Aug 29, 2008

HASC Questions for the record, answered by Ambassador C. Paul Robinson

Question 1:
What is your assessment of the NNSA complex transformation proposal? Are there other viable alternative approaches to provide a more responsive infrastructure?

As I said in my testimony, “My reactions [to the Complex Transformation Plan] are mixed. While it is doubtless improved over the previous version (Complex 2030), it still does not present a compelling solution to the many problems facing the nuclear weapons complex.”

A more viable (and sensible) approach would be to:
(1) Establish at a national level the purpose and sizing of the US arsenal of nuclear weapons —appropriate to the threats we and our allies must likely face going forward.
The DoD has not taken up this issue for at least 15 years (under two administrations) but continues to try to preserve a Cold War arsenal that (a) no longer fits the world we live in, (b) nor fits the threats we face. The US Strategic Commission you created is one attempt to develop same, but whether it will stall over the polarizations (of the left and the right) is yet to be seen. There is no substitute for the US uniformed military once again developing its own detailed plans (that would implement such a national strategy.) Having DOE move forward to transform the Complex without having coordinated plans [with the DoD] is unlikely to succeed. The drafters of the current SPEIS were “flying blind” in trying to develop a plan to transform the complex without such guidance.

(2) Reorganize the management structure of the complex to have a nuclear weapons enterprise that is coherently managed and budgeted for. Just look at the DOE and NNSA org. chart: there is no direct management of the production complex. The overall management —including cohesive day-to-day management of the GOCO’s— used to be performed by the Albuquerque Operations Office for the entire complex, and the AOO depended on the weapons labs to help it establish the technical directions and design and quality acceptance requirements and the labs served as the final approval for any deviations. This arrangement worked for 40 years, and no one has filled the vacuum left by abolishment of the Albuquerque Operations role. (b) The plants mostly exist in an “everyman for himself” environment, and —in that vacuum— many plants have sought and achieved close political relationships with their own Congressional representatives and Senators. The effect of such actions has only increased “the centrifugal pressures tearing the complex apart.”
(c) There never was effective, cohesive management of the three weapons labs, although in truth it was never possible to “manage” the labs in any traditional sense. The fact has been well established that the Federal government is incapable of “managing the advancement of science” (even though periodically it tries this, through civil-service labs, but untarnished by success.) Because of this fact, the GOCO system (Government-owned, Contractor-operated) was created. The GOCO contractors originally were the nation’s best companies (or universities) in science and technology, who brought their business practices and approaches to the labs. There are only one or two of these left today, with the rest being mostly small outfits whose main business is “running the labs for the government’, motivated by fees they can earn (which was never the case in the original complex.) Worse yet, the bureaucracy of DOE (ERDA, or AEC) has continued to grow and have attempted to “take control” of the labs, and the model has deteriorated more and more to a “government-owned and operated” complex. There are now no longer any barriers to preventing the constantly burgeoning government bureaucracy from being imposed on the labs (and plants) and the advantages of having “private-sector” organizations for their functions has long since vanished. The original approach had been to have the labs responsible for innovations. The labs would propose their ideas to the government and to the military, and once agreement was established between them on “What was to be done”, the labs took over the process of how it should be done and carried the responsibility for achieving the agreed goals. My deeply held conviction is that the GOCO model has deteriorated so far, that it must now either be eliminated or drastically rejuvenated (with a new agency and a “clean sheet of paper.”)

In summary, there is little to suggest that the US weapons complex is a common team, smoothly interfacing, with clear guidance to carry out its mission. That is what is needed.

Question 2:
Dr. Robinson, you have witnessed previous efforts to modernize or transform the nuclear weapons complex. What lessons have you learned from previous efforts?

The whole issue of budgeting for either facility maintenance or constructing new facilities has never been done well through the process of “annual budgets.” One of the helpful improvements was the NNSA requirement for a five-year plan, although seldom were the last 3 years of any such plan ever realized. Setting priorities should be easy enough in today’s “shortage environment” where we no longer have the capability to produce Plutonium pits in sufficient numbers. Reviving a plutonium production capability must have top priority.

I believe that the organization of the Congress for budgeting has become a serious problem. Having two subcommittees in both the House and Senate that provide separate appropriations for DOE and for DoD have left us with little alignment or even correlation of these budgets. Personally, and after many years of believing that it was important to keep the nuclear weapons design, development, and production separate from the Defense Department, I have now reached the point that I believe it is worth considering removing the weapons responsibilities from DOE and placing it as a new agency within the DoD. The presence of a uniformed military could provide a continuity that has been lacking as different administrations came and went. The nation’s nuclear deterrent has only suffered from these short-term upheavals in what must be a long-term commitment.

Question 3:

As transformation efforts take shape, what steps can Congress take to mitigate against the risk that the vast intellectual capital in the complex —the people that make the Stockpile Stewardship Program a success — is not lost or permanently impaired?

I am glad that the Subcommittee does recognize how crucial the bright, highly, trained, and dedicated people are to ensuring the US deterrent. In this regard I am more concerned, more than I have ever been, over the more than forty years I have worked in this complex, that the morale of these rare people has reached an all time low. The recent Chiles study (a DSB Task Force on Nuclear Personnel Expertise) examined the problems of the fractionated management within DOE for nuclear weapons, safety, and security and said “Worker feelings range from anger to resigned despair.” Note also, that his investigations took place before the lay-offs of more than a thousand people at both Los Alamos and Livermore this past year. The situation at both of those labs is far worse now. While the labs had always been able to attract the best and brightest to come to the laboratories (for somewhat less pay than they would have earned in the private sector), the freedom to pursue new ideas and the fact that the work was so vitally important to the security of our country was reward enough to keep them. However today, it is impossible to make these arguments, when the burgeoning bureaucracy suppresses individual voices, and it is apparent that most officials within the Executive branch and the Congress pay little attention to the nuclear weapons efforts. It is all too obvious that too much in government no longer care about its future.

On an historical basis, one principle that has proven itself to be valid for many centuries was well expressed by Edward Gibbon (“The Rise and Fall of the Ancient Roman Empire.”), who wrote ‘That which is not advancing must surely decline.’

Thus, until only very recently, the mission to perpetually try to improve the US deterrent weapons was a necessary and accepted mission for that intellectual capital embodied in the weapons labs. That guiding principle is still uppermost in the Russian and Chinese programs, and in the French program, but it has now been successfully eliminated in the US labs. However, this issue seems to be forbidden from discussion, in the badly mistaken view that to hold such a view would stimulate other nations to proliferate (in the ridiculous viewpoint that somehow if we —the United States— stop striving for a stronger deterrent, the rest of the world will stop as well.) The safeguards —that were agreed upon to be in place with the signing of the CTBT by the US— state that the US will continue to keep a strong design and development capability, but this capability is now well down the path to going out of existence.

Question 4:
Do weapons designers need to design and build weapons to exercise their skills?

This question can only be answered by an understanding of what used to happen, and how it has changed over the past 20 years. The driving force for new developments was always the Phase 1 and Phase 2 joint projects with military Project Officer’s Groups (POG’s) teaming with the labs to evaluate possibilities (which the labs and the POG’s would both suggest), and then jointly settle on “Military Characteristics” that would guide the next weapon systems. The proposals would then move forward through the military chain of command and the DOD leaderships and separately through the DOE (ERDA, AEC) chain as well. Finally arriving at a Presidential decision, which —if approved—would be passed to the Congress for their approval, or disapproval.

