiz’ report, Garamendi was recognized. Posing a series of 20 or more probing question, Garamendi began by wanting to know who was actually in charge of the partnerships that run the weapons labs.

Pattiz said that the governing boards, one for each lab, were composed of six members, three from the university and one each from the three principal industrial partners.

“In a tie-breaking situation,” he said, the university’s chairmanship, “gives us the ability to prevail.”

So, when there is bad press about lapses of security, Garamendi concluded, “the university will be splattered by the mud, because we are in charge.”

During the ensuing discussion, UC Vice President Robert Foley affirmed that the contract was binding on the university.

“We knew going in that we had given up the right to unilaterally withdraw from the contract,” Foley said.

While the contract might be extended for as many as 20 years or as few as seven, he added, “The university does not have a guaranteed right to withdraw during that time.”

Garamendi also established from an answer to his questions that certain top managers of the weapons laboratories were employed by the limited liability corporations, but that UC paid their compensation.

Meanwhile, a student group protested a number of university issues during the meeting, including the university’s involvement in making parts for nuclear weapons, according to news reports today.

Pattiz promised to schedule a full discussion on issues related to the laboratories “at the appropriate time.”

Important Update from LANL Benefits

IMPORTANT UPDATE
SSP folk should have or should be receiving their HIPAA Certificate of Creditable Coverage soon. This is perfectly normal, although the language on these statements can be confusing (it is "model language" the carriers use, for legal purposes) the important thing to note: this only means your "active" coverage has ended, not that your DWMBP or Retiree Health benefits are canceled. Any questions on these, please call LANL Benefits FIRST - we can check the status of your benefits with any/all carriers and confirm current coverage. Legally, UHC must send this notice - it's not an attempt to drive you crazy, and no need to panic. Despite appearances, this actually means things are "working."

One of the people I spoke with today suggested I post this, here - hope it's helpful.

Thanks,
Greg Close
gsclose@lanl.gov


Thanks Greg!
-Pinky

Mar 19, 2008

New LANL Contractor Earns $58 Million Fee

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Federal officials have determined that the contractor that now runs Los Alamos National Laboratory should be awarded a $58 million fee for its first year on the job.

The total includes a fixed $22 million management fee as well as a $36 million performance fee for meeting most— but not all— of its objectives for fiscal year 2007.

The lab manager, Los Alamos National Security, was eligible for more than $51 million in performance fees if it met all of the objectives in its contract for the fiscal year that spanned from October 2006 through September 2007.

The payouts were described in a 2007 Performance Evaluation Report. The National Nuclear Security Administration's report is the first such evaluation of the contractor since it took over in 2006.

"LANS has made some inroads to improve laboratory operations during FY07, while maintaining outstanding performance in NNSA's core mission areas," states the report, obtained by the Journal on Tuesday following a Freedom of Information Act request.

The U.S. Department of Energy responded to several embarrassing security and fiscal problems at the lab by announcing in 2003 that LANL's management contract would be up for bid.

LANS, a consortium of industrial and academic partners, won the contract and took over lab management in June 2006.

The contract awards LANS for meeting 170 milestones in 13 different areas, ranging from weapons programs to safety and health.

LANS received the highest marks and the biggest fees in the areas of weapons program execution, weapons quality assurance, threat reduction and support of operations across the nuclear weapons complex.

Among the places where LANS fell short was in the accurate reporting of injury rates. The report states that an NNSA audit found misclassification of injury cases, resulting in the under-reporting of certain injury rates. Overall, though, the report found safety and health improvements at the lab and a drop in injuries.

In another area, LANS' own self-assessment stated that it had successfully reduced the lab's facilities by 400,000 square feet. But NNSA officials had "serious questions about the validity" of that claim after they toured one of those facilities, an administration building, that accounted for about half of the closed square footage.

Additionally, the report found that in vacating some of the facilities the lab had abandoned some valuable equipment, such as telephones and a vertical drill press, and items with "potential security issues," such as diskettes and crypto cards.

Personnel was another concern. The report states that LANS brought in an "impressive set of players," who for the most part "aggressively set about integrating the laboratory and setting in motion culture change in security, safety, and business."

