Mar 31, 2009

Bring Memories to Share - Ed Grothus Memorial Saturday

Hi Frank,
Just thought people would like to know about this memorial for Ed Grothus on Sat.

Bring Memories to Share
Date: Saturday April 4, 2009
Time: 2:00-5:00 PM
1:30 – Doors Open
2:00 – Presentations/Memories of Ed
4:00 - 5:00 Open reception in the lobby
Location: Duane W Smith Auditorium
Los Alamos High School
1300 Diamond Drive, Los Alamos, NM 87544

You may leave online memories at:

We will have computer/video projection available for those who wish to share content in that format.

Contact: or 303.652.8379 for information.

Security stops gold theft at lab

By CAROL A. CLARK, The Los Alamos Monitor

The first of eight layers of security mechanisms in place at the Plutonium Facility at Technical Area 55 stopped an alleged thief from exiting Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The man has reportedly worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for more than 20 years and, according to reports, recently tried to take gold out of the plutonium facility undetected.

He was reportedly caught carrying an estimated $2,000 worth of the gold shavings in a plastic sandwich bag concealed inside his clenched fist.

Gold is currently trading at more than $917 per Troy ounce.

The attempted theft reportedly occurred early last week and the case was turned over to the FBI on Wednesday for further investigation.

The gold is used to seal cracks in platinum-lined containers used for plutonium-related work, according to information provided to the Monitor.

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark confirmed in a statement this morning that the employee attempted to remove two ounces of gold contaminated with a “small amount of radioactive material” last week.

“The gold was detected by a radiation monitor as the employee attempted to leave an internal work area … at the lab,” Roark said. “The employee’s security clearance has been suspended ... a full investigation by the laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the FBI is underway.”

Roark added that a complete inventory of precious metals used at the laboratory also is underway as a precaution.

Most of TA-55 is situated inside a restricted area surrounded by a double security fence.

The main complex has five connected buildings.

To meet the varied needs of research and development and plutonium-processing programs at LANL, TA-55 provides chemical and metallurgical processes for recovering, purifying, and converting plutonium and other actinides into many compounds and forms.

Additional capabilities include the means to safely and securely ship, receive, handle, and store nuclear materials, as well as manage the wastes and residues produced by TA-55 operations. A core capability is basic and applied research in plutonium and actinide chemistry.

Core competencies are maintained in the Plutonium Facility for each type of plutonium-processing activity. Extensive plutonium recovery processes are maintained, as well as the ability to convert the recovered material to plutonium metal.

A separate portion of the facility is dedicated to fabricating ceramic-based reactor fuels and to processing Pu-238 used to produce radioisotope heat sources.

In addition, analytical capabilities, materials control and accountability techniques, and a substantial R&D base are available to support these core capabilities.

Contact Carol A. Clark at or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at

Mar 29, 2009

Comment of the Week

150 comments this week, and the signal/noise ratio seemed a bit better than usual, leaving some good stuff to pick from. Here are this week's categories from which COW entries were selected:
  • Reality Check
  • Too Little, Too Late
  • Three-Martini Posting
  • Hot gold (?!)
  • I'm More Bitter Than You Are
Reality Check

A couple of pointed comments made the cut in this category. The first one comes from the Pushing Frontiers post, in which the wonders of LANL are extolled.

The video forgot to mention that (a) DARHT is down, yet again, due to problems with the 2nd beam, (b) Roadrunner won't be needed for much longer because NNSA has decided to kill off the ASC program, (c) Congress is unlikely to allow for any more construction funding to go to CMRR, and (d) every bright scientist who can is attempting to somehow flee this lab due to the crushingly low morale.

Other than that, everything at LANL is going just swell.

The other one was left on last week's Comment of the Week post, in which LANL and SNL's WFO portfolios were being compared.

4:45 pm: "Somehow SNL has managed to overcome all of these problems."

Sandia has done this by demonstrating that it will survive with or without NNSA, and that NNSA's need for Sandia is greater than Sandia's need for NNSA. Contrast this to LANL, where LANS only exists as a company in the context of the NNSA contract It was created out of thin air for the only purpose of bidding on the LANL NNSA contract). No NNSA contract, no LANS, no LANL. It's that simple.

Too Little, Too Late

From the U.S. Agency Readies Controversial Shift of Nuclear... post, one astute reader noted the following:

""In the spirit of Complex Transformation, what we're trying to do is set up centers of excellence," Smolen explained. "We want Los Alamos to stay focused on its primary mission, which is plutonium. "

Got it now everyone. Pits. RF:2.0
No ASC, no science, no computers.

To which another reader pointed out,

"All laboratories support the decision."

A little late for a fight.
Old news & a done deal

Three-Martini Posting

I confess, this next candidate is one of my favorites for the week. From the same post as the previous contris, we have this gem in which the obviously sincerely-felt content is somewhat spoiled by a failed delivery. Suggestion: blog first, then drink.

To 5'33, Its not the misinformation that has gooten us here, it the incompetence that caused all of the "misinformation", that was never cleared up. But thats only the tip, Congress has not been content with LANLs operation since the Nanos days. We had a chance some time ago to show the (Congress and the American people) that we could function as a Lab, in unison and work as part of a team (with other Labs and NNSA) but the whinning and incompetence contined. Individual employees complaining directly to their sponsors claiming that their project were more important than so and so. The Congress and DOE consider LANL the cry-babies of the complex, and along with their (our)certian misteps we are going down fast. Smolen stated "We are setting up Centers of Exellence" Does LANL fit this new senerio?

Hot Gold

While I was reading the Los Alamos' security flaws exposed post the other night, first this comment came in

anyone wanna buy some hot gold?

Followed about 15 minutes later by this one:

post the gold comment it will be relevant!!!!!!

Well, ok. We're all waiting for the relevance.

I'm More Bitter Than You Are

Plenty to choose from in this category, as usual. These were the "best of the bitter" for this week, also from the "security flaws" post:

3/26/09 6:30 PM, you trot these stories out at least once a month to prove how incompetent LANL is. I finally took a second to google "neutral particle beam" on the LANL website. It showed up in a bio on Dick Burick, about three layers deep in the "and before that, he worked on..." section. For crying out loud, the US was still doing underground testing in those days.

Go back to your shuffleboard game, old man. You don't know dick about today's LANL.

Followed of course by

7:02 pm: "Go back to your shuffleboard game, old man. You don't know dick about today's LANL."

"Today's LANL" is full of arrogant, yet poignantly ignorant, young assholes. Which is why LANL has the problems it has today. That's right, the past means nothing, is unimportant and irrelevant. OK then. Your future awaits you. Glad I won't be part of it. I'll be enjoying my very comfortable, even lucrative, UC retirement, treasuring my memories of the LANL that once was, while you run it into the ground and struggle to keep your worthless LANS 401k. Good luck. Hint: read some LANL history. The Archivist can help.

We'll conclude on that note. Until next week,


Mar 27, 2009

Pushing Frontiers

U.S. Agency Readies Controversial Shift of Nuclear Component Work

By Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. agency that oversees the nation's nuclear weapons complex is shifting design work on a key warhead component -- the tritium gas system -- from one government laboratory to another, a move that is generating some controversy (see GSN, Nov. 10, 2008).

Robert Smolen -- until last month a top National Nuclear Security Administration official -- announced the decision in a Jan. 5 internal memo. The agency, he said, would soon consolidate responsibility for designing tritium "gas transfer systems" from the two organizations currently performing the work -- the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories -- down to a single site, Sandia's facility in Livermore, Calif.

Congress in 2000 established the National Nuclear Security Administration as a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department. The agency oversees the national laboratories as part of its mandate to maintain the stockpile.

The component at the center of debate, called the "gas transfer system," moves tritium from container bottles into the core of the nuclear warhead as the weapon explodes. It "enables tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, to boost the yield of a nuclear weapon," according to an NNSA statement issued a day after Smolen's internal memo.

The news release heralded the decision without identifying New Mexico-based Los Alamos as the facility expected to lose the work.

The NNSA announcement went largely unnoticed and a number of issue experts contacted for this article said they could not comment before learning more about the move. One U.S. nuclear weapons official opined that the arcane bureaucratic machinations amount to little more than "inside baseball."

However, new revelations about the initiative raise broad questions about how competing interests might affect the future safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons.

Complex Transformation

Smolen -- a Bush administration appointee who left his NNSA post as deputy administrator for defense programs when President Barack Obama took office in January -- has described the shift as part of "Complex Transformation." The NNSA initiative is aimed at consolidating nuclear enterprise operations and facilities to achieve greater efficiency and cost savings.

