Apr 3, 2009

Hearing on the Nuclear Weapons Complex

A Second Look

One of the most interesting congressional hearings in recent memory regarding the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapon complex took place on March 17, 2009 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. Frank Young, this blog’s convener, saw the hearing coming and alerted many of us that the hearing would be webcast. I was there; my wife and co-conspirator Trish captured the webcast in a RealPlayer file which you can download here (229 MB). The written testimony is posted on the committee web site (all pdfs):

Thomas D'Agostino
, Administrator, NNSA

Richard Garwin, IBM Labs, Former Chairman, State Department Arms Control and Nonproliferation Advisory Board (and designer of Ivy Mike, 1952)

Philip Coyle, Former Associate Director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Everet Beckner
, Former Deputy Administrator, Defense Programs, NNSA

A.J. Eggenberger, Chairman, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

As of this morning the original post had collected some 58 comments. One commenter picks up on something in Ev Beckner testimony, but that’s the extent of the comments on what the speakers said or wrote. Meanwhile press articles (in the Albuquerque Journal and Washington Post) captured mostly only what D’Agostino said, ignoring Coyle, Garwin, and Eggenberger entirely.

What’s not registering is that neither Garwin nor Coyle, and not really Ev Beckner either, support D’Agostino’s super-expensive plan for the nuclear weapons complex. How can NNSA pay for it all? The general consensus on Capitol Hill seems to be: they can't. So what will NNSA give up? As far as I can tell, nobody knows. Employees, one supposes, and at least some of its grandiose plans.

Garwin suggested the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Nuclear Facility at LANL was unnecessary, or at least should not proceed prior to a measure of clarity about future stockpile needs. He emphasized taking care of the people first – the real nuclear weapons complex, in his view.

Coyle urged an even broader re-think, given that NNSA’s workload has been predicated until now on building replacement warheads plus life-extension programs (LEPs) plus maintaining pre-LEP warheads, all for a bigger and more diverse stockpile than anybody thinks we will have in 5 or 10 years.

These and related issues obviously affect LANL a great deal. The CMRR, a $2.6 billion project at last ken (including CMR demolition), is the largest capital project in LANL’s history by some large factor. (What factor, I wonder? How would Antares stack up? Doesn’t Antares dwarf the probably-never-to-be-finished-and-working DARHT?) With the first CMRR building -- the cheap one -- nearly done, should NNSA keep going on a course it set in 2003 if not before?

The CMRR is not just big by LANL standards. It also seems to be the largest government infrastructure project in the history of New Mexico by a factor of six or so, with the possible exception of the Interstate Highway system. The CMRR would be more costly than the Golden Gate Bridge by a factor of roughly three, using constant construction dollars from the Building Cost Index maintained by Engineering News-Record.

Nuclear space in the CMRR Nuclear Facility will cost at least $89,000/sq. ft. (“more than” $2.0 billion divided by 22,500 sq. ft.). With what should such a price be compared? Egyptian pyramids? The Vatican -- kind of the Vatican of Plutonium?

Maybe we could buy it by the square inch. "Only $618!"

It’s interesting to compare this to PF-4. With 59,600 sq. ft. of Category I/II nuclear space, PF-4 was completed in 1978 for $75 million, which is $201 million in today’s construction dollars. Are we to conclude the CMRR nuclear facility will add 38% more nuclear space to TA-55 at 26 times the 1978 unit cost, assuming no cost overruns? I suppose so.

The CMRR is by no means the only runaway train in the complex. Garwin and Coyle want us to think a little more about this, and they are not alone. Their testimony is worth a read.

-Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, www.lasg.org


Anonymous said...

How can NNSA pay for it all? The general consensus on Capitol Hill seems to be: they can't. So what will NNSA give up?" (Post)


What will NNSA give up? Why, expensive scientists, that's what. Tom D'Agostino favors shiny new buildings over loyal and bright minded employees. That's the message I get from his whole Complex Transformation fiasco.

BTW, if you haven't already done so, take a look at the recent DOD Science Board's "Report on Advanced Computing" review of the NNSA. The DOD report indicates that DOD is a big fan of ASC, but they ask some critical questions. In particular, they ask NNSA how they plan on carrying out ASC when the funding has been heading sharply downward and the computer scientists they need are leaving the lab or have been dropped from the ASC program. NNSA has no answers for that one. Funding for ASC at LANL is due to be cut in half in FY2011 and to then be completely eliminated by the start of FY2012.