But only six months after the change in management, deputy director John Mitchell retired with only one month's notice, while "one of the key personnel individually led to the degradation of an already fragile relationship with state regulators."

LANS had a rocky start with state regulators. Andy Phelps, the former associate director for environmental programs, butted heads with the state Environment Department, while the agency repeatedly fined the lab for violations of a cleanup agreement.

"Building a solid working relationship with the regulators needs continued focused attention," the report states.

Mar 18, 2008

Phase one of new compensation program being implemented

CPD designed to ensure Lab salaries are competitive

Laboratory managers will soon begin meeting with employees to discuss new job titles, levels and salary bands as part of the Compensation Program Design project, now under way.

The Compensation Program Design Web page has information on implementation time lines.

Compensation (HR-C) is now validating employee mapping exercises that managers completed last summer. This means that managers have placed their employees into new job classifications.

Phase one of the project includes administrative specialist, general support, office support, specialist staff member, technicians, and non-research and development (operational and technical support) technical staff member positions.

In a memo to Los Alamos National Security, LLC, Lab employees, Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio said the goal of the Compensation Program Design project is to ensure that Laboratory salaries are competitive and align with both external markets and internal equities and to provide the foundation for developing a clear, Labwide progression of career paths for all employees. "No employee's individual salary will be lowered as part of the CPD efforts, and the project will not influence changes to an employees' individual job duties, responsibilities, or job scope," said Anastasio.

Phase two of the project is underway and will include review of research and development technical staff member and program/project manager positions.

Labor Department meetings target ill nuclear workers

New Mexico Business Weekly - NMBW Staff

The U.S. Department of Labor will hold a series of meetings in New Mexico in April to provide information for workers who became ill as a result of working in the nuclear weapons industry.

The Labor Department will provide information on the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which provides compensation and medical benefits to employees who became ill as a result of working in the industry.

Officials will present details about the two classes of former employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and an overview of different parts of the compensation program.

Officials with the Labor Department's Traveling Resource Center will be on hand to help individuals fill out compensation claims. Representatives from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also will attend.

Three meetings are scheduled in New Mexico.

The April 1 session will take place at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Santa Fe at 7 p.m., with the Traveling Resource Center available from 5 to 9 p.m.

The White Rock meeting will be on April 2 at the Los Alamos Fire Department Training Center at 129 State Road 4 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Resource Center will be available that day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

An April 3 meeting will be in Albuquerque at the Marriott Hotel in Uptown at 7 p.m. The Resource Center will be available from 5 to 9 p.m. For more information, call toll free, (866) 272-3622.

Aid-eligible, sick ex-Flats workers will be sought

By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)

Government officials decided Monday to spend the next three weeks looking for sick Rocky Flats employees who should be eligible for immediate compensation, but have fallen through the cracks.

The research will be done by two experts on Rocky Flats, one a government scientist and the other an appointee to a presidential panel that oversees the compensation program.

The decision came after members of the panel decided to further investigate reports in the Rocky Mountain News that some workers had been overlooked.

Congress set up the program in 2000 to provide financial and medical help to atom bomb workers whose jobs jeopardized their health.

Their survivors can also apply for compensation.

Workers are eligible for automatic compensation if they were or should have been monitored for neutron radiation.

Brant Ulsh is a scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control.

He oversaw the scientific work to determine who should have been monitored.

Ulsh, who will help with the three-week review, said, "Whether there could be a pool of other people (who should have been monitored), it's not impossible, but there's no evidence for it."

But Jack Weaver, the former deputy director of plutonium operations at the site, disagrees.

"I think it's entirely possible somebody could have gotten irradiated, gotten a dose of radiation, without being accounted for," he said.

He added that, particularly, people who worked outside the plutonium areas might have slipped through the cracks.

Disagreement derails Flats case

New rules block compensation to worker's widow
By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News
Monday, March 17, 2008

Just before Christmas, Loa Richards opened a letter from the government and thought her problems were solved.

She could fix her roof on her mobile home and stop covering her floor with buckets when rain fell or snow melted. She could replace the water heater the inspector warned could pump out carbon monoxide. She could have a portrait made of herself to give her children as a memento.

And she could pick out her own casket for the day she would join her husband, Warren, who died of cancer 17 years ago at age 52.