However, critics of the gas transfer decision say it lacks a clear rationale on the basis of either cost or program effectiveness. Detractors include not only Los Alamos personnel who stand to lose the work, but also a number of deputies inside NNSA headquarters and scientists outside of Los Alamos, Global Security Newswire has learned.

In addition, an independent analysis performed at the nuclear agency's behest argued in October against the shift.

In its assessment, Los Alamos, N.M.-based consulting firm TechSource examined several prospective consolidation moves related to the tritium transfer system. In addition to moving the Los Alamos gas transfer design responsibility to Sandia, TechSource reviewed the NNSA intention to shift two other related functions out of Los Alamos. Tritium research and development would move to a complex at Savannah River Site, S.C., and component production would go to a facility in Kansas City, Mo.

The analysts found that a reassignment of these tritium research and development functions -- most importantly, to include the component design responsibility -- would offer negligible savings and might increase the risk that U.S. nuclear weapons malfunction.

Los Alamos currently serves as the gas transfer system design agency for the nuclear weapons it originally designed, while Sandia's California facility performs the same role for warheads originating at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which shares the same campus.

In the current nuclear stockpile, Los Alamos designed warheads for the B-61 gravity bomb and Minuteman 3 ICBM, plus two weapons for the Trident D-5 sea-launched ballistic missile. Livermore designed one warhead for the B-83 gravity bomb and another for the Peacekeeper ICBM; the Livermore warhead was retrofitted onto selected Minuteman 3 missiles when Peacekeeper was retired.

Design work on the warhead component is part of the agency's "Stockpile Stewardship Program," funded at $5.1 billion this fiscal year. The effort is aimed at ensuring the continued reliability, safety and security of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Toward that end, laboratory scientists design detailed blueprints for the maintenance, repair and replacement of tritium-transfer components as part of an overall refurbishment to extend a warhead's service life.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy-makers have opted to extend the viability of existing warheads in the stockpile without underground testing, rather than replace them with new designs that might require test blasts.

TechSource noted the stakes involved when it reported that if a warhead's tritium system malfunctioned, the nuclear weapon could not be expected to destroy its target.

"If the tritium [gas transfer system] does not function properly, the weapon will not meet its military requirements," the October report reads. "There is no redundancy."

Given the critical nature of the component and "very successful" design work that Los Alamos has performed to date, the TechSource analysts wondered why the nuclear agency would opt to shift future responsibility to Sandia.

The Stockpile Stewardship Program "is best served by two independent [design agencies] for the purposes of competing new [gas transfer system] technology development and [conducting] peer review," TechSource wrote.

The analysts added: "The tritium [gas transfer system] mission is too important to the safety and reliability of the stockpile, too important to NNSA and [Defense Department] operations and too successful to change without identifying substantive programmatic or economic benefits to offset the risk."

The report's lead author, Steve Guidice, declined to comment for this article.

Risk For a Pending Warhead Redesign?

"Anytime you change anything, you run into some risk because you're making a change," Smolen, the former NNSA official, acknowledged in a March 3 telephone interview. "Something is different and it's not what you're accustomed to and you don't feel as at-ease because you've made a change. I fully accept that."

However, these qualms should not pose an insurmountable problem and are an acceptable price to pay for the benefits of consolidation, he suggested.

Critics of the decision stop short of questioning Sandia's ability to excel at this expanded portfolio, once laboratory engineers come up to speed on the Los Alamos designs. Rather, they worry about risks incurred during the months or years that it takes to transition the responsibility from one facility to another.

In particular, concerns focus on how warhead life-extension program schedules and quality might slip for some period of time when Los Alamos transfers its design enterprise to Sandia.

Los Alamos experts on the gas transfer system, based in New Mexico, are not expected to move to Sandia's California facilities, suggesting to some in the nuclear weapons community that management continuity could be lost.

Selected members of Smolen's own staff expressed worries about this aspect of his draft decision before it was finalized.

No fewer than four NNSA office directors last June and July raised concerns about risks the move could introduce for pending warhead life-extension efforts, with one agency executive officially "nonconcurring" with Smolen's decision, GSN has learned.

Specifically, some U.S. officials have noted that schedules to begin designing an overhaul of the Air Force's B-61 nuclear bomb in the coming months could be thrown into jeopardy as the nuclear agency launches its consolidation effort. Under existing plans, the first of roughly 900 B-61 bombs are to begin receiving upgrades as early as 2015.

"I work with both labs and they all do good work," Billy Mullins, a senior Air Force nuclear weapons planning official, said in an interview. "I just want to make sure that the [B-61] LEP schedule is not impacted."

What Mullins wants to see in Sandia's forthcoming transition plan -- which NNSA officials say is expected by late April -- is that "when they transfer it, they're ready to take it and they do not impact Air Force programs," he said.

"Could there be a delay?" asked Smolen, who retired from the Air Force as a two-star general in November 2007. "I think there are other, probably higher risk areas than this that have the potential to delay things, more than this might."

He declined to elaborate.

"The risks and challenges" of the NNSA decision to shift the design work "are to capture the specific knowledge base developed by [Los Alamos] to support its particular weapon systems and transfer the data" and expertise to Sandia, NNSA defense program officials told GSN in a written response to queries. "Initiating activities this year provides the best opportunity to execute a seamless transition."

However, if nothing else, lingering contention over the decision could delay its implementation, according to some government officials. The potential impact on the Air Force bomb refurbishment effort remains unclear.

Physics or Mechanics?

Critics of Smolen's decision argue that any work related to the central part of a Los Alamos-designed nuclear warhead -- the so-called "physics package" capable of creating a chain reaction -- should remain where the brain trust resides for those specific weapons.

"What ... NNSA is proposing to do is take a piece of the 'physics package' away from the design agency [at Los Alamos] and move it to Sandia," said one U.S. weapons policy adviser. "And if you suddenly start picking out pieces from that system, it makes it even more difficult for us to continue to assure how those systems will work, God help us, if the president ever decides to use one."

Along with several others interviewed for this article, the policy official requested anonymity, citing sensitivities involved in publicly challenging the NNSA decision.

Smolen rejects the notion that the gas transfer system is part of a nuclear weapon's core physics package, describing it instead as a mechanical element that falls more appropriately under Sandia's longtime purview.

"Doing non-nuclear engineering components is not the function of what Los Alamos does as a primary core competency," he said in the phone interview.

Whether the gas transfer system should be regarded as part of the physics package -- and thus arguably remain part of Los Alamos' portfolio -- is "a judgment call," Smolen conceded.

However, he asserted, "there's dozens of other components that you can make the same argument for. You could for fuses, for all kinds of things. Where do you draw the line?"

For Los Alamos weapon designs, "the gas transfer system is critically important to how well that weapon will function," responded one senior government weapons engineer, interviewed the same day. "It is not just another non-nuclear component."

Costs "Not a Driving Factor"

Also at issue is whether future cost estimates justify the action.

If the nuclear agency continues a plan to shift other tritium R&D programs out of Los Alamos -- but reverses itself on moving the design responsibilities to Sandia -- that would cost $424 million over a 20-year period beginning in fiscal 2010, according to the TechSource report.

That option is actually the most expensive among four long-term budget scenarios the agency considered.

The second most costly is the one Smolen selected, at $415 million over 20 years, under which the design responsibility as well as other tritium-related work is undertaken outside of Los Alamos.

The two least costly budget options would be to retain the status quo at $329 million between 2010 and 2030, or even cheaper, to consolidate all tritium-related work at Los Alamos. The latter alternative would offer a $137 million savings compared to taking no action at all.

According to government officials, the cost comparisons tend to stack up in favor of keeping tritium research work at Los Alamos because that laboratory has a much smaller staff performing gas transfer work, compared to the other facilities. Moreover, any dollar benefits of a shift are discounted in the analyses because they would accrue only in the longer term.

"If I have to invest money in the near term to gain savings out toward the end of that 20 years, there's not a huge benefit there," the weapons design engineer said. "That's part of the issue with making a change: You have to spend money to make the change."

Smolen takes issue with the idea, though, that cost concerns should have played a stronger role in his decision.

"Cost is kind of a wash," he said. "Cost is not a driving factor in making it either move or not move."

"This decision was based on overall benefits to the enterprise," NNSA officials said in a written statement this month. "Any cost difference represents an investment to capture these benefits."

In its report, TechSource emphasized that the gas transfer system design program constitutes just a small fraction of the overall Stockpile Stewardship budget. If the National Nuclear Security Administration wants to trim down the nuclear weapons enterprise, it should focus instead on consolidation concepts with potential for bigger payoff and smaller risk, the analysis suggested.