The DOD report was issued in March '09. You can read the report here (PDF):


Tom D'Agostino and the rest of his poor management team at NNSA is killing off all that was good in the NNSA research labs. Robert Smolen's decision on the Gas Transfer issue is just the latest example of poor NNSA decision making intended to benefit retiring NNSA managers.

D'Agostino was also the man who was given, single-handedly, the authority to pick the winner in the RFP for the lab's management contract back in 2005. I consider him a turd of the highest order. His leaving the NNSA can't happen a minute too soon! Whether the severe damage he has done to the NNSA research labs can ever be repaired is doubtful.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me more of the posters on this blog would rather discuss more important issues, such as the loss of bottled water.

Can anyone believe the future of the NWC & LANL's role is more important than losing free botled water?

Sure I'm trying to be ironic. After the post/comments regarding Bottled Water Purchasing Curtailed why would others care what LANL people think about the Hearing on the Nuclear Weapons Complex?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your effort but I'll pass on RealPlayer.

Anonymous said...

4/3/09 9:36 PM

For Chrissakes stop your whining!

Anonymous said...

Actually, 9:36 PM, I think people would rather hear about the LANL VIEW panel of women that aired this week and discussed how women are mistreated at this institution. Along these lines, why aren't any women ever on these distinguished NWC panels?

Anonymous said...

I find myself in close agreement with Dick Garwin.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I also like those shiney new buildings. They just sit there, do not draw large salaries, do not post complaints on blogs, and are not safety and security risks that could affect my bonus.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I did make a post taking exception to a comment made by Dr. Garwin in his testimony:

"I think the RRW design effort has energized the nuclear laboratories and is something that should be encouraged and repeated every five years or so."

To me, Dr. Garwin is in effect saying –let’s pretend like we’re going to design & build a new nuclear weapon every 5 years or so even though we have no real plans to do so.

My questions is does anyone really think that we can recruit and retain the best and the brightest people and maintain our technical excellence by playing like we’re going to do this important job?

Following is some of what Everet Beckner had to say in his testimony about maintaining this national capability:

"Before going into the details of my answer, let me first say that the foundation of NNSA's capability to deliver on its commitments now and in the future resides in the technical staff in the program. Nothing is more important for the long term health of the program than to retain the outstanding people presently in the program, especially the contractor workforce but also the federal employment, and to be able to recruit their replacements when the time comes.

It is equally important to recognize that these people must have challenging work to do if they are to be capable of performing the job the country requires.. It cannot just be busy work, or routine meter-reading work. We are talking here about the foundational capability to assure the President that the nation's nuclear weapons capability is sound, and that the weapons are safe, secure and reliable. That is a very hard job, which requires the nation's best people working on hard problems to retain their technical excellence. However, you cannot expect to keep good people on a job, no matter how important, unless they have challenging work to do."

I don't think Dr. Garwin's approach will work.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, 9:36 PM, I think people would rather hear about the LANL VIEW panel of women that aired this week and discussed how women are mistreated at this institution."

please post a link or elaborate more.

Anonymous said...

Why hasn't Tom D'Agostino been replaced by the new Administration? I'm beginning to suspect that he is going to be left in place until the Congressional mandated nuclear posture review is completed sometime in 2010/2011 or maybe even longer!

Anonymous said...

So this is Tom D'Agostino's big wet dream?....

"Nuclear space in the CMRR Nuclear Facility will cost at least $89,000/sq. ft."

This is sickening to contemplate, but just think of all the money Bechtel can make by being part of this hugely expensive construction process. It's Riley Bechtel's wet dream, too!

Anonymous said...

I don't think people care that much about bottled water per se. I think it is the feeling that Bechtel made up the reason (i.e. they're lying). Nobody has made the same decision at any other lab -- so what gives? [And, yes, in some places, the water really is pretty scummy. ]

NNSA is trying to chase thinking people away. It's working. And, those I know have gone to some pretty nice places: MIT, Google, and of course lots to ORNL.

As the good people leave, safety and security incidents will increase. You can write all the rules you want: you need good people to do this work well. In fact we are at the point where the rules are so thick and deep and full of contradictions that it is becoming impossible to both do your job and follow the rules. The safest way out is to do nothing (until you leave, of course).

Anonymous said...