The government's letter said Warren's cancer was likely the result of his work at Rocky Flats, the defunct nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver. Congress decided in 2000 that the nation's nuclear weapons workers and their survivors were due compensation for sacrificing their health building atomic bombs.

The government recommended that Richards, 70, who lives in Clifton, near Grand Junction, receive $300,000.

"She thought it was a blessing from God," said Richards' daughter, Donna DeKruger, who helped her mother file for the compensation more than six years ago.

Then, this month, another letter arrived. Under new guidelines written by the U.S. Labor Department and published in February, Richards apparently won't be receiving the money after all.

"You go through this for years - the ups and downs. I just kind of want to give up," said Richards, who is surviving on Social Security and her husband's Rocky Flats pension of $138 a month. "I don't want to sound like a crybaby. I'm thankful for what I have. It's just so sad."

[Read the full story here.]

Mar 16, 2008

Fellows Perspective on the
Search for the Laboratory Director

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows

April 3, 1997

The future of the Los Alamos National Laboratory at the end of the Cold War is tied to a new central mission of reducing the global nuclear danger, which includes maintaining a safe and reliable nuclear-weapons stockpile as a continuing nuclear deterrent. This primary mission provides a common focus and also requires that the Laboratory support a number of broadly-based programs that strengthen our basic competencies and advance science and technology in service of the country. A new science-based approach to stockpile stewardship is the main program through which the laboratory fulfills its responsibility to provide proper management of the nuclear-weapons stockpile. Other principal components of the mission include non-proliferation activities and cleanup resulting from the legacy of the nuclear-weapons production from the Cold War. It is important to recognize the central role of science at the Laboratory in carrying out its primary mission. Science has become even more important now in maintaining the nations nuclear deterrent due to the cessation of nuclear testing. The new mission, together with the present economic forces in the country, has placed the Laboratory in the midst of a period of greater change than at any time since its founding. The resulting challenges placed on the Laboratory require a Director who possesses integrity, vision, and leadership to effectively carry out the Laboratorys mission. We believe that the new director must fulfill several important roles:

1) The Director must be a strong advocate for the full range of science carried out at the Laboratory, and must be an active proponent of adequate funding for research.

2) The Director must work vigorously to obtain the funding to improve the physical facilities, infrastructure, and capabilities within the Laboratory, which are required to maintain the scientific productivity at a world-class level.

3) The Director must lead the effort to ensure that all activities are designed to protect the employees, the public, and the environment, while continuing to improve the cost-effectiveness required to carry out the overall mission.

4) The Director must possess a number of personal qualities.

The Director must have a considerable reputation in science and technology, based on a record of leadership and accomplishment in these areas.

As the critical person responsible for annually certifying to the President the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons without nuclear testing, the Director must be fully qualified to provide sound scientific and technical judgment concerning the effectiveness of the stockpile and of the core mission of the Laboratory.

The Director must set a high standard of personal integrity, particularly when certifying the reliability of the stockpile.

In recognition of today's increased public participation, the Director must be an effective communicator and must be willing and able to work openly, honestly, and productively with the DOE, Congress, the University of California, the New Mexico Congressional delegation, local communities, and within the Laboratory.

The culture of the Los Alamos National Laboratory was established during the Manhattan Project; it is a tradition that places more emphasis on the role of science and research than the other weapons laboratories. The research carried out at the Laboratory provides a base from which the nation can sustain its world leadership in the military, economic, and scientific arenas. We must continue the tradition of having a Director with an enlightened view of the importance of research, and the scientific excellence and integrity of the Laboratory must be maintained as a first priority.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory is made up of a large interdisciplinary work force that benefits from unique facilities such as the neutron facility LANSCE, the plutonium facility, and DAHRT. Outstanding capabilities also exist in other areas related to the Laboratory's central mission, including advanced computing and space technologies. Facilities and capabilities such as these provide the foundations necessary to carry out a broad-based program of science at the Laboratory. We believe that the Laboratory must continue to develop and enhance these unique facilities in such core areas as neutron, plutonium, and advanced computational sciences. Thus, the Director must have an understanding of the importance of maintaining selected scientific capabilities of the Laboratory at a world-class level.