Research and development work on this component totals roughly $25 million annually, according to the report, comprising less than 1 percent of the overall Stockpile Stewardship budget this fiscal year.

The tritium assembly design work "involves few people" -- roughly 60 full-time personnel slots -- and costs so little relative to the entire Stockpile Stewardship effort, "yet it has high direct impact on the stockpile and DOD operations," the report states.

"To be credible," transformation of the nuclear weapons complex "should focus on the many thousands of people currently employed" by the Stockpile Stewardship program, "not the net difference of a few tens of people doing [gas transfer system] work," according to the company's report.

Rather than focus on incremental costs, the nuclear agency wants each of the laboratories and facilities it oversees to concentrate on their respective areas of primary expertise.

"In the end, NNSA looked across its sites and across mission capabilities to reach broad decisions on the best means to sustain the nuclear weapons complex, including infrastructure, materials and skill sets, culminating in several separate decisions," the agency said in its written responses. "Making this assignment to Sandia is consistent with this laboratory's strength in engineering, integrated system design and its overall responsibility for non-nuclear components."

"In the spirit of Complex Transformation, what we're trying to do is set up centers of excellence," Smolen explained. "We want Los Alamos to stay focused on its primary mission, which is plutonium. Now, you have to ask yourself, why does Los Alamos need to do gas transfer systems?"

He contended that some laboratory officials are clinging to a wide array of scientific specialties for parochial reasons.

"There are a handful of people -- and literally a handful, three or four people -- who are just absolutely in love with what Los Alamos does," Smolen said. "They are absolutely convinced that none of this should ever be transferred out of Los Alamos, but Los Alamos is the absolute place where everything that can be done at Los Alamos ought to be done at Los Alamos."

Critics insist the tritium system design responsibility is not a parochial issue, a point they say is illustrated by concerns that extend beyond individuals at Los Alamos. In fact, some U.S. government officials have questioned whether Smolen, who recently became a senior national security fellow at Lawrence Livermore's Center for Global Security Research, might have had personal reasons for assigning the work to Sandia's Livermore-based facility.

"I'm not associated with anything to do with NNSA, because of the conflict-of-interest areas," Smolen said in early March, before it was publicly known that he would join Livermore. "I don't advise anyone in NNSA at this point, [or] any of the federal [agencies], because of the conflict of interest."

Reached at Livermore on March 18, Smolen said that for a one-year period, he would not work on the gas transfer system or other issues that he handled while serving as the NNSA deputy administrator.

"Stand There"

As a matter of program effectiveness, the nuclear agency should have simply preserved the status quo, according to one retired weapons designer.

"I have very high confidence in the person directing the Los Alamos effort," the former official said March 11. "Starting over again, even with people experienced in the general area, offered some potential for loss in my confidence."

The potential harm is akin to too many chefs spoiling the broth, the current weapons engineer suggested in an interview the prior week.

"When you're in the middle of a development program, you're making development hardware, you're looking at it, you're making decisions, and you don't want two different sets of folks making different decisions," the current senior weapons engineer said in an interview the prior week. "You want to be as consistent as you can, because you've got to get that done on a schedule and on a budget."

However, Smolen argued that Los Alamos gas-transfer experts could facilitate the transition by working closely with their Sandia counterparts. Thanks to electronic connectivity and face-to-face contact just an airplane ride away, there should be minimal risk to ongoing programs, he insisted.

Laboratory scientists and engineers "routinely hop on airplanes and go to other laboratories to provide advice on lots of other things," Smolen said. "So if Sandia got in a position where they needed some of that expertise for whatever reason, there's no reason why those [Los Alamos] guys couldn't go and do that."

To the former weapons designer, this approach might ultimately work out fine but is not the best way to approach the task.

"I'm always very skeptical about NNSA feeling they should do something" in instances when action is unnecessary, the former official said. "My motto for NNSA is: Don't just do something, stand there," he quipped. "Many of these so-called consolidations are not so much risky as inefficient."

Smolen emphasized that he reached out to a number of experts, beyond TechSource, to inform his decision.

Other key voices, according to Smolen, included the top weapons directors at each of the three national laboratories: Glenn Mara of Los Alamos, Joan Woodard of Sandia and Bruce Goodwin of Lawrence Livermore.

"I told them to review all of this, talk to all of the people, and tell me really what the three of you -- as heartbeats away from being the director -- what do you think the right answer is. And they came back to me and said the transfer was the right idea," said Smolen, adding that the view was unanimous.

The former NNSA deputy's January decision memo reflects that understanding, stating, "All laboratories support the decision."

However, others have since cast doubt on the notion that Mara and Los Alamos voiced support for the move before it was finalized.

"Los Alamos senior management had full and frank discussions with Bob Smolen and his senior team at [NNSA] headquarters [and] outlined why" leaving the work at the New Mexico laboratory "was in the best interest of national security," said the weapons policy adviser.

Following the decision, Los Alamos officials have said they would do whatever necessary to support the transition, even if they disagreed with it, according to government sources.

Mara declined a request for comment.

Mar 26, 2009

Los Alamos' security flaws exposed

An Energy Department investigation into a plutonium mix-up reveals deficiencies that the New Mexico nuclear weapons lab must address, an official says.

By Ralph Vartabedian, LA Times

An Energy Department investigation has alleviated fears that a significant amount of plutonium was missing from a national laboratory, but it has also heightened concerns about flaws in the system for controlling the U.S. stockpile of weapons materials.

The investigation began in February, shortly after a routine inventory at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico found a plutonium shortage estimated at 2.2 pounds, setting off a frantic national effort to determine what happened to the material.

The confidential investigation concluded this week that statisticians at the lab had miscalculated the amount of plutonium at its facility and that none was actually missing.

Although the finding eliminates the worst-case scenario -- that the material left the facility and ended up in rogue hands -- it raises doubts about the lab's management at a time of growing concern about nuclear terrorism.

Brad Peterson, the Energy Department's chief for defense nuclear security, acknowledged in an interview that the closure of the investigation does not clear the laboratory but rather points out deficiencies that must be addressed.

"There are many corrective actions that need to be taken, and we are watching closely," Peterson said. "We are very concerned, obviously."

The inventory miscalculation follows more than a decade of security problems at the bomb design center, including several incidents of lost classified information contained on computers, electronic drives and paper.

The current case seems to parallel an incident in 2004, when the lab thought it had lost computer disks containing bomb design information.

Operations were shut down for six months while officials conducted an intensive search. In the end, an investigation concluded the disks never existed. Not long after, the laboratory director was fired.

"When you are in the nuclear weapons business, you have to keep precise track of every single thing from classified information to nuclear materials," said Philip Coyle, a veteran nuclear weapons expert who served in both the Energy and Defense departments. "You wonder if Los Alamos doesn't have good statisticians and good inventory systems, who would?"

Energy officials, however, defended their system of safeguards, saying their quick investigation demonstrated to other countries the U.S. commitment to tight controls on nuclear materials.

The incident was brought to public attention by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based watchdog group that has long urged improved nuclear weapons security. The group intercepted a scathing letter sent in February by Energy officials to lab director Michael R. Anastasio, saying that the lab had ignored its deficiencies for a long time.

Peter Stockton, an investigator for the watchdog group and a former security expert at the Energy Department, said Los Alamos is overly confident about protecting plutonium.

"The lab has plenty of holes in its highly touted security system," Stockton said.

Such problems are hardly new. In September 2007, Energy Department Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman detailed problems with Los Alamos' inventory system. In some areas, no inventory had been taken for 10 years, he reported.

Dating back to the Cold War, the lab has checked only a small fraction of its uranium and plutonium stockpile and then statistically computed any imbalances.

Coyle, among others, says the current system should be dumped in favor of an actual inventory of every ounce of nuclear material, known as a "wall-to-wall" inventory.

Peterson said the department is moving in that direction. In the future, the Los Alamos lab will have to conduct a 100% inventory every two months of all materials actively being used in fabrication or research.

But such comprehensive checks will not be done in the lab's plutonium and uranium storage vaults because it could expose workers to more than allowable levels of radiation. The vaults are considered the most secure parts of the facility.

Kevin Roark, a lab spokesman, said there was never any possibility that plutonium was stolen, owing to tight physical security measures that he could not discuss.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department's office in New Mexico has suspended an employee, David Lee, on suspicion that he leaked the February letter.

"They are trying to lay the rap on me," Lee said in an interview, though he would neither confirm nor deny the allegation.

Officials at the local Energy office declined to comment.

Tom Devine, an attorney for the Government Accountability Project, which represents whistle-blowers, said that even if Lee had leaked the unclassified letter, the action was protected under U.S. law.


