Jul 31, 2008
A petition for special compensation for a new class of workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory is under review by an advisory board of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the petitioner said last week.
Andrew Evaskovich, a LANL guard, said he hoped the board would visit Los Alamos during their deliberations, later this year or early next year.
Evaskovich said he started his efforts in the fall of 2006, by helping former State Sen. Harriet Ruiz, who led a successful petition on behalf of her late husband Ray Ruiz and hundreds of LANL workers. They were designated a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) in July 2007.
“Approval of that petition cut my work in half,” Evaskovich said, “because it covered exposures up until 1975.”
The first SEC that was approved covered LANL workers likely to have been exposed to radioactive lanthanum in Technical Area 10 at the Bayo Canyon facility from Sept. 1, 1944, to July 8,1963.
The special status speeds up the process by which certain laboratory employees from March 15, 1945, through 1975 would receive compensation under a federal entitlement program for nuclear workers.
The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, passed originally in 2000 and amended since then, allows for compensating employees in a designated special cohort who have developed any of 22 kinds of cancer, without a full dose reconstruction.
The provision recognized that complete medical histories were not always available from the Department of Energy sites.
The petition now under consideration covers support workers who worked at LANL from 1976 through 2005. They had to have worked for at least 250 days in operational areas where radioactive materials were present, or the days they did work could be added to the qualifications for other cohorts if there were overlaps.
Support service employees in the petition are meant to include “security guards, firefighters, laborers, custodians, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, pipe-fitters, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, welders, maintenance workers, truck drivers, delivery persons, rad technicians and area work coordinators.”
The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health accepted the petition for consideration earlier this year.
“They can redefine the class,” Evaskovich said. “They can lengthen the time period even up to now, although I doubt that will happen.”
He said the board was also authorized to enlarge the definition of workers.
“Or carve off,” he said. “’We don’t think truck drivers were affected,’ they could say.”
Evaskovich, a former state police officer and a former officer in the local International Guards Union of America, said he has been deeply involved in health and safety issues and research at the laboratory for several years.
The petition is justified, according to the formal document “because NIOSH is not able to estimate with sufficient accuracy radiation doses for the identified class.”
In approving a SEC for the period 1943 through 1975, the new petition notes that an evaluation report said accurate data was insufficient “at a minimum” up until 1975, opening the door to further claims by adding, “Nevertheless, the potential for monitored and unmonitored intakes has existed throughout the history of the site.”
An extensive appendix lists numerous audits, reports, studies, investigations, lists, workbooks, maps, charts and other supporting documents.
Evaskovich said there were two main arguments.
One was that the air monitoring was inadequate for dose reconstruction during the period, and the other has to do with the exotic radionuclides that have been used at the laboratory.
“The bioassay system doesn’t cover all these,” he said. “They missed a lot of stuff from what I see in the documents.”
He said the typical external dose construction starts with readings from thermoluminiscence dosimeters and the internal dose comes from urinalysis.
“If you don’t have those, you use coworkers’ data and then the environmental information,” he said. “You can’t use coworkers’ data for support services because they move around all the time.”
Jul 30, 2008
Terrie's email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Whoever left this comment, thank you!
Read how much documentation was required and how the mountains of documents were "lost". Not all of these workers have our level of education and the ability to read and comprehend the various federal statutes. Hell, I recall several bloggers complaining about the confusion regarding submitting safety and security and QA paperwork with PRs. NOW is our chance to volunteer our acumen and help these workers fill out their paperwork instead of being dismissive. Show a bit of compassion to our fellow man. Not everyone has our advantages. Hey, this would be a great volunteer effort through the community relations office, we all get 80 hours a year to volunteer, and LANS gets the credit. Win Win? How about it Mike A?
Jul 29, 2008
U.S. lawmakers yesterday pressed the Energy Department to improve its effort to protect nuclear-weapon data from foreign intelligence services (see GSN, July 16).
Leaders of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee cited a Congressional Research Service report released Friday that documents the department’s long history of security lapses and its uncertain efforts to create an effective counterintelligence program.
“Many believe that sensitive nuclear weapons information has ‘certainly’ been lost [to] espionage,” the report says. “In countless other instances such information has been left vulnerable to theft and duplication. Although the damage to national security resulting from such lapses has been difficult to calculate, DOE has been warned on many occasions that its ‘lackadaisical oversight’ could lead to an increase in the nuclear threat to the United States.”
The 25-page report drew criticism from committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).
“I plan to work with my colleagues to conduct a thorough review of how the Department of Energy protects our nation’s secrets to ensure that the alleged ‘reforms’ promulgated by this administration have not made things worse,” he said in a press release.
“Given DOE’s record of treating secrets at the Los Alamos National Laboratory like leftover napkins, we could all use some reassurance that security problems haven’t infected the department’s counterintelligence programs, too,” added ranking panel Republican Joe Barton (Texas) (U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee release, July 28).
It's bizarre that a top official with the federal government would send such an e-mail as the first response to an in-depth investigation. I think it reveals the attitude of the department when it comes to accountability for this program. By the way, the e-mail came 45 days after a formal, written request for comment. But it came more than two months after a request for a formal interview with the official in charge, Shelby Hallmark.
Here's the Labor Department e-mail.
From: James, David - OPA [mailto:James.David@dol.gov]Here's Laura's response
Sent: Friday, July 25, 2008 7:41 PM
To: Frank, Laura
Subject: Shelby, etc
Steadily your pieces have omitted much information and consistently demonstrate a lack of knowledge of jurisdictional boundaries between federal agencies and do not serve your readers and the affected workers in your region in a positive way. Time and again we have tried to work with you in the most candid way possible. And time and again you have inserted wrong information and or opinion into your pieces - or have chosen not to learn basic facts. For example I still do not think you know the difference between NIOSH and the DOL, something which every time we thought you understood, your copy did not reflect that. This Department does everything it can to help sick workers in this country and gets generally positive feedback for its work.