Funding for science in the United States has suffered substantial reductions during the last five years. It is a generally held view that basic research accounts for as much as 50 percent of the nation's economic growth. The Laboratory is working to provide higher return on the nation's investment in many ways, including its efforts to stimulate industrial partnerships. Maintaining world-class facilities and reasonable funding levels for research are the keys to sustaining the intellectual environment that attracts and retains the best people. The new Director must be willing and able to work effectively in obtaining the resources required to assure a strong future for the Laboratory and the country. We believe that for continued vitality of the Laboratory, the Director must recognize and take the lead in developing new scientific and technical opportunities.

In recent years, the Laboratory has increased the emphasis that is placed on safe, reliable, and cost-effective operations. This change is essential as the Laboratory carries out its mission. However, the level of effort required for accountability must be balanced against the necessity of making effective use of the tax payers' investment. The new Director must lead the effort to ensure that operations at the Laboratory protect the employees, the public, and the environment, in a reasonable and cost-effective manner, while simultaneously maintaining our scientific capabilities at the highest level.

Finally, to enable the Laboratory to continue to attract the best people, there are a number of important local issues, such as health care, education, and regional economic development that the new Director must address. The Director must bridge the economic gap, the educational gap, and the cultural gap in Northern New Mexico. The Director must be active concerning these issues, which affect not only all the employees at the Laboratory, but also the citizens in the neighboring communities.

In our view, the Director's job is more challenging now than at any time during the past 50 years. We do not believe that the new Director must necessarily come from the weapons field, but he or she must be fully qualified to exercise sound scientific and technical judgment about the effectiveness of the stockpile and the core programs associated with the primary Laboratory mission of reducing the global nuclear danger. This most important quality of scientific judgment means knowing when to rely on the expertise of others, and when to think independently. The Fellows firmly believe that the necessary scientific judgment at the Director's level requires someone with a significant record of technical accomplishment. It is important that the selection process be as broad as possible to obtain the best possible candidate pool. We believe the future health of the Laboratory and, to an appreciable extent, the technical vitality of the nation are dependent on obtaining the strongest Director possible who possesses the attributes and qualifications we have listed.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows Organization

The LANL Fellows are certain Technical Staff Members who have been appointed by the Director to the rank of Fellow in recognition of sustained outstanding contributions and exceptional promise for continued professional achievement. The Fellows are limited to 2 percent of the technical staff, who, by charter, may not be members of the Laboratory management. The Fellows advise the management on technical issues of importance to the Laboratory. To promote technical achievements the Fellows organize symposia and have established the LANL Fellows Prize to recognize and reward outstanding research accomplishments of staff members. The Fellows share a deep commitment and concern about the future of the Laboratory. Thus, the Fellows formulate, from time to time, statements concerning issues that can have a large impact on the scientific health of the Laboratory; the selection of the new Director is such an issue. In presenting this paper, we have attempted to reflect accurately the primary attributes that the majority of the Fellows would like to see in the new Director.

DARHT gets kudos from headquarters

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

During a recent trip to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a senior official of the National Nuclear Security Administration made a special point of visiting the hydrotest facility.

Steve Goodrum, assistant deputy administrator, science engineering and production, said that after his trip was scheduled, word came in that the second axis of the lab’s Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility (DARHT) had met and exceeded its requirements for beginning operations.

“When the e-mails and calls started coming in about DARHT’s success,” he told employees at the facility Wednesday, “the news permeated the (DOE headquarters) Forrestal Building.”

So Goodrum asked to make this special side trip. He passed along congratulations and formal certificates of appreciation to members of the team and took a tour of the newly proven second axis.

Accompanying Goodrum were LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Charles McMillan, associate director for weapons physics. The delegation from Washington also included NNSA science campaign manager Chris Deaney.

Ray Scarpetti, the DARHT second-axis project manager, conducted a tour of the accelerated hall and the complex electron beam that produces the x-rays which is expected, beginning in a few more months, to give multiple high-resolution images from inside exploding mock nuclear weapons.

The capability is considered essential for verifying the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile without testing actual weapons.

The second axis was thought to be complete in 2003, as JASON, the prestigious national security consulting team, pointed out in their project review in 2006. Scarpetti said JASON found the approach to be solid, but still saw the project as risky.