This is explosive stuff, especially Coyle and Garwin! Coyle says, "...a strategic stockpile of just a few hundred weapons—maybe only 100." Good God, man, that is unheard of! From a Livermoron, to boot! LLNL is a well-known hotbed of Neocons, and I NEVER would have expected THIS! Garwin is even sounding ... dare I say it? ... reasonable! (Please pardon my exclamation points, but this is far more impressive stuff than the Kissinger/Schultz/Perry/Nunn memos, mostly retracted.)

And then Becker hits one out of the park, too: "… compare it with the way that DOD does security. They have nuclear weapons in their custody. NNSA has nuclear weapons in their custody. We should make those two requirement sets if not the same, pretty close to it. And at present, I think NNSA is spending a lot more money than the DOD is.”

This is the stuff of blockbuster movies. Coming to a theater near you.

Anonymous said...

11:58, you mean like this gem from the Newsbulletin?

“I am treated differently,” Neu said, adding, “Oftentimes, I will put forward an idea that I think sounds perfectly reasonable and important coming out of my mouth, but somehow, when that same idea is voiced out a [male] colleague’s mouth at the same meeting, it somehow has higher priority, greater gravitas. Also, I can say the same kind of thing [as a male coworker], but my comments can be viewed as more critical, more harsh just because I am a woman.” She added that she didn’t think that such behavior on the part of men was intentional.

Frank Young said...

I am not touching that with a ten foot pole.

Anonymous said...

Good answer!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't touch Mary with your pole, Frank.

Anonymous said...

The comments by both Garvin and Becker from this hearing are truly fascinating. It seems strange that no one in the media bothered to cover much of what they had to say. Only D'Agostino's comments got press coverage.

Garvin probably senses that the NNSA research labs are beginning to die off and Becker's comments on the NNSA's security posture were right on point.

It's too bad that no one is paying any attention. I suspect hearings like this won't change a thing. Even our New Mexico politicians (who previously called NNSA a failure) have suddenly stop saying much of anything about the subject.

LANL seems to be evolving away from being a science lab and moving towards life as a smaller facility that just happens to do a little bit of science on the side. The major business of the "lab" has become construction and cleanup (C&C). LANS upper management appears to be in the business of facilitating this transformation for a profit. Meanwhile, the best and brightest who haven't yet left are all looking for a reasonable escape hatch.

Anonymous said...

A comment Dr. Garwin made during his oral testimony seems to sum up the future of the NWC:

...Pantex is a growth stock when it comes to storage of pits.

The rest of you might want to apply to PX for a PT or security guard position.

Anonymous said...

Other than reduced funding, I don’t think we’ll see any real decisions on the NWC future until the Obama administration completes its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in 2009 or later.

Anonymous said...

Many of Mello's points are very good. Why, exactly, are construction costs for nuclear facilities so out of control? Indeed, TA-55 was built for roughly $250M (in today's dollars), while CMR-R is $2B+?

If you're looking for economic efficiency, this is worth investigating. The exponential growth in rules, regulations, and orders must play a large role in this, and how many of those rules were done with a true cost/benefit analysis?

To take but a single example, the degree of seismic qualification and resulting design mitigation for the new CMR-R site is daunting. Some argue the 6 foot thick walls in the current design aren't robust enough. Folks, if an earthquake occurs that can damage the existing CMR-R design, I suggest that cracks in the 6-foot thick walls will be the least of your problems. Every school, hospital, and multi-story building in New Mexico will be destroyed in that event and you'll have bigger problems than a breach of one of the several engineering barriers in CMR-R.

We simply don't have the resources to eliminate all risk. Cost/benefit analysis should be a part of every decision, including the propogation of well-intentionned but costly rules and regs.

I agree, $2B to complete CMR-R is just silly. Replicate the well-designed and proven functions of PF-4.

Anonymous said...

"Why, exactly, are construction costs for nuclear facilities so out of control?"
4/5/09 8:44 AM

This is from Philip E. Coyle’s testimony during the March 17, 2009 Hearing:

"Two weeks ago GAO reviewed the history of DOE’s track record of project management before this Subcommittee. GAO reported that 8 of the 10 major NNSA and EM construction projects the GAO reviewed in March 2007 had exceeded the initial cost estimates for completing these projects- - in total DOE added $14 billion to these initial estimates. GAO also reported that 9 of 10 major construction projects were behind schedule- - in total, DOE added more than 45 years to the initial schedule estimates."

It's been this way for years and keeps getting worse.

