Feb 27, 2009

Workers seek radiation compensation

Pat Lohmann, The Daily Lobo

Sammy Hayes could barely hold back tears when she spoke of her late husband, a former employee at Los Alamos National Laboratories.

"When you watch somebody you love die, you want to take somebody out and wring their neck because you know in your heart they were exposed to stuff that causes three separate cancers," she said.

Hayes appealed to the national Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health on Thursday at the Doubletree Hotel, in regards to her husband's death in 2005 of cancer-related complications.

Claimants from Los Alamos National Laboratories appealed for work-related injury compensation from the federal government, seeking reparations after allegedly being exposed to radioactive materials and other hazardous substances.

Jeff Berger, spokesman for LANL, said the laboratory is not involved in the case.

"The only comment we have is what you're asking about is a worker compensation program that is administered entirely by the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy, and so it's not our program," he said.

Former LANL employees and their relatives appealed to the board for Special Exposure Cohort classification, as opposed to Dose Reconstruction. Both classifications are defined by the Department of Health and Human Services. The claimants have not yet been classified as a case of either SEC or Dose Reconstruction.

LANL employee Andrew Evaskovich, the primary petitioner, said the claimants would like to be classified in SEC, because an SEC classification provides for a quicker compensation process than Dose Reconstruction. Dose Reconstruction requires a comprehensive analysis of records to determine whether employees were exposed to radioactive material.

If compensation is awarded to the 331 claimants, either through SEC or Dose Reconstruction, they can receive up to $400,000 in lost wages and other medical expenses, and $150,000 is given automatically, Evaskovich said.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, on behalf of the secretary of Health and Human Services, heard testimonials from government officials and relatives of former and current employees. NIOSH will decide the means through which compensation might be awarded.

Evaskovich said that the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act was passed in 2000 when Gov. Bill Richardson was secretary of Energy.

"In order to compensate somebody who has a cancer caused by radiation, they tasked NIOSH to determine what their dose was and what the probability of the causation was," he said.

Evaskovich said that many of the records collected between 1976 and 2005 - the period in question - are incomplete, warranting an automatic SEC classification.

"They also determined when they wrote the law that if a site doesn't have sufficient records, then Dose Reconstruction would not be necessary and they would add what's called a 'class' to the Special Exposure Cohort,'" he said.

The Dose Reconstruction process determines the dosage a person received, Evaskovich said, and the Department of Labor calculates a probability of exposure. If the probability of exposure is over 50 percent, compensation is awarded.

Loretta Valerio, director of the Office of Nuclear Workers' Advocacy, said the SEC status is preferable to the Dose Reconstruction because it eliminates the painstaking review of records.

"The impact (SEC) would have on many of these claimants who have previously been denied - once this petition is accepted and added to the class of employees - then that whole Dose Reconstruction process just goes away and they're compensated automatically," she said. "The acceptance of this petition would eliminate the waiting and the uncertainties."

Hayes' husband's claim for compensation in the past was denied after a Dose Reconstruction, but she said the data compiled for the analysis was faulty and inconclusive.

"They denied his claim, and they could never, ever explain exactly why they denied it. They had all these charts that nobody but them could read," Hayes said. "NIOSH is in the business of guesstimating; they call it probabilities. It's guessing, and they cannot prove that it's not."

Hayes said her husband performed a variety of hazardous duties and was exposed to uranium, beryllium and lithium during his employment.

"He was exposed to all of this stuff - the cleaning fluids, the radiation, and all of the nasty stuff that was there," she said.

Feb 26, 2009

DOE: Broken System for Protecting Nuclear Material Could Compromise Los Alamos Operations

February 26, 2009

In the midst of trying to account for 80 missing or stolen computers, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is now under fire for a new problem. Critical deficiencies in its system for keeping track of its huge stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium—enough for hundreds of nuclear weapons. According to a February 23 internal Department of Energy letter, the amount of nuclear material that LANL could not account for in January "exceeded alarm limits." While Los Alamos says there is no suspicion of theft or diversion, if it does not know where the material is, it cannot say for certain that the material has not been stolen.

DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) sent a Special Review Team earlier this month to assess Los Alamos' Material Control and Accountability (MC&A) program. The Team found inaccuracies in accounting, a lack of adherence to requirements, and that "key personnel in critical positions lacked a basic understanding of fundamental MC&A concepts." In fact, in light of the Team's findings, both government and contractor officials have recently been removed from their positions. According to the letter, if identified weaknesses remain unresolved it "would impact the ability of the facility to continue operations."

POGO met with NNSA staff yesterday, who would not talk about the issue, claiming it was classified. Yet today, Los Alamos sent out a press release on the subject. The release misleadingly states that the problem was first reported to NNSA in January, yet MC&A concerns was an issue for a greater part of last year. According to the internal DOE letter, there were MC&A "issues identified during assessments over the last year," including an on-site review in June 2008. Also, POGO had raised concerns about these MC&A problems in a September 2008 press alert.

Despite being aware of MC&A problems during the 2007-2008 performance period, DOE still granted LANL the full $1.43 million performance award fee for security, which includes “Material Control and Accountability,” as one of the areas of performance evaluated.

"This letter shows that DOE is not afraid to use vigorous inspections for identifying potential security problems. Unfortunately, DOE did not use its power of the purse to get its contractor to quickly resolve the problem," says Peter Stockton, POGO Senior Investigator. "A sharply worded letter is a good step, but without financial penalties, improvement is much less likely."

DOE and LANL have tried to downplay the risk of stolen bomb-making material by pointing to LANL's "strong and effective physical security." However, based on the results of security tests throughout the weapons complex, including last year's debacle at Livermore Lab, POGO is concerned that the weak MC&A program at Los Alamos could be exploited by an insider and pose a serious security threat.

DOE appears focused on preventing this latest bad news from becoming publicized and sent out messages to staff warning them not to release critical information to the public. If the information was sensitive enough to pose a security concern, there is a process in place at DOE to classify the information. However, the letter is stamped “Official Use Only,” which is not a classification marking but is generally used to prevent internal documents from seeing the light of day. POGO finds this objectionable, as taxpayers have a right to know what they are getting for their $2.7 billion tax dollars spent at LANL.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and honest federal government.

LANL discloses internal material control issue

By CAROL A. CLARK, The Los Alamos Monitor

Los Alamos National Laboratory officials issued a statement this morning saing they have reported an internal material control error at their plutonium facility to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“The error was discovered during routine inventory in January,” LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said. “Unreconciled inventory was found … meaning the numbers didn’t match up with how much material was physically there, which we are working to resolve.”

Roark was not at liberty to disclose exactly what the inventory was or whether there was actually less or more material than the records indicate.

“This is not something we talk about for security reasons,” he said. “To make clear this does not mean material is missing.”

Roark said the reason the laboratory can state with absolute conviction that, “there is 100 percent certainty that no sensitive materials left the facility” is because there are “exceptional” security controls in place at that facility.

Not just one or two layers, he said, but multiple layers including armed guards on site 24 hours a day “that ensure with complete confidence that sensitive materials do not improperly leave TA-55.”

This morning’s news release states that the error relates to internal inventory and accounting that documents movement of sensitive materials within a small portion of TA-55, LANL’s plutonium research, development, and processing facility.

Management at TA-55 is conducting a full review and assessment of material controls for one small segment of TA-55 operations, according to the release, and normal operations at the facility continue, except for the segment in question.

No disciplinary action has been taken at this time against any employees, Roark said. “The entire thing continues to be under investigation,” he said.

To track the complex movement of nuclear materials within TA 55, the laboratory uses a variety of internal administrative inventory controls.

These controls are necessary to facilitate scientific and manufacturing work with large inventories of nuclear materials, but are not the same systems that ensure all nuclear material are secure and do not leave the building, states the release.

“The folks from LANL coordinated very closely with the subject matter experts from NNSA and they’re comfortable that the information that has been released publicly is accurate,” said NNSA Site Office spokesman Don Ami.

LANL is working with NNSA and experts from Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) corporate partners to review and improve internal bookkeeping, inventory procedures, and processes.

LANS is the company that manages and operates LANL for NNSA.

This inventory issue does not constitute any risk to the public, laboratory employees, or the environment, according to the release.

Feb 22, 2009

Comment of the Week

197 comments since last week's Comment of the Week, and I couldn't help but notice that there was a certain sameness to them all. Most of them went something like, LANS sucks, or, Management sucks, or, NNSA sucks, or LANL can't even attract C Students, or Mikey sucks, or Mary sucks. And so on.