That said, to the self-fulfilling prophecy you have tried to create in your coverage regarding Mr. Hallmark, here is a statement on the record:
"Shelby Hallmark is and will be the head of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. Rumors, suggestions, and questions to the contrary by the Rocky Mountain News, and only by Rocky Mountain News reporter Laura Frank are false and continue the run of sloppy journalism by this reporter which has instilled unnecessary fears in the affected communities."
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs
Hopefully now you do not need to call through out building and around the Hill for this obvious answer.
From: Frank, LauraFinal thoughts
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 12:35 PM
To: 'James, David - OPA'
Subject: RE: Shelby, etc
Monday, July 28, 2008
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs
Via e-mail: James.David@dol.gov
I received the e-mail you sent at 9:41 Friday night. As you know, some members of Congress are concerned that the Labor Department is not responding to questions about the way your department is administering the compensation program for sick nuclear weapons workers. I am copying some Congressional offices on this e-mail so they will be aware of your response.
In your Friday night e-mail, you said DOL had been "candid" with the Rocky Mountain News. In the spirit of candidness, please answer the following questions, many of which are still pending 48 days after the Rocky first sent DOL details of our investigation into the compensation program. If you need it, more context on these issues can be found at www.RockyMountainNews.com/special-reports/deadly-denial
1. Why doesn't DOL recognize well-established toxic links to certain diseases on what claimants have come to call the "no pay" list or in DOL's site exposure matrices?
2. Why doesn't DOL tell claimants which toxic substances its data show they (or their claimed worker) were exposed to?
3. Why hasn't DOL done anything to accommodate sick Navajo uranium workers or others who are too ill to take the required tests to prove they're sick enough for compensation?
4. Why is DOL withholding from claimants the health physics reports it uses to deny their claims?
5. Please explain the difference between the 15,000 paid claims DOL cited in a statement to the Rocky Mountain News and the 42,000 paid claims listed on your website.
6. Please tell us how many "director's orders" to rework/reopen claims were issued for each type of cancer, for each site and for each year.
7. How many claims were paid on the claimant's first attempt at compensation (with no recommended decision to deny)? How many were paid on each of the second, third and subsequent tries?
8. Please tell us the number of times any DOL official has asked that a claimant or potential claimant be put under any type of surveillance or "undercover"/unannounced observation, and whether that observation occurred.
Your e-mail also referenced concern that I do not understand the difference in roles between NIOSH and DOL. If you could point out a place in our series where those roles are incorrect, we would be happy to correct it.
Rocky Mountain News
101 W. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80202
Why doesn't the department deal with the substance of the series?
Jul 28, 2008
ABOUT THE SERIES
Tens of thousands of America's former nuclear bomb builders are sick, dying or already dead because of their exposure to radiation and other poisons. You knew that.
After decades of stonewalling, the government started a compensation program in 2000. You knew that.
After four years of bungling, Congress reformed the program, demanding that it be "compassionate, fair and timely." Perhaps you knew that.
But what you may not know is that today only one in four claimants has been compensated and millions more of your taxpayer dollars have been wasted creating hurdles instead of help.
For many of the nation's cold warriors, the government's game is deadly denial.
Former Los Alamos worker Ben Ortiz was one of the first workers to speak publicly about the ill workers’ plight. But he is still waiting for aid. Government officials told him every time his Senator or Congressman inquires on his behalf about the delay, it only delays his case even more.
The pain drives George Barrie from his bed about 3 a.m. — a nightly occurrence. He leaves his sleeping wife and stumbles to his recliner in the living room. He sits down heavily, shifting his weight, trying to make the pain bearable.
The U.S. Department of Labor says it can find "no known" link between toxic exposure and at least 77 medical conditions. Sick workers have come to call this the "no pay" list. But the Rocky Mountain News found that at least seven of those listed diseases actually have "good" or "strong" evidence linking them to toxic substances.
Gerald Hasenkamp was in excruciating pain. Cancer had invaded his colon, his mouth, his lungs and finally his bones. When his wife, Dee, tried to prop him up in bed, his collarbone snapped. When a nurse tried to take a blood sample, his arm broke.
Charlie Wolf says he has beaten the odds twice. First by surviving six years with brain cancer that was supposed to have killed him in six months. Second, by living to see a check from the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.
Executives at the U.S. Department of Labor are apparently happy with the operation of the program to compensate sick nuclear weapons workers. More than $3.2 million in bonuses has been paid to those administering the program since it started in 2001.
To prove he is sick enough to deserve the federal compensation promised to former uranium miners such as himself, 86-year-old Ross Williams must take a lung-function test. The problem is, Williams and some others like him are too sick to complete the required test.
For five years, former Rocky Flats worker E. Levi Samora Jr. was denied compensation meant for sick nuclear weapons workers, even though he had a diagnosis of a bomb-related illness from Rocky Flats doctors.
MAPS AND GRAPHICS
Some files are large. Right-click and choose "Save as ..." to download.