Risk aversion, incompetence, excessive regulations, etc, etc.

Greg said...

Erich Kuerschner in Taos suggested comparing the CMRR with the cost of Hoover Dam.

It appears that Hoover Dam itself (not including the All-American canal and other associated works) was completed in 1936 at a then-dollar cost of $49 M. Using the Engineering News Record building cost index to inflate costs, that gives us $1.28 B today. (For comparison, using the consumer price index gives a today-dollar price for Hoover Dam of only $748 million, but the ENR index is surely far better.)

It appears the total estimated CMRR project cost today ($2.6 B, including demolition) is twice that of Hoover Dam in constant construction dollars.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point regarding Hoover Damn. It was also built at the cost of lives, 112 deaths. How many Congressional hearings were held to examine those? Can you imagine a death during a contruction project at LANL? At what price do you attribute a human life?

Anonymous said...

So I wonder how big will the NWC be in 2020? (the year I plan to retire from the lab btw)

Details of Obama's plan for nuclear-free world
Sun Apr 5, 2009

PRAGUE (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama launched on Sunday a long-term plan to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

Obama's speech, to an outdoors audience of thousands in the Czech capital of Prague, came after North Korea raised security fears across the world by launching a long-range missile which it said was intended purely to put a satellite in orbit.

According to the Obama plan, the United States will:

-- reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy and urge others to follow

-- maintain "a safe, secure and effective arsenal" to deter adversaries as long as such arms exist

-- negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year

-- seek to include all nuclear weapons states in arms cuts

-- "immediately and aggressively" pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in an effort to accelerate a global ban on nuclear testing

-- seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons

-- seek to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, proposing more resources for international inspections and urge "real and immediate consequences" for those caught breaking the rules

-- promote civil nuclear cooperation by urging an international fuel bank available to every nation that renounces nuclear weapons

-- support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections

-- pursue a cost-effective and proven missile defence system "as long as the threat from Iran persists"

-- back a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years

-- host a world summit on nuclear security in the next year.


Anonymous said...

"seek to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, proposing more resources for international inspections and urge "real and immediate consequences" for those caught breaking the rules
4/5/09 10:55 AM"

In light of what's going on today with the NORKs?

Excuse me while I have an urge to ROFLMAO

Anonymous said...

"Rules must be minded. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something," the president told the crowd, calling the launch a provocative act that violated United Nations Security Council resolutions."

Blah, blah, blah as we pay Kim again for the same promises.

Anonymous said...

"So I wonder how big will the NWC be in 2020? (the year I plan to retire from the lab btw)"
Details of Obama's plan for nuclear-free world
Sun Apr 5, 2009

I saw the same article, 10:55 AM. Listen, I hate to tell you this but I doubt you'll be able to make it to 2020 working at an NNSA lab.

The disarmament push by this current administration will result in LANL and LLNL dieing off from neglect. The process is already well on its way. Just watch what happens to LANL's budget in FY2010 and FY2011. That will give you the final clues you need.

Of course, if you're working in the areas of cleanup or construction, that's a whole different story. Security, Safety and Quality Assurance are also good places to be to avoid any downsizing event.

The positions you want to avoid at LANL are ones that actually do any science or R&D development at this so-called National Lab. Those lab positions are a dead end and will face daunting funding problems in the near future.

Anonymous said...

"It appears the total estimated CMRR project cost today ($2.6 B, including demolition) is twice that of Hoover Dam in constant construction dollars."

Hoover Dam was built in a different era. Take an estimated guess at how much it would cost to build it today and include all of the EIS and legal stuff.

People like Mello make good points, but it is a circular argument. They work hard to put into place regulations that make it extraordinarily difficult and expensive to do anything like this. They they complain that it cost too much to do anything like this. Same thing applies to nuclear reactor construction.

It is nothing but part of a political agenda and strategy to kill that which they do not like.

Greg said...

Dear 4/5/09 2:35 PM,

It WAS a different era, to be sure. The Hoover Dam project killed a lot of people. You are sure right about that. The fact of a "different era" in construction is presumably captured to a considerable extent by using the building cost data from that era rather than the consumer price index, but perhaps the dreadful safety situation at the Hoover Dam project was a special case (in great part a Bechtel special case, we should not forget). The safety problems should have been solved, probably at a cost of a few million. I doubt it would have driven up the cost much more than that, so the general comparison I think is fairly stout.