There was one refreshing comment that did not read like its author had spent three of the best years of his life in the 6th grade. Somebody went back four years and reposted the open letter that former AD Tom Meyer wrote after having left LANL during the Nanos debacle. I won't repost it again, but here is the link for those who wish to read a well-written condemnation of how DOE/NNSA handled LANL and its Nanos-induced screw ups in 2004. It was nice to read a piece written by somebody who could tell the difference between "your", "you're", and "yor".

So, out of those 197 comments posted during the last week, I found two that stood out from the rest. I couldn't decide which one I liked the best, so we have a tie for Comment of the Week. The first was from the Does it Come with a Sports Car? post

"Responsibilities include: Conduct focus groups to understand employee concerns, issues, desires, and values. Shape and implement employee communication strategies and tactics to respond to focus group findings."

Very telling. LANS doesn't intend to actually fix the problems behind employee concerns, they just want to shape the spin.

The second one was from the Time for a Change? post.

The best route for many LANL scientists who want to get out would be to find a job with one of the DOE energy labs. Almost all of these labs are still run by non-profits and they are about to see a huge ramp up in funding.

It is important to remember that this nation doesn't really care where good science is done. If the NNSA labs die off, then the DOE national labs and academia will pick up the slack.

In addition to this, work can be performed at the DOE energy labs at lower cost because they have none of the expensive overhead required to run a "zero-defect" nuclear weapons infrastructure.

Going forward, I would not be at all surprised to see the DOE energy labs pull away lots of the non-weapons work still done at LANL, such as climate modeling, NISAC and some of the material research.

There is no compelling reason this work has to be done at LANL and the DOE energy labs will probably be willing to offer LANL staff some lucrative incentives to come aboard, particularly since they will be flush with new funds. The current housing situation is likely the main thing keeping a mass exodus of LANL talent at bay.


Feb 21, 2009

A Safe, Secure and Dwindling Arsenal

NY Times Editorial
Published: February 21, 2009

The Obama administration is studying whether to move the nation’s huge nuclear weapons production and maintenance complex from the Energy Department, its host for more than two decades, to the Defense Department. The more important question is how it can best contribute to a safe reduction of the nuclear arsenal.

Two decades after the end of the cold war — and nearly two decades after the country stopped building weapons — the complex is costly, antiquated, oversized and badly in need of an overhaul.

President Obama needs to clearly promulgate a strategy that downgrades the role of nuclear weapons and demands that the weapons complex focuses clearly on its mission: guaranteeing the security and reliability of a shrinking arsenal. And he needs to ensure that the complex (and Defense Secretary Robert Gates) abandons any illusions of building a new warhead — a strategically and scientifically unnecessary program that would be disastrous for American credibility.

The main reason for considering a transfer is apparently a desire to let the Energy Department focus exclusively on energy issues, one of the administration’s highest priorities. That is a worthy objective. While the National Nuclear Security Administration is officially semiautonomous, it eats up two-thirds of the Energy Department’s budget. Every time it encounters problems, the energy secretary is inevitably distracted.

But transferring the complex to Pentagon control could have unfortunate consequences. The already highly secret complex could lose even the limited transparency currently afforded by Congressional committees that oversee the Energy Department. The national laboratories, which do substantial work for civilian clients, might find their mission narrowed and their ability to attract scientific talent diminished.

The Office of Management and Budget has asked the departments to jointly assess the costs and benefits of a transfer. The study would be wise to consider a middle option, letting the nuclear administration stand as an independent agency whose importance could be underscored by having it report to the president.

Neither department has done a particularly capable job. The Energy Department has a poor record in managing costly and complex programs. Under its control, the national laboratories have had repeated security lapses. The Defense Department also has proved to be a less-than-reliable steward. Lax management allowed intercontinental ballistic missile components to be shipped inadvertently to Taiwan in 2006 and nuclear bombs to be flown across the country in 2007 without anyone realizing it until after the fact.

Wherever the weapons complex is situated bureaucratically, it will have to be modernized, reduced in size and managed a lot more carefully.

NM mayor: DoD won’t gain control of labs

By Heather Clark - The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Martin Chavez said after a visit to the White House on Friday he thinks an idea to transfer the nation’s nuclear weapons complex from the Department of Energy to the Defense Department has been averted.

Chavez and mayors from around the country met with President Barack Obama to discuss the economic stimulus package and talked with a handful of Cabinet secretaries, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Chavez says he talked with Chu about the Obama administration’s plans to study a transfer of oversight of the labs, including Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, to the Pentagon.

An Office of Management and Budget memo made public earlier this month directed the two departments and the National Nuclear Security Administration to study the idea and report back by Sept. 30.

“I think that one is nipped in the bud,” Chavez said of the idea.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation — particularly Democratic senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall — have been staunchly opposed to the idea, saying such a transfer would severely limit the scope of the labs’ work on renewable energy, homeland security, nuclear nonproliferation and other issues. Chavez also is opposed to the idea.

Chavez says Chu “was very sensitive to those concerns.”

Jude McCartin, a spokeswoman for Bingaman, said the senator also has spoken with Chu and has had three conversations with OMB director Peter Orszag about his opposition to any oversight transfer.

McCartin said Bingaman expects to hear back “very soon” from the OMB about whether officials intend to study a shift in oversight or whether the focus would be changed to how effective the NNSA has been in overseeing the labs and integrating with the DOE.

“We have not yet heard back from the OMB with the final answer on how they intend to proceed, but we’re going to continue to work with them until they have an official response,” McCartin said.

She called the idea “pretty much a nonstarter” because it would require legislation and Bingaman has found no support in Congress for the proposal.

However, Udall “remains extremely concerned” about the proposal to transfer the labs to the DOD, his spokeswoman, Marissa Padilla, wrote in an e-mail Friday. He, too, has spoken with Chu, Orszag and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“Senator Udall will continue fighting against the ill-conceived shift proposed in the leaked OMB memo so New Mexico’s labs can continue to grow their missions,” Padilla wrote.

Chu, who was formerly employed by the University of California, has limited his direct involvement in overseeing contract, financial and certain work performance decisions at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore labs, which are managed by UC, to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Feb 18, 2009

Does it Come with a Sports Car?

Please post - an interesting new external job posting at LANL. I double dog dare you to submit your resume! Senior management would sh*t a brick.

I wonder if this a new position or I would be replacing someone?
Can I telecommute?
Does it come with a sports car?
And three laptops?

Job Number: 216814
Communications Specialist 3

Position Overview
The Communications Office at Los Alamos National Laboratory is seeking an Employee Communication Specialist. The Communications Office, which is part of the Communications and Government Affairs Division, provides critical services to LANL and the community by promoting the Lab's accomplishments and facilitating clear, concise, consistent, strategic, and timely communication both internally and externally. This position will build and continuously improve employee communication and engagement across a large, complex organization. The selected candidate will lead the development and implementation of cultural communications programs at the Lab, including initiatives focused on mission, vision, and values. Responsibilities include: Conduct focus groups to understand employee concerns, issues, desires, and values. Shape and implement employee communication strategies and tactics to respond to focus group findings. Shape and implement a communication campaign to advance the Lab's mission and values, including developing programmatic elements and appropriate communication materials. Help develop and roll out internal communication training programs for key division leaders and managers. Develop strategies and tactics to break down perceived structural barriers at the Lab in order to foster understanding as well as a greater feeling of connectedness and common mission. Advise divisions and help develop customized internal communication systems to advance two-way communication. Work collaboratively with other Lab functions, including Human Resources and the Office of Diversity, on employee communication initiatives. Help evaluate improvements to employee lifecycle communication initiatives.

[Read the full listing here. See also Job Number: 216816.]

Feb 16, 2009

Time for a Change?

I came across an old email from 2006 I had sent to Evan Lesser of ClearanceJobs.com. I wrote to him and he is still with the company. I asked if I could link to his website as a service to the blog readers. Here's what he sent:

ClearanceJobs.com has been working hard to acquire additional job opportunities for DoE Q and L cleared candidates. The new positions are from a wide range, including:

- Science and Mathematics

- Engineering

- Technicians

- Information Technology

- Intelligence / Counterintelligence / Counterterror

- Finance and Accounting

- Contracts

- Administrative

We are working with a number of employers including private government contractors and direct with the Federal government and national laboratories. Positions are located nationwide. ClearanceJobs.com remains a free and private resource for all security-cleared candidates to find new careers in a targeted and secure environment.