- The U.S. bomb 'factory'
- Aid spigot open to some
- How the program works
- Claims compensation by state
- Linking radiation to cancer
- Cancer and compensation
- Mosier e-mail on surveillance
- Mosier e-mail on undercover
- Senate letter to Chao on modifying the law
- NIOSH response to Rocky investigation
- Document linking Janine Anderson's denial to her advocacy
- Letter telling Dee Hasenkamp to find her own evidence
- DOL bulletin that opinions not be given to claimants
- DOL's "no pay" list
- DOL bulletin rescinding the "no pay" list
- Bonuses for compensation program officials at DOL
- Request for secret reports denied
- Letter to Department of Labor from Reps. Perlmutter, Udall
- The Rocky's special report on Rocky Flats nuclear workers
- U.S. Department of Labor Web site concerning nuclear workers' compensation program
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
- Transcript of RockyTalk Live chat with reporter Laura Frank about the final installment in the series. (07/23/2008)
- Transcript of RockyTalk Live chat with Terrie Barrie, co-founder of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups and the wife of a former machinist at Rocky Flats. (07/22/2008)
- Transcript of RockyTalk Live chat with reporter Laura Frank. (07/21/2008)
SERIES IN PRINT
CONTACT THE TEAM
Jul 27, 2008
Although still somewhat under wraps, a project known as Angel Fire has been mentioned enough recently to arouse some curiosity.
Described formally as a “wide field of view persistent surveillance (WFVPS) aerial collection asset,” in an Air Force document, it is also less formally described by Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio as technology for real time situational awareness on the battlefield.
In testimony last year before the House Armed Service Committee, Terry J. Jaggers, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force called Angel Fire, “a staring array.”
He said, “Angel Fire will allow the war fighter to zoom in and observe more closely any area within the collected image cone, as well as allowing playback of significant events, essentially providing a ‘GoogleEarth, TIVO-like’ capability to monitor areas of interest.”
Speaking at a media round table recently in Washington, D.C. Anastasio referred to Angel Fire at the top of his list of the kind of project that the lab could accomplish for the wider range of customers to be served as the nuclear weapons laboratories shift emphasis in the coming years.
When the Angel Fire Team won LANL’s 2006 Director’s Distinguished Performance Award in December 2007, it was also described as the kind of bright idea the lab would like to reproduce in other ways.
The technology was developed locally and then adapted for battlefield use working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Marine Corps.
“The team’s work makes it possible for battlefield commanders to be kept informed through a real-time view that was unimaginable just a few years ago,” an article in the laboratory’s newsletter states.
The technology is also called, “an aircraft-deployed prototype system that uses a 24-camera, mosaic sensor system to display battlefield conditions,” but “the images are steady despite the inherent motion of the aircraft.”
Angel Fire has been compared in some reports to an Army image analysis system called Constant Hawk that uses “pattern recognition” to detect suspicious behavior in a wide area.
David Cremer, the senior project leader in charge of Angel Fire acknowledged in a guarded interview last week, “There is a lot going on here that we have to keep quiet about.”
He said an Air Force colonel from the U.S. Strategic Command had been assigned to Los
Alamos to “roam the halls,” looking for ways the lab might help in the war effort.
“He hit on Angel Fire,” Cremer said. “It started seriously about two years ago, transitioning out of our hands and over to the Air Force for their use.”
While it is currently deployed on a piloted aircraft, the plan is to use it with an unmanned aerial vehicle.
“In general terms, it’s helping a lot,” Cremer said. “Specifically how it is helping, we can’t go into that.”
Some of the tests are conducted at the local airport.
“We periodically bring an aircraft in and try something out with it,” Cremer said. “A lot of good science is going on up here.”
Cremer said a core team of about 10 people are engaged in Angel Fire, but perhaps twice that many are involved in one way or another.
“Now we are looking at what we can do next to push the envelope,” he said, noting again the shift in the way the laboratory does business.
“We won’t spend years on this. We hope to keep working on it, but it morphs from one thing to another,” he added.
POJOAQUE – The history of toxic releases at Los Alamos has not come out whole. Rather, it has been excavated piecemeal, room-by-room, box-by-box, paper-by-paper and clue-by-clue.
Over the last 10 years that the Los Alamos Historic Document and Retrieval Assessment (LAHDRA) project has been pulling pieces of facts from oblivion, the project team has slowly illuminated one of the dark corners of recent times.
The work has accomplished a great deal toward an initial screening estimate of risk factors, but there may be a lot more work to do, if the final report recommends that a full dose reconstruction should be called for at Los Alamos.
Each year the project brings to the community news that has not always been good, but represents a fuller accounting that can be used to reconcile and substantiate the past.
One of the key metrics, project director Tom Widner said Wednesday during an annual meeting at the Cities of Gold convention center, was the number of document summaries, now 8,170, representing the most relevant nuggets from the quest.
As the current project draws to a close, Widner reported progress and summarized some of the major issues that have caught the team’s attention, including much higher-than-anticipated airborne plutonium releases at the laboratory, beryllium usage that may have had public health consequence and tritium releases that seem to have been much larger than thought.
Soil-based evidence of much higher releases of airborne plutonium at the Los Alamos site during its earliest years during and after World War II continues to be corroborated.
The history of Los Alamos has seen a steady increase in estimated amounts of plutonium released – from an early calculation of .724 curies which was increased ever so slightly in 1973 to 1.2 curies.
Then again, according to the project account, historical information from Edwin Hyatt in 1956, duplicated by John Nyhan in 1990, raised that figure to 43 curies, and with known corrections, to 47 curies.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Widener discussed more fully additional plutonium releases that may have come from the DP West complex, where the plutonium process was centered after 1945.
A document uncovered by the project suggested that even greater correction factors needed to be applied because of errors in the stack sampling at DP West, which significantly underestimated the emissions.
When those correction factors were applied, Widner said, the total estimated plutonium releases for only eight years, has now been raised to 58 curies.
By comparison, releases from three other Manhattan Project sites combined were only 39 curies.
Additionally, the Los Alamos releases were in close proximity to human habitation.