Mar 22, 2009

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Opposes LANL Special Exposure Cohort Petition

By Mark Schiller, La Jicarita News

Longtime readers of La Jicarita News are aware that we’ve written numerous articles regarding the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). This program, enacted by Congress in 2000, is supposed to provide financial compensation and medical benefits for workers at federal nuclear facilities who have been made ill by exposure to radiation and other toxins in the workplace, but in fact has provided benefits for only about 28 percent of claimants nationally and less than 20 percent of claimants from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Moreover, claimants have to undergo a lengthy bureaucratic process, which testimony before Congressional committees has demonstrated is often tainted by incompetency and insensitivity by government administrators. Knowing all that I was still surprised by the seeming indifference to sick workers’ suffering displayed by number crunching bureaucrats from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Department of Labor (DOL), which administers EEOICPA, at the February 17-19 meeting of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health (ABRWH) in Albuquerque.

I attended the February 17 afternoon and early evening sessions primarily to hear NIOSH respond to a petition by contract workers (security guards, firemen, custodians, welders, etc.) at LANL to extend Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) status to that class of workers for the years 1976-2005. SEC status is a concession by the government that it does not have enough reliable information to “reconstruct” the exposure of workers at a specific facility during a specific time period. Gaining SEC status grants blanket benefits to all workers at that facility who have contracted one or more of twenty-two specified cancers during the specified time period, without having to go through the lengthy and scientifically questionable dose reconstruction program (LANL already has two SECs that cover the years 1943-1975; see the February 2009 issue of La Jicarita News for more specific information regarding the latest SEC petition). The dispassionate and sometimes glib manner in which NIOSH and DOL employees reported on the program generally, and the LANL SEC specifically, seemed to totally ignore the fact that the lives of people, who the government knowingly placed in harm’s way, are held in the balance. It was simply scientific data and statistical information to them.

Before NIOSH gave its presentation about the LANL SEC petition to the Advisory Board that will make a recommendation to Congress, both NIOSH and DOL gave presentations regarding issues of general concern. The NIOSH presentation outlined new, more restrictive rules for access to “classified” and “controlled” government documents essential for claimants to substantiate their claims and for the Advisory Board’s independent contractor, Sanford Cohen and Associates (SC&A), to evaluate SEC petitions and audit NIOSH’s dose reconstruction program. In essence, NIOSH, sounding the never ending call for increased national security, added additional layers of bureaucracy to the process of obtaining these documents, which will not only delay an already protracted process but also add increased costs to a program whose administrative costs are equal to 32 percent of benefits (compare this to Social Security Disability Insurance, whose administrative costs amount to approximately 2.5 percent of benefits).

In a response to these new policies the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) requested clarification of statements included in the “security plan” that NIOSH could withhold documents if it determines that the information contained in them has the “potential to damage governmental, commercial or private interests if disseminated,” or if persons requesting documents “do not need to know the information to perform their jobs or other authorized activities.” ANWAG pointed out that these statements, obviously open to broad interpretation, “failed to incorporate” President Obama’s recent memorandum stating, “The government should not keep information confidential merely because officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failure might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interest of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], executive branch agencies should act promptly and in the spirit of cooperation . . . .”

In addition, ANWAG took issue with NIOSH’s assertion that Sanford Cohen and Associates (SC&A) is NIOSH’s contractor rather than the Advisory Board’s contractor because funding for SC&A is funneled through NIOSH. ANWAG pointed out that SC&A “was awarded a contract to audit . . . NIOSH and its [NIOSH’s] contractor, Oak Ridge Associated Universities’ (ORAU) technical documents and scientific assumptions” and therefore is only answerable to the independent Advisory Board and the President who appoints its members. Board members Dr. James Malcolm Melius and Bradley P. Clawson were vehement in their denunciations of NIOSH’s claim that SC&A was NIOSH’s rather than the Advisory Board’s contractor, as well as the new security plan. They claimed both issues jeopardized the Advisory Board’s ability to make informed, unbiased recommendations to the President and Congress.

Next up was a Powerpoint presentation by the new Director of the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation, Rachel Leiton, that glossed over an enormous amount of statistical information about EEOICPA at a speed that I felt intentionally precluded comprehension. Let me cite just a few examples from the spreadsheets that accompanied the presentation. Of 64,889 cases filed with DOL under Part B of EEOICPA (which grants $150,000 in compensation as well as medical benefits to workers whose cancer, Silicosis, or Beryllium disease NIOSH has determined was caused by exposure to toxins in the workplace), 28,654, approximately 44 percent, were actually referred to NIOSH for evaluation. A small percentage of the approximately 36,000 claims not sent to NIOSH were Beryllium and Silicosis claims that do not undergo dose reconstruction through NIOSH, but the majority of other claims were eliminated for other, unexplained reasons and statistically ignored. Of the 28,654 cases that were referred to NIOSH, 19,503 went through the dose reconstruction process administered by NIOSH’s contractor ORAU, which, in theory, determined the “probability” of claimants’ cancer(s) being caused by workplace exposures to radiation. More than 2,700 were unaccountably withdrawn from NIOSH without going through dose reconstruction. Of the 19,503 cases that did go through dose reconstruction, DOL has made final decisions in 16,876 cases, approving 6,091 and denying 10,785. Final decisions on approximately 2,200 other cases are pending. 6,403 cases are currently undergoing dose reconstruction, nearly half of which are “reworks”, meaning there was a significant basis for the claimant’s initial dose reconstruction to be redone. Bear in mind that many of the cases for which there were final decisions also had to be redone at a cost of $12,000 to $15,000 per case. Finally, the average time from submission of a Part B claim to a final decision was 1,090 days or approximately three years. These are pretty disturbing numbers and account for only a small fraction of the information given in an approximately fifteen minute presentation. It took me an hour to distill the above information from the spreadsheets and a call to Ms. Leighton for explanation and clarification. Yet the entire presentation went unquestioned by the Advisory Board and only one member commented that the three-year processing period was excessive.

Next on the agenda was NIOSH’s response to the LANL SEC petition delivered by Dr. Gregory V. Macievic, a health physicist, who was part of the NIOSH team that drafted the recommendation to deny the petition.

The claimants’ petition noted that NIOSH itself conceded in its recommendation to approve the 1943-1975 SEC “potential dose reconstruction issues may exist for the post-1975 period.” Specifically, the SEC petition asserted ancillary (contract) workers were given no or inadequate protective equipment; went unmonitored when they were first-responders to accidental exposures; were excluded from the urine sampling and the whole-body counting program; were often monitored inadequately because they worked in multiple facilities during the course of a day and the dosimeters they were given could not adequately account for the magnitude or mixed activation effects of their exposures; and they were exposed to a broad spectrum of radioactive elements for which the dosimeters did not monitor.

Dr. Macievic’s response not only attempted to counter all of these claims but further asserted that if NIOSH knew what it had learned since the confirmation of 1943-1975 SEC, it would have recommended denying that petition for the years after 1970 as well. Interestingly, he didn’t directly deny many of the petitioners’ claims, but suggested there were ways around them. For instance, if a worker was unmonitored while in a specific area, Dr. Macievic suggested NIOSH’s monitoring contractor ORAU could use data collected from co-workers who were monitored to estimate the unmonitored worker’s exposure. Similarly, he noted that while there was a wide spectrum of “exotic” radionuclides used at LANL for which there was no specific monitoring, these so-called exotics, he claimed, behaved similarly to the more common radionuclides for which there was monitoring. He therefore suggested that by using the monitoring records for the more common nuclear elements, ORAU could accurately extrapolate exposure to the exotics.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups member and long time public health doctor Maureen Merritt, called this “specious reasoning”, pointing out that there’s very little hard data on the effects of exotic radionuclides and extrapolating information regarding their effects from data regarding the effects of more common radionuclides was not good science. Moreover, she asserted estimating exposure based on general data failed to account for the unique circumstance of each worker’s exposure, particularly the interaction of multiple radionuclides in facilities such as Area G — the so called “hot dump” — where workers were exposed to the waste and by-products from projects throughout the Lab.

Following Macievic’s presentation, Andrew Evaskovich, who drafted the SEC petition and had only two weeks to craft a response to NIOSH’s recommendation for denial, made an incisive rebuttal detailing what he asserted were the many false presumptions and oversights contained in the NIOSH presentation. Evaskovich was followed by representatives from Senators Udall and Bingaman and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan’s offices, who also raised questions about Macievic’s presentation and expressed the Senators’ and Congressman’s complete support for the petition.