“There are uncertainties in the ability of a target to generate more than two satisfactory radiation pulses,” JASON wrote.

But they also recognized, “There are well-structured development programs aimed at curing both of these problems.”

As the recent results demonstrated, the problems have been cured. “I expected the results to be good,” said Scarpetti, “but they’re really good.

The second axis was expected to meet or exceed several criteria, including a certain voltage and a certain electrical current, as a prerequisite for breaking a powerful beam into four separate pulses.

The pulses enable the camera that shoots at 400 billionths of a second to capture an image and then download the data during the interval.

Another requirement had to do with the spot size, which relates to the sharpness of the image that the camera can capture.

The first axis of the facility was considered a benchmark, able to produce a 2.3 mm spot.

In its groundbreaking performance, the second axis came in at 1.6 mm, a substantial improvement.

A final criterion had to do with dose, the measure of the radiation of the x-ray intensity, and therefore how well the dense materials under investigation could be penetrated.

Trying to achieve a dose of 100 rad at 1 m., in the first 3 pulses and 300 in the final pulse, the team achieved 170, 185, and 170 rad on the first three pulses and 445 rad on the final test.

Again the goals were exceeded by more than 50 percent.

“We made it look easy,” Scarpetti said who attributed this and other achievements to teamwork and a practice of bringing in leading experts from around the country.
Scarpetti gave special credit to Subrata Nath, his deputy.

“I had on staff or as consultants the best team that could be assembled throughout the country,” he said. “Through the roughest times I never lost faith that we could get there.”

Mar 14, 2008

LANL Insurance Provider to Cover Disputed Bills

By Kiera Hay, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

More than 60 Los Alamos National Laboratory employees caught in a fight over medical bills incurred at a Santa Fe hospital were breathing easier Thursday after being told their medical plan provider has agreed to pay the disputed expenses.

"I'm very happy with the outcome. It was the hard work of the people in the group," said Rob Vitek, a systems engineer who helped rally workers billed some $450,000 in what they considered unfair charges.

"It was a grassroots effort, and it paid off," he added.

The dispute began when LANL employees who received care at the recently opened Physicians Medical Center in Santa Fe were told they owed all or most of the cost of their treatment at the hospital because Physicians Medical Center was not part of the network approved by United Healthcare, the company that administers medical plans for LANL workers.

Employees said it was represented to them by Physicians Medical Center that care at the hospital, located on Rodeo Park East, was covered under their plan, and they were only responsible for a nominal co-pay.

Several workers said they feared that if their bills were sent to collection agencies, they could lose important security clearances.

LANL said in a news release issued Thursday evening that United Healthcare, with LANL concurrence, and Physicians Medical Center have negotiated an agreement under which all care at the hospital retroactive to April 25, 2007, is considered in-network. Vitek said employees have been told to expect notification within 10 days that their bills have been paid.

LANL spokesman Steve Sandoval said the lab had no comment beyond what was written in the release.

"It is important that Laboratory employees always ensure that both their physicians and the facilities in which they practice are part of the United Healthcare medical network before services are provided," LANL human resource employee said Lou Polito in the statement.

"Ensuring that your physician or facility is in the UHC network is important because physicians and facilities are constantly entering and leaving the UHC network," he said.

Vitek said the good news he and others received Thursday was tempered upon learning that another group of LANL employees was told that care provided after Oct. 29, 2007, by Dr. W. Auge— a doctor who is part owner of Physicians Medical Center and who initially referred Vitek and others to the hospital— would not be covered by United Healthcare. Vitek said Auge falsely represented to clients that he was still part of the United Healthcare network.

Auge could not be reached Thursday.

"I think Physicians Medical Center got off the hook. I think they represented themselves as being carriers, and they weren't," Vitek said.

A message left for Jeanne Scheide, vice president of operations for National Surgical Hospitals, part owner of Physicians Medical Center, was not returned late Thursday.

"I think it (the resolution) was the goodwill of LANL and LANL pushing United Healthcare to get this resolved," Vitek said.