For example, a trailer park was located about 1,000 meters from DP West, and some people there grew vegetables in radioactive soil, Widener said.
Yet to be added to the total are accidents, waste disposal sites, burial ground fires and additional releases from the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building and the Plutonium Building.
“The site total of plutonium could go well above 58 curies,” Widner said.
Also, on the program for the meeting was a brief presentation by Peter Malmgren, who has been documenting Los Alamos history from the perspective of the people who helped build the place, the workers, the janitors, machinists, the service people and craftsmen.
Since he started gathering oral histories in 2000, Malmgren said, several themes have presented themselves, including patriotism, pride in work, many different kinds of discrimination and health and safety.
Around the room, evocative quotations from the oral history project were paired with archival photographs provided by LANL archivist Roger Meade.
Widner said a report supplement would be produced later this year and a final report was due in 2009 for both public view and independent review.
[See also Group says papers show toxins from LANL posed health risk by The New Mexican's Sue Vorenberg.]
Jul 25, 2008
My first thought was that someone out sick, on vacation, or traveling might not have received these emails yet. Or perhaps the vials were left by someone who no longer works in TA-48. How often is the 'unused unspent' cabinet checked? Have all known vials of Rb and Cs been accounted for yet? And most important, the next time someone has unmarked vials of Rb or Cs to turn in they may go into the trash instead.
Delivered-To: email@example.com email, and photos:
Cc: Gene Peterson [firstname.lastname@example.org],
"Alex H. Lacerda" [email@example.com],
Michael Hundley [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Subject: Last Chance: Rubidium and Cesium vials found in Kingdom, rm 346
From: Kevin Ott [email@example.com]
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2008 10:57:38 -0600
All, no one has come forward to help us out by taking ownership of the vials of Rb and Cs that were found 'dumped' in the Kingdom chemical storage last week. I now have no choice but to go forward with an investigation. I am looking into seeing if we can take fingerprints off of the outer vial or inner ampoules.
So this is the last chance. Recall from your waste management training that the consequences for noncompliance with LANL, state, and federal hazardous waste regulations may include termination, civil actions with substantial fines, criminal actions including prison time, and administrative actions against the Laboratory, up
to including shutdown of operations. This is serious.
If you know of these materials or their owner, come forward now with no consequences -- we just want to be able to get these materials disposed of, which we cannot do easily without knowledge of process.
After Friday, no guarantees as to what might occur if we can identify the person who dumped these materials in our chemical cabinets.
Sorry this has to go this far. But this irresponsible behavior cannot be tolerated.
Group Leader, MPA-MC
Materials Physics and Applications - Materials Chemistry
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, NM 87545
ph. 505 667-4600
fax 505 667-9905
Residents of TA-48. Last Thursday, two vials (see photos), one of Rb metal, the other of apparently partially oxidized Cs (from Acros) were found in the 'unused unspent' cabinet in room 346, TA-48 (the Kingdom). The vials have no barcodes, and no owner identified. These two facts will make these materials very difficult and potentially expensive to dispose of. If we can locate the owner, we can ascertain the history of these two vials, then we can help get rid of them fairly easily. We are willing to help, but first we need your help in identifying an owner who has the knowledge required to move the disposal ahead.
If you are the owner or have knowledge of these materials, please please please help us out and come forward, no harm done, no hard feelings.
Please contact me directly if you have any knowledge of these two vials.
Group Leader, MPA-MC
Materials Physics and Applications - Materials Chemistry
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, NM 87545
ph. 505 667-4600
fax 505 667-9905
A group of women and Hispanic men who in 2006 settled a class-action discrimination lawsuit against the Los Alamos National Laboratory have finally received their payout — $12 million divided proportionately among 3,186 class members, and another $4.4 million for their lawyers, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleged that women and Hispanic men were routinely paid less than their white male counterparts, and were overlooked for promotions.
"This is one of the largest such lawsuits in New Mexico that there's ever been in this state, and one of the most important considering the very primary role that the Laboratory has in Northern New Mexico and the work force," plaintiffs' attorney John Bienvenu said.
Class representative Yvonne Ebelacker, of Santa Clara Pueblo, said most plaintiffs received their settlement checks in early July. Those checks were reportedly between $1,500 and $10,000, based on a formula that determined each employee's share of lost pay, Ebelacker said.
Ebelacker said she personally received about $120,000 back in November 2007, because she was one of the five main plaintiffs who originated the lawsuit — along with Laura Barber, of Santa Fe, Yolanda Garcia, of Chimayó, Loyda Martinez, of Santa Cruz, and Gloria Bennett, of Los Alamos. Lab spokesman Steve Sandoval said each of those five women received $123,500.
Ebelacker said she had to pay $38,000 in taxes on the settlement, and it wasn't really worth putting herself on the line during the six-year struggle.
"What did I land out with for putting up with all I did?," Ebelacker said. "Nothing, really. In the long run that's why people say class actions are very hard, because the haul is long and what you get out of it is very minimal."
Ebelacker said she worked in procurement at the Lab for 30 years; she left in 2003 while the lawsuit was ongoing.
"You get to a certain point in your career, and you start getting the feeling sometimes that they don't think you're important anymore, or valuable," Ebelacker said. "In my case there was retaliation and stuff, because they made life really hard there."
The case began in December 2003, when Barber and Veronique Longmire filed a federal class-action suit claiming there was documented, widespread gender discrimination in pay and promotions at the Lab, court documents state. Garcia, Martinez, Bennett and Ebelacker filed a separate class-action suit in state District Court in January 2004 on behalf of Hispanic female employees.
The two cases were eventually consolidated, and throughout 2004 another 59 women joined as plaintiffs, including state Rep. Debbie Rodella (D-La Mesilla). Rodella did not return calls seeking comment.
