May 19, 2009

Better Way To Spend $2 Billion

The Albuquerque Journal - Opinion/Guest Columns
By Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group

The Journal carried a critical editorial Monday about the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) slowdown of a planned new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Even prior to the action the project's overall goals (and design) had become uncertain. NNSA didn't stop the project, though that's a good idea.

The building in question is called the "CMRR Nuclear Facility." It's one of two buildings in the misnamed "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement" project — misnamed because the CMRR would provide additional warhead capabilities, not just "replace" those to be retired.

Construction of the first CMRR building is nearly complete. The Nuclear Facility is to be the second. If built it would comprise about half the square footage and 90 percent of the total CMRR construction cost.

The Nuclear Facility would cost "at least" $2 billion. Despite seven years of work on the project, NNSA has not been able to complete preliminary design or provide a stable cost estimate.

Using standard cost inflators, the Nuclear Facility would cost five times as much as any prior government construction project in New Mexico, excepting the interstate highways.

Because the project's primary purpose is to design and build parts for a new warhead repeatedly rejected by Congress, labeled this project the national "Boondoggle No. 1" earlier this spring.

The lab space it would provide will cost $89,000 per square foot — or $618 per square inch if you prefer. LANL's existing plutonium facility, with 2.6 times the space, cost $75 million in 1978, about $201 million in today's dollars. The Nuclear Facility would add 38 percent more plutonium space at 26 times the 1978 unit cost, assuming no further increases.

Department of Energy dollars have better uses. With $2 billion DOE could pay for about 2,000 megawatts of new wind generation capacity. This would displace millions of tons of carbon pollution and save millions of gallons of fresh water every year henceforth. It would create about 30,000 new jobs in manufacturing, construction and operations.

The same dollars used to subsidize state, local government, tribal and private investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and building weatherization would go even further.

Infrastructure choices like this tell us a lot about who we are as a people and where we are going.

They also tell us about our leadership. It will be interesting to see how our congressional delegation, all Democrats, come down on this. "Green jobs" or plutonium palace? There is only so much money that can be wrung out of households. Choices have to be made.

Our Democrats should be under no illusions about the CMRR. The hawks on the recent Perry Commission certainly know exactly what it's for: building new-design warheads, rapidly. That's why it's their highest-priority warhead infrastructure project. It's the bellwether of the whole and they know it. It's not at all required to maintain even a very large arsenal of existing warheads for the indefinite future, as sad an outcome as that would be.

Los Alamos already has a modern plutonium facility, a quarter of which is occupied by a pit production line, largely idle. This large facility has been continuously maintained; NNSA is requesting hundreds of millions to upgrade it.

There is also a plutonium facility at Lawrence Livermore, bigger than the planned CMRR and soon to be mothballed as a high-security lab. All talk of making more pits is madness, of course.

The Journal mistakenly called Obama's nuclear weapons plan a "budget-cutting proposal." It's not. Obama would grow NNSA's budget by 9 percent next year, a big increase. Most of that growth is in nuclear nonproliferation, which would rise by 36 percent. Nuclear weapon spending is flat.

For five years the House of Representatives has been saying this building and its rationale were not ready for prime time. NNSA now agrees.

We should rejoice at this baby step. The CMRR Nuclear Facility would harm, not help, national security.


Anonymous said...

Just more drivel from the lunatic fringe.

Anonymous said...

We don't need no stink'n new nuclear warhead designs. Haven't you heard - we're un-inventing them. Its "Green jobs “and windmills for all now. Well, except we will need to significantly increase our Non-Proliferation funding since we'll need to create some jobs for all the displaced nuclear weapons scientists & engineers, at least until they all are retired or whatever.

Good old Non-proliferation - such a productive effort. If North Korea and Iran succeed in establishing nuclear weapons despite all the stated opposition of all the major powers in the U.N. Security Council and outside of it, how can you possibly justify increasing the spending for non-proliferation? North Korea - a country with "next to no impact on international trade and no resources needed by anyone."

Non-Proliferation is nothing more than a condom full of holes.

Anonymous said...

Windmills kill birds.

Anonymous said...

5/19/09 7:27 AM
North Korea has nuclear weapons already. It is a direct result of a failed nonproliferation policy. You should rejoice.

Anonymous said...

"Obama would grow NNSA's budget by 9 percent next year, a big increase."

Oh my, my, my. A growing budget!? I'll bet ten bucks the naysayers that populate this blog will find a way to whine about this even though it is exactly what they claim they want.

Anonymous said...