Feb 15, 2009

New Guest Feature


Frank, aka Pinky and the Brain, has invited me to participate on his LANL, The Rest of the Story blog. I told him that I wasn't at all sure about providing a public target to all those anonymous "contributors" again. Being in the public eye is not all that it's cracked up to be.

Isn't that right, Kevin?

In spite of my better judgment, however, I told Frank I'd consider a limited gig here, perhaps as picker of Comment of the Week, a feature I used to occasionally run on the old LTRS blog.

So, let's give it a try. Each week one comment will be selected for this special recognition. The selected comment will have demonstrated a noteworthy LANL-related observation, picked from these categories:
  • brilliant, in-depth insight or observations about LANL and it's workings,
  • Corporate Corruption,
  • extreme, beyond the norm stupidity,
  • integrity,
  • lack of integrity. This category will, of course, include the following sub-category:
    • Anonymous Blog Commenter Cowardice,
  • an old favorite, "poor little me" whining,
  • extraordinary geekiness,
  • extraordinary (meaning, *way* beyond the norm for anonymous comments on this blog) ignorance,
  • dedicated, selfless, hard-working staff member,
  • good common sense (admittedly, a sparsely-populated category), and
  • humor.

With that, here's my pick for Comment of the Week from Frank's LANL, The Rest of the Story blog. This one came from the Nuclear Work in Danger post, and falls squarely into the first category, above.
Anonymous said...

The big problem with WFO is that you have a customer who actually wants some work done for the funds provided. This is not consistent with a work-free safe and secure place.

Now, I'm sure that will set some teeth grinding, if not in the Director's Office, then at least over in Public Affairs (or whatever they call that office these days).

--Doug Roberts
LANL, Retired 2005

Feb 14, 2009

Nuclear Work in Danger

By John Fleck, The Albuquerque Journal

The Obama administration wants to kill major nuclear weapons design and manufacturing programs left by its Republican predecessors and ratchet down the amount of non-weapons science done at Los Alamos and other nuclear weapons labs, according to a document obtained by the Journal.

The memo calls for canceling the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a proposal to design a new U.S. nuclear weapon.

Other proposed changes:

• Cancel plans to expand Los Alamos National Laboratory's capability to make plutonium warhead parts.

• Cancel spending to upgrade the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, a major non-weapons science project that federal officials have argued is critical to supporting non-weapons science at Los Alamos.

• Cut in half money allotted to Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons labs, including Sandia National Laboratories, for "laboratory-directed research and development" — money the labs use to pursue promising research of their own choosing.

• Consider delaying new supercomputer purchases.

Details of the memo were first reported by the Washington, D.C., trade publications Inside the Pentagon and Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor.

Money saved by the cuts would be shifted to U.S. efforts to halt the international spread of nuclear weapons, according to the document.

Overall, the proposal calls for a 1.5 percent increase in 2010 funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the U.S. nuclear weapons program. More than 20,000 people in New Mexico, primarily at Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, work for NNSA.

Officials at the agency and the labs declined to comment Friday, citing the internal nature of the current deliberations.

The document, part of the administration's internal deliberations over the 2010 budget, is the clearest indication made public to date of the course the new Obama team plans to set on U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, spoke out last fall in favor of the Reliable Replacement Warhead. During the campaign, Barack Obama had raised objections to the project, but in a way that left the door open to some modest research efforts.

The memo suggests an effort under way now to close that door, going out of its way to ensure that both direct funding for the RRW program, as well as indirect funding in other research programs that would support RRW work, is zeroed out in the soon-to-be delivered Fiscal Year 2010 budget now being prepared.

"The RRW program, both explicitly and implicitly, is canceled," the memo says.

The memo appears to freeze Los Alamos National Laboratory's plutonium manufacturing capability at a maximum of 20 nuclear weapon cores, known as "pits," per year. Recent policy discussions have considered expanding beyond that level.

The memo is silent on one of the most expensive nuclear weapons projects at Los Alamos, the multibillion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement complex. The big new plutonium laboratory would replace a building that is half a century old and that has been branded a hazard by federal nuclear safety auditors.

A Congressional funding committee in 2007 concluded that, if RRW was not going to be built, there was no need for the new nuclear lab. Lab and NNSA officials disagree, saying other important work, including nuclear safety and non-proliferation work, will also be done in the new laboratory, and the unsafe old building must be replaced.

Feb 13, 2009

Community icon dies

By CAROL A. CLARK, The Los Alamos Monitor

Unstoppable in his quest for peace, longtime Los Alamos crusader Ed Grothus lost his battle with cancer.

He died quietly about noon Thursday in his Los Alamos home surrounded by family.

“When one is legendary, one must do legendary things,” Grothus often said. And so he did.

One only need Google his name to find him the subject of a trove of newspaper stories and magazine articles from around the world. Grothus, 85, also is the subject of several documentaries and a video that streams on YouTube.

“Ed Grothus was one of a kind,” said Executive Director Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group. “His passing leaves a unique void in the broader Los Alamos community. More than most, Ed was irreplaceable. He goes now to join his predecessors in the community of souls who have fought indefatigably for humanity’s survival in the nuclear age.”

Mello described Grothus as “easy to underestimate.”

“The man I knew grew every year, his messages gradually simpler, honing in toward humanity’s common and unchanging moral storehouse,” Mello said. “He crafted a persona that gave him freedom to act, playing the fool to say serious things that his beloved community might otherwise forget. He enriched a wide audience, helping all of us in the nuclear drama to ‘remember our humanity,’ as the Einstein-Russell manifesto put it - Who will do that now?”

Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman Jeff Berger spoke of Grothus during an interview this morning.

“Ed Grothus was a spirited person and outspoken and his outspokenness sometimes was directed at the lab,” Berger said. “But I think everyone can admire the fact that he was engaged and engaging and we send our condolences to his family and friends.”

Grothus arrived in Los Alamos in 1949. He often described his work at Los Alamos National Laboratory as “making better bombs.”

After he retired in 1969, Grothus increased his anti-nuclear activities and opened The Black Hole at 4015 Arkansas Ave.

People came from all over the world to meet him and see his unusual establishment overflowing with laboratory surplus equipment, peace sayings and anti-nuke slogans.

“Welcome to the black hole museum of nuclear waste,” Grothus said to visitors.

Mello said that the artifacts Grothus collected from the past and the obelisks he wished to project into the future, together seemed to comprise an instrument in which the nuclear conscience could be caught and held against forgetting – held long enough, he hoped, by the products of human craft that he loved, to be healed.

“He wanted us to pause and to look into the broken and cast-off tools of science and find a mirror there in which we could see its brokenness and our own – the beginning, perhaps, of wisdom,” Mello said. “His death leaves a great void in the world.”

Grothus became interesting to writers and film makers as word of his activism and his activities at The Black Hole grew.

Through his frequent letters to the editor and to anyone who would listen, Grothus spoke out against nuclear weapons and the war.

“One bomb is too many,” he would say. He quietly protested the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima each year at Ashley Pond.

He spent the last couple of years focused on the creation of twin obelisks, he called the Doomsday Stones or Rosetta Stones for the Nuclear Age.

He commissioned the thick granite pillars topped with large globes from a company in China. They cost some $200,000 to manufacture and ship to him.

The 40-ton, 42-foot tall monuments remain in containers at The Black Hole because he wasn’t able to obtain permission to erect them in the county.

The family hopes to realize his dream of placing them in Los Alamos. They also are talking with a nearby Pueblo that has expressed an interest, she said.

Grothus told people his obelisks were not to celebrate the bomb but to make note of the most important man-caused event in the history of the world.

The inscription on the monuments is translated into 15 languages:

“Welcome to Los Alamos, New Mexico, the United States of America, the city of fire. Our fires are brighter than a thousand suns. It was once believed that only God could destroy the world, but scientists working in Los Alamos first harnessed the power of the atom. The power released through fission and fusion gives many men the ability to commence the destruction of all life on Earth … nuclear bombs cannot be used rationally and dreams for safe and useful nuclear power may never be realized. It is only in Los Alamos that the potentials for unimagined, fantastic good and demonstrated, horrendous evil are proximate.”

Grothus was known for wearing a wide variety of bolo ties, many adorned with large turquoise stones, others with DOE medals. Some 20 or more hung on the bed post near where he lay dying.

When certain people came to see him in his final days, Grothus would motion toward the bolos and his daughter Barbara would say, “he wants you to have one.”