Bienvenu said the plaintiffs' case was built on a statistical analysis of the Lab's salary structure. Although the negotiated settlement was fair, it still only compensated for part of the losses that employees suffered, Bienvenu said. According to court documents, all class members — defined as women and Hispanic men who were employed by the Lab between Dec. 10, 2000, and June 1, 2006 — were eligible to receive a portion of the settlement if they submitted a valid claim form. The size of the class was estimated at approximately 5,500 people.
In settling the case the University of California, which held the Lab's management contract during the period in question, did not admit the existence of any gender or race-related pay discrepancies, citing policies against discrimination, court documents state. Any such disparities were the result of "legitimate business factors unrelated to sex or race," court documents state.
Sandoval noted in an e-mail that after the case was settled, Lab management was transferred to Los Alamos National Security, a consortium that includes the University and three private companies.
"(Los Alamos National Security) is committed to implementing best business practices, including developing employees and creating a work environment to achieve employee and Laboratory success," Sandoval wrote.
The transition to a new contractor foiled the plaintiffs' attempt to write binding, long-term policy changes into the settlement agreement, court documents state. The limited terms contained in the agreement include an initiative to equalize pay for internal and external hires, manager training in equal-employment and diversity, provision of child care and other prescriptives.
"If the contract hadn't changed out, one of our goals in our lawsuit had been to where we wanted policy changes," Ebelacker said. "Our lawyers told us basically we can't hold a new entity to anything, because they're not part of the lawsuit."
After the Fact
Ebelacker said she believes the discrimination she experienced stems from inadequate job training. Everyone knows the way to make money at the Lab is to move into a management position, but people who receive promotions are often not prepared to responsibly lead or manage employees, she said.
"My personal feeling is they have a lot of supervisors that are not trained in management, and trained as supervisors," Ebelacker said. "I think that's where it starts."
In response, Sandoval repeated his earlier assertion.
"This specific allegation — insufficient training — wasn't litigated per se, but for the reason stated above, we feel that the Lab and (Los Alamos National Security) is committed to ensuring that all employees receive all required training," Sandoval wrote.
Bienvenu said if an employee, whether at a public or private entity, believes they have been discriminated against, they should seek an attorney's advice and assistance. He or she should also abide by all internal grievance policies, and consider contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the state Labor Department's Human Rights Division, Bienvenu said.
The Commission's Albuquerque office can be reached at (505) 248-5201; the numbers for the Division office in Santa Fe are 827-6838 or (800) 566-9471.
Matthew Taylor, The Guardian
The UK is to replace its stockpile of nuclear warheads at an estimated cost of more than £3bn, according to documents seen by the Guardian.
Ministers have repeatedly denied there are any plans to replace the warheads as part of the upgrade of the Trident nuclear system, insisting no decision will be taken until the next parliament, probably sometime after 2010.
However, previously unpublished papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal one of the MoD's senior officials told a private gathering of arms manufacturers that the decision had already been taken.
"This afternoon we are going to outline our plan to maintain the UK's nuclear deterrent," David Gould, then the chief operating officer at the Defence Equipment and Support Organisation, told a future deterrent industry day event. "The intention is to replace the entire Vanguard class submarine system. Including the warhead and missile."
According to the government's 2006 white paper, it would cost at least £3bn to replace the warheads, and opponents say the move would commit the UK to a nuclear weapons system for the next four decades.
Last night, peace campaigners said the new warheads would change the weapons' capabilities and may allow more targeted strikes, potentially making their use more likely.
"This document destroys any credibility in the government's claim that it has not yet made a decision on new nuclear warheads," said Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. "It is a disgrace that the MoD is secretly telling the defence industry one thing, whilst ministers are saying quite the opposite to parliament."
The plans came to light after the MoD was forced to release Gould's "speaking notes" following a request under freedom of information legislation. In the initial release, defence officials blanked out the final sentence, referring to the warheads, because "the notes were incomplete information and therefore potentially misleading". That decision was overturned on appeal and the pivotal sentence was reinstated.
Yesterday, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, called on ministers to come clean about the government's plans for the country's nuclear deterrent. "Des Browne [the defence secretary] needs to urgently explain how the extract from this speech could so clearly contradict stated government policy on a new warhead ... This government promised an open and transparent debate about replacing Trident, but this feels more like the cloak and dagger days of the cold war."
A spokesman for the MoD said the document was a "speaking note" rather than a transcript of Gould's speech, which was delivered in June last year, adding that it did not reflect government policy.
"[The] decisions on whether and how to refurbish or replace our existing nuclear warhead are likely to be necessary in the next parliament ... No decisions have yet been taken."
Opponents say replacing the warheads would commit the UK to a nuclear weapons system up to 2055, as opposed to the lifespan of the current system, which is expected to become obsolete around 2025. They also claim that pressing ahead with a new generation of warheads before the non-proliferation treaty review conference in 2010 would be seen as inflammatory and could breach international agreements.
Harvey said: "Moving forward on a replacement warhead just two years before key talks on nuclear non-proliferation would be a decision with huge consequences and it demands open debate. The thought that it may have been taken already behind closed doors is deeply concerning."
Last year the government was forced to rely on Conservative party support to get its plans to renew Trident through parliament. Under those proposals, the nuclear submarines would be replaced and missiles upgraded, but no decision was taken on the warheads, which opponents say are the "key element" of any nuclear system.
"Building newer, potentially more advanced warheads will breach our commitment to disarm under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and will send out a destabilising and hypocritical message to other states both with and currently without such weapons," said Hudson.
"A decision to go ahead with new warheads will have a much greater impact than the plan for new submarines, which merely provide the launch platform for these terrible weapons."