The Advisory Board has indicated that it will request a full audit of the petition and NIOSH’s response to it by its contractor Sanford Cohen and Associates. However, in the past only four petitions not recommended by NIOSH have succeeded in gaining SEC status, and advocates I spoke with conceded that if the NIOSH recommendation is overturned the new SEC will probably not include the entire 1976-2005 time period. To date, 37 petitions have been granted SEC status, while 61 petitions have been denied.

I’d like to thank Dr. Maureen Merritt and Terrie Barrie of the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups for their help in sorting through many of these complicated scientific and bureaucratic issues

Comment of the Week

139 comments this week, resulting in a few keepers. Here's one from the "No kidding!" category, on the Hearing: Nuclear Weapons Complex post:

There's a couple of noteworthy comments made by Everet Beckner in his testimony:

5. NNSA should re-examine and reduce the fee-structure for its Management and Operating (M&O) contracts, while simultaneously reducing the federal oversight...DOE and NNSA management and the congress have continued to insist upon endless inspections and oversight activities by the federal government.

9. The present semi-autonomous relationship (within DOE) directed by the Congress when NNSA was formed has created more problems than it has solved.

From my perspective, after reading the various testimony-the RRW is a dead issue.

This one from the Hearing: Nuclear Weapons Complex post suggests new, more topical slogans for LANL:

"Work-free Safety Zone"

"Compliance Serving Society"

"Plan of the Day: CYA!"

"LANL Science, the last 10 percent"

"LDRD: Now with half the fat!"

In the "This person is seriously wound up too tight" category, we find this festering pustule on the LANL-ALL 2278: Note from the director-LANL loses e... post, where the discussion had turned to anonymous bloggers' "rights" to post senseless, mean-spirited garbage whenever the spirit moved them:

7:27 am: Doug said: "Yours would have never seen the light of day when I was running the LANL blog."

Just what I like to hear - a staunch proponent of the First Amendment. Like the blog's entire existence didn't depend on the rights you are so willing to strip from anyone you don't agree with. Glad you're gone, Doug. Especially from LANL, but also from control of this blog. Another poster had it right - you ARE on a "power trip from hell."

An amazing sense of entitlement and bitterness, all wrapped up in a single paragraph. Seriously, if you want to be guaranteed freedom of speech, start your own blog. Also, I hear that Xanax can sometimes work wonders in cases like yours. I'm just sayin'.

Finally, a late-breaking comment on the Senators Call for Keeping U.S. Nuclear-Weapon Research Under Civilian Control post came in while I was writing this. 10:23AM points out some of the real Washington decision criteria regarding military versus non-military control of LANL. Also, 10:23 writes like a pro; I bet he makes a living lining up words in a row for somebody.

Observations of the Lab for-profit competition and outcome demonstrate that Senators and Congress members are not all that concerned about killing the Labs ability to function.

What they're worried about is losing plum committee authority over the Labs they have suffocated to other committees that oversee the DOD.

Less authority in DC means less power, less control, less horse trading, and fewer opportunities to be treated to nice trips by lobbyists and potential bidders on Lab contracts.

It also really reduces the number of places a retiring or deposed official can go to be a 'senior fellow' or 'special consultant' for a nice 6-figure salary.

For example, ask George Schultz about his work for Bechtel on the Board of Directors and as a 'consultant.'

Until next week,

Dear Mister President,
Please don't fix anything. Things aren't as bad as they look. Oh, and don't ask anything about bonuses.

Senators Call for Keeping U.S. Nuclear-Weapon Research Under Civilian Control

Global Security Newswire
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Key U.S. senators have asked the Obama administration to cancel its planned review of whether to transfer control of nuclear-weapon laboratories to Defense Department (see GSN, Feb. 6).

The Office of Management and Budget ordered the study earlier this year, reflecting continued frustration with security and management lapses at the nation's nuclear centers at Los Alamos, N.M., Sandia, N.M., and Livermore, Calif. (see GSN, Feb. 27). U.S. nuclear-weapon research is conducted by the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration and has been under civilian control since the beginning of the atomic era.

In a letter to OMB Director Peter Orszag released yesterday, the top Democrats and Republicans from the Senate's Energy Department funding committees said the NNSA-Energy Department relationship "is in many ways dysfunctional," but nevertheless asked Orszag to hold off on the review.

"We would like to express our firm opposition to the transfer of the NNSA to the Department of Defense," says the letter by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), top committee Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), that committee's senior Republican Robert Bennett (Utah), and Armed Services Strategic Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

The letter argues that civilian control over nuclear research offers the best results.

"Nonmilitary control over the development of nuclear weapons technology has ensured independence of technical judgment over issues associated with our nuclear arsenal, has attracted the best scientific and technical talent to these important programs, and has served to underline the crucial differences between nuclear weapons and conventional military munitions," the letter says.

Furthermore, "civilian control is the cornerstone that has enhanced the ability of U.S. funded and staffed programs to negotiate access to and trust of other nuclear nations," the letter says, citing U.S. efforts to secure nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, March 19).

Mar 19, 2009

It's Official

Doris Heim the Associate Director of Business Operations and Kevin Chalmers Division Leader of Acquisition & Services Management are leaving LANL within 30 days.

Please post anonymously. Thanks!

Mar 17, 2009

Hearing: Nuclear Weapons Complex

Hearing: Nuclear Weapons Complex
1:00 PM, 2359 Rayburn WEBCAST
Thomas D'Agostino, Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration
Richard Garwin, IBM Labs, Former Chairman, State Department Arms Control and Nonproliferation Advisory Board
Philip Coyle, Former Associate Director, Livermore Laboratory
Everet Beckner, Former Deputy Administrator, Defense Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration
A.G. Eggenberger, Chairman, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

Mar 14, 2009

Comment of the Week

There were only 119 comments this week, not much to choose from.

Given that, the one I selected this week for COTW was from a "Yes we are!", "No you're not!" bit of back and forth on last week's COTW. It seems that somebody criticized LANL's LDRD system, and before you knew it there was mild hysteria. I plucked this one: short & sweet, from the middle of that verbal buzzsaw:

Anonymous said...

The LANL LDRD protected class doth protest too much, methinks


Mar 13, 2009

LANL-ALL 2278: Note from the director-LANL loses employees

To: All Employees
From: Mike Anastasio

As some of you may have heard, two of our own were killed on their way to work Monday in a plane crash near Golden, New Mexico. My heartfelt condolences go out first to the families of the two men and then to their friends and coworkers here at the Lab.

State Police have just informed us they now have positive identifications on both.

Our two employees were Matt Porter of Engineering Services and Randy Rupert of Construction Management. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting a full investigation into the cause of the crash.

All of us are deeply saddened by the passing of these two men and offer the sincerest hope that their loved ones may find some small measure of relief in the fact that both were so highly respected and liked by their friends and peers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and that they will be missed.

The Employee Assistance Program is available to any Laboratory employee wishing to discuss any issue of concern. Counseling services may be offered through EAP or outside providers may be recommended. If you would like to speak with a counselor, contact the EAP at 667-7339. The EAP is staffed Monday through Thursday from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and Friday 8 am to 5 pm.

Mar 10, 2009

Report: Second Plane Missing Over New Mexico

Investigation Continues At Wreckage Found Monday
Rob Finfrock, Aero-News.Net

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 03.11.09 1245 MDT: The investigation into why a small, single-engine aircraft crashed in the East Mountain region of central New Mexico early Monday has been complicated by reports a second aircraft, that reportedly took off at around the same time from a residential airpark near Edgewood, is also unaccounted for.

KOB-4 reports two aircraft departed from Sandia Airpark Estates East (1N1) at approximately 5:30 am local time Monday. One of those planes crashed soon after -- about 11 nautical miles from the airport, in reported heavy snow conditions -- claiming the lives of the two men onboard.

Officials stated both occupants of that plane were commuters heading to their jobs in Los Alamos, about 50 nm from Edgewood. One victim has been tentatively identified as Randy Rupert, owner of a two-seat Grumman AA-1B.

Late Monday, local media reports stated Rupert was one of four people who regularly commuted by air from 1N1 to their jobs in Los Alamos. Initial reports indicated the two others in that group opted to drive to Los Alamos instead on Monday, due to the wintry conditions; it is not known whether those people are now believed to have been on the missing airplane.

ANN Managing Editor Rob Finfrock lives in Albuquerque, and will continue to follow this story as it progresses. Stay tuned.

Original Report

0001 EDT: Two men reportedly flying to their jobs at Los Alamos National Laboratories in northern New Mexico were killed Monday when their aircraft crashed in wintry conditions about 20 miles ENE of Albuquerque.