That process seems to be broken today, with little or no attention having been paid to the configuration of the US deterrent arsenal since the end of the Cold War. Also, members of the legislative branch have interrupted this process from moving forward, by placing specific language in Authorization and Appropriation bills to prohibit any work (either Phase 1 or Phase 2 as well), until they have approved any proposed systems. The result unfortunately has been a stalemate, with no new systems being approved by the Congress and hence new starts becoming non-existent since the end of the Cold War. The labs often, but not always, would work together to establish mutual directions which could substitute for lack of guidance on future weapons, but depending on personalities at the individual labs (at any point in time), these were never really a successful substitute.

Thus the plain truth is that today the US continues to try to maintain an arsenal of weapons for deterrence purposes that no longer matches the threats we face (and hence whose ultimate use would be credible), nor the delivery systems which would be most likely to succeed, and hence the legacy systems are less likely to deter aggressive behaviors of major adversaries. The very high yields of the legacy systems are no longer needed because of the huge improvements that have been made in delivery system accuracies over the intervening years. Many of us believe that if such high yields remain the only options available, our threats to actually use such weapons are hallow and hence our ability to deter war is rapidly vanishing, to a point where we will be “self-deterred.” Something must be done to break the current stalemate.

Question 5:
How should the stockpile stewardship program be executed in a transformed and modernized complex? Will a transformed complex require changes to the stockpile stewardship program?

My belief is that the following represents the right order of things:
(1) The question of whether the nuclear weapons entities should all be moved to become an integral part of the Department of Defense is a critical issue, which needs to be faced now.
(2) Fix the GOCO process (as I discussed earlier) and tailor a stand-alone organization to direct and manage the R&D, design, development, and manufacturing processes.
(3) Pull the complex parts into a cohesive whole (functioning as a single, high-performance team), rather than continuing the current collection of poorly coordinated parts.
(4) Set a priority order of urgently needed facilities, and prepare a long-range budget that puts these in an appropriate budget plan.

There should be no need to change the Stockpile Stewardship program, other than to again free up some activities in advanced science and technology and advanced designs, most of which has been curtailed or eliminated in recent years. Of course, everyone should “wake-up” to the fact that there is no guarantee that it will yet prove possible to replace the confidence that always was provided by nuclear testing, by —instead— relying only on computer calculations and much improved scientific-understanding. We have made excellent progress in developing the supercomputers for the effort, but far less progress on improving the unknown scientific mysteries so that they can be correctly included in the computer codes. Thus, preservation of the ability to test —should it become necessary— is still vital to the US.

Question 6:
What are the highest investment priorities for NNSA’s limited resources?

A new and effective (i.e. proven) capability to fabricate plutonium pits is a critical first priority. The damage done to the US program by the closing of the Rocky Flats Production Site (because of environmental issues/protests) has hurt the overall US nuclear weapons production program more than almost anyone realizes. We are the only nation that cannot build a new, modern arsenal of weapons, much less can we reproduce the old designs which now constitute our complete stockpile.

The ultimate priority is of course a realization that the US arsenal of deterrent weapons is the only proven factor in preserving the peace in the world and prevent world wars or major conflicts. The end of the Cold War was not the “end of history”, as many suggested, but it does appear that the emergence of nuclear weapons that ended the fighting of World War II may yet prove to be “the end of the history of global conflicts.”
The mindset being advocated in many quarters —that we must now embark on a policy of “eliminating all nuclear weapons from the earth”— is misguided and premature. It would usher in a state of international affairs where nations are free to return to unlimited global conflicts, and there is little chance that even if it were possible (and it is not) to remove all nuclear weapons, they could be reproduced by some nations, who could then easily take advantage of the relatively greater power they would have over the US and others.

I have always believed that there are (at least) two extremely major barriers that must be overcome before we could undertake any realistic thinking that “a world free of nuclear weapons would be a better world” than the current situation. These are:
(a) the elimination of nation-states. (Anyone who believes that this could be achieved in a matter of decades is either hopelessly idealistic or really fooling themselves.), and
(b) a change in the nature of mankind itself to eschew any acts of major aggression. Once again, these are merely “poetic ideas” but there are little grounds to believe that this could be achieved even in 100 years, if ever. I would note that there are not even any good ideas put forward for how to go about same, nor is anyone actually working on it. The US already began the nuclear weapons era by putting forward a serious proposal (the Baruch Plan) that would have placed all nuclear weapons under a common international control, but this plan was instantly rejected, and I feel safe in predicting that a revival of that proposal would be just as quickly rejected today.

Thus, we should now all join in putting our best efforts to the task of deterring war through the threat of retaliation of nuclear weapons, with the best outcome being that we would —as a result— never have to use such weapons. But the overarching importance that the US must give sufficient attention to the characteristics, numbers, performance, and reliability of its nuclear deterrent arsenal should be obvious to anyone in a senior government position. I urge the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the HASC to step up and demand that the US greatly increase its attention to reverse the decline which now characterizes our deterrent and the complex responsible for it.

Aug 26, 2008

Department of Entropy

[UPDATE: The directive can be downloaded here.]

FYI: The Department of Entropy released a 26 page Directive today for comment which requires every Lab to change its domain name to *, prohibits individual projects from having their own logos, and says that Lab buildings must display giant DOE logos on them (and no other logos)!

What D- Fourth Tier Marketing Major did they let out of community college to write this thing?

Why won't anyone in Congress wake up to the truth: the abuse in DOE is all with the Feds. They are totally and completely incompetent and they seem destined to destroy the Labs through outlandish incompetent micromanagement and ludicrous policy.

Things like this cost millions of dollars of defense and science money - all because some moron thought "hey, let's all get the same domain name."

MEMO TO CLOWNS: The Labs are respected because they are not Federal Agencies. LEAVE THEM ALONE. Don't HELP.

Someone in Congress, anyone in Congress, please help us - DOE is going to kill the Labs - it already has killed several...

Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee meeting scheduled

Submitted to the Carlsbad Current-Argus
Article Launched: 08/25/2008 08:38:59 PM MDT

SANTA FE — The Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee of the New Mexico State Legislature will meet at 10 a.m. Aug. 28 in Espanola at the Okay Conference Center and 9 a.m. Aug. 29 at the Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos.

"During these two days, we will continue our efforts to explore New Mexico's role in providing energy to its own citizens, the region and the nation in the future," said Chairman Representative John A. Heaton (D-Carlsbad). "In addition, because of the importance of nuclear power to the security, independence and climate of the United States, we will be given a tutorial on spent fuel recycling to help us understand what we must do to manage spent fuel as the nuclear power industry grows."

"Our State faces many of the issues related to the national debate about alternative energy. During this next Committee meeting we are going to spend some quality time looking at some of our state's issues related to alternative energy both because our state houses radioactive waste, and because we are making strides in the areas of wind and hydrogen energy production," said Senator Richard C. Martinez (D-Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe-5), vice chair of the Committee.

The focus of the Thursday morning meeting in Espanola will be an update on Los Alamos and Sandia National laboratories cleanup. The afternoon session begins at 1 p.m. with a report on the Waste Isolation Pilot Program presented by representatives of the Department of Energy and the Hazardous Waste Bureau. At 2 p.m., Rep. Heaton will review for the Committee the national energy strategy, followed by a panel discussion of the transmission process. The Committee recesses at 5 p.m.

On Friday, the Committee convenes at Fuller Lodge and begins with a LANL update. At 8:30 a.m., the Committee hears a report on options for interim storage and reprocessing of spent fuel, followed by reports on LANL's hydrogen technology program and fuel cell program. The Committee adjourns at 12:30 p.m.

Lab disputes runoff water standard

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A disagreement has arisen between Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of its water regulators.

The New Mexico Environment Department said this week they would ask the state Water Quality Control Commission to dismiss a petition from the Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Security LLC that appeals the department’s water quality standard for storm water runoff.

“First and foremost, we’re committed to making sure that our runoff is in compliance with the regulations,” laboratory spokesperson Kevin Roark said Friday. “Most importantly, we want to adhere to an accurate and fair method for determining the hardness or toxicity in water.”