Grothus and his wife Margaret were married for 57 years. Together they had five children. Their youngest son, Ted, died in a motorcycle accident in 1976.

The Black Hole will remain open for the foreseeable future, Barbara said.

The family intends to hold a number of large sales to thin out some of the inventory.

“It’s going to take time,” Barbara said, adding she isn’t sure what the family will ultimately do about the business.

Friends are invited to a viewing from 1-5 p.m. Sunday at DeVargas Funeral Home at 623 N. Railroad Ave., in Española. There will be a private interment at Guaje Pines Cemetery. A public memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Feb 12, 2009

I just got the word that Ed Grothus passed away this morning.

The legacy of Ed Grothus and the Black Hole

By Hugh Gusterson | 18 December 2008
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

--"Jesters do oft prove prophets," William Shakespeare, King Lear
--"When one is legendary, one must do legendary things," Ed Grothus

There are some obvious places for tourists to visit in Los Alamos: the Bradbury Science Museum, which sports mock-ups of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and Bandelier National Monument, where visitors can get a glimpse of how Native Americans lived hundreds of years ago. Going off the beaten path, the travel guide Let's Go lists a third attraction: the Black Hole, a sort of never-ending atomic yard sale cum antinuclear art installation.

Housed in a converted Piggly Wiggly grocery store, the Black Hole offers piles of machinery discarded by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) over the years. "Welcome to the black hole museum of nuclear waste," says a sign, behind which are shelves upon shelves filled with mundane and esoteric castoffs from the lab--everything from valves and tubes to Geiger counters and electronic equipment of various kinds. Outside, the parking lot is crammed with still more military science detritus, including a collection of (presumably disabled) bombs and missiles. Some of the missiles have been welded together to form a spectacular giant sunflower--an eerily beautiful fashioning of military hardware into art.

Grothus' comedic irony balances his prophetic fury and creates a unique ensemble. It's a little bit like finding that Helen Caldicott moonlights as a stand-up comedian."

My wife forbade me to buy a missile, pointing out that my plan of driving back to the East Coast with a missile on the roof might get me in unanticipated trouble.

Presiding over the Black Hole is Ed Grothus, an 85-year-old eccentric who worked at LANL for 20 years, only to decide that his true calling lay in protesting rather than improving nuclear weapons. A strong personality, he is locally revered and reviled. Grothus has been profiled in Esquire and on NPR, and has even been the subject of a documentary film. His style of protest mixes the techniques of agitprop and prophecy.

For a while Grothus sold "canned plutonium," affixing mushroom cloud wrappers to cans of soup. He gave this up shortly after his mailing of a free sample to the White House earned him a visit from the FBI. Also, complaining that the clergy preach peace only to support the institutions of war, Grothus turned an old A-frame into the First Church of High Technology and elevated himself to the rank of cardinal. Every Sunday he preaches a "critical mass." In the most recent election, he got more than 150 write-in nominations for pope!

As for prophecy, Grothus has become notorious in Los Alamos for his impassioned letters to the Los Alamos Monitor, which far exceed in volume what the paper can print and exceed in tone what its readers want to hear. "Day of wrath, day of mourning!" he wrote in one fairly typical letter. "See fulfilled this prophet's warning! All the earth in ashes, BURNING. Los Alamos! How could we have done this ultimately terrible and irresponsible thing? Sixty years is enough! Stop doing this immoral thing. Think of humanity! Life on this planet should be assured. It is now in serious jeopardy. Weapons scientists, REVOLT." He has taken to prophesying that nuclear weapons will be used in 2013, and that almost all human beings will be killed, while saying, "I work daily to prevent my prediction from coming true."

Grothus is to Los Alamos what the jester was to King Lear. Lear's court jester had a special license to mock because he played the fool. His apparently nonsensical statements often carried the whiff of traitorous frankness. Statements that would have had a courtier sent to the execution block were tolerated from a lowly jester.

Grothus' jesting gives him a similar license in Los Alamos, the comedic irony balancing his prophetic fury and creating a unique ensemble. It's a little bit like finding that Helen Caldicott moonlights as a stand-up comedian. And, at a time when former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Sen. Sam Nunn are calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the radical eccentric Grothus suddenly looks more mainstream.

On a recent visit to the Black Hole, I parked behind Grothus' car, with its "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam" and "This car powered by Iraqi blood" bumper stickers. I found him in purple camouflage pants, a T-shirt, and a bolo tie. His eyes blazed fierce blue under craggy white eyebrows and a shock of bushy white hair, but his cheeks had a sunken look. He is dying of cancer, and he tells visitors with disarming frankness that it is no fun. At one point he shows me the photo that will appear with his obituary.

In the two hours I spent with Ed, there was a constant stream of visitors. Some, indifferent to his political message, came to buy parts from the Black Hole. A philosophy professor from Missouri and his wife, both active in the peace movement, listened to Grothus hold forth on the evils of nuclear weapons. A young student from Harvard also appeared. He was updating the Black Hole's Let's Go entry. Ed objected to its description as a "junkyard." And two artists from Santa Fe showed up with a friend from New York and asked if they could show her "the obelisks."

The obelisks are part of Grothus' final, most ambitious dream--twin 40-ton, 42-feet tall monuments to the nuclear age in Los Alamos. "[They] are not to celebrate the bomb but to make note of the most important man-caused event in the history of the world," he explained in an e-mail message. "These are to be Rosetta Stones for the Nuclear Age." Partly inspired by his visit more than 60 years ago to the enormous statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro, the monuments were built in China and shipped to Los Alamos at a cost of $200,000. Grothus paid for them by selling a rental house he owned. The two obelisks, made of polished granite, each stand on their own doomsday stone on which the basic facts of the nuclear age are inscribed in 15 languages. On one of the obelisks is the message, "No one is secure unless everyone is secure . . . One bomb is too many . . . Always build, never destroy." Each obelisk will be crowned with a black granite sphere inscribed in the hexagon/pentagon arrangement of most soccer balls the pattern of the high explosive charges that surround a nuclear implosion device.

This foray into (anti)nuclear sculpture puts Grothus in the company of Tony Price and James Acord. Price lived in Santa Fe for many years, where he obsessively turned scrap from LANL into huge metallic sculptures with titles such as "Nuclear Kachina," "Native Who Sold His Island for A Nuclear Test," and "Post-Apocalyptic Conference of Metallic Diplomats." Acord is working on a commemorative sculpture project for the Hanford plutonium facility in Washington State.

Grothus offered to donate his monuments to Los Alamos County, but the local Art in Public Places Board voted unanimously to decline the offer, calling them aesthetically unsuitable. For the moment the obelisks lie in their shipping containers at the Black Hole.

In one of our last e-mail correspondences, Ed wrote, "My body is wracked with cancer tumors. My mind is wracked with the horrible visions of a very possible nuclear holocaust." I hope Ed's prophecy does not come true, and that his monuments to the nuclear age find a home where they can become legendary. In any case Ed, a true American original, will long be remembered by those who knew him.

Meanwhile, Ed, in the words of poet Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

For a 3-minute video showing Ed, The Black Hole and the monuments, go here.

Larry, Moe, and Kevin

Los Alamos, New Mexico – February 12, 2009 - A joint statement by the various heads of LANL Security Staff disavows any knowledge of the 69 missing computers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Larry Finkle stated that “they were all here the last time we looked.” Curly Benjamin added, “First, we must define the term ‘missing’, in a more definitive manner.” Moe Fishburne confirmed that “We’ve called in Pete Nanos, former LANL Director, to help us with a recount.”

Later a Bechtel spokesman, Kevin Roark, was interviewed. He stated, “Everything’s fine here at LANL. We just need more money. A lot more money, in fact. Even though nothing is broken, that’ll fix everything.”
“We’ve confirmed that the employee followed all lab policies for having unclassified government computer equipment in the home for official use."
Two weeks later...
"Only one of the three computers stolen from the employee's home was authorized for home use", which raised concerns "as to whether we were fully complying with our own policies for offsite computer usage."
Are your lips still moving, Kevin?

[Thanks anonymous!]

Feb 11, 2009

Memo: 67 computers missing from Los Alamos lab

By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico is missing 67 computers, including 13 that were lost or stolen in the past year. Officials say no classified information has been lost.

The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight on Wednesday released a memo dated Feb. 3 from the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration outlining the loss of the computers.