KRQE-13 reports the aircraft, type unreported, impacted terrain near the intersection of New Mexico highways 14 and 344, south of the community of Golden in the foothills of the San Pedro mountains.

Deputies with the New Mexico State Patrol say the aircraft departed Edgewood, NM bound for Los Alamos. No flight plan was filed, but officials said the occupants regularly commuted to their jobs at LANL. Residents in the area said they often heard the aircraft fly overhead in the early morning hours.

After two months of severe drought conditions, many areas of central New Mexico received the first measurable precipitation of the year Monday morning. Heavy snow was falling and ceilings were low in the area when the accident occurred, according to officials, who added the plane may have been turning back towards the origination point when it crashed.

KOAT-7 identified the pilot as Randy Rupert. FAA records show a 1971 Grumman AA-1B Trainer registered to a Randal Rupert, with an Edgewood address. Officials have not released the identity of the passenger.

The aircraft reportedly departed Sandia Airpark Estates East (1N1), on a northerly course to Los Alamos Municipal Airport (LAM). The accident site lies directly along that path, approximately 11 nautical miles from 1N1.

A witness called police just after 6:00 am MDT to report a possible forest fire; crews were on scene within the hour, and found the charred wreckage of a small single-engine aircraft. The plane's N-number and other identifying characteristics were rendered unrecognizable by the wreckage and post-impact fire.

"It's pretty clear that the airplane crashed pretty abruptly. There's a small scene, there was a fire, and the remains of the airplane are pretty charred," Department of Public Safety spokesman Peter Olsen told KOAT-7.

Public meeting on CMRR project today

By Tatjana K. Rosev, The LANL NewsBulletin
March 10, 2009

The next regularly scheduled public meeting about the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project (CMRR) is today.

The meeting is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Best Western Hilltop House, 400 Trinity Drive.

The CMRR project consists of three phases. The new facilities will provide a wide range of scientific and technological capabilities including nuclear materials handling, materials processing, fabrication, stockpile management, manufacturing technologies, nonproliferation programs, special nuclear material storage, and waste management capabilities.

Work continues on the first phase of the project, the Radiological Laboratory/Utility Office Building. This building will house several of the Lab’s mission-critical projects, including analytical chemistry, materials characterization, and actinide research and development.

The CMRR project is part of the Laboratory’s stockpile stewardship program. It replaces the old CMR building constructed in 1952.

I wonder if Newsmax will be there?

Mar 9, 2009

Top 10 Spending Bill Boondoggles

Sunday, March 8, 2009 5:58 PM
By: David A. Patten,

Guess what Newsmax picked as the number one item for their boondoggle top ten list?


Based on watchdog reports and recommendations, here’s a Newsmax list of the bill’s top 10 non-earmark boondoggles:

Boondoggle #1

$97 Million for a Program That’s Being Cancelled — When the government decided to replace old nuclear warheads with new ones, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory said they needed two new buildings to produce the necessary plutonium components. One of those structures is reportedly nearing completion.

President Obama recently announced, however, that he is canceling the Reliable Replacement Warhead program based on scientists’ recommendation that it’s unnecessary. That should save the public a lot of money, right?

Think again: Officials are moving forward with the second new building anyway. The spending bill includes $97 million for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facilities at Los Alamos. That’s up from $74 million in 2008, which was a big increase from the $54 million spent in 2007. In other words, the budget for a program that is now being eliminated has increased 80 percent in the past two years.

“The question is why are they building this building?” asks Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “There’s been a lot of concern about taking on a giant new construction project at Los Alamos, when the primary justification for the project is gone. From our point of view, that’s some pretty questionable funding.”


[View the full article here.]

Hearing of Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

03/10/09 Hearing
Nuclear Weapons Complex
10:00 AM, 2362-B Rayburn
Thomas D'Agostino, Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration
David Overskei, former Chairman, Dept. of Energy Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force
Philip Coyle, former Associate Director, Livermore Laboratory
Everet Beckner, former Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration

Update: The hearing has been rescheduled for next week. Details not yet posted to committee website.

Although this hearing will not be webcast, if someone forwards the audio I'll post it to the blog.

Mar 8, 2009

Pro2Serve adds to its board

Chillicothe Gazette

Shareholders of Pro2Serve Professional Project Services, Inc. have elected Charles S. Przybylek, the former chief operating officer and general counsel of the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), to serve a two-year term on its Board of Directors.

In his former role as NNSA's chief operating officer, Przybylek served as the headquarters interface for integration of field and headquarters operations. Prior to his positions in Washington, D.C., Przybylek was the chief counsel for NNSA's Albuquerque Operations Office.

In addition to Przybylek, Dr. Robert Van Hook and Dr. Barry Goss were re-elected to the Pro2Serve Board for three-year terms.

Risky business: Safety-minded cleanup of Area B resumes

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

The site is shaped like a boomerang. Several discrete areas of shallow pits are scattered along a strip of land on the southern side of DP Road.

Buckled pavement covers most of it, where an old trailer park used to sit.

Material Disposal Area B is about to get busy again. After two years of public silence, with only a few visible changes across the road from a row of small businesses, one of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s major environmental cleanup projects is shifting gears.

Project officials plan a public meeting this week to talk about where things stand and what else they have discovered in the interim devoted to site-preparation and investigation.

The dialogue takes place at UNM-LA Main Lecture Hall, 4000 University Drive in Los Alamos on Thursday from 6-7:30 p.m.

The meeting this week will discuss how the project intends to handle and transport the waste, where the waste will go and how it will be coordinated with the county to keep the vehicular activity off-peak.

“We studied other projects and did more research to understand MDA-B,” Allan Chaloupka said. “We’re ready to go into field investigation. The public is going to see more activity in and around the disposal area.”

Chaloupka is in charge of cleaning up and closing out all of Technical Area 21, an old plutonium processing facility. MDA-B, one of the dumping areas for that facility, is on the western end of that territory and now completely fenced off.

Interviewed in a conference trailer this week at TA-21, Chaloupka’s message was focused on safety and keeping the public informed, as he talked about the job ahead.

In order to mitigate any dangers, the project has spent more time on historical research and interviewing people who worked at the site during the period,

“We’ve done our homework. We talked to the experts and devised procedures and plans to minimize the impact on the public,” Chaloupka said

“We looked at the process history from 1943-1948,” said Mitch Goldberg, MDA-B project manager. “What did they do? What did they put in MDA-B?”

Somewhere in the buried trash there may be an old truck contaminated from the first atomic blast at Trinity site in 1945.

A student researcher looking for gopher holes on the site fell into one of the pits up to his shoulders. He was unharmed. Interviewed later, he said he saw stacked pallets of chemicals.

There are batteries, bottles and glassware and boxes of plutonium-contaminated clothing and gloves.

Plutonium is out there, maybe 200 grams, scattered over the six acres of land. The most recent Environmental Surveillance Report related one of the highest measurements of plutonium 238 to work at MDA-B.

“One occurrence of plutonium 238 greater than 3 (attacuries per cubic meter) was measured,” stated the report. “This was during road construction in preparation for clean-up at MDA-B. The highest quarterly concentration was at this site and was 2.6 aCi/m3,” still well below permissible exposure levels.

In fact, even 200 grams of plutonium is a fairly small amount according to the officials in charge. One high-activity 55-gallon drum, containing transuranic waste for disposal in the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in southern New Mexico would hold three to four times that much.

Plutonium is considered a hazard if it is inhaled or ingested, more than from radiological exposure.

“Chemicals are a more immediate hazard,” Chaloupka said, mentioning in particular the explosive potential of reactive chemicals. “Oxidized ether might have been disposed of, but we have discovered that most of the containers went into a separate pit on the south side of DP west.”

Goldberg said there would be emergency exercises to anticipate any eventuality, coordinated with the laboratory and county emergency operations.

Parts of the parking lot on the south side of DP Road may have to be cordoned off for periods of time, when excavation occurs near by.

Two enclosures will probably be used, a refinement of earlier ideas that called for a single large one. The two moveable structures are expected to be about 30-40 feeet high, 100 feet wide and 170 feet long and will provide more flexibility for the work plan.

As the cleanup is finished in one place, an enclosure would be moved to the next area. If a problem is discovered that requires extra time, the second enclosure can keep moving. Moving would take one day to detach the power and ventilation units, a day to move and a day to reconnect.

A drive along the road behind the target area revealed many preparations in place, including an extended fence line and power stations, as well as an elaborate system of berms, baffles and collection basins to control storm water run-off. Air monitoring stations have been positioned between the site and the business on DP road and portable stations will be placed along the southern perimeter.