Los Alamos supports major transformation project

By ROGER SNODGRASS, LOS ALAMOS MONITOR EDITOR

A large crowd turned out for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s public hearing Wednesday night at the Hilltop House. For the first time in recent memory, top Los Alamos National Laboratory managers and other members of the community made a strong public showing in support of the agency’s current proposal for transforming the nuclear weapons complex.

Toward the end of the evening, LANL plutonium scientist Joe Martz speaking as a private citizen, said he had been attending these meetings for 20 years and called the community support, “unprecedented.”

In a phone call this morning he emphasized the contrast with similar meetings in the past, which he described as “a smattering of activists with general apathy from the community.”

While opponents outnumbered proponents by 10 to one in the last meetings on this topic, the first of the two NNSA meetings in Los Alamos saw more advocates than critics by a five-to-one margin.

The subject of the hearing was a lengthy document that has been in the works since late 2006, when it originally aimed at a long-range consolidation plan known as Complex 2030 and introduced the concept of a newly modified warhead, known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) as the vehicle for bringing about the change.

Something more than a year later, work on the RRW has been virtually halted by Congress, and DOE has found increasing resistance to its budget proposals.

In its current version, the preferred scope of transformation would take place over the next ten years. The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on complex transformation now envisions a somewhat more moderate path for getting there.

As Bob Smolin Deputy Director for Defense Programs in the NNSA described it in an introductory video, the transformation proposal grows out of the president’s Nuclear Policy Review in 2001, which called for changes that would reflect the end of the Cold War, including less reliance on the Cold War weapons and more reliance on capabilities, made more effective by a smaller and highly responsive weapons infrastructure.

As the period of formal testimony began, an audience of perhaps 200 people filled the meeting room. Many members of the community stood in the back. About 35 people spoke in three-minute segments.

Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe, spoke first about the lab’s economic importance in the area. She was followed by Lab director Michael Anastasio and Glenn Mara, the head of the lab’s nuclear weapons program, who established many of the other themes of the evening.

Anastasio, encouraged the adoption of the preferred alternative in the NNSA’s study, which calls for upgrading facilities at Los Alamos, including the strong possibility that LANL will be mainly responsible for manufacturing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons well into the future.

Anastasio said the plan would enhance the adaptability of the nuclear weapons complex.

“We will be able to respond to any problems that show up in the stockpile more effectively and thus reduce the stockpile even more,” he said.

He said the preferred alternative “reconfirms for all of us that Los Alamos is a national security science laboratory,” and that the weapons capability could be used to address other national problems, including non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, new forms of alternative energy and climate change.

NNSA’s preferred alternative, he said would ensure a “stable lab and community well into the future.”

The fourth speaker was Ed Grothus, a retired employee from the laboratory, well-known for his antinuclear convictions. Among his impassioned arguments was the calculation that there are eight nuclear warheads on each Trident missile and that 19 submarines each carry 24 missiles, resulting in the ability to destroy 3,648 places on earth the size of New York City.

“There is no reason to destroy one city,” he said. “What would be the reason for doing that?”

He also criticized the lack of science in the nuclear project, noting that the laboratory had one only one Nobel Prize in over 60 years

While the three-minute format for statements precluded discussion, public questions or dialogues, some of the speakers included brief rebuttals in their comments.

Martz, for example shot back to the science criticism with statistics about citations of lab documents in the scientific literature, which he said made LANL “by far the leader.” He said his review indicated that since the laboratory started its “limited manufacturing” of nuclear triggers in 1997, papers on plutonium had doubled.

To criticism by Los Alamos Study Group member Astrid Webster that the NNSA had not responded to previous requests for the agency to “pay attention to the environment,” Martz said his study of the impact statement led him to recommend that the authors “do not fully elucidate the environmental benefits of the transformation.”

One of the few speakers who took a middle ground, Los Alamos County Councilor Ken Milder said he was concerned about the jobs that were going to be lost under the transformation plan. He said the director’s optimism about using nuclear weapons capabilities for other national capabilities were not funded or discussed in the environmental impact statement. He said the socio-economic disruption in the region was not adequately addressed in the plan, although he foresaw the potential for “an upheaval” for families, houses, schools and services.

Todd Heinrichs, a science writer employed at the laboratory also had a slightly different twist. He called for NNSA to take a better look at the contribution that basic science makes to its weapons programs.