Kevin Roark, a spokesman for Los Alamos, on Wednesday confirmed the computers were missing and said the lab was initiating a monthlong inventory to account for every computer. He said the computers were a cybersecurity issue because they may contain personal information like names and addresses, but they did not contain any classified information.

Thirteen of the missing computers were lost or stolen in the past 12 months, including three computers that were taken from a scientist's home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Jan. 16, and a Blackberry belonging to another employee was lost "in a sensitive foreign country," according to the memo and an e-mail from a senior lab manager.

The e-mail was also released by the watchdog group.

The theft of the three computers in January triggered the inventory and a review of the lab's policies regarding home use of government computers, Roark said.

Only one of the three computers stolen from the employee's home was authorized for home use, which raised concerns "as to whether we were fully complying with our own policies for offsite computer usage," he said.

Roark said computers with classified information are "kept completely separate from unclassified computing."

"None of these systems constitute a breach of a classified system," he said.

The e-mail from Los Alamos senior manager Stephen Blair to lab co-workers said the missing computers and Blackberry were "garnering a great deal of attention with senior management as well as (nuclear security administration) representatives."

The security administration memo said the "magnitude of exposure and risk to the laboratory is at best unclear as little data on these losses has been collected or pursued given their treatment as property management issues."

The lab, located in Los Alamos, N.M., employs about 10,000 people.

Rumor has it

Rumor has it that $1 billion slated for the NNSA has been removed from the House-Senate compromise version of the economic stimulus bill. Anyone know the details?

Federal Weapons Labs May Shift to Pentagon, Leaving Universities Behind

By PAUL BASKEN, The Chronicle of Higher Education

For decades, the national laboratories at Livermore and Los Alamos, managed and staffed by the University of California, pioneered scientific breakthroughs in such fields as scientific computing, sustainable energy, and the human-genome initiative.

That tradition has been changing over the past several years, as the Energy Department shifted management of the labs toward a group of outside directors led by Bechtel Corporation, a private engineering company (The Chronicle, January 6, 2006).

Now even more radical moves may be afoot, shifts that could drive university-based scientists away from the labs, because the government is considering putting those labs under Pentagon control. Some experts who have studied or worked with the labs fear that change could reduce the quality of research. “They’ve already made it much harder for themselves to attract good people,” said Hugh Gusterson, a professor of anthropology and sociology at George Mason University who has spent years studying the culture of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, talking about the management changes. A further shift, he said, “will just compound the difficulty.”

The Obama administration, according to a document uncovered last week by the Albuquerque Journal, is studying the possibility of moving the three national laboratories controlled by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration—Livermore, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories—to the Defense Department. The change could free the Energy Department to devote more of its research budget to civilian needs at a time when the country is seeking more sustainable sources and systems of energy.

Nondefense Research

Yet it also could be the death knell for a tradition of academic research. Sandia, based in Albuquerque, N.M., has an 8,000-member work force almost exclusively concerned with weapons and security. But Livermore, about 45 miles east of San Francisco, and Los Alamos, about 100 miles north of Albuquerque, have significant nonmilitary components.

Livermore, with 7,000 workers, also concentrates in fields that include the use of lasers in medicine and the potential use of nuclear fusion in supplying commercial energy. And Los Alamos, with more than 15,000 workers, also has research credits in both commercial energy and medicine, including work on AIDS, breast cancer, vaccine distribution, and disease detection.

A shift of Livermore and Los Alamos to Pentagon management would confirm the “ongoing evolution of the labs toward greater mediocrity,” said Mr. Gusterson. The University of California ran the two labs for more than half a century, until security concerns led Congress to find a private management consortium for Los Alamos in 2005 and Livermore in 2007 (The Chronicle, May 18, 2007). The University of California is now part of the Bechtel-led consortium’s management contract with the Energy Department. But the change meant that the labs’ hundreds of scientists lost what Mr. Gusterson came to recognize as a critical incentive—their identity as University of California employees.

Although much laboratory research is aimed at ensuring the functioning and safety of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, Mr. Gusterson said, his years of living in the Livermore community revealed a distinctly antimilitary culture.

Many work in T-shirts and jeans, and “go and come when they feel like it,” he said. “Many of the physicists at the weapons labs found it very important that they did not work for the military.”

Such attitudes may have cost the University of California its control of the labs. Congress began to question the university’s management after a Los Alamos scientist, Wen Ho Lee, was arrested on suspicion of espionage. Even though Mr. Lee eventually pleaded guilty to just one felony charge of mishandling classified computer files, while 58 other charges against him were dropped, the security concerns lingered.

Weighing Potential Consequences

A former Pentagon official, Lawrence J. Korb, endorsed Mr. Gusterson’s concern that moving now to place the labs under the military’s umbrella could cost the facilities some of their best scientists.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Mr. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1985. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a policy-study group formed by John D. Podesta, an Obama-administration adviser who served as White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Korb did not see any security justification for the suggested switch. He said he doesn’t know of any confirmed incidents of security breaches involving university researchers at the weapons labs, and he said the Pentagon has its own problems maintaining secrecy.

Another possibility, however, is that a move to the Pentagon could actually benefit university-led research because it would free up Energy Department resources, said Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of The Nonproliferation Review, the journal of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the entire Energy Department budget is tied up with nuclear weapons, and moving that responsibility to the Pentagon could “unleash the Department of Energy to do what its name says,” Mr. Schwartz said, referring to the search for sustainable sources of energy.

The University of California has not been told by the Obama administration about any consideration of transferring control of the research labs to the Pentagon and therefore has no immediate comment on the Albuquerque Journal's report, spokesman Chris Harrington said.

The university is proud of its work at the labs over the past six decades and would want to give the suggestion "a careful and thoughtful discussion amongst our leadership" if it were formally presented with the idea, Mr. Harrington said.

Feb 10, 2009

Off-Site Computer Recall

From: Wallace, Terry C Jr
Sent: Mon Feb 09 09:08:13 2009

Off-Site Computer Recall

On Friday there was a recall of all "off site" computer equipment. The intent of this recall is to physically "touch" all such equipment by LANL property professionals, and then to allow equipment that is required for off-site work to be authorized and moved back to the off-site locations. I realize that this disrupts some work, but the intent is to make this process as simple and timely as possible. Recent events have highlighted some potential issues with off-site equipment; LANL has over 40,000 bar-coded computer related equipment, a fraction of which is off-site. The off-site computer equipment presents a number of risks, including information loss, property loss, and inappropriate use of government resources and equipment.

The Lab wishes to provide an environment that will enable Laboratory employees to perform their work and enable creative contributions after-hours and while on travel in a secure manner. We must be absolutely confident that all off-site equipment is accounted for, and that this equipment is authorized for use considering the risks associated with off-site use. The wall-to-wall inventory of the computer equipment is the first step of our risk mitigation strategy. There are a number of anecdotes I would like to use to highlight the risk: (1) There are a significant number of staff that have multiple computers presently approved for off-site use. For some, multiple computers may be appropriate for the work done, but for many others this may represent unnecessary risk associated with equipment loss or theft; (2) All LANL computers that have "normal" work files including email or proposals may contain sensitive information. This sensitive information could be OUO or even PII. For example, until a few years ago, all NSF proposals required a cover sheet with the PI's name and social security number. Thus, storing a complete proposal on one's lab computer amounts to storing PII (even today many resumes include a social security number). Losing a computer with non-encrypted PII is a security infraction that LANL must report within a day; (3) Although the LANL policy allows for "incidental" personal use, government equipment must never be used for personal gain or for a private business, to visit inappropriate websites, or be used by a third party (including a family member). Off-site computers present the opportunity for forbidden use, and care must be taken to ensure that only LANL work is performed, and stored on these computers.

Early next week LANL will issue clear policy on what is needed to justify off-site computer equipment. Again, we want to have an environment that recognizes that staff are extremely dedicated and creative, and that off-site work is essential to how we function. At the same time we have to recognize the risk, and we will require strong justification for off-site equipment. We will forward the details of the inventory process early next week. There will be some exceptions to the immediate inventory. These include computers that are part of research projects housed at other facilities; computers associated with those of Change of Station and away from the Lab; computers in the LOFT program; Sun Ray and other computing platforms that are strictly media-less (containing no memory or disk storage) and special circumstances approved by Associate Directors. We will make future arrangements for these situations. All other computers need to come in - these computers will be checked, and if reauthorized for off site use, be available for off site use within a day.