Some 50-100 people will be working under the lab’s contract. The excavation part will take about a year, but there will be activity on the site until the spring of 2011. The effort is to meet the cleanup milestone under a Consent Order with the state, due Dec. 31, 2010.

Mar 7, 2009

Comment of the Week

It's that time again. And, once again it was difficult to select one single comment from the 207 submitted this week to be honored as Comment of the Week. I did notice, however, that most of the comments to Frank's blog fall neatly into one of three categories: Incisive, Funny, or Pathetic. Plenty to choose from in that last category, sadly. This week a winning comment from each of these three categories will share the COTW award.

From the Incisive group, we have this bit of succinct, compact wisdom plucked from the NUCLEAR WEAPONS: NNSA and DOD Need to More Effectively Manage the Stockpile Life Extension Program post:

"What is the point of keeping LANL if there is little to no science left for the managers to manage?" - 2:01 AM

Cashflow, baby, cashflow.

In the Funny Category, we select this vivid tidbit of LANL culture from last week's Comment of the Week

Wow, I can't believe how many of you are unwilling to believe that some of the male scientists at LANL are creepy disgusting pigs. Yes, guys, the bike shorts are really nasty, especially after several days in a row. And nobody wants to see that "potato" bulging out of your spandex in front. This is not a Chippendales show... not until you get a decent tan and some muscle definition.

And as far as the general goofball tendencies at LANL, what's with the guy who commutes along Diamond Drive on an oversized unicycle? And in the evening he wears a blinking light on his helmet for safety - ROTFL!

Yes indeedy boys, as we ladies say: the odds are good... but the goods are very, very odd.

There was plenty of competition for winner of the Pathetic category. It was a toss-up, but I settled on this contribution, also from last week's COTW post. Some people are clearly devoting way too much time chasing trivial pursuits on this blog.

8:18 pm: "Gotcha dipshit, scientists do not have "office meetings", that is a business term. Try harder next time idiot."

I'm (almost) left speechless by this poster's naivete, not to mentions aggressive idiocy. Scientists do not have office meetings??? What a joke. In my organization, mandatory Group meetings are held every week. Discussions include program progress and problems, new management notices and/or requirements, new training, status of old Group business, etc. I guess this poster is some wannabe who has no clue about actual professional life, scientific or otherwise. Go change another oil filter, moron.

Finally, a blast from the past. Back in the "Good Old Days" of February, 2005, the lab was in the final month of what eventually turned out to be a seven month Nanos-imposed shutdown. Interestingly, many of the staff were able to show that they still possesed a sharp sense of humor, even during that dark period of LANL's history. Humor, I've noticed, seems in short supply at today's LANL. Anyhow, we had a poetry contest. Here were a couple of the winners from the first round competition.

From the post:

First, my favorite -- a Haiku:

Navy admiral -
Peter Principle applies:
in over his head

Runner up:

Director Pete Nanos has said,
if you do science you are a butt-head.
So he stopped all work,
that moronic jerk!
Now science at LANL is dead.

Under LANL's new management plan,
if you try to do science you're canned.
Shall we instill a revolt?
Or just give up and bolt?
Either way, it's "game over," man.

Quoth Nanos, "Disks are missing, oh dear!"
"They're neither here, nor here, nor here!"
"You're all cowboys, I say."
"Now we'll do it MY way!"
Make way for intimidation and fear.

These cowboys have met their match!
Just watch, the bad actors I'll catch!
Guilty or not, I'll fire the lot!
With ten men, I'll start over from scratch.

Security lapses must stop!
So Nanos decides to play cop.
After half a year,
the verdict is clear:
Barcodes: a billion a pop.

Oh Nanos, why don't you just leave us?
Your actions really do grieve us.
Those missing disks?
Just labels amiss!
If we're butt-heads, then you must be Beavis!


Chu retreats from Yucca Mountain

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Republican senators on the energy committee bore down on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in a hearing Thursday in Washington.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returned to a topic from the presidential campaign as he interrogated Chu on nuclear power.

Chu’s prepared remarks to the committee on the administration’s plan to gain energy independence, mentioned “nuclear” only once at the end and that reference was omitted in his oral statement.

Instead, he emphasized weatherization and other energy efficiencies, stimulus-related investments in clean energy and job creation through tax credits and grants.

McCain asked if it were true that “nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option, period.” He referred to earlier reports that the Obama administration planned to reduce funding for the geological repository under construction in Nevada.

Chu began to answer, “We have learned a lot more,” but was interrupted by McCain, who asked, “What is wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?”

“I think we can do a better job,” Chu responded, which led to a series of exchanges about what that meant for the used reactor fuel that is sitting at power plants around the country and what the administration’s intentions were.

“Boy if I were looking to advance a new nuclear facility, these comments from the administration that we are starting the process of finding a better solution would be very concerning,” Sen. Lisa Murkoski, R-Alaska, joined in. “I don’t know what we have done with our nuclear renaissance that Sen. Domenici worked so hard to advance.”

Chu also encountered doubts from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who wondered what Chu planned to do with the high level nuclear waste that the Energy Department had committed to remove from his state.

“I can tell you this contract is very clear that it has to be moved,” said Risch. “Yucca Mountain not being used is a relatively new thing. When the administration made that decision, somebody must have had some thoughts about where it would go.”

Chu’s position was that he intended to study short-term storage alternatives and recycling technologies that would reduce the risk of proliferation.

“I want to seek the advice of some deeply knowledgeable people,” Chu said.

Committee chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., introduced Chu during deliberations on an energy authorization bill. A second panel included a group of energy experts, who provided suggestions on the authorization bill the committee is drafting.

Bingaman followed up with Chu on a question that has not been put to rest, about whether the nuclear mission under the National Nuclear Security Administration and the scientific mission at the nuclear weapons labs should be separated.

The notion was floated earlier this year in a memo from the Office of Management and Budget to DOE, suggesting that the Defense Department might be a better home for nuclear weapons programs.

A newly released study by the Stimson Center, “Leveraging Science for Security: A Strategy for the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories in the 21st Century,” offers a another version of spinning nuclear weapons work out of DOE and into an independent Agency for National Security.

Affirming the traditional view within the complex, Chu emphasized the scientific basis for stockpile stewardship.

“Anything that threatens the science-based component of those labs, I would be very much opposed to,” Chu said.

The hearing was webcast and archived by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Mar 5, 2009

Task Force Urges Broader Role for Nuclear Labs

By Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009; Page A07

The nation's nuclear weapons laboratories would be spun out of the Energy Department and become the center of an independent Agency for National Security Applications under a proposal to be released today by a bipartisan task force formed by the Stimson Center, a research organization devoted to security issues.

Changing the status of Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories and making wider use of the labs for other research would help reestablish and assure "the nation's global science and technology leadership in the 21st century," said the task force report. At present, the labs are directed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department.

"This action would enable the laboratories to remain trusted third party advisors as well as providers of capabilities, but it would initiate a full transformation from a Cold War, industrial age mindset and culture," according to the task force, which was chaired by Frances Fragos Townsend, who was an assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism, and retired Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, who was deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton.

The proposal comes at a time when the future of the nation's multibillion-dollar nuclear weapons complex is under review. Congress last year halted a Bush administration plan to develop a new nuclear warhead and delayed an expensive plan to reduce the size of the complex and modernize many of its 50-year-old facilities. Members held up these programs while awaiting development of a comprehensive nuclear strategy that would determine the future size of the nation's nuclear stockpile and the complex needed to build or refurbish it.

A congressionally mandated commission is studying that issue and is to report later this year. The Defense Department's approach to the stockpile's future also will be determined by year's end, when it completes its Nuclear Posture Review. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had ordered the Energy Department and the Defense Department to study the costs and potential benefits of transferring budget and management of NNSA or any of its components to Defense beginning in fiscal 2011.

Though still in its initial stage, the OMB idea of putting the nuclear complex under the Pentagon has already drawn widespread criticism from Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), who is chairman of the House Armed Services strategic subcommittee and whose district includes the Livermore laboratory, wrote to OMB Director Peter Orszag last month opposing the idea. Saying that moving the NNSA into the Defense Department had been rejected in the past, Tauscher wrote that "civilian control over our nuclear weapons laboratories and related facilities was established to ensure some independence from the military."

The Stimson task force recommendations stem primarily from concerns that reduced spending on nuclear weapons would result in a funding cut for the national laboratories at a time when their parent agency, the Energy Department, faces other growing financial demands.

For several decades, in order to draw some of the nation's best scientists, the laboratories have taken on work in addition to dealing with nuclear weapons. The task force said nuclear weapons funding in the lab budgets ranged from 43 percent at Sandia to 60 percent at Lawrence Livermore. But the remainder of the work they do, for the Pentagon, State Department, intelligence community and Department of Homeland Security, helps "to innovate new technologies to help address emerging national security threats."