That heroic style also corresponded to a certain extent with the national situation at the time. I hope we do not return to the "heroic mode" we had during the Cold War, in which orders of magnitude more people were killed than at Hoover Dam, a toll that can never be known. Hence all the regulations now. They are, in general, quite necessary.

I AM indeed trying to bring this project to a close, an appropriate close too I believe.

The runaway costs at DOE come from many sources. I wouldn't include having too many regulations in the list; commercial projects DO get built on time and on budget even though they must sometimes meet stringent regulatory standards. I would fault instead a pervasive lack of sound judgment that starts with poor mission selection and goes on from there, pork-barrel protection of poor performance, poor management overall, and employees who make too much money and who go to too many meetings. On the CMRR there have been more than a hundred meetings just with the DNFSB, perhaps hundreds of meetings with them. If LANS and NNSA brought conservative, sound designs to those meetings and didn't keep on trying to buck the safety board this project in order to preserve future mission options the CMRR would have gotten farther than it has to date.

For an example of a beautiful commercial construction project using novel technology with high tolerances on a large scale, one that shows what can be done with much less money than the CMRR, take a look at the Millau Bridge.


According to a BBC article cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millau_bridge, the bridge's construction cost €394 million, with a €20 million toll plaza. The builders financed the construction themselves in return for tolls. Cost to taxpayers: nearly nothing. That's because a working consensus was established that it was a good idea to build the project, and people were willing to pay to use it.

A lot of DOE's extra costs can be traced, in my view, to the underlying lack of soundness of the idea in the first place. This underlying lack of soundness appears in various disguises and difficulties down the line, and eventually as costs and delays. Not all cost overruns and delays can be attributed this way, but in hindsight it's interesting to see how many projects that start life as something that just HAS to be done end up just quietly fading away.

I think it's sad.

The real comparison I should be making is not with projects of the past, however, but with work we really need to do in our society, such as how many homes we could convert to energy efficiency marvels using the funds currently directed toward CMRR -- using them as loan guarantees or tax incentives or in another way that stimulates private investment. Or how many gigawatts of coal-fired electrical peak load generation could we displace with wind and daytime sun with that $2.6 B or whatever it turns out to be. I'll bet that sum could be used to drive investment that would allow much of the NM grid to be taken off coal, though I have not taken the (considerable) time to offer such a policy path.

These are the kind of tradeoffs implicit in today's decisions.

I was thrilled to hear of the CMRR project designer left the project to work as an engineer for Abengoa on their big Gila Bend (AZ) solar project.

Beyond all this, the true cost of CMRR is not measured in dollars but in the paralysis it symbolizes and embodies in our society. The CMRR represents values and concerns more properly located in the 1950s than today. We ignore the tidal wave of security problems facing the world from hunger, poverty, energy and climate at our grave peril. It's a bit like a household with a gambling problem or a drinking problem. It was tolerable in better times, or at least we thought it was, but now it has become incompatible with taking care of the kids.

I'd like to see DOE give stipends to people who leave a downsizing LANL and a downsizing LLNL to go to work in developing, and above all implementing, energy technology in our communities. The state and feds could do a lot to guarantee demand for the projects and products. It would be a good investment for the country and surely interesting for all concerned.

Greg Mello

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed, 12:59 PM. It doesn't look like Obama has much use at all for the NNSA complex...

Obama calls for 'world without' nukes - Politco, April 5th 2009

"Obama proposed doing so by reducing America’s arsenal, if not altogether eliminating it"

Watch for Obama to make a 'good will' move by shrinking the current US nuclear weapons infrastructure, especially the NNSA complex. Big cut backs are probably on the way.

Anonymous said...

Greg Mello

I will start by stating that I do not wish to see large scale pit manufacturing at Los Alamos. I believe there are reasonable arguments against having this kind of work performed at Los Alamos. I also feel that the Los Alamos Study Group invariably hurts its own cause by using profoundly poor arguments.

The argument that the CMR should not be built since it would cost more than the Hoover dam makes no sense. The argument is a logical fallacy known as a "Red Herring" or fallacy of relevance. Even if it were true that the CMR would cost more than the Hoover dam, it is simply not relevant to the question of whether the CMR should be built. I could just as easily argue that the CMR would cost less than half of a single aircraft carrier, which is factually true and just as irrelevant. One should instead focus the argument on whether the CMR is needed or not and whether it should be located at Los Alamos. As for the cost of the CMR, in order to determine whether the CMR is overpriced one must identify a suitably comparable structure.