The issue, as described in a press announcement by NMED, has to do with a discrepancy between standards set by the department for the laboratory’s water discharge permit and standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Administration, having to do with how “hard” the water flowing out of the laboratory is allowed to be.

Individuals may be aware of the difference between “hard” and “soft” water from experiences with how difficult it is to rinse soaps and shampoos while taking showers in “hard” water. Some homeowners in New Mexico and elsewhere install water-softening appliances in their homes in order to avoid scaling in water pipes and spigots and other inconveniences related to minerals in the water.

For water quality standards, hardness is a measure of the mineral content of the water – the higher the content, the harder the water.

NMED has proposed a higher standard than EPA for how hard the lab discharge can be. EPA issued its standards in a draft permit in January 2008.

A higher standard means lower mineral content for minerals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, silver and zinc.

The department argues that storm water from the laboratory will carry effluent into the canyons that ultimately drain into the Rio Grande and that lower standards allowing higher concentrations of contaminants could pose a risk to downstream aquatic life.

“The department’s requirements for storm water discharges from LANL into nearby streams and rivers will protect aquatic life and New Mexico’s river ecosystems,” said New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry in the press release.

“The basic issue is that determining the hardness of water is not a simple thing, because it varies,” Roark said. “In fact it has tremendous variability depending on flow and direction.”

The state’s standards were issued conditionally on May 8 and LANL officials say they asked for and were invited to provide additional data in June, before the Water Quality Commission issued a decision supporting the state standards in July.

LANL appealed that decision, claiming the window for appeals started at that point, but NMED claims the 30-day appeals started in May and are no longer in order.

“We are engaged with NMED in technical discussions and hope that these continue to reach a resolution that’s mutually satisfactory,” Roark said.

[Download the NMED press release here.]

Aug 21, 2008

Environment Dept. wants stricter stormwater standards for LANL

New Mexico Business Weekly

The New Mexico Environment Department is fighting an effort by Los Alamos National Laboratory to overturn state rules for discharging storm water into streams and rivers, requirements that are more stringent than federal standards.

The Department has filed a motion with the state Water Quality Control Commission to dismiss a petition by the U.S. Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Security LLC that appeals the Environment Department’s more stringent requirements on storm water effluent from LANL.

The Department’s requirements for storm water discharges from various locations at LANL are based on a lower “hardness” value than has been proposed by the lab. Hardness values indicate the mineral content of the water. Low hardness values cause certain metals to become toxic to aquatic life at lower concentrations. Thus, using a lower hardness value in permit calculations results in more stringent effluent limits on toxic materials.

Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry said the requirements are necessary to protect aquatic life and he points out that new drinking water projects mean several New Mexico cities will be relying on this watershed for drinking water.

The Buckman Direct Diversion, planned by the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County, will draw water from the San Juan-Chama Project and native Rio Grande water to provide drinking water for residents.

The Department of Energy and the University of California, which operates LANL with several companies as Los Alamos National Security, applied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a permit for storm water discharges into surface waters at LANL in 2005 and revised the application in 2007. EPA issued a draft permit in 2008.

The state Environment Department issued a state certification of that permit to EPA in May 2008, as required by federal law. The state’s certification was conditional. It required EPA to apply a lower water hardness value in setting effluent limits for metals, including cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, silver and zinc.

DOE and Los Alamos National Security appealed the conditional state certification to the Water Quality Control Commission in July. But Environment Department officials said the appeal was not submitted within the required 30-day time limit and filed a motion to dismiss the petition for review.


While we're on the subject of water, now would be a good time to mention that the LANL Daily News Bulletin published a link to Los Alamos County's 2007 Drinking Water Quality Report on Wednesday.

I'm no expert on water, but the report is only eight pages. What caught my attention was the Consumer Confidence Report on page six. In the Radionuclides section it lists detections of alpha emitters (plutonium is an example of an alpha emitter) of up to 12.579 pCi/L (picoCuries per Liter).

The MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) is the “Maximum Allowed”. In other words, the highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. The MCL for alpha emitters is 15 pCi/L.

12.579 pCi/L is below the MCL of 15 pCi/L, so why did that catch my attention? The consumer Confidence Report lists the "Likely Source of Contamination" as "Erosion of Natural Deposits", but does not specify what isotopes were found in the drinking water. Knowing only the gross alpha, it seems odd to attribute it to natural sources. Or perhaps the contributions of each alpha emitter are known but were not published. Hopefully some of the blog readers can provide more information.

Feds: Stories about nuke workers flawed

Congressman says Labor officials just blaming messenger
By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Additional media
* DOL letter to Rep. Mark Udall
* DOL letter to Rep. Ed Perlmutter
* Letter to Department of Labor
* DOL letter to Rep. Tom Udall
Officials at the U.S. Department of Labor say recent stories in the Rocky Mountain News "paint an inaccurate picture" of the program to compensate Cold War-era workers who became sick while building the nation's nuclear arsenal and "indict the entire program based on a small number of individual claimants' experiences."

The comments came in letters to three U.S. congressmen who had asked the Labor Department why it failed to respond to the findings of a Rocky investigation published last month in a special report called "Deadly Denial."

The Rocky found that government officials had derailed aid to workers by keeping reports secret, constantly changing rules and delaying cases for so long that sick workers died before being paid.

The Rocky interviewed more than 100 people for its report and featured more than 25 sick workers, survivors, advocates, doctors and former program officials from across the nation who told how the program that was created to be "compassionate, fair and timely" instead had become adversarial and unfair.

The Rocky made repeated requests over the course of several months for interviews with top program officials and even sent the Labor Department a three- page letter detailing the major findings of its investigation six weeks prior to publishing the series.Labor Department officials said they would respond, but did not.

Congressmen critical

Colorado congressmen Mark Udall and Ed Perlmutter, both Democrats whose districts include many former workers from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site northwest of Denver, sent Labor Secretary Elaine Chao a letter last month criticizing the department for its silence. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., sent a similar letter.

"Federal agencies are established to serve the taxpayer and be accountable to them for decisions regarding programs within an agency's responsibility," the Colorado congressmen wrote. "It is simply not acceptable to not respond to requests to explain decisions made regarding this program . . . The people who toiled in dangerous conditions at the facilities to help secure our nation deserve no less."

The congressmen were not happy with the Labor Department's written response to the Rocky's series. They said it appeared that the department was dodging its own responsibility for problems in the compensation program.

"It is appalling to me that Department of Labor officials still refuse to provide direct answers to the direct questions they are asked," said Rep. Mark Udall. "Instead, their response to our letter is nothing more than an attempt to divert attention away from the catastrophic failure of their program by attempting to discredit an excellent series by the Rocky Mountain News. . . . The DOL has made taking care of Rocky Flats workers a low priority and has taken a nickel-and-dime attitude toward meeting the health benefits owed to our country's nuclear weapons workers.

"This is beyond unacceptable. These Cold War warriors deserve due compensation for the sacrifices that they have made to our grateful nation. The needs of 15,000 Rocky Flats workers should not be held hostage to a foot-dragging bureaucracy."

Tom Udall, Mark Udall's cousin, said: "In reviewing the Department of Labor's response, it appears that the agency is unwilling to acknowledge its role in contributing to the problems associated with the . . . program.

"It would be reassuring if the agency appeared willing to take the feedback from concerned members of Congress, workers advocates and thousands of claimants nationwide, and use that feedback to identify areas in which DOL can improve the program for these sick claimants.

"Instead, DOL chooses to shoot the messenger and this is unacceptable."

The Rocky's articles "raised awareness about problems the workers and their families are having regarding compensation," Perlmutter said.