I do appreciate that disruption this recall will create. I work on my LANL laptop every night and weekend, and will be similarly impacted. I am also acutely aware of the risk we presently have with our off-site equipment, and it is appropriate to mitigate that risk with a minimal impact on our productivity. Early next week we will also post a FAQ page to address situations that will arise.

Principal Associate Director
Science, Technology and Engineering
Los Alamos National Laboratory

ph: 505-667-8597
fx: 505-667-5450

Observing China’s nuclear weapons program

By Kirsten Laskey, Los Alamos Monitor - Community Editor

Danny Stillman’s 10 trips to China all started with a conversation about a prompt burst reactor.

He explained he ran the intelligence division at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 13-and-a-half years. During this time, Stillman made it a point to interact with his counterparts.

During a conversation with a scientist from China, Stillman asked him about prompt burst reactors. This particular reactor, Stillman said, simulates neutrons and gamma rays from a nuclear device that is going off.

That topic, he said, was his opening to travel to China.

Between April 1990 and May 2001, Stillman toured several nuclear facilities in China. These facilities were located in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Xian, a nuclear test site in northwest China and Mian Yang.

These visits are pretty invaluable because Stillman pointed out, there is no place where people can read about China’s nuclear weapons program.

Additionally, he believes it’s important to show just how advanced the nuclear weapons program is in China.

“I think they are pretty damn smart,” Stillman said.

To unveil what he learned during these trips, Stillman will present “Observations of the Chinese Nuclear Weapons Program,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Best Western Hilltop House. The presentation is part of the Los Alamos Historical Society’s lecture series.

The lecture will include slides and photographs of what Stillman observed during his travels.

“I’d like for them to learn as much I did about (the Chinese) nuclear weapons program,” Stillman said.

According to a press release, Stillman has spent most of his career assessing and analyzing foreign technology and his main focus was on the Soviet Union and China.

He began working at the lab in 1965. In 1972, he joined the fledging group studying foreign technology and in 1978, became its division leader.

He recently collaborated with former secretary of the Air Force Tom Reed to write the book, “The Nuclear Express – A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation.”

Heddy Dunn, executive director of Los Alamos Historical Society, encourages everyone to learn more about Stillman and his experiences in China during the lecture.

“Danny Stillman’s book is highly readable and quite engrossing,” she said.

“From his book, he will be speaking about his 10 trips to China … just to hear from someone who has been an observer of the Chinese nuclear weapons program (is interesting).”

In addition to the topic, Dunn said another highlight of the lecture will be the new venue for the event. She explained the hotel was chosen to accommodate more people.

Plus, there will be refreshments and beverages available from 6:45-7:15 p.m.

“It’s nice to allow people that latitude,” she said.

She added the Historical Society staff is happy to partner with a local business for this event. “(We’re) happy to partner and help each other out.”

Feb 8, 2009

US using British atomic weapons factory for its nuclear programme

Matthew Taylor and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian

The US military has been using Britain's atomic weapons factory to carry out research into its own nuclear warhead programme, according to evidence seen by the Guardian.

US defence officials said that "very valuable" warhead research has taken place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire as part of an ongoing and secretive deal between the British and American governments.

The Ministry of Defence admitted it is working with the US on the UK's "existing nuclear warhead stockpile and the range of replacement options that might be available" but declined to give any further information.

Last night, opposition MPs called for a full parliamentary inquiry into the extent of the collaboration at Aldermaston and campaign groups warned any such deal was in breach of international law. They added that it also undermined Britain's claim to have an independent nuclear weapons programme and meant British taxpayers were effectively subsidising America's nuclear programme.

The US president, Barack Obama, while on the campaign trail said he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons and that one of his first actions on taking office would be to "stop the development of new nuclear weapons". But the Pentagon is at odds with the president. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, and other senior officials argue that the US's existing arsenal needs to be upgraded and that would not constitute "new" weapons.

Kate Hudson, of CND, said: "Any work preparing the way for new warheads cuts right across the UK's commitment to disarm, which it signed up to in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That this work may be contributing to both future US and British warheads is nothing short of scandalous."

Nick Harvey, defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said parliament and the country would react with "outrage" at the prospect of British taxpayers funding a new US nuclear weapon.

"All this backroom dealing and smoke and mirrors policy is totally unacceptable, the government must open the Aldermaston accounts to full parliamentary scrutiny," he added.

The extent of US involvement at Aldermaston came to light in an interview with John Harvey, policy and planning director at the US National Nuclear Security Administration, carried out last year by the thinktanks Chatham House and the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Referring to "dual axis hydrodynamic" experiments which, with the help of computer modelling, replicate the conditions inside a warhead at the moment it starts to explode, Harvey said: "There are some capabilities that the UK has that we don't have and that we borrow... that I believe we have been able to exploit that's been very valuable to us."

It is unclear whether the experiments are still being carried out but, in the same interview, Harvey admitted that the US and UK had struck a new deal over the level of cooperation, including work on US plans for a new generation of nuclear warhead known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). He said: "We have recently, I can't tell you when, taken steps to amend the MDA [Mutual Defence Agreement], not only to extend it but to amend it to allow for a broader extent of cooperation than in the past, and this has to do with the RRW effort."

Campaigners said the comments represent the first direct evidence that the US is using UK facilities to develop its nuclear programme. Lawyers acting on their behalf said the increasing levels of cooperation and the extension the MDA breach the non-proliferation treaty, which states: "Each nuclear weapon state party to the treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices indirectly or indirectly."

The MoD admitted the two countries are working together, "examining both the optimum life of the UK's existing nuclear warhead stockpile and the range of replacement options that might be available to inform decisions on whether and how we may need to refurbish or replace the existing warhead likely to be necessary in the next parliament".

Congress has stopped funding research into RRW but campaigners believe the US military may have used facilities in the UK to get around the restrictions at home.

"Billions of pounds have been poured into the Atomic Weapons Establishment over recent years to build new research facilities," said Hudson. "If these are being used to support US programmes outside Congress's controls on spending, it raises even more serious questions about why the British taxpayer is paying for a so-called 'independent deterrent'."

Feb 6, 2009

Energy secretary limits role in lab oversight


WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Steven Chu is limiting his direct involvement in overseeing three of the Energy Department's premier research laboratories to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

A department spokesman acknowledged Friday that Chu has informed the department's ethics office that he will recuse himself from contract, financial and certain work performance related decisions at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories. They are managed by the University of California, the secretary's former employer.

Chu has also said in the past that he would recuse himself from certain issues involving the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where he was director until chosen by President Barack Obama to be energy secretary.

Los Alamos and Livermore are two of the government's premier nuclear weapons research facilities, but they also conduct other research. The Berkeley lab has been in the forefront of research into renewable energy.

Despite the recusals, department spokesman Dan Leistikow said Chu remains "actively engaged in oversight of the labs, is in frequent contact with the lab directors and is regularly briefed about the security situation" at the facilities.

Leistikow characterized the kinds of decisions that Chu will not get involved in as "mostly lower level" that normally would be taken care of by subordinates. "He put these recusals in writing so there would be no question about how seriously he takes matters of public trust," said Leistikow in an e-mail.

But the recusals, which largely involve contract and financial issues, raise questions as to what extent Chu could get involved in lab performance and possible future disciplinary action. The department's power to discipline a laboratory is largely limited to withholding fees paid for poor performance or mismanagement.

Los Alamos in New Mexico over the years has had a string of security lapses that have reverberated to the highest levels of the Energy Department and prompted fines and several management changes at the lab. Lawrence Livermore also has had past problems involving security and environmental issues.

Chu's recusal letter, dated Jan. 6, was first reported Friday by The Energy Daily trade publication.

Computer Equipment Physical Verification – Action Required by Laboratory Workers

Since there seems to be no way to contact Frank anonymously (yeah, I'd like to keep my job) to suggest a new thread, I'll do it here.

I suppose everyone is aware of the repercussions of some asshole manager taking 3 computers home for his kids to play games on. Everybody else gets punished. Who is this jerk?

Actually there are two ways to contact me anonymously. Send a blog comment or send an email. The second doesn't work if your only email address is @lanl.gov. Yes, I'd keep it secret but please don't do it anyway. Bad idea.

The name of "this jerk" has been published but I'll not repeat it now. The biggest jerk was the person who kicked in his door to steal these laptops. Granted, I still haven't heard a good justification for having three LANL laptops at home. The real story here is that nobody knows how many LANL computers are off-site. Asking everyone to bring them in might be a good start, but the truth is we'll probably never know.

