May 29, 2008

LANL Reorganization

Frank,
Have you heard anything about the recent reorganization at LANL? An entire directorate was dismantled. The Associate Director from ADISS was sent off to aid in other areas and isn't being replaced. The various organizations from ADISS are being farmed out to several other directorates. Rumor has it (sorry, can't confirm this) that some of these organizations will be disbanded also. People will just drift off into the horizon. Doubt any will be laid off at this point, but down the road who knows?

Hadn't seen anything about this posted and was wondering if you had heard about it?

Thanks,
Anonymous

Audit letter threatens lab retirees with loss of health insurance

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

One-tenth of Los Alamos National Laboratory retirees recently received letters concerning a “Dependent Eligibility Audit” related to their medical insurance.

At least one recipient thought the cancellation of benefits threatened in the letter was a bit much, especially when compared to the nonchalant way it was delivered.

The envelope, dug out of a recycle pile, “is a generic-looking thing from a P.O. Box in Orlando Florida. Sort of like a Publisher’s Clearinghouse offer or something,” wrote lab retiree Abe Jacobson from Washington state in an e-mail to the Monitor.

The envelope with return address marked as “Customer Care Center” has a headline, “Your Benefits Resources” and a relatively unassuming subhead indicating, “Important Information About Your Health and Insurance Benefits.”

It was sent by first-class mail.

Although the threatened consequences of loss of medical coverage for 12 months, might be considered vital, the letter was not registered and no return-receipt was requested upon delivery.

The sender is not clear on the outside, but is specified in the letter itself as the lab’s management company, Los Alamos National Security, LLC. There is also a bold first line: “Time Sensitive: Your Action Required.”

Laboratory spokesperson Steve Sandoval confirmed Wednesday that the letter is the second round of a two-part audit. The first round went to laboratory employees. In both mailings, 10 percent of the enrollees in each category were chosen to receive letters.

The letter informs the recipient that he or she has been randomly selected for a medical insurance audit and that a response is required before July 31. If the response does not arrive in time, the letter states, “you and your listed dependent(s) will be dropped from coverage … for 12 months.”

In a telephone conversation and several e-mails to the Monitor, Jacobson insisted that the matter had been handled in a “preremptory and careless manner.”

“That is,” he wrote, “for people lucky enough to be in this random sample … their failure to open, read and respond to this letter means they will be dropped from coverage on Aug. 1.”

Jacobson said he typically tries to be away from home for up to three months during the summer, “and it was only good fortune that I got this letter before my departure.”

Had he left a bit earlier, he noted, he would have returned to find that he and his wife were without medical insurance and extremely vulnerable.

Sandoval relayed questions from Jacobsen and the Monitor to human resources officials at the laboratory. One of the questions was about follow-up policy in case there is not a reply.

The officials answered that, with the audit of active employees and a previous audit of retirees under the University of California, they sent several reminders.

“We went above and beyond to contact these people, which resulted in 100-percent compliance and no one lost their medical coverage except for those dependents who truly were ineligible,” officials said.

They also responded to the question about the relatively minimal attempt to command the attention of the recipient compared to the specified consequences, saying the first audit of active employees was sent “certified.”

But letters were not sent certified to the retirees because they had been informed by callers that the postal service “sporadically delivers to outlying areas,” and the certified letters did not need to be signed by the addressee, only family members.

“Certifying the letters added an expense that we realized was not necessary because the follow-up reminder letters, which were not certified, resulted in an enormous response,” the human resource officials replied.

They added, “Our intention is NOT to de-enroll them. It is simply to ensure the plan is being used appropriately.”

The response still did not satisfy Jacobson, who suggested in an e-mail early this morning that the letter should then have said, “The cancellation will occur on Aug. 1 and will be repealed as soon as the required documentation is provided to LANL.”

Without such working, he added, “it’s like saying, if you do not bother to prove your innocence of shoplifting by sending us the purchase receipt for the plasma TV in your living room, we’ll send you to jail for a year, and if the receipt is produced after you enter jail then you’ll still spend a year in jail.”

John McCain on Nuclear Security

On Tuesday Republican presidential candidate John McCain delivered a speech in Denver laying out his views on nuclear issues (Full text here.) Here are two paragraphs that drew some attention from John Fleck at the Albuquerque Journal and Jon Wolfsthal at the Huffington Post.
I believe we must also address nuclear testing. As president I will pledge to continue America's current moratorium on testing, but also begin a dialogue with our allies, and with the U.S. Senate, to identify ways we can move forward to limit testing in a verifiable manner that does not undermine the security or viability of our nuclear deterrent. This would include taking another look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to see what can be done to overcome the shortcomings that prevented it from entering into force. I opposed that treaty in 1999, but said at the time I would keep an open mind about future developments.

I would only support the development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals. I would cancel all further work on the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon that does not make strategic or political sense.
Does that mean he wants to change the test ban treaty to allow limited testing? And why is he talking about RNEP? What do you think McCain meant?

May 28, 2008

Undesirable element in office ... Critical morass

Noel Murphy | The Geelong Advertiser

It might read like pidgin Latin from an Asterix comic but the first new element to be added to the Periodic Table _ chemistry's running list of the world's body parts _ has merit beyond its allusions to the classic dead language.

It's generally ascribed to that great thinker, anonymous, but also tentatively to one William DeBuvitz, a one-time US physics professor. A Google hunt will direct you to a multitude of websites and blogs with variations on the theme although they're generally faithful to one particular take. My favourite site's a purported Slovenian think tank whose mission is to promote free-market principles, limited government, individual freedom, free enterprises, rule of law, and individual initiative. There's quite a bit of that in Slovenia, if we remember rightly.

This great new element is said to have emerged some years back, following a fire in August 2000 at the apocryphal Los Alamos Laboratory where a secret bunker's security system was damaged. But we recall reports much earlier. DeBuvitz's version supposedly appeared in the January 1989 issue of The Physics Teacher . Maybe it did.

Anyway, this great element is said to be the heaviest element yet known to science. It's called governmentium (Gv) and enjoys something of a double life. In one form, it has a solitary neuron, 25 assistant neurons, 88 deputy neurons and 198 assistant deputy neurons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. In another, it has one neutron, 15 assistant neutrons, 35 deputy neutrons, 80 vice neutrons, 145 supervisory neutrons, 165 team leader neutrons and 225 consulting neutrons, giving it a devilish atomic mass of 666.

These 312 to 666 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are in turn surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

Even a minute amount of governmentium can cause a reaction that might normally take less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of two to six years; it does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neurons and deputy neurons exchange places. In fact, governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neurons, forming isodopes.
This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, governmentium comes into a field truly its own. It morphs into administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Concentrations of governmentium have reportedly been found in locations such as houses of parliament and large corporations. It's especially drawn to universities. It can usually be found polluting the best appointed and best maintained buildings.