'Treated with respect'

The Labor Department's letter said: "All claimants are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and receive the benefits to which the statute entitles them."

If so, that marks a change, said Terrie Barrie, of Craig, who became a leading advocate for sick nuclear weapons workers nationwide after her husband George, a former Rocky Flats worker, became ill.

"Maybe today they will do those things, but before the articles, it was awful," Barrie said.

In its letter, the Labor Department commented specifically on several cases the Rocky's stories described. One was the case of Douglas DelForge, a former Rocky Flats worker who died in February at age 46 after fighting brain tumors for 15 years. DelForge received part of his compensation payment before he died, but his payment for lost wages was delayed.

The Labor Department said the allegation that DelForge's lost wages claim was delayed "is wholly without merit."

Department of Labor executive Shelby Hallmark, however, told the Rocky in February that DelForge's lost wage claim had been "deferred," or put on hold.

"It's all just bogus," Cliff DelForge, Douglas' father, said, after learning what the Labor Department wrote to the congressmen concerning his son's case. "The fact that they took so long to accept his initial claim is a travesty.

"It took them four and a half years to find a link between his type of brain tumors and radiation. I found it on the Internet in 15 minutes."

Labor Department officials said "with the exception of one or two cases where inadvertent delays did occur," the department followed the law and acted "as promptly as possible" in every case described by the Rocky.

The compensation program "is an extremely complex benefit program and, like any such program, some claims will be denied, and a few honest mistakes will be made," officials wrote. "As a result, some claimants will be disappointed. The department regrets any situations where mistakes have been made for claimants or have caused them difficulty.

"Nevertheless, the Department of Labor has continuously focused on assisting claimants by providing sympathetic service as promptly as possible. Where problems do arise, we have many processes in place to provide redress, and they work."

[See also Rocky responds to the Department of Labor.]

A Toxic Proposal

The Labor Department politicizes the regulation of workplace health.
Monday, August 18, 2008; Page A10

FOR 7 1/2 YEARS, the Labor Department has neglected the workers it's supposed to protect. Now it is rushing to make its pro-industry stand official policy. The Post's Carol D. Leonnig reported that the Labor Department has fast-tracked a proposal that would make it more difficult to regulate workplace safety.

A last-minute policy push is nothing new to presidential administrations, but the Labor Department's proposal is particularly bold. The plan is an attempt by Labor's policymakers to wrest control of the risk assessment process from scientists at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Doing so would add another layer to a byzantine regulatory process that would be difficult for future administrations to untangle. It would also undermine OSHA, an agency that already has too many procedural hurdles to clear.

The Office of Management and Budget released a report in 2006 stating that risk assessment should focus on actual, rather than possible, harm caused by toxins. This sounds reasonable, but Congress intended for risk assessment to be a preventive measure; by the time the dangers of toxins are apparent, it's often too late to protect workers. At the request of the OMB, a National Academy of Sciences committee reviewed the proposal. The scientists gave the report an "F" and described it as "fundamentally flawed." The OMB shelved the report, but the Labor Department's proposal resurrects much of its substance. Meanwhile, Labor has adopted one major health rule for a chemical in the workplace since President Bush took office -- and that was under court order.

OSHA's problems did not begin with the Bush administration. The Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that OSHA could regulate a toxin only if it posed a "significant risk" to workers' health, a difficult standard to satisfy. The judiciary and Congress have continued to pare OSHA's authority. And while the nation's working population doubled from 1975 to 2006, OSHA's workforce dropped by 240 employees, to 2,165.

Some believe Congress should grant OSHA broader decision-making power. Others believe that the Environmental Protection Agency should handle the regulation of workplace toxins. But it is clear that the wrong way to fix an agency overburdened by procedure is to add another layer of regulation. The Labor Department should withdraw its proposal.

Tax Day trespassing case ends in hung jury

By CAROL A. CLARK Los Alamos Monitor County Editor

What started as a 24-hour prayer vigil in front of Los Alamos National Laboratory ended with two men praying through the night in a jail cell at the Los Alamos Detention Facility.

The men were part of a small group praying and protesting April 14 against tax money used to build nuclear weapons.

Trinity Nuclear Abolitionists members Marcus Patrick Blaise Page, 41, of Albuquerque and Michael Butler, 21, of Gallup were arrested about 9:30 p.m. and charged with criminal trespassing.

They refused to leave DOE property around Los Alamos Fire Department Station 1 and the Los Alamos Research Park on West Jemez Road, according to court documents.

Criminal trespassing carries a $1,000 fine and or up to 364 days in prison. Butler accepted a plea bargain in which he pleaded no contest and will serve 30 days of unsupervised probation. Page declined, choosing to stand trial in Magistrate Court.

On Monday, a Los Alamos jury of six could not come to consensus on the case after some three hours of testimony and four hours of deliberation.

Los Alamos Police Sgt. Jason Wardlow represented the State of New Mexico against Page who acted in his own defense.

Wardlow laid out the case against Page explaining that he entered DOE land without permission of the owner, he knew or should have known permission was not granted and he remained on the property after being asked to leave.

According to court testimony, LANL security officials including Physical Security Division Leader Jack Killeen, offered Page and Butler rides to another location near the ski hill where they would have a view of the laboratory for their prayer vigil.

They also were offered a ride back in the morning. “We very much support the right to demonstrate and protest at the laboratory...however, what we do is detail in a letter what is allowed within the safety and security perimeters of the laboratory,” Killeen said in court.

The letter states that demonstrations and gatherings can take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Page and Butler left the area at 6:30 p.m., Page said, but they moved across the street to the fire station.

Battalion Chief Juan Pacheco testified that he asked the men to leave for safety concerns and because people can’t be camping outside the fire station.

Executive Director Kevin Holsapple of the Commerce and Development Corporation testified that he was called out because the men were camping at the Research Park.

He also asked them to leave, stating liability issues and said he brought along some brochures showing the men alternative locations where they would be able to conduct their prayer vigil.

Page testified that he believed the property around the fire station and the research park belonged to Los Alamos County.

Wardlow had Chief Deputy Clerk Sheryl Nichols show a plat map to the jury, which clearly indicated the property was owned by DOE.

Page called several witnesses who spoke primarily against nuclear weapons and Article Six regarding treaties. Floy Barrett of Albuquerque spoke of the horrors of Hiroshima detailing the deaths and disfigurements.

Another witness, Bud Ryan of Cedar Crest, N.M., is president of Trinity Catholic Workers House, of which Page is a member.

“Nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral and any country that uses them is illegal and immoral,” Ryan told the jury. “I’m coming from a Christian basis and as an American and a patriot, our county has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the U.S. is in violation ... just read Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Upon hearing of the hung jury Monday evening, Page said, “I feel grateful that it was a good quality jury who took enough interest to deliberate carefully and I thank them for sticking to what they feel is right.”

Page and other members of his group intend to continue their monthly prayer vigils, which he said typically last about an hour.

The state has two years to refile the case against Page, Wardlow said, adding that the decision to do so has yet to be determined.

The last time a Trinity Catholic Workers House member was prosecuted in Los Alamos Magistrate Court was in the mid-1990s when Vince Eirene was convicted of criminal trespassing. He spent six months in jail.

ANALYSIS: Report urges prompt global strike capability

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Blue-ribbon panelists of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommended Friday that American submarines have a few conventional arrows in their nuclear weapons quiver for special circumstances.

Presently, for example, the only immediate military response, for taking out a missile about to fire a nuclear weapon at the United States or one of its allies, is with a delivery system carrying a nuclear weapon.

That may not always be the best choice, the committee decided, depending on the situation.

In a longstanding policy disagreement, three former Secretaries of Defense, including Donald Rumsfeld, have supported the concept of a “prompt global strike” that offered a non-nuclear option for attacking high-value targets anywhere in the world within an hour.