Jul 23, 2008
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s new Rad Lab topped out Tuesday at five stories with a traditional ceremony for the workers involved in the project.
“It’s a long-time tradition in the construction industry, when the building reaches its highest point,” said Rick Holmes, the project division leader for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project. “We hung a flag and put up a piñon tree, which means the building was constructed safely and signifies good luck for the occupants.”
Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio and Deputy Director Jan Van Prooyen also offered remarks for the occasion.
Holmes said the ceremony was about the workers whose craft is responsible for the building, primarily steel workers. Also on hand were senior union representatives and steel suppliers and “all the people who touched a project of this type,” he said.
The first and smaller of the two buildings in the CMRR project, the Radiological Laboratory, Utility and Office Building (RLUOB) is now about half finished with facility construction expected to be completed by September 2009.
At that point a two-year period of equipment installation will begin, for glove boxes and a variety of instrumentation to support the building.
The second building is the Nuclear Facility, budgeted at about $2 billion, for which the design phase and equipment planning is proceeding.
The CMRR’s funding has been tugged back and forth between House and Senate appropriators in the last few years. The Senate has supported it while the House has withheld funds.
Without a specific appropriation bill in the last two years, the Senate preference has held sway in the omnibus bills that have provided continuing funding.
The complex is intended to replace the half-century-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Building with some additional capabilities related to the laboratory’s role in manufacturing plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, also uncertain because of the divided Congress.
Holmes said after the ceremony today that there is enough money to complete construction on the RULAB, but it will need additional funding for the equipment.
SANTA FE – The “listening session” on Los Alamos National Laboratory Tuesday night at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center brought out much the same group of commentators as other public forums on this subject.
Recent opportunities for input have included a series of meetings on transformation of the nuclear complex. Those were preceded by formal hearings on the draft environmental impact statement for the laboratory site.
Officials of the New Mexico Environment Department, partnering with the New Mexico Community Foundation, seemed to be searching for a deeper understanding of how the surrounding communities feel about the nuclear weapons laboratory.
“The discussion is not limited to environmental issues,” said the state’s Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief James Bearzi, who facilitated the discussions. He opened the door to social economic, cultural and political issues as well, “and everything else in between.”
While the listening session was not specifically tied to the department’s regulatory function, Environment Secretary Ron Curry welcomed the group by reiterating his strong opposition to any hint of renegotiating the Consent Order, which underlies the department’s role in a comprehensive environmental clean-up program at the laboratory.
Attempting to cast a wider net for this series of meetings, NMED partnered with the New Mexico Community Foundation, deepening a mutual interests that had formed around the RACER project at LANL. The Risk Assessment, Communication, Evaluation and Reduction project, which was caught up in the management changes at the laboratory in the last two years, is a process for evaluating and making recommendations on cleanup operations at the lab.
A large database of environmental information developed by the project has been turned over to the Community Foundation for long-term stewardship.
RACER and NMED’s partnership with the laboratory were among the first targets of criticism as the public began to speak during the meeting.
Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group thought the relationship was inappropriate because the New Mexico Community Foundation is an important source of funding for public interest groups like those attending Tuesday’s meeting.
“New Mexico is selected for dirty activities because we have a lax regulatory environment,” he said, blaming conflicts of interests and funding patterns for weakening the system. “Ron (Curry) and James (Bearzi) are doing their best, but we have to help them,” he said.
A little later, Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico disagreed that the state was weak as a regulator.
“This has clearly been the most aggressive administration we have had,” he said, calling special attention to its work in enforcing the consent order.
He went on to question how long it is taking for the department to develop a new hazardous waste permit for the laboratory. His concern was whether it would be possible to wrap it up before the next administration.
Bearzi updated the progress that has been made but acknowledged that a final permit was still a couple of years away.
Marian Naranjo on behalf of Santa Clara Pueblo renewed a cultural concern that she has expressed previously, about increasingly inaccessible sacred places on lab property.
Other comments had to do with a variety of environmental concerns, including downstream water contamination and calls for selecting the most protective closure plans possible in remediating the laboratories nuclear waste areas.
After the meeting, Denise Gonzales of the Community Foundation said her organization frequently worked in concert with state government and could help bring out voices and perspectives that were not otherwise being heard.
She announced that the RACER project would begin a separate set of “training meetings” in the northern New Mexico region to acquaint interested people on how to use the environmental database. The session in Los Alamos is scheduled for Aug. 20, with a time and place to be arranged.
The meeting drew a standing room crowd of perhaps 60 people to the classroom that was available for the meeting, and the meeting moved to a larger room when one became available.
Future “listening sessions” includes a Sept. 23 meeting in Los Alamos.
WASHINGTON — The top U.S. nuclear weapons commander, Gen. Kevin Chilton, warned today that the nation should not rule out the possibility of resuming explosive nuclear testing to ensure the reliability of the U.S. strategic arsenal (see GSN, June 26, 2007).
President Bill Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, but the U.S. Senate later rejected the pact, and the United States is now one of just nine nations preventing the treaty from entering into force (see GSN, Sept. 18, 2007). The others include China, Iran and North Korea. The United States last conducted a nuclear test in 1992, after which President George H.W. Bush called for a moratorium.
“I support not wanting to test,” said Chilton, who heads U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb. However, “I also support the right of the United States to change their mind on this issue, should it become decided that [it] is absolutely essential to secure our safety and security. And the protocol of the convention allows that.”
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (Ill.) has said he would make ratification of the test ban treaty a priority. His opponent, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), has pledged to continue the moratorium and take a fresh look at ratification, which he initially opposed in 1999 (see GSN, May 28).