But a word of caution. Scientists warn that governmentium is known to be toxic and recommend plenty of alcoholic fluids followed by bed rest after even low levels of exposure.

May 27, 2008

Obama Touts Los Alamos Nat'l Laboratory's Potential; Praises for Gov. Richardson

Steve Terrell--The Santa Fe New Mexican

Los Alamos National Laboratory would remain a weapons-research facility under a Barack Obama administration, Obama said Monday. But if he's elected, LANL also would be at the forefront of research for technology to aide in nuclear nonproliferation.

Obama, who was in Las Cruces for a Memorial Day ceremony, was asked in a phone interview whether he would keep LANL as a weapons research facility. "Absolutely," he replied.

"Los Alamos has been one of our premier research facilities, and we need to do more research in this area, in part because we've got to deal with the critical issues of nonproliferation," the Democratic contender said.

Obama said he would put a priority on developing technology to detect "loose," unaccounted-for nuclear material. He also said there needs to be a technology to ensure nuclear materials designed for civilian purposes in countries that don't currently have nuclear weapons are not turned into bombs.

"There's a whole host of areas that involve significant research and development, and Los Alamos needs to be at the forefront of that," Obama said.

Nancy Ambrosiano, a LANL spokeswoman, said Monday that the lab has a Nuclear Nonproliferation Division that's more than a decade old and is in fact working on some of the projects Obama advocates.

Democrats in recent years have advocated making nonproliferation research a higher priority.

The candidate spoke to a group of veterans and their families in Las Cruces at an event that was closed to the public but open to reporters.

He said the government should give the same priority to building a 21st century veterans administration that it does to building a 21st century military. The country should have "zero tolerance for veterans sleeping on our streets," Obama said. He also said protesting at military funerals should be banned. This was in a reference to a rabidly anti-gay church in Kansas that has become infamous for protesting at the funerals of those who died in Iraq, claiming their deaths are God's punishment for allowing homosexuality.

Obama in the interview had praise for Gov. Bill Richardson, who, several weeks after folding his own presidential campaign, endorsed Obama's White House bid. "I think Bill Richardson's one of the best public servants we have in American life."

Asked whether Richardson was on his short list for vice president or another top-level job in an Obama administration, the senator from Illinois replied, "I am not discussing vice presidential choices at this point because I haven't locked down the nomination yet. But I think Bill Richardson would be on anybody's short list for top assignments in the federal government. Now, he may decide he prefers being governor of the state of New Mexico. He loves this state and he loves the people. But he's an outstanding public servant and I'm very proud to have his support."

Recently Richardson, appearing on Fox News, was asked about Obama's statements he would meet with governments not friendly with the U.S.. Richardson pointed out he's met face to face with Fidel Castro and other "bad guys."

"I think you don't talk to (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad. You talk to some of the moderate (Iranian) clerics," Richardson said. The Republican National Committee seized on that statement, implying Richardson was contradicting Obama.

"The Republicans are scrambling to distort my position on this issue," Obama said Monday. "I've been very clear that you meet with our enemies and not just our friends. That's the essence of diplomacy. I've said that with appropriate preparation I would meet with leaders of adversarial countries. I think Bill Richardson's point is a point I've made repeatedly-- that Ahmadinejad isn't the most powerful person in Iran and might not be the person with whom you end up cutting a deal. In fact, we don't even know what his position's going to be because they've got elections coming up in 2009 and his party was weakened in the last legislative elections.

"You know, the Republicans want to engage in fear mongering, and Ahmadinejad's such an unattractive, incendiary figure, they want to prop him up as an example of people they'd refuse to meet with," Obama said. "But, of course, they've refused to meet with more moderate clerics in Iran and lower levels as well. And that policy has failed. It's strengthened Iran. Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. They're undaunted by the bluster coming from this administration, and I believe that's a policy that both Bill Richardson and myself believe that we need to change."

So why is Obama -- who still faces primary contests with U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana -- spending Memorial Day in New Mexico? Don't other states have veterans?

"Well New Mexico obviously has some just outstanding veterans that I wanted to make sure to honor," Obama said.

But perhaps realizing this might sound like pandering, he quickly added: "And we're going to be competing very hard here in New Mexico in the general election.

"I only had the opportunity to campaign during the primary, the caucus, because it was during Feb. 5, when there were 23 contests. We wanted to make sure we get back here and talk to the voters and give them the attention they deserve."

Obama lost the state's Democratic caucus to Clinton by a narrow margin. "Oh yeah, it was painful," he said.

What will he do to win over Hispanic voters, who tended to support Clinton in the primaries?

"The truth is we did very well with Hispanics here in New Mexico," he said. "Senator Clinton edged us out, but ... I know we got a higher percent of Hispanics here than just about anywhere. We're going to keep making sure that the Hispanic electorate here is familiar with my track record because when they are, we do very well. ... But obviously they were more familiar with Senator Clinton. As they become more familiar with me, the better we do."

May 26, 2008

DOE Says DARHT Fully Operational; Questions Remain

The Department of Energy announced that the large x-ray machine at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is ready to conduct experiments used to certify the nuclear weapons stockpile. The Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility (DARHT) Facility has undergone several years of reconstruction work to fix voltage breakdown problems in the second axis that were first discovered in 2003. The second axis would allow 3-D images of test explosions to be produced. These tests include detonating mock triggers, both for existing and new warhead designs.

During the experiments, which are called hydrotests, DARHT generates a 17-million-volt beam of electrons, which are slammed into a high explosive target. Two X-ray machines digitally photograph the interior of the materials being compressed to simulate a nuclear warhead explosion and hazardous and toxic materials are released into the environment. The tests are considered by DOE to be non-nuclear because the materials that are used cannot sustain chain reactions, but they do contain materials such as depleted uranium, beryllium, lead and plutonium-242.

The rebuilding effort cost $90 million and took five years to complete. DARHT is a $350 million facility, which began construction in 1988. Construction was halted in 1995 when CCNS and the Los Alamos Study Group sued DOE because the required environmental studies had not been done. The estimated cost of DARHT at the time was $124 million.

DARHT has been criticized as being too expensive and behind schedule.

In 2005, the DOE Inspector General found that LANL was behind schedule in developing technology that would protect employees and the environment from exposure to hazardous materials used in the testing program.

One problem identified in the 2005 audit was that LANL had not completed the development and implementation of an improved filtration system on the DARHT facility. Currently, an aqueous foam is used to filter the release of materials. However, the audit found that this strategy is neither the most efficient nor the preferred method for protecting employees and the environment. A senior LANL scientist told the auditors that "foam containment dramatically increased hazards to the workers involved at the firing point and increased the time and costs associated with executing hydrotests." Moreover, using the foam increases the amount of low-level radioactive waste generated by the testing.

The original plan for DARHT included the development of metal vessels to contain the tests. The vessels could then be removed from the site and cleaned at a remote facility, thereby improving the turnaround time for each test. However, LANL never fully developed the vessel design and is behind schedule to incorporate them into the program. The audit recommended that LANL expedite its work on the containment vessels.