I have just explained why the cost of the Hoover dam is irrelevant; however, let me note that LASG provides a poor estimate of even this cost. The question of how much it would cost to build the Hoover Dam today is very problematic. The answer that was given by LASG appears to be a number that is found by typing the words "How much would it cost to build the Hoover dam today" into WikiAnsers. This is hardly scholarship and completely unreliable. A dam of comparable size would of course be built differently today; labor cost would be significantly different, as would environmental impacts, and safety regulation. Of course there would also be more automation and larger machines which would reduce the cost and time. A comparison that has slightly more merit is to consider the current costs of dams that are comparable in size to the Hoover Dam. Somewhat smaller dams such as ones proposed in California have cost estimates that range up to 5.0billion. The Auburn Dam, which would be as high as theHoover Dam, is estimated at 9.6 billion, while the Diamer-Bhasha dam comes in at 11.5 billion. This means that dams close to the size of the Hoover dam in general cost 5-10 billion. Other proposed dams that will be larger than the Hoover Dam are in the range of 15-20 billion. The mother of all dams the Three Gorges Dam which is six times larger than than the Hoover dam and costs something like 25-39 billion, but no one knows for sure.

LASG should really reconsider some of their statements if they wish to have a modicum of effectiveness. It would also serve them well if they would stop listing to Erich Kuershner. A very cursory search on the internet shows that his grasp of logic and economic issues is utterly nill.

C. Reichhardt

Greg said...

Dear Mr. or Ms. Reichhardt --

I really appreciate your careful reply, except for the remark about Erich. You might want to rethink that one.

I perhaps didn't explain myself well enough as to why those historic comparisons made sense to me.

Those are iconic projects. The point was not that the CMRR costs more than they did. The most direct cost comparison, if that were the sole point, was with PF-4, where nuclear facility space cost a factor of 26 times less in constant construction dollars, than in the proposed CMRR.

The point of mentioning those iconic projects like Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge (1/3 the cost of CMRR) is that our society cannot do everything. We have to pick which things we do, and those choices define who we are as a people. I happen to think those old projects are in some measure noble in purpose, execution, or form, or at least they can be and have been widely reconciled with widely-held aspirations and values in society.

The CMRR is not such an object, however. It is, as somebody said to me last year, just a glorified bunker (with fancy mechanical systems).

I am in disagreement when you say we "should instead focus the argument on whether the CMR is needed or not and whether it should be located at Los Alamos."

I think we need to focus on whether it is needed or not in relation to other uses toward which those funds could be put. This is the nature of the decision Congress must make, and the Administration must make. "Need" is hard to decipher; in effect we must deny many needs. The question is: which ones, and whose?

As for the unrealistic nature of the cost comparisons used, I think there is some merit in your critique. I have swept up, into those comparisons, inchoate phenomena which apply to productive activity, in this case construction, in society as a whole.

The flip side, however, is that these phenomena sharpen the argument about economic and social trade-offs, which is the main point. What will it cost, then, to replace our energy infrastructure, and save life from terrible climate change? If it's more than we can estimate from general construction inflators, and it is, we must run even faster toward investing our dollars in that direction and others like it, and away from the bunker mentality embodied in the CMRR.

Greg Mello

Anonymous said...

Jeez, Reichhardt and Greg, give it a rest already. Neither of you will ever understand or accept any of the other's arguments, and you are just subjecting the readers of this blog to your interminable crap. Get over yourselves, or do your thing in private. Nobody cares what you think.

Anonymous said...


Rule Seventeen, Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!

W Strunk

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say, it's refreshing to read a reasoned debate here, with all sides making good points and the courtesy generally at a high level. Thanks Greg, for your well-thought responses. I may not always agree with you, but the content in the last two days has been good, and the discussion illuminating.

Anonymous said...

"I think we need to focus on whether it is needed or not in relation to other uses toward which those funds could be put. "

Of course you do, Greg. It is part of your left wing agenda. Keep pressing to keep the costs of everything that does not fit that agenda up. All part of the plan.

Anonymous said...

4/4/09 12:47 PM wrote the following about Neu and The LANL View participants, "“I am treated differently,” Neu said, dding, “Oftentimes, I will put forward an idea that I think sounds perfectly reasonable and important coming out of my mouth, but somehow, when that same idea is voiced out a [male] colleague’s mouth at the same meeting, it somehow has higher priority, greater gravitas. Also, I can say the same kind of thing [as a male coworker], but my comments can be viewed as more critical, more harsh just because I am a woman.”.