The House Senate Armed Services last year wanted assurance that a conventional weapon fired from a nuclear-delivery system would not be interpreted ambiguously and accidentally unleash a nuclear war.

A two-day conference early last year in Washington D.C., hosted by Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories wrestled with the so-called “misinterpretation” problem as a part of a “Strategic Weapons in the 21st Century (SW21)” theme, subtitled “Rethinking nuclear and non-nuclear elements of deterrence.”

A report from the conference observed that the possibilities of errors in attributing the nature of the weapon were “grossly overstated, if not totally without merit given the fact that nuclear powers had launched over a thousand submarine-launched ballistic missiles without any misinterpretations.”

At the same time, “the political power of the attribution problem was so great that working group participants believed that it must be addressed head on.”

A second conference was held on Jan. 31, according to a more generalized summary of the event. Both meetings were held at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

Tactical aircraft, cruise missiles, armed unmanned aerial vehicles and heavy bombers are typically employed to deliver conventional armament on a given target. But any object beyond 500-miles, would be out of reach for these “air-breathing” delivery system; and faster delivery offered by long-range ballistic missiles might appear to an observer to represent a nuclear attack.

Other scenarios cited by the science board included the “opportunity to strike a gathering of terrorist leaders or a shipment of weapons of mass destruction during a brief period of vulnerability; and the need to disable an adversary’s command and control capability as the leading edge of a broader combat operation.”

The committee acknowledged that open questions remained about “the potential for inappropriate, mistaken or accidental use,” of the conventional weapons, but called for comprehensive studies of such issues before deployment, as well as open-ended concerns such as “the impact of over flight and debris; and the implications for arms control and associated agreements.”

In conclusion, the committee recommended that the Pentagon proceed with a plan called Conventional Trident Modification.

The CTM alternative could be ready by FY2010. It involves the conversion of two Trident II (D5) missiles on each of the U.S. Navy’s 12 deployed nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines from nuclear-armed to conventionally-armed.

[See also Non-Nuclear Warhead Urged for Trident Missile by Walter Pincus.]

Aug 18, 2008

Thyroid Cancer Rates Still Alarming

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
ALBUQUERQUE — Thyroid cancer rates remain significantly higher among women in Los Alamos County than the rest of the state, according to newly released data about a phenomenon that has long stumped researchers.

"The rate is high," said Charles Wiggins, director of the New Mexico Tumor Registry at the University of New Mexico. "Why it is I can't tell you."

A 1996 state Health Department epidemiology study could not explain why Los Alamos County residents developed thyroid cancer at a rate four times higher than the rest of the state between 1988 through 1995.

Since then, the rate among non-Hispanic white males in Los Alamos County has been falling and today is actually below the statewide average. But the rate among Anglo women remains a concern: 66 cases per 100,000 residents between 2001 and 2005, compared to an average of 21 cases for all other counties. In real numbers, that's 22 cases among the population of non-Hispanic white women in Los Alamos County.

Numbers like that warrant further analysis, according to public health officials. The state Health Department plans to do a "descriptive epidemiology" analysis in hopes of identifying patterns in the disease, according to spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer.

A high rate of cancer in a particular region inevitably raises concerns that environmental hazards — such as nuclear weapons work at Los Alamos National Laboratory — may be a factor.

But health experts caution against drawing conclusions from the data without further study. The 1996 study couldn't explain the cause of the high rate and found no conclusive evidence that radiation from LANL was to blame. The high rate was likely to have multiple causes, the report concluded.

Rates of thyroid cancer — a relatively rare but generally curable disease — have been increasing nationally for years. And the reason may have less to do with environmental exposures than advances in detection methods.

That may help explain why rates in Los Alamos remain high. Experts suspect the highly educated, affluent population in Los Alamos has better-than-average access to medical care.

Wiggins said he would like to begin taking a closer look at the characteristics of the patients, particularly at what stage the cancer was detected. If the disease was diagnosed early in a number of cases, it could signal that the medical community is proactive in looking for the cancer, which could help explain the high rate, he said.

LANL epidemiologist Laurie Wiggs said in a statement that the thyroid cancer rate remains a mystery.

"To date, we've not discovered any evidence for an occupational or job-related situation at the laboratory that would explain the high cancer rate," Wiggs said. "We would agree that a new, comprehensive study of this phenomenon would be very helpful — not just for lab employees, but for all residents of Los Alamos County."

Thyroid cancer is more commonly found in women than men, and epidemiologists estimate that thyroid cancer induced by radiation exposure may not be diagnosed for 20 to 40 years. Other possible risk factors for the disease include family history of thyroid cancer, breast cancer and obesity.

Los Alamos County's thyroid cancer rate for non-Hispanic white men dropped from nearly 15 cases per 100,000 residents in the mid 1990s to 3.11 between per 100,000 since 2001. That's below the 7.83 rate in all other New Mexico counties.

Domenici honored at foundation banquet

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

OHKAY OWINGEH PUEBLO – The grand banquet room at Ohkay Casino Resort and Hotel was sold out Friday night, thanks to a big name and a worthy cause.

“I truly don’t deserve it,” Sen. Pete Domenici said near the end of an outpouring of gratitude from an evening of tributes. “But I might as well acknowledge it.”

Continuing on to his coming retirement, Domenici was the honored guest at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation’s 12th Annual Banquet, a fund-raiser for a newly endowed scholarship fund in the senator’s name.

There were frequent references to his national and international leadership, but the emphasis for this occasion was his friendship and support of the people of the state.

A slide show of projects he helped fund seemed to include most of the significant projects in the state that have been built, acquired, developed or protected over the course of his 36-year career in the Senate.

According to the foundation’s plans, the Senator Pete Domenici Endowed Scholarship Fund will endow a four-year scholarship every year for each of the seven counties of Northern New Mexico.

On behalf of Los Alamos National Security, LLC, LANL Director Michael Anastasio announced a $500,000 donation to the fund.

Diana MacArthur, president of the LANL Foundation board of directors, along with Dynamac Corporation, Los Alamos National Bank and Los Alamos Technical Associates, contributed $25,000 each.

Many other companies and individuals contributed amounts ranging from $10,000 to $250.
Susan Herrera, executive director of the Foundation, recalled the story of how the Foundation began with an endowment that has now grown to $62 million.

The Los Alamos Employee’s Scholarship Fund, established in 1998 and administered by the Foundation has awarded $1.3 million to over 450 northern New Mexico students.

The Foundation has also bestowed more than $30 million in 1,700 small grants, as Herrera said, “to almost every school system and nonprofit in the region.”

Noting how hard it was to say “thank you” to someone who had done so much, she said, “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Stealing away from his duties at the special session of the Legislature, House Speaker Ben Lujan, called Domenici “a giant among giants,” and jokingly thanked him for giving his son, Ben Ray Lujan, “a chance to run for Congress.”

The younger Lujan is running for the office of Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who is in the race for Domenici’s Senate seat against Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

Jill Udall, representing her husband Tom at the banquet, said Domenici was a legend in his own time.

“Senator, you will be missed, but never really replaced,” she said. Then added, “though some of us will try.”

Steve Pearce, running for the senate seat against Udall, told Domenici that it was not enough to say thank you, but identified him as one of a special kind of people, saying, “You carry the fire.”

Española Mayor Joseph Maestas was the Master of Ceremonies. He presented Domenici with a key to the city, which he said was the first he had ever given, noting that Domenici was always welcome.

In Domenici’s concluding remarks that responded to the outpouring of gratitude throughout the evening, he talked about the scholarships and the young people and “the long road after I’m long gone.”

He confessed the reason that he has had some success was that he was “blessed with the finest staff of men and women.”

He said, “They made me shine.”