The plan for the future nuclear weapons complex transformation does not call for the end of open-air hydrotesting at LANL until 2009.

CCNS made numerous requests for additional information from DOE and LANL about whether the tests will be conducted in vessels or open air. We received no response to our questions.

Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico states, “DARHT will only be a success when all tests performed there are fully contained.”

This has been the CCNS News Update. For more information about this or other nuclear safety issues, please visit our website at nuclearactive.org.

May 25, 2008

Next Nuclear Weapons Are Tough Sell for Labs

By John Fleck
Of the Journal

Managers at Sandia and Los Alamos national labs often talk about “the customer.” It has always seemed an odd word to me, more appropriate to some guy walking in the door at Target than the people in the military who might some day have to use the nuclear weapons the labs design.

But insofar as “the customer” is the management-speak in use, it seems appropriate to ask what the customer wants. And in that regard, the news for the labs lately is not entirely good.

Foreign Policy magazine recently conducted a survey of more than 3,400 active and retired military leaders. They have a host of concerns regarding the current state of the U.S. military, and the things that need to be done to prepare it for the threats we face as a nation in the 21st century.

A need for new nuclear weapons was about as far down the list as it is possible to get without disappearing entirely from their vision of our military future. Only 2 percent of those surveyed thought “bring(ing) a new generation of nuclear weapons online” should be one of the nation's top defense priorities — far behind the need for “more robust diplomatic tools,” among many needs singled out.

This is a problem for the labs and the National Nuclear Security Administration, the federal agency that directs their nuclear weapons work. They have hitched their future plans to the “Reliable Replacement Warhead.” RRW is the vanguard of a new generation of nukes they want to build to replace our old and, they say, outmoded Cold War arsenal.

But the Foreign Policy survey suggests the customer may not want RRW.

To be fair, one of the customers who matters the most, U.S. Strategic Command, while not willing to buy RRW outright, at least seems interested in putting the design on layaway. Finishing up current paper studies of the RRW design will help guide decisions to be made next year about the long-term future of our nuclear deterrent, Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of Stratcom, told the House Armed Services Committee in February.

Chilton's comments seem to have been an attempt to quiet concerns that RRW was being sold by the labs and the National Nuclear Security Administration to a customer not all that interested in buying.

But like many things in the federal government right now, “next year” is a long way away, with a bright line dividing “before Jan. 20” from “after Jan. 20.” Election years create a sort of limbo as federal officials alternatively sprint as fast as they can trying to get things locked into place, or idle away the final years of the departing administration, realizing that whatever they do today could be easily undone on Jan. 21.

Which makes the question of the views of the three remaining major-party presidential candidates all the more important. One of them, combined with the next Congress, will make the decisions that will matter on RRW and the future of nuclear weapons.

In that regard, arms control scholar Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation notes that all three have, in one form or another, endorsed a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons and a move toward eventual nuclear disarmament “in one form or another.”

“We should work to reduce nuclear arsenals all around the world, starting with our own,” John McCain said in a March speech outlining his foreign policy platform.

Lewis, who has done a detailed analysis of the three candidates' statements on the issue, notes that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made similar comments.

On RRW, Clinton's views are clear. “I oppose the Bush administration's plans for the Reliable Replacement Warhead,” she said in answer to a questionnaire from the Council for a Livable World, an arms control group.

Obama has parsed his words more carefully. “America must not rush to produce a new generation of nuclear warheads,” he wrote in a policy essay published last year in Foreign Affairs magazine. Leaving the door open to continued studies, he told the Council for a Livable World, “I do not support a premature decision to produce the RRW.” For Obama, apparently, the option of continued design studies remains on the table.

McCain did not answer the questionnaire, and his campaign declined to comment on his views about RRW.

Regardless of campaign pronouncements, in nuclear weapons policy, and especially the Byzantine world of lab budgets, the devil is in the details. And as Lewis notes, presidential campaigns are not the places where one learns such details.

“Candidates are, by nature, generalists,” Lewis wrote in a recent analysis of the candidates' nuclear weapons statements done for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “They can also be quite cautious on issues that are not central to their interests or their image. Although nuclear weapons issues are incredibly important, they are also technical, abstract and excite very few interest groups.”

That means we are unlikely to see presidential candidates speak about nuclear weapons issues with sufficient specificity to answer lingering uncertainties over the future of the nuclear weapons enterprise.

But if you're trying to read the signals here, all of this suggests that the next customer-in-chief is not likely to be an eager nuclear weapons buyer.

Read science writer John Fleck's blog at abqjournal.com. E-mail to jfleck@abqjournal.com

May 24, 2008

$5 million donation relieves Fermilab of furloughs

May 23, 2008 | 5:42 pm

In an upbeat all-hands meeting at Fermilab today, director Pier Oddone announced that a $5 million donation from an anonymous donor in combination with a number of early retirements and resignations will help allow Fermilab to cease their furloughs (in which all staff had to take approximately 10% of their time off with no pay) at the end of May.

You can watch the video of the meeting held in the auditorium at Fermilab.

Oddone began by literally taking his (borrowed) hat off to the staff for their continued excellent achievement in operating the Tevatron, which has broken many records in recent weeks. He also congratulated the laboratory on its continued good safety record.

He announced that Fermilab will now have a voluntary layoff program starting in June followed by an involuntary layoff program starting in July. The voluntary program will be “structured,” which means that certain job functions are not eligible for voluntary layoffs. However, the majority of the lab will be eligible.

Oddone explained that an anonymous family in Illinois will donate $5 million to the University of Chicago (a partner in managing Fermilab for the US Department of Energy) to help support the future of high-energy physics. “I find it quite encouraging, quite astounding,” Oddone said.

Turning to current Congressional actions, Oddone spoke of the Senate bill that includes supplemental funding for high-energy physics attached to the war spending bill. However, the House bill has no such domestic spending. He cautioned that “the probability of this funding going through this year is not great.” Despite that, Oddone said he is optimistic for the future and appreciative of the effort by the community in achieving this level of support.

Oddone returned to the topic of furloughs and said the combination of more-than-expected retirements and resignations along with the new donation would allow Fermilab to stop furloughs at the end of May. He says he needs to confirm this plan next week but that staff should plan to not have any furlough after May 31. Staff will still be required to take their full vacation allowance by the end of the fiscal year.

As a result of the all-hands meeting, the mood at the lab seems to have improved appreciably, according to some Fermilab staff.

David Harris

May 22, 2008

Livermore Lab laying off 440

By Betsy Mason
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 05/21/2008 11:03:03 PM PDT

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is laying off 440 employees today and Friday, including 110 scientists and engineers with more than a decade of experience.

The lab had received approval from the National Nuclear Security Administration to release up to 535 employees from the permanent work force, but instead will cut about 100 more temporary "flex-term" workers in the coming months to make up the difference.