OK, this is ironic since women equally think Neu is a back-stabbing dumb cow. Seestrom, Burns, Thomas, and Helm (among others) have all gone on record as saying they don't think she has the qualifications or the maturity to be in the position she managed to jump to. Nothing personal, Mary, but men and women all think you are an incompent, vitriolic, hostile, vintdictive, person.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing personal, Mary, but men and women all think you are an incompent, vitriolic, hostile, vintdictive, person."
4/5/09 9:15 PM

And this ladies & gentlemen concludes our in-depth discussion of Hearing on the Nuclear Weapons Complex
A Second Look

Thank you for your riveting comments.

Anonymous said...


DOE Declares NIF Laser "Complete"; Leading Researcher Discloses Design Deficiencies

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Posted by Marylia Kelley

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a mega-laser at Livermore Lab that is intended to train the next generation of nuclear bomb designers is back in the news. Not because of its bloated $5 billion price tag, or because of the government's decision to use plutonium as well as fusion targets in NIF.

Nope, NIF is in the news because its construction has been declared complete. It will be used by bomb designers.

But will NIF meet its more challenging scientific goal of ignition?

It will not, according to the March 28 analysis of Stephen Bodner, former head of laser fusion at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Read: " NIF Laser Fails to Meet the Minimum Specifications Required for their Ignition Target Designs."

Then, read the government's press release of March 31, " Department of Energy Announces Completion of World's Largest Laser."

In the classic struggle between science and public relations, the point goes to Bodner.

Anonymous said...

4/6/09 1:47 PM, another view...

Are we on the brink of a fusion revolution?
By Thomas L. Friedman
New York Times
March 14, 2009

If you hang around the renewable-energy business for long, you'll hear a lot of tall tales. You'll hear about someone who's invented a process to convert coal into vegetable oil in his garage and someone else who has a duck in his basement that paddles a wheel, blows up a balloon, turns a turbine and creates enough electricity to power his doghouse.

Hang around long enough and you'll even hear that in another 10 or 20 years hydrogen-powered cars or fusion energy will be a commercial reality. If I had a dime for every time I've heard one of those stories, I could buy my own space shuttle. No wonder cynics often say that viable fusion energy or hydrogen-powered cars are "20 years away and always will be."

But what if this time is different? What if a laser-powered fusion-energy power plant that would have all the reliability of coal, without the carbon dioxide, all the cleanliness of wind and solar, without having to worry about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, and all the scale of nuclear, without all the waste, was indeed just 10 years away or less? That would be a holy cow game-changer.

Are we there?

That is the tantalizing question I was left with after visiting the recently completed National Ignition Facility, or NIF, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area. The government-funded NIF consists of 192 giant lasers housed in a 10-story building the size of three football fields.

I began my tour there with the NIF director, Edward Moses. He was holding up a tiny gold can the size of a Tylenol tablet, and inside it was plastic pellet, the size of a single peppercorn, that would be filled with frozen hydrogen.

The way the NIF works is that all 192 lasers pour their energy into a target chamber, which looks like a giant, spherical, steel bathysphere that you would normally use for deep-sea exploration. At the center of this target chamber is that gold can with its frozen hydrogen pellet. Once one of those pellets is heated and compressed by the lasers, it reaches temperatures over 800 million degrees Fahrenheit, "far greater than exists at the center of our sun," Moses said.

Each crushed pellet gives off a burst of energy that can then be harnessed to produce massive amounts of steam to drive a turbine and create electricity for your home — just like coal does today. Only this energy would be carbon-free, globally available, safe and secure, and could be integrated seamlessly into our current electric grid.

This past Monday at 3 a.m., for the first time, all 192 lasers were fired at high energy precisely at once at the target chamber's empty core. That was a major step toward "ignition" — turning that hydrogen pellet into a miniature sun on earth. The next step — which the NIF expects to achieve some time in the next two to three years — is to prove that it can, under lab conditions, repeatedly fire its 192 lasers at multiple hydrogen pellets and produce more energy from the pellets than the laser energy that is injected. That's called "energy gain."

"That," explained Moses, "is what Einstein meant when he declared that E equals mc². By using lasers, we can unleash tremendous amounts of energy from tiny amounts of mass."