SUBJECT: Computer Equipment Physical Verification – Action Required by Laboratory Workers

In response to recent NNSA and LANL management concerns, we have elected to complete a physical verification of all LANL computer and computer related equipment holdings. This verification process is intended to reduce our vulnerability by strengthening our physical and cyber security and to provide managers with a new level of awareness as to the type of computers, the number of computer and computer related equipment, and computer use in
their organizations.

Computer and computer related equipment are defined as: computers, computer desktops, workstation desktops, workstations, personal computers, computer workstations, computer laptops, computer hand held, computer navigational – GPS, servers, computer servers, workstation servers, central processing units, computer mainframes, and telephone cellular PDAs.

This verification process will begin with the immediate recall and physical verification of all LANL computers and computer-related equipment that is being used for off-site domestic and foreign travel, and/or home-use. All employees with computers and/or computer related equipment off-site must bring the equipment onto the LANL site no later than February 20, 2009. Items brought in must be secured on Lab property (i.e. in your office or lab if possible and permissible). Your organization’s property administrator will be contacting you to perform the verification process. If you have not heard from your property administrator by March 9, 2009, please contact them. Contact information for property administrators can be found at http://busblue.lanl.gov/property/search.asp. Exemptions to this verification process will be very limited, handled on a case-by-case basis, and must be approved at the Associate Director level. Each organization’s property administrators will assist in the property validation and can provide forms for the exemption process.

Guidance for off-site use of LANL computers or computer related equipment will be forthcoming; it is our intention to implement well defined requirements for off-site use and risk mitigation procedures. Until this verification process and guidance is issued, all LANL computers and computer related equipment must remain on-site.

Within the next few months, LANL Property Management will be working with each directorate to physically verify all computers and computer related equipment assigned to the Laboratory and to verify that all security protocols are in full working order. In order for the complete verification process to be successful, I am asking all ADs to ensure full participation and cooperation within their organizations.

Transparency We Can Believe In?

Written by John Fleck
Thursday, 05 February 2009 17:04

The new Obama administration has made a number of assertions about its intentions to make the operation of government more transparent. It has, for example, pledged to make legislation publicly available for five days before it is signed, and directed agencies to do a better job of responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

How has it performed on my own first test?

I've been writing stories this week on a proposal to study the possibility of moving the nuclear weapons program, now run by the quasi-independent National Nuclear Security Administration from within the Department of Energy, to the Pentagon.

In reporting the story, I have called the Department of Energy to ask if it is true that our new Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, in an all-hands employee meeting, answered a question from the audience by saying that he thought such a move (removing nuclear weapons work from DOE) was a bad idea. To be clear here, I do not know whether Chu said he thinks the proposal is a bad idea. But if he did (and enough people have independently told me they think he did to make it a reasonable question), it would be an important element in moving forward the public's understanding of a story that is of great importance to the more than 20,000 New Mexicans who work for the NNSA.

Two days on, I've still not received a response from the Department of Energy in answer to my question about what Chu might have said.

Since the passback memo was undated it is difficult to interpret DOE's response to your inquiry. Perhaps Secretary Chu answered "off the cuff" because he didn't know about the memo yet? That could explain why DOE wants to bury his response now. On the other hand, maybe he really does think it's a bad idea to move NNSA to DOD and has been admonished for being out of step with the Obama administration. From what I've seen so far, the former seems more likely. And this little misstep is just one more reason he'd be happy to be rid of the NNSA.

So, did anyone see the video feed of Secretary Chu's all hands meeting? What did he say?

Feb 5, 2009

White House weighs moving labs under Pentagon

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

New Mexico’s congressional delegation reacted strongly to hints that the Obama administration might be considering transferring pieces of the nuclear weapons laboratories to the Pentagon.

A “passback” memo containing instructions from the White House Office of Management and Budget calls for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to put their heads together with other stakeholders of the nuclear weapons labs to plan what could amount to a radical dismemberment of the National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees the nuclear weapons complex.

The relevant page of the memo, obtained by the Monitor Wednesday, calls for the defense and energy departments to “assess the costs and benefits of transferring budget and management of NNSA or its components to DoD and elsewhere, as appropriate, beginning in FY 2011.”

The assessment group is supposed to be identified and up and running by next month and deliver a final report by the end of September.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, immediate reaction was he would “fight it tooth and nail if they intended to proceed with it.”

Wednesday, he said he was in strong disagreement with the idea and was talking to other members of Congress and the departments to get their views of the idea.”

“I expressed in no uncertain terms that this was something I would strongly object to,” he said. “This is something that would not be good for the country and it would be a major misstep.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory and the NNSA site office officials said they were unable to comment on the internal memo.

At least one policy analyst has seen something like this coming.

Jack Jekowski, a weapons complex consultant in Albuquerque, began alerting his clients last month that history was beginning to repeat itself. He was seeing trend lines similar to the period in the late 1990s that led up to the attempted DOE Abolishment Act in 1999, sponsored by former Sen. Spencer Abraham.

Abraham became the first Energy Secretary in the Bush Administration in 2001.

The pressure to transfer or close laboratories was somewhat relieved briefly during a “honeymoon” period after the establishment of the NNSA, as a “quasi-independent” agency within DOE, but about nine months after 9/11, Jekowski observed, “the intensity and frequency of negative assessments against DOE/NNSA has increased seemingly taking the external perspective to a height of contempt for the Department by some members of Congress,” harking back to the previous period when the organizational surgery was proposed.

“All the indicators were pointing to the possibility that this was about to happen again,” Jekowski said Wednesday.

With the decision to open several additional weapons laboratories up for competition and a period of safety and security problems centered at LANL, concerns began to grow again, reflected in reports and audits by the DOE Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service.

Efforts to resolve generally recognized needs for change and consolidation were greeted by a discordant variety of independent reviews and spirited opposition to weapons projects and investments.

A major review by the Defense Science Board was released at the end of 2006, concluding that there was little hope for reform within the present DOE/NNSA structure.

While weighing the idea of transferring the energy department’s nuclear weapons work to the Pentagon, the board decided that was beyond DOD’s management experience, but called for a new independent entity with a closer relationship to the Pentagon.

The report agreed with other studies that a lack of a national consensus about the role and future needs of nuclear weapons hindered the search for a solution.

In his analysis, Jekowski has noted some new studies that are now in the works within the short to medium term.

Among them are recommendations by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S., a report on nuclear policy, the Nuclear Posture Review and the DOD Quadrennial Defense Review.

The coincidence of weighty evaluations offers an opportunity, as was the case during the early Bush administration, for another rare opening to realign the nation’s nuclear weapons regime.

“My own take is that there is a new generation coming through,” Jekowski said. “They don’t have the ownership of these previous decision processes, or the wisdom. It’s a younger generation that wants to go forward with their own ideas. Let’s hope they don’t, in the process, make decisions that the world will come to regret.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., also sent out a statement Wednesday, saying he had worked in the House of Representatives to find ways that New Mexico’s laboratories could expand their mission in all areas of national security.

“I will fight alongside Sen. Bingaman against any effort to limit the ability of these labs to expand their missions,” he said.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., issued a statement regarding the reports .

“I am concerned by recent reports regarding the prospect of moving Los Alamos National Laboratory out of the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy and solely under the control of the Department of Defense. Such a potential move would be extremely problematic, endangering critical research and jobs. I will work with my colleagues to fight any such change. We must protect jobs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, promote research on renewable energy and encourage environmental cleanup.

“Moreover, under the Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory is uniquely positioned to address the energy and economy crises.”

Labs Study Assailed

By John Fleck, The Albuquerque Journal

Criticism mounted Wednesday against any plan to move the nation's nuclear weapons program into the Defense Department, and New Mexico's congressional delegation vowed to fight such a measure.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., went even further, saying he would urge the energy secretary to begin consideration of eliminating the National Nuclear Security Administration and putting the program back under the Department of Energy.

The NNSA, created as a quasi-independent agency eight years ago to manage nuclear weapons design and manufacture, has been a failure, Bingaman told the Journal on Wednesday.

But the solution is not to move nuclear weapons work into the Pentagon, as the Obama administration is considering, Bingaman said. Such a move would hamper the labs' ability to do nonmilitary research, Bingaman contends.

Bingaman's comments came after the Journal reported that an internal memo shows that the Obama administration is considering the move as part of the preparation of its soon-to-be released fiscal year 2010 budget proposal.