"It was never just about getting that number at all costs," lab spokeswoman Susan Houghton said. "It was about doing it right."

Lab management determined that the permanent work force couldn't be slimmed any further and the rest of the cuts could be more easily absorbed elsewhere.

Notices are being sent out today to 500 temporary employees, informing them that about 100 of them will lose their jobs as early as the end of June, bringing the total work force down to about 6,600.

"We do not believe after this it will be necessary to have another involuntary separation at the lab," Houghton said. The layoffs should bring the lab in line with its budget for fiscal 2009, she said. The budget shortfall is due to increased costs associated with switching management from the University of California to a private management company in October, along with federal budget cuts.

Today, three-fourths of the permanent employees being laid off will be notified and brought to a centralized "exit center" to receive their benefits packages, return lab property and leave. They will be paid for 30 days before their severance pay of one week per year of service at the lab kicks in.

An additional 54 scientists and engineers with less than 10 years at the lab are among those being notified today.

The 110 experienced scientists and engineers, such as biologists and chemists, will be released Friday. Before their severance begins, they will have the option of staying on the payroll for three months and doing unclassified work in an office outside the lab's perimeter fence, or telecommuting.

The other 276 employees being released include financial analysts, facilities technicians and administrative assistants. This is the first time in 35 years that permanent lab employees are being laid off.

Houghton said the lab is doing a number of things to help employees find new jobs, including organizing a career fair on June 19 with 35 employers who are interested in hiring lab workers and opening a new resource center on Tuesday to help laid-off employees with resume building, benefits counseling and training opportunities.

"Our goal is to separate these employees in the most empathetic and dignified way as possible," Houghton said. "We realize it's difficult, but we want to better position our lab for the future."

Reach Betsy Mason at 925-952-5026 or bmason@bayareanewsgroup.com.

May 21, 2008

Big Brother is Watching?

Dear Frank,

Can you please post this to make your readers aware that this activity is going on and that they should be concerned that their private information at DOE is being accessed for inappropriate reasons. Please keep me anonymous because I fear retaliation.


It has come to our attention that Laboratory Counterintelligence is looking at employee’s DOE Personnel Security files inappropriately and looking for dirt to use against employees which is a violation of the Privacy Act Law and DOE orders.


If you want to find out if you have been a victim of this rogue operation then send a notarized Privacy Act request to DOE/NNSA Albuquerque Service Center to the attention of the Privacy Act Officer. You need to ask for a copy of all documents and logs that show who has accessed your DOE Personnel Security files and for what reasons.


Send your requests to the following address:


Attached is a sample copy of a letter:


Date: Month/Day/Year

DOE/NNSA Albuquerque Service Center

Attention Privacy Act Official

P.O Box 5400

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-5400


To Privacy Act Official:


Based on the Privacy Act I am requesting the logs of any and all people who have accessed my DOE/NNSA Personnel Security File, the date they accessed the file and for what reason. I am requesting a complete copy of the File Review Logs and any other logs that show whom has accessed my DOE/NNSA Personnel Security File and the reasons for the access.


Your Name:

Address and phone number

Social Security Number

Date of Birth

Place of Birth

Notarized signature


You must include your: 1) Social Security Number; 2) Date of Birth; 3) Place of Birth and 4) return address and telephone number at the bottom of the letter next to your notarized signature or DOE will not process your request. Send your request via registered U. S. Mail with return receipt to verify that they received your request.

E-LINE: A message to Lab employees from Director George Miller

On Thursday and Friday, we will say goodbye to approximately 440 of our career indefinite colleagues as part of Phase 3 of our Workforce Restructuring Plan. It will be a difficult two days and I encourage everyone to provide support to fellow employees. Dedicated employees will be leaving the Laboratory and I want to extend my thanks to them for their contributions.

If you recall, we originally estimated that up to 535 career indefinite separations (combined with 215 VSSOP departures) would be necessary in order to reach our workforce restructuring goal of 750 separations and to position our Laboratory effectively for the future. After a thorough evaluation of our workforce, attrition and scheduled end of assignments in our flexible workforce, we've decided that we can achieve our workforce restructuring goals by releasing approximately 440 career indefinite employees and up to 100 additional employees from our flexible workforce.

To prepare for this, Strategic Human Capital Management will be re-issuing a WARN Act letter to approximately 500 flex-term employees in affected work groups. It will be mailed out from the Laboratory later today and it will provide 60 days of "notice" to potentially affected employees, with departures of these flex-term employees slated to begin June 26, 2008.

It is my intent that with these final workforce actions, the ISP release this week, along with as many as 100 flex-term reductions in late June, we will be in a position to manage our Laboratory in the stable fashion that has occurred in the past. These actions will conclude the involuntary phase of our 3161 Workforce Restructuring Plan and I do not believe, given the information I have now on our budget situation for FY08 and what we might expect for FY09, that future involuntary separations will be necessary.

I know this is a difficult time. We have tried to provide as much support as possible to our employees who will be leaving the Laboratory. The HR Resource Center (Bldg. 41) will open Tuesday, May 27, to provide services and support to employees who have been given a layoff notice. One-on-one counseling appointments to discuss benefits, retirement and payroll considerations will be available as well as outplacement support and training. A job fair has been planned for June 19 for ISP-selected employees and flex-term employees who will receive the WARN Act notice. The Resource Center also has more than 1,100 job postings, including opportunities with our parent companies, in an updated job bank.

It is a time of change and challenge. It is crucial that we pay attention to the Laboratory's day-to-day operations and to ensuring that all work is done safely and securely. Thank you for your patience during this time and for all you do for our Laboratory and the nation.

Regards,
George H. Miller

Rep. Pearce offers amendments to restore RRW funds and increase pit manufacturing funding

To: New Mexicans

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) yesterday offered two amendments to the House defense authorization bill.

One amendment would restore $10 million for the Reliable Replacement Warhead. The Energy Department had requested $10 million for the new warhead. The House Armed Services Committee last week zeroed out the funds. Rep. Pearce's amendment would restore the funds.

The second amendment would increase funding for pit manufacturing by $50 million. The Armed Services Committee had reduced the administration's budget request for two pit manufacturing accounts totaling $199 million to $149, a $50 million reduction. Rep. Pearce's second amendment would restore that cut. "Pits" are the essential core of nuclear warheads.

Both amendments are being considered today (Wednesday) by the House Rules Committee. If approved, one or both of the amendments would come to the House floor tomorrow when the defense authorization bill will be open to amendments.

Copies of the amendments are attached. They are also on the House Rules Committee website at http://www.rules.house.gov/amendment_details.aspx?NewsID=3340
[Pearce (NM)

#39 - Would amend title XXXI (DOE National Security Programs) to remove $10 million in funding for energy conservation on military installations and increase funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program by $10 million.