Extending his thanks to his wife Nancy, who shared in the evening’s appreciations, he gave back in kind some of the affection he had received during the evening.

“You are my really great friends,” he said. “When I come through here, I know there will always be a friend. They can’t have all disappeared.”

A formal-ribbon cutting at the foundation’s new facility, the Center for Educational and Nonprofit Leadership, preceded the dinner.

Aug 17, 2008

New findings reveal that the sample used to carbon-date the Shroud of Turin was not the original linen

(Title changed from "Los Alamos National Laboratory chemist brands Shroud of Turin as medieval fake")

Written on August 15, 2008 – 10:55 pm | by admin |

In his presentation yesterday at The Ohio State University’s Blackwell Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) chemist, Robert Villarreal, disclosed startling new findings proving that the sample of material used in 1988 to Carbon-14 (C-14) date the Shroud of Turin, which categorized the cloth as a medieval fake, could not have been from the original linen cloth because it was cotton. According to Villarreal, who lead the LANL team working on the project, thread samples they examined from directly adjacent to the C-14 sampling area were “definitely not linen” and, instead, matched cotton.

Villarreal pointed out that “the [1988] age-dating process failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area or population must necessarily be representative of the whole. The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.” Villarreal also revealed that, during testing, one of the threads came apart in the middle forming two separate pieces. A surface resin, that may have been holding the two pieces together, fell off and was analyzed. Surprisingly, the two ends of the thread had different chemical compositions, lending credence to the theory that the threads were spliced together during a repair.

LANL’s work confirms the research published in Thermochimica Acta (Jan. 2005) by the late Raymond Rogers, a chemist who had studied actual C-14 samples and concluded the sample was not part of the original cloth possibly due to the area having been repaired. This hypothesis was presented by M. Sue Benford (43016) and Joseph G. Marino (43016) in Orvieto, Italy in 2000.

Benford and Marino proposed that a 16th Century patch of cotton/linen material was skillfully spliced into the 1st Century original Shroud cloth in the region ultimately used for dating. The intermixed threads combined to give the dates found by the labs ranging between 1260 and 1390 AD. Benford and Marino contend that this expert repair was necessary to disguise an unauthorized relic taken from the corner of the cloth. A paper presented yesterday at the conference by Benford and Marino, and to be published in the July/August issue of the international journal Chemistry Today, provided additional corroborating evidence for the repair theory.

[See also Shrouded in mystery and Shroud of Turin stirs new controversy.]

Aug 15, 2008

"nobody on this blog knows anything"

That quote is from a comment on the Breakfast with Nancy post in response to a report of yet another contamination injury at LANL. This time it appears to have happened at TA-55 on Wednesday.

I have more confidence in the blog's readers than the person who left that comment. In fact, I'm betting they can get most of the facts out before we hear any official word from lab management. If you know something about this latest incident, please send a comment (from your home computer). I'd also like to hear suggestions for phrases that can be woven together with the facts to create the official story. Here are my suggestions:

a small number of personnel
very low-level radiation
a limited number of plutonium particles
no health effects are expected
no evidence of danger
only trace amounts
it was an unexpected result

Aug 14, 2008

Clark on “Breakfast with Nancy” today

On KTAO radio

David Clark of Stockpile Manufacturing and Support (ADSMS) will appear on the KTAO radio program "Breakfast With Nancy," on Thursday [14 August 2008].

KTAO radio personality Nancy Stapp hosts the show. The Los Alamos portion of the show begins at 9:15 a.m.

Clark is the head of the Seaborg Institute for Actinide Science and part of Los Alamos's Stockpile Manufacturing team. A prominent plutonium scientist who was instrumental in developing the highly successful science-based cleanup plan for the Rocky Flats plant, Clark is an authority on plutonium, other radioactive materials, and environmental remediation.

Along with Clark will be Kevin Roark of the Laboratory's Communications Office.

KTAO can be heard at 101.9 FM and online following the links.

[Download an mp3 of the show here.]

Livermore Lab withdraws application to set off more open-air explosive tests

San Francisco Business Times - by Steven E.F. Brown

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory withdrew a permit seeking to set off more explosives in the open air at its Site 300 testing ground in the Altamont Hills between Livermore and Tracy.

The laboratory had sought to set off three tests using 350 pounds of explosives each, and was required to get permission from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Center. Current permits -- dating from 2006 -- allow tests of up to 100 pounds of explosives per day and up to 1,000 pounds per year.

Lab officials said that "research programs that would have required increased explosives limits have evolved" and that bigger test explosions aren't needed as a result. However, the lab may submit another permit application if it decides it needs to test larger amounts of explosive.

Since new managers -- led by the University of California and San Francisco's Bechtel Corp. -- took charge of the lab in October, federal funding for research has been reduced, and costs have gone up. The lab has cut as many as 900 jobs, held by both contract and permanent workers, since then. It didn't say whether changes to the explosives research were related to funding cuts.

George Miller is head of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was set up in 1952 to improve atomic weapons technology. Its first noted breakthrough was the design of an atomic warhead that fit on a missile launched from a submarine. Later, the lab did work on so-called MIRV warheads, which packed several independently steered warheads onto the tip of a single missile.

In time, the lab added many non-weapon programs, like biomedicine, laser and fusion energy research.

As supercomputers improved, the lab used them more and more to simulate nuclear explosions, which had been banned by treaties.

Aug 13, 2008

July 1 - In the latest issue of the journal Public Health Reports, there is debate about the role that beryllium giant Brush Wellman played in stalling OSHA action on beryllium, and whether Brush waged a public relations campaign to minimize the hazards of the toxic metal.

In an article in the January-February 2008 issue of Public Health Reports, David Michaels and Celeste Monforton of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) explored how the beryllium industry fought efforts to lower workplace beryllium exposure limits, first by the Department of Energy (DOE) and then by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In “Beryllium’s Public Relations Problem: Protecting Workers When There is No Safe Exposure Level,” Michaels and Monforton criticized Brush Wellman for its efforts to prevent these agencies from lowering exposure limits for beryllium.

In the Letters to the Editor section of the journal’s July-August issue, Brush Welllman’s Marc Kolanz advances his company’s interpretation of the events. In their response, Michaels and Monforton note that “Kolanz’s letter [to PHR] is an excellent example of our article’s primary message -- that Brush has waged a concerted campaign over many years to refute the scientific evidence of the health hazards associated with beryllium exposure.”

In their original article, Michaels and Monforton discuss the work Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm that that pioneered the tobacco industry’s strategy of creating doubt to avoid regulation, performed for Brush Wellman. Kolanz denies that Brush hired Hill and Knowlton, asserting

The best example of the authors’ skewed presentation of industry communications is their emphasis on the Hill and Knowlton professional media relations proposal submitted to Brush Wellman. Contrary to the authors’ statements, we did not hire Hill and Knowlton nor implement its proposal.

In their reply, Michaels and Monforton refute Kolanz’s claim:

Kolanz unequivocally asserts that Brush “did not hire Hill and Knowlton (H&K) nor implement their proposal.” The evidence we have for our reporting of Brush’s relationship with H&K is an invoice sent by the public relations firm to Brush (with accompanying note), the H&K public relations program proposal, an internal Brush memo talking about materials needed for the H&K initiative, a letter from Brush to H&K providing “supporting information for the PR program,” a series of letters developed by H&K for Brush to send to its customers reassuring them of the safety of beryllium, and copies of letters sent by Brush Wellman that include much of the text provided by H&K (with copies sent to H&K).

Many of the documents used by Michaels and Monforton to research the original article and to respond to Kolanz’s letter are posted on the SKAPP website so that readers can decide for themselves how these historical records should be interpreted.

See also: SKAPP case study: Beryllium - Science or Public Relations?