Thanks to a Stockpile Stewardship Program overseen by the National Nuclear Security Agency that monitors the stockpile without explosive tests, Chilton said he can certify today that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is reliable (see GSN, May 19).
However, the Air Force general expressed concern that a time would come when confidence in one or more “families” of weapons in the arsenal would diminish, perhaps due to the discovery of a serious problem. It could be that the prospects for fixing such a problem without explosive testing would be dim, he said.
Nuclear weapons currently fielded are “all well past” their 15-year design lives, Chilton said at a breakfast speech sponsored by the National Defense University Foundation and the National Defense Industrial Association. “They’re not static. When they’re sitting on the shelf, they’re actually little chemistry experiments that are cooking away.”
Gradual degradation of the chemicals inside an atomic weapon can “affect the non-nuclear components that are associated [with] — and are absolutely critical to — the function of the weapon system,” he said.
Thus, Chilton said, “I sense there’s a cliff out there someplace, and I don’t know how close I am to the edge of that cliff.”
“It sounds like he has a little commitment phobia,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The treaty does provide for withdrawal if a state determines it’s in its supreme national interest to do so.” He also argued that the United States is bound by the treaty because Clinton signed it, even without full ratification.
The Bush administration has proposed undertaking a program to develop a new nuclear weapon — the Reliable Replacement Warhead — that might offer higher confidence in the absence of underground tests.
However, in the wake of congressional action to deny the Bush administration requests for RRW funds in fiscal year 2009, Chilton stopped short of wedding himself to that program (see GSN, July 10). He did reiterate more broadly his past support for renovating the U.S. arsenal with a new warhead that, like the RRW concept, would offer increased reliability, safety, security and maintainability compared to today’s weapons.
The development of a new warhead with such features, which the administration has said it could field without explosive testing, could ease reliability concerns down the road, Chilton suggested.
Asked if he would support the test ban agreement if Congress offered an “iron-clad” commitment to field the Reliable Replacement Warhead, Chilton stood his ground on the testing issue.
“I’m not a political person in that regard,” the general said. “However, I would never want to trade away our ability to make a decision to have to test, should we decide we need that. I wouldn’t do that as a negotiating [point] for funding support for something that’s as critical for the defense of the United States of America.”
Kimball took issue, though, with the Strategic Command leader’s dire warnings about degradation in the nuclear arsenal.
“I find it highly irresponsible for Gen. Chilton to be making the assertion that one or more types of nuclear weapons in the arsenal are headed for a catastrophic reliability failure,” he told Global Security Newswire. “There is no evidence that has been presented to the Congress in classified or unclassified form that backs up that assertion.”
Instead, Chilton has cited a vague “feeling” of uneasiness to justify a “huge investment” in modernizing the U.S. stockpile, according to the critic.
“That is not a sound basis upon which to make far-reaching policy decisions,” Kimball said.
Today, Chilton also countered critics who contend that the development of a new U.S. nuclear warhead could make it harder for Washington to limit the proliferation of atomic weapons around the world.
“We have reduced our deployed weapons from … 10,000 to [Moscow Treaty levels of] 1,700 to 2,200. Did that discourage Iran? Did that discourage North Korea? Did that discourage Pakistan?” Chilton asked. “Countries who want to develop nuclear weapons will do so for their own interests, independent of our activities to sustain our nuclear deterrent.”
Conversely, he said, were the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal called into question, allies that come under Washington’s “umbrella” deterrent might decide to develop nuclear weapons of their own.
“Do you think if there became any doubt of the reliability or the maintainability or sustainability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, do you think Japan and South Korea might take a different tack as to whether or not they want to field a nuclear weapon?” Chilton asked. “I think the answer is yes. I think failing to sustain our deterrent and failing to sustain our umbrella will encourage proliferation around the planet.”
Kimball debated Chilton’s assertion on this point, as well, noting that these Washington allies have actually pressed the United States to ratify the test ban treaty.
[View General Kevin P. Chilton's bio here.]
Jul 22, 2008
How about posting a link to Mikey's prepared comments at the media roundtable in D.C.? This seems more newsworthy and forward-looking than a lot of stuff being posted.
LANL's Daily Newsbulletin covered this last week (see below). They provide a link to Bodman's "Vision Statement", but nothing about Anastasio's prepared comments.
The New Mexican's Sue Vorenberg provides a few Anastasio quotes in her story titled NNSA seeks more long-term contracts.
And the long-term relationships with the other agencies, in turn, should also help make the nation more safe, said Michael Anastasio, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.Some intelligence agencies that he couldn't name? Just give us a hint, Mikey. Are they American intelligence agencies? LANL blog readers are pretty sharp. I'm betting they can name those intelligence agencies in three letters or less.
"If you think of the intelligence community and if you can build those long-term relationships, you can better watch technology and issues around the world," Anastasio said.
Teams of scientists paired with those in the intelligence community for several years can look for long-term patterns and signs in other cultures or countries that could turn into possible threats against the United States, he said. Those teams could then find ways to head off problems before they become disasters, he said.
And that's "more valuable than a sequence of activities," Anastasio said.
Some of those longer-term agreements at Los Alamos could include work with the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, the Department of Defense and "with some intelligence agencies" that he couldn't name, Anastasio said.
Oh, and that table isn't round!
[From the Daily Newsbulletin.]
Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio (inset) joins National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Tom D'Agostino (head of table) and other NNSA complex officials for a "media roundtable" with members of the national and international media on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The discussion focused on NNSA's proposed complex transformation and its vision for its national security laboratories. Among the reporters attending were George Lobsenz of Energy Daily, Derrick Sands of Inside Energy, Eric Hand of Nature, Carlo Munoz of Inside the Pentagon, and Shogo Kawakita of Kyodo News. Additional members of the media, including local New Mexico reporters, took part in the roundtable via the phone. To read the vision statement for NNSA's national security laboratories, click here.