Federal and lab officials declined to comment, but the memo obtained by the Journal outlines a study to be completed by the end of the fiscal year on the costs and benefits of shifting nuclear weapons work, including Sandia and Los Alamos labs in New Mexico, to the Pentagon.

Sandia, located outside Albuquerque, designs and maintains the non-nuclear components parts of weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. As nuclear weapons spending has declined in recent years, Sandia has been successful in expanding its work force by doing research for other federal agencies, primarily the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Sandia is also considering an expansion of its energy research as the Obama administration considers expanded funding in that area.

Los Alamos, in the mountains west of Santa Fe, designs and builds the nuclear explosive components of nuclear weapons. Its nuclear responsibilities have expanded as other arms production sites have closed. It has been less successful than Sandia at diversifying its research portfolio, but it has also been looking for opportunities to expand its work in the growing energy field.

A shift to Defense would hurt the labs' ability to work on the nation's energy problems and other nonmilitary research, said newly elected Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., whose district includes Sandia.

“I'm not going to do anything that compromises their ability to continuine doing any of that work,” Heinrich said.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., whose district includes Los Alamos, said a move to the Pentagon “would be extremely problematic, endangering critical research and jobs.”

The discussion is the latest attempt at finding a workable management structure for the $6 billion-a-year nuclear weapons program, which includes eight sites around the country responsible for the design, manufacturing and maintenance of the nuclear arsenal.

In 2000, in response to security and management problems, Congress, in a move led by former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., created the NNSA. The organization was “quasi-independent,” but remained under the ultimate jurisdiction of the secretary of energy.

A December 2006 report by a task force convened by the Defense Science Board, a group of independent federal advisers, concluded that the creation of NNSA had been a failure. The same problems that led to the agency's creation in the first place had simply been transferred to the new organization, the board concluded.

Among a number of possible solutions, the board said, the most attractive was to move nuclear weapons design and manufacturing out of the Energy Department and into the Pentagon.

“Given the culture of excessive oversight, micromanagement, and risk aversion without regard to productivity that has developed since the end of the Cold War, this Task Force has low confidence in the prospect for an effective and lasting change in management of the nuclear weapons enterprise within DOE,” the Science Board concluded.

Retired Sandia Labs President C. Paul Robinson, who served as an adviser to the task force, said that he supports moving the labs under Pentagon jurisdiction, and that he believes the change could be made in a way that preserves the longstanding tradition of civilian management.

The new organization could be structured to report directly to the secretary of Defense, who is by law a civilian presidential appointee, Robinson said.

“That's a key factor that ought to be in any proposal that's adopted,” Robinson said.

Former Sandia vice president Bob Peurifoy said a move into the Pentagon would pose serious threats to the nuclear weapons program's budget, because of the temptation by military officials to move money into other programs.

“If DoD became the responsible department,” Peurifoy said, “they would savage NNSA.”

[See also I'm Against It!]

NNSA chief takes heat for Lab’s handling of beryllium disclosure

'splainin' Session - Round Two

Every once in a while I just can't let a story pass without adding my two cents worth. This is one of those occasions. Thanks to Carol Clark for reporting these... umm, gems from Don Winchell.
"just four have had some type of allergic reaction to the exposure."
To paraphrase the famous quote, "Sometimes four good people have to be taken down for the good of the institution."
“We have between 30 and 40,000 computers at the laboratory"
Translation: He can't pin down the number to within 10,000.
"I’m concerned the firefighters are more afraid of radiation than they need to be."
I'm betting all of LAFD will respond to any emergency at LANL and risk their lives to save the likes of Winchell. The real cowards are the managers who couldn't release exposure information to almost 2000 employees, contractors, and visitors to TA-41 without it first being massaged by a bunch of legal and PR types for three months.

Finally, 'splainin' Session - Round Three will be held today according to a recent comment.
There will be a meeting at LANL for employees with concerns about the Be exposure this Thursday at 8:30am.
It's not clear from the comment if contractors and visitors are allowed to attend this meeting. If any blog readers attend please send us your comments. For exposed employees, since you made health and life insurance decisions during open enrollment while information about your exposure was being suppressed, will you be allowed to change those decisions now?

By CAROL A. CLARK, The Los Alamos Monitor

County Councilor Robert Gibson didn’t mince words Tuesday in expressing displeasure in Los Alamos National Laboratory officials who failed to inform a large gathering of area leaders about the beryllium contamination last week.

Instead, officials let them all hear about it just a few hours later from the media.

DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Site Office Manager Donald Winchell Jr. attended Tuesday’s county council meeting in council chambers and Gibson spoke bluntly to him.

“Tuesday (Jan. 27) morning the Lab had 150 regional leaders in a room,” Gibson said. “The Laboratory didn’t cover that topic … that doesn’t do a whole lot for your credibility when you say things are going better ... then this bombshell hits the press later in the day.”

Winchell concurred saying the disclosure wasn’t handled well.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was interested in the contamination issue, Winchell said, and was talking that same morning to the NNSA administrator.

Other officials were talking to each other, too, he said, and figuring out how best to handle the disclosure.

Winchell described the sequence of events surrounding the discovery of the contamination.

“We found the contamination in November,” he said, adding they didn’t go back into the closed up facility at TA-41 until recently.

The facility is basically a large storage vault with four smaller vaults inside, Winchell said, and the highest level of beryllium contamination was found on a shelf under one piece of equipment in one of the smaller vaults.

Beryllium affects a small portion of the population and is only dangerous when inhaled.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle asked a number of beryllium based questions.

“Is there any evidence of the beryllium being released in the town,” he asked.

Winchell answered no and told him of the 2,000 people who have been notified of possible contamination – just four have had some type of allergic reaction to the exposure.

Winchell addressed the three Laboratory computers recently stolen from a Santa Fe home.

“We have between 30 and 40,000 computers at the laboratory … that’s a fair sized management problem … about 12,000 are laptops,” he said. “As you know, the Laboratory has been working hard on cyber security … I’m leaning hard to find a plan for the management of all these computers.”

Winchell spoke of the continuing resolution LANL is currently operating under until March 6. He added that he thinks the continuing resolution will likely remain in place through year’s end.

“That’s not all bad,” Winchell said. “The laboratory came into 2009 in pretty good shape and we don’t anticipate any cuts or layoffs.”

Winchell is encouraged by the $200 million-$300 million available in environmental funding.

“We may be facing some penalties in some of the consent order priorities because we started too late in the year to complete some of them,” he said.

Regarding the possibility of receiving some of the stimulus funding, Winchell told councilors the current budget should maintain operational needs and the environmental stimulus funding would target “shovel ready” activities intended to get things cleaned up.

On the nuclear side, he said there could be between zero and a billion dollars available.

Winchell spoke of finally signing a contract between LANL and the Los Alamos Fire Department.

“I think the fire department is working a little better,” he said. “But I’m still not satisfied with the training with regards to nuclear issues and I’m concerned the firefighters are more afraid of radiation than they need to be, I want to get them trained properly.”

Winchell also talked about the Jemez Bypass Road, which council tabled to a special March 2 meeting dedicated solely to that topic.

Resident Greg Kendall presented a petition with nearly 70 signatures requesting the entire project be tanked.

Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer asked if Winchell thought DOE would be receptive to conveying West Road to the county, which could alleviate the need for the bypass road. Winchell indicated it would be problematic to do that because of utilities and other infrastructure issues that would need to be addressed.

However, they would be willing to discuss it, he said. When pressed about events forcing the closure of surrounding roads, Winchell said there are no plans to expand LANL’s security perimeter.

The LASO office moved into a new building in July. Construction of the 25,000 square foot facility came in substantially below budget and ahead of schedule, he said.

LASO’s new building is just west of the Wellness Center parking lot in the lab’s main administrative area.

A steam plant adjacent to the old building has been remediated and removed, he said.

Once the main building is demolished, the property will be transferred to the county as part of the land transfer agreement between the county and DOE.

Following Winchell’s presentation, councilors discussed the purchase of a fountain sculpture to be placed by the skate park near the Mesa Public Library.

The motion to purchase passed. Councilor Chiravalle voted against the sculpture instead advocating for one that wouldn’t require the use of water.

Community Development Director Rick Bohn presented changes to the County’s sign code ordinance recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Council directed Bohn and County Attorney Mary McInerny to rework the code ordinance recommendations and present them at a future meeting, requesting they don’t restrict what they can’t enforce.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Details of an update on the Diamond Drive project will be addressed in a story later this week.