Once the lab proves that it can get energy gain from this laser-driven process, the next step would be to set up a pilot fusion-energy power plant that would prove that any local power utility could have its own miniature sun — on a commercial basis. A pilot would cost about $10 billion — the same as a new nuclear power plant.

I don't know if they can pull this off; some scientists are skeptical. Laboratory-scale nuclear fusion and energy gain is really hard. But here's what I do know: President Barack Obama's stimulus package has given a terrific boost to renewable energy. It will pay lasting benefits. And we need to keep working on all forms of solar, geothermal and wind power.

But we also need to make a few big bets on potential game-changers: systems that could give us abundant, clean, reliable electrons and drive massive innovation in big lasers, materials science, nuclear physics and chemistry that would benefit, energize and renew many U.S. industries.

Without some game-changers, climate change is going to have its way with us. Yes, we'll still need coal for some time. But let's make sure that we aren't just chasing the fantasy that we can "clean up" coal, when our real future depends on birthing new technologies that can replace it.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times

Greg said...

Dear 4/5/09 8:57 PM --

We are working to lower costs, actually.

And isn't LANL a centrally-planned government program -- socialism, in so many words?

greg m

Anonymous said...

"So this is Tom D'Agostino's big wet dream?...."

ewwwwwwww, that explains D'Agostino's facial expression, Mikey's, Kevin's, and Mary Neu's ewwwwwwwww.

Gotta get that image out of my head, gotta get that image out of my head.

Anonymous said...

"“I am treated differently,” Neu said, dding, “Oftentimes, I will put forward an idea that I think sounds perfectly reasonable and important coming out of my mouth, but somehow, when that same idea is voiced out a [male] colleague’s mouth at the same meeting, it somehow has higher priority, greater gravitas. Also, I can say the same kind of thing [as a male coworker], but my comments can be viewed as more critical, more harsh just because I am a woman.”.

Well, Mary, maybe it is not because you are woman. Maybe it is because you suck at expressing your ideas. Somehow, nobody has problem respecting Carol Burns' views. (She's a female too.) But apparently she is good at saying what she thinks. Unlike you. And maybe you ARE more harsh. And maybe people ignore you because they are hoping you will shut the hell up and go away.

Signed, an anonymous woman who works in your directorate. Who doesn't want to be fired since you have repeatedly used your position to get back at people who you believe have wronged you. But maybe like the "sexism" you have encountered, that wrong is purely in your mind.

Anonymous said...

7:56 PM, so you mean she is "brittle"?

- and yes, those are air-quotes like the ones used by our LANL-View participants!

Anonymous said...

4/6/09 3:07 PM

The 1.2MJ NIF shot just recently announced failed to include the fact that there was significant unanticipated reflected laser light the has required a complete redesign of the target. Oops...

Anonymous said...

4/6/09 3:07 PM,

That's why its called a "research" project. If building NIF and making it work were so easy, it would have already been done. The whole point of being a national lab is to do big, cutting edge, risky, and hard to accomplish science. This is the difference between R&D labs/units in private sector businesses and federally funded R&D centers. Exelon is not going to fund a basic science project like NIF.

Anonymous said...

"a basic science project like NIF"

Huh? Since when is NIF basic science, except for some window dressing?

Anonymous said...

4/7/09 6:14 PM

From the LLNL NIF program website...

NIF will become a premier international center for experimental science early in the next decade. The extreme temperatures and pressures that will be created inside the NIF target chamber will enable scientists from around the world to conduct unprecedented experiments in high energy density science and to gain new insights into such mysterious astrophysical phenomena as supernovae, giant planets and black holes.

When laboratory experiments begin at the National Ignition Facility in 2010, researchers will be able for the first time to study the effects on matter of the extreme temperatures, pressures and densities that exist naturally only in the stars and deep inside the planets. Results from this relatively new field of research, known as high energy density (HED) science, will mark the dawn of a new era of science. HED experiments at NIF promise to revolutionize our understanding of astrophysics and space physics, hydrodynamics, nuclear astrophysics, material properties, plasma physics, nonlinear optical physics, radiation sources and radiative properties and other areas of science.


Anonymous said...

Yes, 8:54, but...

Since when is NIF basic science, except for some window dressing?

Anonymous said...

Don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. NIF is working just fine and will be delivering excess energy sometime soon...well, sometime...well, it will delivery something, sometime...well nothing sometime....well, something never...well, it will never deliver.