Thursday, NNSA Administrator D'Agostino again focused on complex transformation during testimony presented before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services. Shown listening to D'Agostino's testimony is Laboratory Director Anastasio, left, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director George Miller. Anastasio also participated in the hearing but did not testify. Along with other NNSA lab directors and site and plant managers, Anastasio provided a written statement and was part of the panel that fielded subcommittee member questions following testimony at the hearing. To read the director's statement, click here.
[See also Broader Agenda For Weapons Labs.]
Jul 21, 2008
July 23, 2008 - Public Meeting of the Study Team for the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project5 PM - 7 PM (Mountain Time)
Cities of Gold Hotel
Nambe Conference Room
Cities of Gold Road exit in Pojoaque (15 miles north of Santa Fe on US 84/285)
10-A Cities of Gold Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87506
(505) 455-0515 Facsimile: (505)455-3060
STATUS: Open to the public, limited only by the space available. The meeting room accommodates approximately 200 people.
MATTERS TO BE DISCUSSED: Agenda items include a presentation from the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and its contractor regarding the status of project work and a summary of recent activities, such as reviews of documents held by LANL groups and divisions and information gathering that has targeted key information gaps that remain. Activities that will be undertaken to complete work by the LAHDRA contractor team within 2009 will be described. There will also be a photographic display and brief presentation by Peter Malmgren of Chimayo, NM regarding his “Los Alamos Revisited” oral history project. A representative of the Radiation Exposure Screening & Education Program (RESEP) has also been invited to review the goals and activities of that program. Administered by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, RESEP helps individuals who live (or lived) in areas where U.S. nuclear weapons testing occurred. There will be time for public input, questions, and comments. All agenda items are subject to change as priorities dictate.
The New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Community Foundation will host a series of listening sessions about Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The sessions are designed to better understand the issues and perceptions residents of northern New Mexico have regarding LANL.
The conveners anticipate the conversations will touch on economic, social, political, cultural, environmental and other issues that surround the lab.
Officials with the Environment Department said better understanding of these issues and priorities that are important to northern New Mexicans will allow the Department to incorporate these concerns into its decisions on handling potential environmental risks posed by LANL.
The first session will be July 22 at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center at 3221 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Other sessions will be announced at that meeting.
For more information, contact Rebecca Kay at the Department's Hazardous Waste Bureau, (505) 476-6040, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An extra $17 million for environmental cleanup activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory has been cleared for release, the Department of Energy informed New Mexico senators Thursday.
The funding was contained in a defense bill containing supplemental appropriations for the current fiscal year.
Sen. Pete Domenici’s (R-N.M.) announcement said he had worked to secure the funding within a recently enacted emergency supplemental bill and that it would allow progress in environmental remediation at the lab.
“The new characterization wells that can be drilled using this funding are an important step for the lab to meet its remediation goals,” Domenici said.
Shortfalls in the environmental cleanup budget have threatened stipulated milestones in the consent order between the laboratory and the state.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a release that he was pleased to see the money released.
“My view is that we need to be setting aside more federal funding so that we can make greater strides in environmental cleanup at DOE sites,” Bingaman said. “But I’m glad this funding has been released for LANL.”
Domenici also noted that the Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee earlier this month gained full-committee approval of its FY2009 bill that would provide $245 million in DOE Environmental Management and Cleanup funding to LANL. The Senate funding level is $83 million over the FY2009 budget request and approximately $76 million over the newly adjusted FY2008 funding level.
CARLSBAD — The Environmental Protection Agency is still seeking more information related to the latest errant drum shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
In June, a drum of transuranic waste with an open non-conformance report was mistakenly shipped from Los Alamos to WIPP and emplaced in the underground repository near Carlsbad.
The standard waste box holding the drum was returned to Los Alamos, but the incident sparked an investigation as to why the mistake happened and what could have prevented the error.
Shipments from other sites have resumed, but the EPA still doesn't support the resumption of shipments from LANL, according to a July 14 letter from Jonathan Edwards, acting director of the agency's Radiation Protection Division.
"We cannot yet concur with the resumption of shipment and disposal of contact-handled TRU waste containers from LANL," Edwards wrote in the letter to Dave Moody, Department of Energy manager of Carlsbad's Field Office.
Edwards said he was concerned that what happened at LANL could potentially occur at other sites "since the same processes, procedures, and many of these same personnel are involved." He requested a thorough review of Washington TRU Solutions' Central Characterization Project activities to identify any shortcomings.
On Friday, the Department of Energy sent a letter to the EPA seeking its nod in resuming shipments from Los Alamos.
"We believe we have the appropriate remedial and corrective actions in place," Moody said in an e-mail response to the Current-Argus.
Many of the EPA's specific concerns seem to relate to the drum tagging process. Containers issued non-conformance reports are supposed to be tagged. According to the EPA, a follow-up inspection of the drum in question concluded that the tag was missing, but the plastic tie and brass ring that should have held the tag were still there.
The Department of Energy is going to use new tags, Edwards wrote, but the agency still needs to provide more detailed information on the nature of the new tags to reassure everyone that the new version won't fall off.
Don Hancock, with the Southwest Research and Information Center, praised the EPA's refusal to allow shipments to resume from LANL. Hancock also stated that his organization wants all noncompliant containers separated from compliant containers to greatly reduce the chance of an incorrect shipment.
He's also requested that the EPA conduct physical inspections of other sites that ship to WIPP using the same characterization process Savannah River and Hanford to make sure adequate procedures are in place there.