As currently operated, however, the task force said, the NNSA has to work within "an excessively bureaucratic" Energy Department culture that "has infiltrated NNSA as well," with the laboratories the eventual losers.

Mar 4, 2009

DOE Public Affairs and Communications Departments First to See New Political Appointees

Energy Communities Alliance Update: March 4, 2009

Dan Leistikow has been appointed Director of Public Affairs. Prior to this appointment, he was regional communications director on President Obama's campaign, with a focus on Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan.

Tom Reynolds has been named Deputy Director of Public Affairs at DOE. Previously, he served as Deputy Communications Director in Ohio for Obama's presidential campaign.

Stephanie Mueller has been appointed Press Secretary. Prior to her appointment, she was Communications Director in Colorado for the Obama campaign.

Tiffany Edwards has been named Deputy Press Secretary. She was previously Deputy Press Secretary of Constituency Outreach for the Obama campaign. [source: CQ Today]

In related news, the Washington Post reported this morning that Sue Tierney, the leading candidate to be Deputy Secretary of Energy, is no longer being considered for the position.

If you have any questions regarding the Bulletin, or would like to subscribe, please email or call (202) 828-2423.

Mar 3, 2009

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: NNSA and DOD Need to More Effectively Manage the Stockpile Life Extension Program

New GAO report released.

Results in Brief
NNSA and DOD have not effectively managed cost, schedule, and technical risks for either the B61 or W76 life extension program. Regarding the B61 program, although NNSA completed the refurbishment of the B61 bombs on schedule in November 2008, the refurbished weapons do not meet all refurbishment objectives. According to DOD and NNSA laboratory and production plant officials, NNSA established an unrealistic schedule and failed to fully implement its Phase 6.X process. To meet an aggressive production schedule, NNSA adopted a modified Phase 6.X process that compressed and overlapped the development and production engineering phases, leaving little time to develop and manufacture critical materials and evaluate test results before full-scale production. In addition, NNSA did not include any cost or schedule contingencies in its baseline to address unforeseen technical challenges. NNSA assumed that it would not need time for development and production engineering because it would reuse, rather than manufacture, critical materials. Before fully determining whether a critical material could be reused for the B61 bomb, NNSA developed a production schedule with fixed delivery dates. However, after additional tests showed that NNSA could not reuse this material, NNSA decided to develop an alternative material, which led to an $11 million cost overrun. When NNSA was unable to produce this substitute, it faced significant schedule delays and additional cost overruns.

NNSA was able to meet its refurbishment schedule and avoid significant cost overruns for the B61 bomb only because (1) some of the refurbishment objectives changed, thereby allowing NNSA to use the original material in the weapon design, (2) tactical B61 bombs that were decommissioned had material that NNSA could use, and (3) the Nuclear Weapons Council significantly reduced the number of B61 bombs in the stockpile and thus the number that NNSA had to refurbish. Even though these events allowed NNSA to meet its schedule, it refurbished less than one-third of the weapons in the original baseline for almost twice the unit cost. The cost of manufacturing each B61 bomb almost doubled. Furthermore, the refurbished B61 bombs still do not meet all of the refurbishment objectives.

Many of the B61 refurbishment problems might have been avoided if DOD had fulfilled its roles and responsibilities in overseeing NNSA’s life extension program activities. First, STRATCOM did not comprehensively review military requirements for the B61 bomb before NNSA started refurbishment activities, which might have avoided unnecessary testing and manufacturing of the alternative material. Second, the Air Force did not adequately review NNSA’s design, engineering, and testing activities—a review that would have alerted DOD that NNSA was not meeting all refurbishment objectives. According to Air Force officials, the Lead Project Officer failed to provide the necessary oversight and alert the Air Force to changes in testing that NNSA conducted of refurbished B61 bombs.

Regarding the W76 warhead, NNSA did not effectively manage one of the highest risks of the program—the manufacture of a key material known as Fogbank—resulting in $69 million in cost overruns and a schedule delay of at least 1 year that presented significant logistical challenges for the Navy. Recognizing that the manufacture of Fogbank was one of the highest risks to the program and that it lacked the knowledge, expertise, and facilities to manufacture Fogbank, NNSA developed a risk mitigation strategy. This strategy included three primary components: (1) build a new Fogbank production facility early enough to allow time to resolve any manufacturing problems before starting full production; (2) use the existing pilot plant to test the Fogbank manufacturing process while the new facility was under construction; and (3) consider the development of an alternate material for Fogbank. However, NNSA started operations of the new facility about 1 year late because the schedule for constructing the new facility was unrealistic, disagreements on the implementation of safety guidelines emerged, and the W76 program manager lacked authority to manage the construction schedule. In addition, NNSA did not use the pilot plant as planned, missing opportunities to improve the manufacturing process before full-scale production began. Finally, NNSA did not develop an alternate material that was less costly and easier to produce than Fogbank until a late stage. If NNSA had effectively implemented its risk management strategy, schedule delays and cost increases might have been avoided. Compounding these problems, NNSA did not have a consistent approach for developing a cost baseline for the W76 life extension program. The lack of a consistent baseline approach with similar cost assumptions and criteria makes it difficult to know the actual cost of refurbishing nuclear bombs and warheads and to track the costs of the program over time.

To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, in our classified January 2009 report, we recommended, among other things, that the Administrator of NNSA direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to develop a realistic schedule for the W76 and future life extension programs. This schedule should allow NNSA to (1) address technical challenges while meeting all military requirements; (2) build in time for unexpected technical challenges that may delay the program; (3) assess the cost and include funding in the baseline for risk mitigation activities that address the highest risks to the W76 and future life extension programs; and (4) before beginning a life extension program, assess the risks, costs, and scheduling needs for each military requirement established by DOD.

To improve DOD’s oversight over NNSA’s life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, we recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct (1) STRATCOM and the Secretary of the responsible service to comprehensively review military requirements for a weapons system before beginning a life extension program and work with NNSA to assess the cost and schedule implications for meeting each military requirement, and (2) the Secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy to ensure that the respective Lead Project Officers have the technical and managerial expertise and resources to review NNSA’s progress and technical challenges throughout the life extension program.

We provided a draft of our classified report to NNSA and DOD for their review and comment. As discussed in our classified report, NNSA agreed with our recommendations and plans to take a number of steps to implement them. DOD partially agreed with our recommendations. DOD agreed with our two recommendations directed at the department, but asked us to make modifications to the language of the recommendations to better target the responsible service or agency that has authority to implement them. We made the requested changes. NNSA and DOD also provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

[Download the full report here.]

Mar 1, 2009

Comment of the Week

Update, 3/3/2009: I just received this image of the anonymous, generic lab employee from a blog reader. Careful, they now know who you are...

It's hard to believe that seven days have already passed since the last Comment of the Week -- time flies when you're having fun. It was a quiet week; only 86 comments have been received since last Sunday.

The previous two COTW posts have focused on clever contributions to Frank's blog. For something different, this week we proudly present for your reading pleasure a fine example of the LANL "It's all about me" mindset. Or, to put it another way, "I'm entitled!" Puting it yet another way, this week's COTW highlights an example of arguably one of the worst of the LANL demographic groups: the Anonymous Coward who, oh, so bravely complains about something. It doesn't really matter what, practically anything will do as long as his little bleats of protest are heard. Just don't count on him to say anything brave in public, where people know who he is.

In this fine example of nameless, cowardly bitchiness, our brave little complainer is upset that Frank's LTRS blog is not having its comments promptly moderated at 11:08 on a Saturday night. And so, without further ado, I present this week's Comment of the Week, a premier example of self-righteous self-centeredness from a worthless little piece of garbage who seriously needs to get a life.


Frank and Doug have better things to do tonight. If you as a blog owner insist on reviewing posts, you might want to be around to do it. If not, then not. What's more important? I'd actaully[sic] like it if this blog were removed permanently. It would be better for all concerned (LANL. LANL employees, ex-LANL employees, LANL-haters, Government employees bored at their desks, and of course the Los Alamos County teenagers whose parents work at the Lab and who won't tell them anything. Do the world a favor. Or, be a responsible blog owner.

PS: Kevin -- feel free to pile on here, using your own anonymous persona, of course! BTW Kevin: good job earlier this week on assuring us that no Plutonium actually walked out the door of TA-55, in spite of the inability of the Best and the Brightest (TM) at TA-55 to account for some missing pounds of the stuff. I know I slept better that night after reading your press release!