#40 - Provides that of the $9.3 billion authorized for the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (title XXXI of the bill), the amount authorized for the directed stockpile is increased by $50 million, of which $35 million is for Pit Manufacturing and $15 million is for Pit Manufacturing Capability. The increase is offset by a $50 million reduction in funds for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.]
Reps. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) and Tom Udall (D-NM-3) should be encouraged to vote against both amendments if they come to the House floor. Given the short notice, I encourage you to contact their Washington, D.C. offices by phone. That is about the only way the message will get through in time. Congressional offices can be reached through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 225-3121. The switchboard is open 24 hours a day. Many congressional offices close at 6 p.m. ET, but they have answering machines that record short messages.

Please forward this message to other New Mexicans. Thanks for your help!

Best,

David Culp, Legislative Representative
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)
245 Second St., N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 547-6000, ext. 2517
david@fcnl.org

--------------------------------------
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
107 Cienega Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel (505) 986-1973
Fax (505) 986-0997
www.nuclearactive.org
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[Click here to download the Pit Manufacturing Amendment or the RRW Amendment.]

May 20, 2008

Lab Rebuilds X-Ray Machine

By John Fleck
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Federal officials on Monday announced the completion of a long-delayed machine at Los Alamos National Laboratory built to X-ray nuclear weapons parts.

National Nuclear Security Administration deputy chief Robert Smolen called the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrotest Facility "an incredible scientific and engineering achievement."

That is a stark contrast to the day in 2003 when officials realized the machine, built at a cost of $300 million, did not work.

Monday's announcement marks the successful completion of a $90 million effort to tear the machine apart and rebuild it to fix the problems discovered in 2003.

DARHT, as the machine is known, uses powerful X-ray beams to take pictures of mock nuclear weapons as they are being detonated.

The pictures allow weapons designers to study the details of the early stages of a weapon's explosion without conducting a full nuclear test.

Monday's announcement marks the formal decision by NNSA to give the project a "completed" stamp of approval.

It is also a major accomplishment for the team responsible for the project's completion, said Mary Hockaday, deputy associated lab director for nuclear weapons physics.

"There were a lot of people who told us we couldn't do it," Hockaday said in a telephone interview Monday.

The machine is massive. Two long halls, each two thirds the length of a football field, hold equipment that generates a massive X-ray beams.

Firing the beams at right angles gives scientists a three-dimensional picture of the nuclear device being tested.

The first X-ray beam was completed in 1999 and works well. It was the second beam, which is more powerful than the first, that failed when it was first turned on in 2003.

Hockaday said testing shows that the second X-ray machine now works at full power. Now that NNSA has signed off on the machine's completion, Los Alamos workers will begin preparing for the first full-scale test using both X-ray beams, according to Hockaday. That is scheduled for September or October, she said.

[Further information on DARHT can be downloaded here.]

May 19, 2008

The buck stops before it gets here...

Today a reader forwarded to me the minutes of the March 19, 2008 meeting of the UC Regents' Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories. For those who are not familiar with this committee, I've included it's bylaws below.
12.6 Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories.

The Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories shall:

  1. Consider and report to the Board, or to appropriate Committees of the Board, on matters concerning relations with the United States Department of Energy and matters relating to the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

  2. Act in an advisory capacity to the President of the University with respect to appointments of Directors and Deputy Directors of the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

  3. Consider reports relating to:

    1. the management of the Laboratories;
    2. the scientific and technical quality of all work undertaken at the Laboratories;
    3. the appointment and retention of Laboratory personnel of the highest competence;
    4. the health and safety of the public and Laboratory employees and the maintenance of environmental quality;
    5. interaction among the Laboratories, the campuses and the larger scientific community; and
    6. the quality of Laboratory communication with the public concerning all Laboratory work.

  4. Report periodically to the Board concerning the oversight functions described in (c) above.
The meeting covered many topics, including the importance of UC's role in the selection of lab directors. Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of the Board of Governors of both Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS LLC) and Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC (LLNS LLC), "stressed that the selection of the laboratory director is one of the University’s most important contributions to the partnership."
Pattiz further stated that he believes "that the LLCs’ oversight role had protected the University to a degree from being blamed for any lapses." The minutes don't explain why he believes this. Hopefully it is not based on arguments of UC immunity under the 11th Amendment of the Constitution. Is Pattiz correct in his belief that the LLCs are responsible for the actions of a lab director they have no part in selecting?

If anyone has a full transcript (or audio) of the meeting please email it and I will post it. Perhaps it will clarify the points made by Chairman Pattiz. A copy of the meeting minutes can be downloaded here.

Cost of U.S. Plutonium Lab Soars

Global Security Newswire
Cost estimates for a new U.S. nuclear weapon research facility have continued to grow and the unit’s home laboratory suggested the trend could continue, the Albuquerque Journal reported Friday (see GSN, July 31, 2006).

In 2003, the Los Alamos National Laboratory figured that building the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement would cost $500 million, but the figure has now grown to $2.6 billion, according to budget documents released by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The facility would replace an aging laboratory designed to study plutonium and other nuclear materials.

The replacement design has not been completed, so it is too early to estimate final costs, laboratory spokesman Kevin Roark said Thursday.

The committee has recommended slashing the budget request for the facility, preferring to wait for a more detailed plan, the Journal reported (John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal, May 16).

A Fuse That Just Won't Blow

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's (DNFSB) Los Alamos Report for the week ending April 11, 2008 raises the issue of electrical safety at LANL.
Electrical Safety: An electrical disconnect box at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility was recently found to contain a length of metal conduit deliberately installed in place of an electrical fuse. The circuit did have over-current protection upstream, but laboratory management is appropriately treating this discovery as a serious event. The institutional electrical safety committee has been consulted and a plan is being developed to perform sampling inspections to characterize the extent of condition. In addition, this event appears to be spurring action to catalogue, prioritize and systematically address other legacy electrical code compliance issues and known deficiencies.
I'm curious what other circuits would have lost power, and for how long, had the next upstream device tripped? Failed to trip? Also, was the next upstream device LANL's or the utility's?

Did KSL install this "fuse" (and how long was it in service)? If so, I think I know why they were kicked off site.

[The fuse in the photo is just an example, not the fuse described in this post.]

DOL Office of Workers' Compensation Programs - Outreach Events

On May 20, 2008, officials from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will conduct a town hall meeting at the Lodge at Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. DOL representatives will explain how certain uranium miners, uranium millers, and ore transporters may qualify for federal compensation and medical benefits under Parts B and E of the EEOICPA. Representatives from the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program will also be in attendance to provide information on medical screening services.

For more information you are encouraged to attend.

Town Hall Meeting: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 12:00 p.m.

Lodge at Santa Fe
750 North Saint
Francis Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Contact:
Espanola Resource Center : 1-866-272-3622

--------------------------------------------------------------

On May 21, 2008, officials from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will conduct a town hall meeting at the Route 66 Casino Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. DOL representatives will explain how certain uranium miners, uranium millers, and ore transporters may qualify for federal compensation and medical benefits under Parts B and E of the EEOICPA. Representatives from the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program will also be in attendance to provide information on medical screening services.