Aug 12, 2008

LANL Honors Retiring Senator

By Jackie Jadrnak, Albuquerque Journal Northern Bureau

LOS ALAMOS — When Bob Kuckuck heard people invoking the name of St. Pete as problems arose at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he figured they were talking about "some religious icon the Spaniards introduced here 200 years ago."

It didn't take long after his 2005 arrival as lab director, though, for him to realize that the patron being mentioned with reverence was not really a saint, was Italian, and went to the U.S. Senate to represent New Mexico, well, maybe a little less than 200 years ago.

At least that's the story Kuckuck told Monday when employees and administrators gathered on the Hill to shower Republican Sen. Pete Domenici with plaques, gifts, gratitude and the renaming of the National Security Sciences Building auditorium after him. Domenici is retiring when his term ends in January after serving 36 years in the Senate.

Lab spokesman Steve Sandoval said an estimated 560 people attended Monday's hourlong ceremony in the auditorium being named after Domenici, where attendees needed to have a Q security clearance, with fewer than 50 watching telecasts at two other sites on the LANL campus.

In Los Alamos, Domenici has been known as a champion of the lab, keeping its budget strong, its buildings new and numerous, and its mission adaptable to changing circumstances. One after another, speakers Monday praised the senator for recognizing the role that science and technology can play in improving the future.

And while Los Alamos is most widely known for harnessing the destructive power of the atom, some talked about Domenici's role in pushing for its productive uses. "Through the years, there has been one voice in Congress who understood the need for nuclear energy for the generation of electricity," said Harold Agnew, a former lab director who came from California to join the tribute. "I don't know who is going to pick up that leadership in Congress."

For 27 years, there was no move to build new nuclear power plants, but now 18 applications for reactors in this country are awaiting federal review, Domenici said with obvious delight. And while Domenici stressed the need to stop relying on crude oil as an energy source, he also spoke out in favor of drilling for domestic supplies while we still depend on oil, saying it made no sense to send $700 billion a year to other countries to buy that resource. "We're going to use oil, so why not use our own? We're going to be using it for three more decades," he predicted.

On a personal level, Domenici, who has been diagnosed with a progressive brain disease, said he is feeling well.

"Whatever is happening to me is happening very slowly, and that's good," he said.

Legislators check their (economic) engine

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Española, N.M. – The co-chairman of a state legislative committee said he was interested in how the committee could help continue the “vibrant existence” and “vital economic force” of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Sen. Phil Griego, D-Los Alamos, Mora, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Taos, is co-chair of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Legislative Oversight Committee. Last year, he found himself and others on the committee taken by surprise by the news that LANL’s funding appeared to be facing deep cuts in Congress. The prediction turned out to be false – funding remained flat under a continuing resolution – but the budget and diversified mission discussions that emerged from last year were still on committee members’ minds.

The panel expected Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. to provide his view of LANL’s future at their first meeting of the year on Friday, as they prepared for the upcoming regular legislative session in early 2009.

Bingaman, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Committee, is traveling this week in Afghanistan and the Middle East, but he sent his state director, Terry Brunner, to read a brief statement on the Senator’s behalf and answer questions.

The statement emphasized the “multi-purpose” aspects of the laboratory, which has long been involved in a spectrum of scientific work, “from environmental remediation to fuel cells and from military reconnaissance to oil exploration technology.”

The senator pointed out that New Mexico is the largest recipient of funds from the Department of Energy budget and that the income from DOE is comparable to the state’s own budget.

Breaking down the current funding, the statement calculated LANL’s appropriation at about $2.2 billion for fiscal year 2008, level with recent years. Of that, he wrote, $1.8 billion came from DOE, with $1.5 billion pertaining to the maintenance of the nuclear stockpile. Another $300 million was attributed to “work for others,” meaning work for non-DOE entities, whether governmental like the departments of defense and homeland security, or private.

Bingaman’s statement noted that Congress once again “has had a difficult time getting to an agreement,” on an appropriation bill, particularly on issues about “how many weapons and what type” they should be.

Bingaman expressed bottom-line confidence that for the long-term the nation needed to maintain a strong science workforce. He saw new opportunities in technology that would lessen the nation’s dependence on oil and greenhouse gasses. He specifically mentioned the need for energy storage for hybrid cars and maintaining competitiveness with the Chinese in computer chips and biotechnology.

He called for the laboratory to put its best talents forward to compete for funds that have been added to DOE's Office of Science budget, and noted that both presidential candidates have advocated non-proliferation programs, in which LANL is well-positioned to continue its prominent role.

On the controversial matter of expanded nuclear pit production - manufacturing the triggers for nuclear weapons - at the laboratory, Bingaman’s position remains that he supports maintaining “a limited capability” at the laboratory, but is concerned about a “major pit manufacturing capability,” as the administration has proposed. Such a shift, he believes, would alter the fundamental character of the laboratory from science to manufacturing.

Sen. Carlos Sisneros, D-Taos, was among the members of the committee looking for the possibility of new funds, programs and educational opportunities for constituents.

“Is there no increase anticipated? No new developments?” he asked.

Brunner said that a continuing resolution remains the most likely outcome of the current political situation. That would keep funding at the same level again for next year, but would have some consequences.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, asked about funding for environmental cleanup. Brunner replied that he thought the funding was up to $250 million in the Senate bill, but Brunner warned that under a continuing resolution, there might not be additional funds.

On that point, Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Sandoval, Santa Fe, made a statement objecting to a situation she described as the Department of Energy providing funding to the New Mexico Environment Department “to oversee us, but doesn’t provide funds to the lab for cleanup.” Then, she said, the environment department fines the lab for not accomplishing its cleanup.

The meeting took place in the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation’s facility, the Center for Education and Non-profit Leadership in Española’s Plaza Del Norte.

The committee was given a tour of the new building by LANL Foundation Executive Director Susan Herrera, who also briefed the committee on developments at the foundation in the afternoon.

Loretta Valerio, Director of the Nuclear Workers Advocacy, a state-sponsored service for nuclear workers who have suffered illnesses, rounded out the committee’s agenda for the day. The office is now located in the New Mexico Environmented Department.

The next meeting September 17, will be held in Los Alamos. LANL Director Michael Anastasio has been invited to attend. The meeting is expected to focus on technology commercialization and transfer.

Aug 8, 2008

And the Winner is...?

If plaintiff's attorneys were awarded $4.4 million (reference Final Approval Order), the Lab's attorney's--the Rodey Firm, received at least $6 million in defending the Lab. This means the taxpayer doled out nearly $22 million for this fiasco to get resolved--$12 million to compensate the class of about 5,000 individuals, plus $10 million to compensate the attorneys involved. So who won? Clearly not the taxpayer.


Aug 7, 2008

Watchdog settles information suit

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A three-year quest to see some 10-year plans came to a rest recently with a stipulated agreement.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the national nuclear weapons agency agreed to terms July 30, by which the National Nuclear Security Administration would make available future Ten Year Site Plans

“In the future, as 10-year site plans are accepted and approved by NNSA Headquarters in Washington, we will place them on the Internet,” Department of Energy media contact in Albuquerque confirmed in an e-mail this morning. “As the stipulated order says, that will begin with the Fiscal year 2009 plans.”

In a press release Wednesday, Nuclear Watch said they began filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for these documents in December 2004, but did not get even a partial response until they filed a suit in March 2006.

In November 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Black ruled that, “ A bona fide request for production of documents under FOIA must be honored in a timely fashion or the purpose of the Act is vitiated. Information is often useful only if it is timely.”

He added, “Thus, excessive delay by the agency makes a mockery of the 20-day target set by the Act and violates congressional intent.”

His decision paved the way for additional hearings to develop remedies for the “violation” of FOIA.