For more information you are encouraged to attend.

Town Hall Meeting: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 @ 12:00 p.m.

Route 66 Casino Hotel
14500 Central Avenue, SW
Albuquerque, NM 87121

Contact:
Espanola Resource Center : 1-866-272-3622

May 18, 2008

Wallace testifies in Senate on climate change impacts

May 14, 2008

Terry Wallace, principal associate director for Science, Technology, and Engineering (PADSTE), testified Tuesday morning [13 May 2008] before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee regarding the Laboratory’s efforts to develop tools for understanding and mitigating the consequences of global climate change and the growing demand for energy.

The Senate Committee is examining the impacts of climate change on the reliability, security, economics, and design of critical energy infrastructure in coastal regions.

Click here to read Wallace's prepared remarks to the committee.

Wallace addressed how the Laboratory is using the best science to help decision makers understand vulnerabilities to the nation’s energy infrastructure from increased energy demand and climate change.

[Below is a 3 minute excerpt of the hearing video. Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) asks a question of Dr. Terry Wallace, and also asks Dr. Virginia Burkett (Chief Scientist of the Global Change Programs, United States Geological Survey) to respond to his question.]

video

May 14, 2008

LANL to Run Support Services

By Raam Wong
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Los Alamos National Laboratory is preparing to take over most of the work now done by KSL Services, the lab's largest subcontractor.

LANL hopes to offer employment to many of KSL's 876 employees and does not expect major job losses, spokesman Kevin Roark said Tuesday. The transition should be complete by the time KSL's contract expires at the end of this year, he said.

The decision to "in-source" KSL's work— ranging from building maintenance to trash collection and road repair— means the lab will be without a site support services contractor for likely the first time in its history.

"It's a business decision," Roark said.

Lab officials said in a memorandum to employees that the change would cut overhead costs, improve efficiencies and free up resources for improving facilities and science capabilities.

Still, the memo states, "we do not underestimate the scale or challenge involved in moving to a new arrangement."

KSL has held its five-year, nearly $800 million contract since February 2003 when it replaced Johnson Controls Northern New Mexico. The contract had the option of five single-year extensions.

Roark said the decision to assume KSL's responsibilities was unrelated to a Department of Energy investigation in October 2007 that found KSL routinely overcharged for its work, with taxpayers picking up the multimillion-dollar tab.

KSL billed taxpayers for work not done and materials not needed, and often charged more than 20 percent above the original cost estimate.

Roark said the problems revealed in the DOE Inspector General report have long been resolved.

Activist Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group praised the change. Mello said shifting responsibility for maintenance and other work from a subcontractor to the contractor that manages the lab would amount to increased accountability, more transparency and job security for maintenance employees.

KSL is a joint venture of KBR, Shaw Group and Los Alamos Technical Associates. KBR— the former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root— is the majority owner and manager of KSL.

Roark said KSL will not have a role at the lab after 2008, though he said LANL will still use contractors.

May 13, 2008

A Threat to Threat Reduction?

[An anonymous post request.]

Doug Beason held a meeting today in which he explained the future of the Threat Reduction directorate. From what I understood, TR will become subservient to Terry Wallace's empire expansion hallucinations (that may be about to become real). The idea is that TR will transfer employees who are not "professional" threat reduction/non-proliferation people, to Terry's line organizations. They will then be "Form B"'d back to their original organizations, to continue their work. So now TR overhead will increase to support other divisions, the individual employees transferred will be screwed because their line manager will not have a clue as to what they do, sponsors will be reluctant to fund because there is no guarantee of available staff to do the work, the staff transferred will lose the will to submit proposals because they won't be appreciated, but Terry will rule a decaying empire, much like Nero of ancient Rome. I wonder if he plays the violin...?

Security Flaws Exposed at Nuke Lab

By Adam Zagorin/Washington

If you were a terrorist looking for weapons-grade nuclear material in America, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory might be a good place to start. At the core of the nuclear-weapons research facility about an hour's drive from San Francisco stands the "Superblock," a collection of buildings surrounded by multi-story steel-mesh fencing, a no man's land, electronic security gear, armed guards and cables to prevent a helicopter landing on the roof. These defenses are in place largely to protect Building 332, a repository for roughly 2,000 pounds of deadly plutonium and volatile, weapons-grade uranium — enough fissile material to build at least 300 nuclear weapons. But a recent simulated terror attack tested those defenses, and sources tell TIME that the results were not reassuring.

One night several weeks ago, according to TIME's sources, a commando team posing as terrorists attacked and penetrated the lab, quickly overpowering its defenses to reach its "objective" — a mock payload of fissile material. The exercise highlighted a number of serious security shortcomings at Livermore, sources say, including the failure of a hydraulic system essential to operating an extremely lethal Gatling gun that protects the facility. Experts contacted by TIME — including Congressional staff from both parties informed of the episode, and experts personally familiar with safeguards at Livermore — all said that the test amounts to an embarrassment to those responsible for securing the nation's nuclear facilities, and that it required immediate steps to correct what some called the most dangerous security weaknesses ever found at the lab.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was quickly informed of the episode, along with other senior officials in the U.S. nuclear and national security apparatus. "People who know about this are very concerned; they are not happy," said one senior Congressional aide.

"It is essential to prevent terrorists from accessing nuclear materials at Livermore," said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent nonprofit that recently issued a study of the Lab's security. "Suicidal terrorists would not need to steal the fissile material, they could simply detonate it as part of an improvised nuclear device right on the spot." Some 7 million people live within a 50-mile radius of the laboratory — a fact that has prompted at least one panel of experts to recommend moving its nuclear-weapons material elsewhere.

According to a former senior officer familiar with the details of security at Livermore, simulated attacks are staged approximately every 12 months. The attack team's objective is usually to penetrate the "Superblock," after which the attackers are timed to determine whether they can hold their ground long enough to construct a crude "dirty bomb" that could, in theory, be detonated immediately, or can buy themselves enough time to fabricate a rudimentary nuclear device, approximating the destructive power of the low-yield weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. A third option in the simulation is for the attackers to abscond with the nuclear material into the heavily-populated San Francisco Bay area.

The security flaws exposed in the recent test could exacerbate public opposition to nuclear weapons material being stored at Livermore, which is located near a major highway interchange, atop a vital agricultural irrigation canal and within a mile of two elementary schools, a preschool, a middle school and a senior center. In 2005 the Energy Department approved the doubling of the amount of plutonium stored at Livermore, less than five months after a scientific panel recommended, for security reasons, that nearly all of it be moved to a safer, more remote site.

"The fissile material simply cannot be made safe and secure," says Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CARES, a Livermore nuclear weapons watchdog group. "We in the community, which has 81,000 people, want to get rid of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium as soon as possible."