The agreement calls for NNSA to post each Ten Year Site Plan on its web site within 60 days after acceptance by headquarters, with strict language on justifying redactions.

Nuclear Watch said hundreds of previously redacted passages from previous requests were provided during the court challenge.

The settlement begins with the next round of site plans for fiscal year 2009 and applies to the eight nuclear weapons research, testing and production sites.

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch said this morning that he could not say exactly when the first site plan would become available, but under the normal cycle expected they should be available within a month or so.

Normally, he said, “The site plans lead to budget requests in the following year. This year’s site plans would feed into the FY2010 budget request.”

Asked about the redactions that the organization was able to obtain, he said the biggest class had to do with Exemption 5, concerning “pre-decisional” exemptions, and that the biggest group of those had to do with future budget costs.

“We whipped them categorically on Exemption 5,” he said.

The group’s FOIA efforts continue.

Coghlan said the group had recently been denied a FOIA request for the contract with Burson-Marstellar, the public relations agency that has been working for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We got a response last week,” he said. “That the contract was the property of Los Alamos National Security (the lab manager) and not the U.S. government.”

[See also Ruling Forces LANL To Post Site Plans Online.]

Bodman all-employee talk scheduled for today

On LABNET Channel 9

Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is scheduled to speak to DOE employees this afternoon from Washington, D.C. The talk begins at 12:30 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time (MDT).

Bodman will speak about the reality of the nation's energy and national security challenges and highlight the unique ability of the DOE complex to respond to these challenges both today and moving forward.

His talk can be watched at the Laboratory on LABNET Channel 9. LABNET can be viewed on desktop computers using Real Media Stream or IPTV technology.

I need at least two volunteers (to keep each other awake) who will watch this and report back to us if he says anything blogworthy. Any takers?

Aug 5, 2008

X-Ray Machine Zaps Itself

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

A $350 million nuclear weapons X-ray machine at Los Alamos — already years overdue and millions of dollars over budget — inadvertently damaged one of its internal components last week, causing at least another three-month delay in the project.

A powerful beam of electrons used to create the machine's X-ray pulse vaporized a piece of graphite inside, fouling a vacuum chamber that needs to be ultraclean, according to lab spokesman Kevin Roark.

Seventeen of the X-ray machine's 74 massive doughnut-shaped power cells will need to be taken apart and cleaned, Roark said.

No one was injured and there was no damage other than the mess to the machine, known as the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrotest Facility, or DARHT, Roark said.

DARHT has been plagued by problems.

When it was proposed 21 years ago, the managers of the U.S. nuclear weapons program called it "essential." With a redesign midway through the project's development and repeated delays, its cost grew from an initial $30 million estimate to at least $260 million.

Then, when it was completed in 2003, lab scientists found that it did not work. They had to completely tear it apart and rebuild it, adding $90 million to the cost.

In May, the National Nuclear Security Administration declared the reconstruction a success, and lab officials said the machine would be ready for its first full-scale nuclear weapons test by September or October.

That test will now be delayed until early 2009, Roark said Monday.

Last week's accident, first reported on the "LANL: The Rest of the Story" blog, happened during tuning of the machine in preparation for the first weapons test, according to Roark.

DARHT generates two powerful X-ray beams. The first beam was completed in the 1990s and has been used successfully ever since. The problems, including the most recent incident, involve the second X-ray beam.

Fired at right angles into a target, they can create a three-dimensional image. The X-rays are powerful enough to penetrate metal, allowing nuclear weapons designers to study 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.

The machine works by firing a powerful electron beam, which in turn creates a burst of X-rays. Last week's accident happened when the electron was inadvertently focused on a piece of graphite.

Under normal conditions, the piece of graphite acts as a sort of window shade, allowing routine testing of the electron beam without actually using it to X-ray anything. But for reasons that are not yet clear, the electron beam was too tightly focused, burning off a piece of graphite, according to Roark.

"It was an unexpected result," he said.

Roark said cleaning up the mess can be done within the project's current budget.

Puncture spotted in drum

No WIPP leak detected
By Kyle Marksteiner, Carlsbad Current-Argus Staff Writer

CARLSBAD — The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has implemented a "safety pause" after officials noticed a gash in one of the drums of transuranic waste being placed at the underground repository, but no radioactive leaks have been detected.

"We don't consider it to be a problem with respect to release or any exposure," said Roger Nelson, chief scientist with the Department of Energy's Carlsbad Field Office.

"The fact that it occurred caused us pause, and we want to make sure we understand all of the elements to make sure our work force realizes the potential severity."

Nelson said the gash was discovered following routine waste emplacement operations at around 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning. A stack of seven drums of transuranic waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory were being placed on top of an overpack container of other drums. Shipments of waste are currently being placed into Room 3 of Panel 4 of the underground repository.

"One of the steps after the emplacement operation is to have a technician look around and categorize where each individual drum wound up," Nelson said. "He noticed a small puncture to one of the drums on the top stack. The puncture was right in line with a protuberance of a piece of metal shelving. It was basically a break in the skin of the drum."

Nelson said officials believe that the puncture took place during the emplacement of the drums. The nearby shelving units hold magnesium oxide bags. Magnesium oxide bags are placed on top of waste stacks and would minimize the ability of radionuclides to be dissolved in brine water, were it to ever enter the repository.

In response, DOE officials evacuated the underground at WIPP. A technician took a sample of the material around the gash, and no radioactivity was detected. Employees who were underground at the time were all examined and turned out clean, Nelson said.

As another precaution, the DOE also switched its air system into filtered mode, which means that anything airborne would have been captured within the building's filters.

According to WIPP spokeswoman Susan Scott, management and staff working at WIPP, about 26 miles outside of Carlsbad, are currently in what's called a "safety pause" where they get together and go through the incident and related procedures.

An investigation is ongoing, Nelson said, but all evidence indicates that the puncture to the drum occurred during emplacement, not before or during shipment to WIPP.

"It's not a question of drum integrity," Nelson said. "It's basically an accident during waste emplacement operations."

Officials are also going to have to determine what to do about the drum. It can likely either be patched or placed into a larger "overpack" container.

"The permit allows us to patch or overpack, but we prefer to patch it in place," Nelson said.

Shipments to WIPP have been halted, pending handling of the incident.

It is the first time WIPP officials have noticed a drum that has been punctured, Nelson said.

[Update: See WIPP Drum's Puncture Fixed, and WIPP employees place gashed drum in 'overpack' container]

Aug 4, 2008

Another Delay for DARHT

Written by John Fleck
Monday, 04 August 2008

There's been another delay for Los Alamos's beleagured DARHT project, this time because of an accident last week that contaminated part of the inside of the nuclear weapons x-ray machine.

The electron beam that drives DARHT - the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrotest Facility - accidentally zapped some of its own inner workings, contaminating its vacuum chamber with a layer of carbon. Lab officials think it will take about three months to clean up the mess, pushing the first DARHT test, originally scheduled for this summer, out until 2009, lab officials said this morning.

Actually, "first test" is a bit of a misnomer here.DARHT, built to x-ray mock nuclear weapons as they are detonated, was supposed to be up and running in 2003. But when scientists turned it on, it didn't work, leading to a massive rebuilding effort. That effort was finished in May when lab officials announced with some fanfare that DARHT was finished, tested, and ready for business.

(h/t the LANL blog, your best source for lab gossip, some of which is actually roughly true)

Thanks John, although the credit goes to one of our readers for sending in the story!

Aug 1, 2008

Due for Another Round of High-priced Tweaking?

We have a report from a reader of more problems at DARHT. What's the rest of the story?

"2nd axis of DARHT is down. Plenty of finger pointing. LANS will not be able to deliver on the first dual axis shot until next calendar year, well past the deadline. LLNL may come to provide oversight."