The alleged failure of Livermore's truck-mounted Gatling guns could also draw heavy criticism. Those weapons have long been controversial because they can fire 4000 rounds a minute and kill a person more than a mile away, raising fears among local residents about what might happen if the guns were ever discharged. The weapons are also supposed to be tested on a regular basis, and the reason for their reported failure remains unclear.

Many critics have also argued that the entire process of conducting "force-on-force" simulations at Livermore is flawed because the exercise does not adequately approximate conditions that would pertain during a real attack. The defenders are always given advance notice of the simulations, which usually occur at night or on weekends, when few of the facility's thousands of staff are present. As a result, there is no simulation of the hostage-taking that might occur if the lab were attacked during business hours. The absence of most regular employees also means that defenders do not have to worry about directing their fire to avoid innocent victims, many of whom might be present during an actual attack.

Finally, nothing in the "force-on-force" exercises simulates the danger posed by Livermore being situated beneath the flight path to several nearby airports. "If a plane ever tried to fly into the lab," says Tri- Valley CARE'S Kelley, "no one has ever explained how it would be stopped."

As for the Department of Energy, in a press release issued last Friday referring to the recent force-on-force exercise at Livermore, it claimed that an inspection team sent to the site after the simulation had noted both "several very positive areas" and "other areas requiring corrective action."

"We do not believe the [nuclear] materials at Livermore are at risk, and we do believe that security is strong," a DOE spokesperson told TIME. "But we're also interested in examining any deficiencies, which is the purpose of these routine exercises."

Udall Backs LANL Help

Albuquerque Journal Staff Report
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has introduced legislation making it easier for individuals who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory after 1976 to receive compensation from work-related illnesses.

In 2007, the federal government established a designation at Los Alamos that made workers who contracted radiogenic cancers automatically eligible to receive compensation.

But Udall's office said Friday the compensation rules imposed on workers who worked at LANL after 1976 require a high burden of proof to demonstrate their illnesses were work related.

Udall's bill would expand the so-called Special Exposure Cohort to include individuals who worked at LANL from 1976 to the present, provided they are diagnosed with the cancers stipulated under the cohort and worked an aggregated total of 250 days at LANL.

The legislation is named in honor of Ray Ruiz, a former state representative who Udall's office said developed and died from cancer as a result of his work for the lab. Ruiz helped establish the first cohort designation.

"This legislation would ensure that these workers who so generously served their country receive a small measure of justice in the form of compensation," Udall said in a news release.

Udall has been in contact with employees who cannot receive compensation because their work at LANL began a few days too late for them to be included in the cohort, according to the statement.

May 8, 2008

Sig Hecker's Comments on Contractorization


Excerpted from the conclusion of Hecker's testimony before the 30 April 2008 Senate Committee on Appropriations, Energy and Water Subcommittee hearing. The video quality is poor, but it appears that Senator Domenici was shocked to hear Hecker say this.
When we went the direction of contractorization we made a grievous error pushing the laboratories in a direction that simply isn't right for this country and we've suffered from that. The whole environment at these laboratories has changed.

Secondly, over the last... I would say now sixteen years, the regulatory environment at these laboratories ha become so risk averse that we essentially can't get work done anymore. In 1965 I came to Los Alamos as a young student because it was the best place to go work. Unfortunately, these laboratories today are not the best places to go work anymore. And we need to make them such. And just more money doesn't do the trick. We have to change the working environment to allow people to get their work done. These places nowadays look more like prisons than they do like university campuses or something in between, which is what we tried to make them. Attract the best, protect the most important. We've lost a sense of all that. That's one of the reasons why these laboratories are suffering today.

Mr. Chairman, when you say the system is broken, it's broken in many different ways and we should fix it, I agree.

Worry about the quiet lab employees

[A letter to the editor originally published in the Los Alamos Monitor.]

Dear Editor,
I’m normally a pretty outspoken person, but even I have been squashed into silence at LANS. We’re all living in a town full of fear – again. We fear for our jobs, our families, and our way of life. We already know we won’t survive the next inevitable LANS budget crisis unscathed.

I wonder who it is bothering to look seriously at the human toll this will bring? Or is humanity just a problem for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to deal with?

Being an outspoken person, I’ve been labeled a “problem child” (especially when I’ve questioned authority). But it’s not the outspoken people we need to worry about. I’m going to be angry if I wind up at the top of someone’s involuntary RIF list. But I also know I’ll survive it somehow.

Has our society learned nothing from events like the Virginia Tech. massacre? It’s the quiet, angry people we need to worry about, folks! These are the brooders who fester over their impotence to be able to take control of their own lives – to be able to have a voice. Who is bothering to give them any serious consideration?

I think many of us have experienced being bullied in our jobs by a “big person” or two. These are the arrogant, but insecure little people who have a need to make us feel small and unimportant. By putting us in our places, they’re satisfied feeling bigger, better and stronger. And some of these people also hold the power of our futures in their hands.

Who, of the thousands of LANS employees, are going to fret, feste and suffer in silence until they find whether or not they’re on someone’s involuntary RIF list? How many crises do we have to endure in Los Alamos before one of us has had enough? How long do we have before someone blows?

I guarantee it won’t be those of us who are outspoken (even if we’re quashed at work). It’s going to be someone who doesn’t make him- or herself heard or noticed. That’s not just an EAP problem. It’s everyone’s problem.

They live amongst us, folks.

Barbara Nelson
Los Alamos

May 7, 2008

Judge won't unseal Rocky Flats jury testimony

By Jean Torkelson, Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The jurors' lips remain sealed.

A 20-year legal effort to win release of potentially explosive Rocky Flats grand jury documents fell short Monday when a federal judge ruled that the jurors' testimony must stay secret.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch did, however, release a sea of supporting documents that pertain to the grand jury investigation, begun in 1989, over the environmental cleanup of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.

The grand jurors alleged that prosecutors engaged in misconduct and potentially criminal acts during the grand jury probe.

Matsch refused Monday to unseal the crucial material - the actual transcripts of the grand jurors testifying behind closed doors about alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

The material also includes a statement, called a proffer, from their attorney, Jonathan Turley, detailing his clients' charges. The questioning of the grand jurors by Turley, a nongovernment attorney, set a legal precedent.

That critical material remains out of bounds, Matsch ruled, because grand jury material enjoys a high degree of protection and can be released only under very narrow circumstances, such as a pending investigation.

Without those two critical pieces released, Monday's victory is limited, Turley said.

The documents released Monday include routine material, such as pleadings and motions.

"It's a small victory in the sense we've got some information released, but it's not what we've been fighting for since 1989 - to tell the people of Colorado and Congress what really happened inside that grand jury room," Turley said.

Turley said he's considering his options. One is to file another appeal to the 10th Circuit Court.

More immediately, he's making plans to ask Colorado's congressional delegation to mount an investigation and subpoena the transcripts.

"If Congress asked for the transcripts, the court would very likely release them," he said.

Until now, lawmakers have stood back, waiting for the legal process to play out.

The time for action has come, Turley said.

"At some point the Colorado delegation has got to help these citizens out," he said. "These are housewives and bartenders and coaches - people who committed over 20 years of their lives to trying to fulfill their oath. They swore to God they would not allow anyone to prevent them from doing their duty."

torkelsonj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5055

[This story was also covered in the Denver Post. Or for more details see The Ambushed Grand Jury.]

May 5, 2008

Lab makes another bid for new science complex

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Los Alamos National Laboratory will hold a bidder’s conference Tuesday, looking for new kind of developer for an overdue project that is trying once again to get off the ground.

“This is absolutely key to us,” said Terry Wallace, the lab’s senior science administrator, during a recent interview. He was talking about the lab’s determination to find a better workplace for hundreds of scientists who are now scattered around the 40 square miles of campus in what is general acknowledged to be inadequate, overcrowded, and inefficient old buildings and transportable structures.

“Of our 9 million square feet, the great majority, perhaps 80 percent, was built in the ’50s,” he said. “It’s not cost effective. It’s not allowing us to do an awful lot of things we’d like to be doing.”

Reviving efforts that began in earnest four years ago, the project will attempt once again to provide modern, state-of-the-art laboratory and workspace for about 1,400 scientists, Wallace said.

There may be a few bumps in the road.

As the Request for Proposal for the project states, “Budgetary pressures and constraints have forced federal agencies to consider new approaches for financing federal projects beyond the more traditional line-item approach. Increasingly, many agencies have begun arranging for private developers to fund various infrastructure projects.”

Two years ago, the laboratory’s attempt to set up a third-party financial arrangement with the help of the U.S. Postal Service quickly unraveled a few days after the details of the arrangement were obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

Wallace said it wasn’t because of the watchdog group’s disclosure, but “unfortunate timing,” because it came at a time when the postal service was under extreme pressures and in the process of dismissing officials for problems related to business practices.

This time around, he said, every effort has been made to make sure everybody is informed, from Congressional committees and staff to key committee members to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency that supervises the nuclear weapons complex.

Nuclear Watch has requested and has been approved to participate in the bidding conference.

Rather than financing the complex as a line item in an energy department appropriation bill, this project would be financed by a private developer who would raise funds for design and construction of the building that would then be paid for by a long-term lease. The lease would be for a five-year term, with three additional five-year extensions under the same terms.

The government would be able to opt out with a 12-month written notice.

“If the facility lease is cancelled, public access to the site for future tenants will be from the Ski Hill Bypass Road,” the RFP states.

Instead of approval from congressional appropriators, this kind of financing is approved by the Office of Management and Budget in the executive branch. The Armed Services Committee also has 60 days to review the project, because it is located on an NNSA site.

“Once a developer is selected, NNSA says yes or no,” Wallace said, noting that the lab has been careful not to rule out the possibility of financing the project as regular line-item appropriation, if that were possible.

Depending on design criteria, the value of the dollar and the price of concrete, the cost the complex is estimated to be in the $250 million to $400 million range.

“We would like to be in this building by January 2011,” Wallace said.

The bidding conference begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Best Western Hilltop House Hotel in Los Alamos. Only interested parties already enrolled to attend will be able to register for the meeting, which will include a tour of the proposed construction site.

Among the groups in the Science, Technology and Engineering directorate that Wallace leads and that would be located in the Science Complex are earth and environmental sciences, advanced theory, global climate and ocean modeling research, computational biology, bioenergy, bioterrorism, energy security, infrastructure modeling research and development, and unclassified computing.

The RFP is available at www.lanl.gov/orgs/sup/procurement/solicitations/lasc/rfp.shtml.

Deadly exposure: Plutonium-related cancers plague children of the Manhattan Project

Sue Vorenberg's heart wrenching story about the children of the Manhattan Project is simply a must read, I encourage everyone to follow the link in the title to the full story. I wanted to highlight this portion:
Rene Ryman's lawyer, Michael Howell, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque earlier this month against the University of California and other managers of the lab in the '40s and '50s, charging negligence and wrongful death. It could turn into a class action suit, Howell said.

"If enough people come forward, there's a chance we could do a medical-monitoring class action," Howell said.

That sort of suit, if successful, would pay for the testing of all people who grew up in the area at that time, he added.
The press release for this lawsuit was posted here an the blog and contains a toll free number for Rene's attorney. If you are a Manhattan Project child I suggest you make the call.

Plutonium Plan Opposed

By Kathryn Holzka
For the Albuquerque Journal

TAOS— Officials from both the town of Taos and Taos County have joined forces to oppose a plan to have nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory serve as a national center for plutonium manufacturing for the nation's nuclear arsenal.

A joint resolution opposing the plan was adopted unanimously Wednesday at a scheduled joint meeting of the Taos mayor and Town Council, and the Taos County Commission.

The resolution takes aim at proposals incorporated in the National Nuclear Security Administration's released draft on the "Complex Transformation Supplement Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement" which outlines plans to transform its nuclear weapons complex, including LANL.

The resolution contends that the proposal will designate LANL as "the nation's permanent production center for up to 80 plutonium pits per year, with related increases in hazardous and radioactive wastes."

Officials also objected to the fact that the Department of Energy had failed to hold hearings on the environmental impact statement regarding LANL in Taos, in spite of a formal request by the Taos County Commission for such a hearing that was made in early March.

Commission chairman Charlie Gonzales said Taos County, which is only 55 miles from LANL, has a right to be heard on any plan that would lead to the expansion of nuclear weapons materials manufacture so close to its residents because of potential health and environmental hazards.

"Many in Taos County have first-hand experience with environmental contamination from the devastating Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos in 2000," Gonzales said.

"One of our current commissioners, who owns a lumber and saw mill operation here, remembers lumber operators who were trying to clear out burned and downed timber from the fire area were warned off because of radioactive contamination," Gonzales said.

A letter send March 14 by Taos County Manager Julia Valerio to Theodore Wyka, an NNSA manager on the complex transformation project, asking for an information hearing on the proposal to be held in Taos received a negative replay on March 17.

Wyka responded that 20 public hearings had been held, including seven in New Mexico, and that the last hearing was set for March 27 in EspaƱola. Wyka said no additional hearings were planned.

His letter to Valerio stated in part: "Please be advised that all comments will be treated the same, whether they are provided in person or in writing. These comments will be considered both individually and collectively and the appropriate action will be taken, which may include supplementing the alternatives; improving, modifying, and supplementing the analyses; or making factual corrections."

The joint resolution opposing the LANL plan also maintains that plutonium pits have a reliable lifetime of a century or more, thus making production unnecessary to begin with, and adds that "the new Nuclear Posture Review by a new president could have impacts on the nuclear weapons complex and LANL significantly different from the old Review."

The expansion of nuclear weapons activities at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, including further increased plutonium pit production, is objectionable, the officials stated in the resolution.