Keep you 10 bucks. Still, anyne with a brain is forced to wonder how any new construction costs nearly a million dollars a square foot. I'm guessing somebody put the DNFSB and the NNSA in charge with lots and lots of new rules and operational requirements. Oh, don't forget, Bechtel will be in charge of the construction too! I'll see your 10 and raise you 20 that no matter what comes of this project, it will be money down the drain with nothing to show except a plutonium playground that never quite gets finished, a few six sigma blackbelts, and nobody in sight who knows anything about plutonium, safety, or National Security. Fortunately for you, the ever-shifting sands of the schedule and the politics of this high security mirage will keep me from ever collecting the $30.

Anonymous said...

Greg Mello: "All talk of making more pits is madness, of course."

Of course, Greg. How about if we keep doing it, and just stop talking about it? Oops, I forgot - talking is all you do.

Doug Roberts said...

Actually, 11:24, Greg puts his money where his mouth is, unlike the, shall we say, more cowardly anonymouse contributors to this blog.

It's easy to sound all brave and tough when you're hiding who you really are via blog anonymity.

Don't let it fret you though; we've come to mostly expect this type of behavior from y'all.

Anonymous said...

Since someone made reference to the Non-proliferation Treaty, what are the opinions of the readers about this treaty? Has it been effective? What's LANL contribution?

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's only taxpayer money!

Anonymous said...

"It's easy to sound all brave and tough when you're hiding who you really are via blog anonymity."

So true. Now it's time to go back to sleep sheeple...zzzzzz

Anonymous said...

One sure way to kill this blog would be to disallow anonymous posting. Why not try it, Doug and Frank?

Doug Roberts said...

I tried that for a brief period with the original LTRS blog. It should come as no great surprise that the fraction of LANL employees willing to associate their name with the content of their comments was astonishingly small back in 2004 - 2005. I see no evidence suggesting that this particular LANL demographic has changed much in the interim.

However, I should remind you that this is Frank's blog. I'm just a guest here.

Anonymous said...

Doug Roberts at 5/19/09 11:43 AM said
"Greg puts his money where his mouth is.."

Maybe so, but he is still full of crap!

Anonymous said...

5:26 bleated:

"Maybe so, but he is still full of crap!"

Said the anonymous coward. Ooh! I'm impressed. How *brave* you are!

Yes, I'm an anonymous coward too. But I don't expect to be taken seriously. Greg, and Doug, and Frank, and that guy from HR who all have the balls to post using their own names carry a lot more weight that all the rest of the LANL "sheeple". May the rest of us get all the respect we deserve.

Which I think we are.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Doug is trying to bait some naive LANS employee into posting under his/her own name. Then the retaliation will start. It's unforetunate that Doug bears such malice toward his former co-workers.

Doug Roberts said...

Actually, 6:05

(I don't know how to say this gently, nor do I feel much compunction to do so)

You're full of shit.

I spent all of yesterday at LANL in meetings with some of my LANL collaborators on a WFO project. I wish them all nothing but the best.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we ought to divert that 2 billion for more wind energy and other improvements so the terrorists have a nice place to live when we are overrun due to not having enough nukes.

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand why someone such as Mr. Mello seems to get his opinions published so much when other, equally valid opinions by scores of homeless, substance-dependent persons, or those with severe personality disorders go unnoticed. I'm sure their thoughts could possibly be almost as interesting.

Anonymous said...

Ok, 6:16. I'll bite.

What do homeless, substance-dependent persons, or those with severe personality disorders have to do with LANL?

Oh, wait a minute. I take your point.

Anonymous said...



Top 10 Spending Bill Boondoggles

Sunday, March 8, 2009 5:58 PM

By: David A. Patten


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 buiding 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."

Boondoggle #2

Amtrak Rides the Gravy Train

Spending bill: $1.3 billio, and a 10 percent budget boost.

Boondoggle #3

Congress Pays Itself

Spending bill: $4.4 billion - if approved by Congress.

Boondoggle #4

Stealth Earmarks

Spending bill: $3.5 billion - estimate.

Boondoggle #5

Caving in to Castro

Spending bill: $780 million.

Boondoggle #6

Agriculture -- Sowing Seeds for Fiscal Disaster?

Spending bill: $2.4 billion - 13 percent increase.

Boondoggle #7

Kicking Poor Kids Out of Rich Schools

Spending bill: "The only spending cut in the spending bill is a measly $13 million to kick children out of their schools, while leaving billions of dollars iin pork and waste. It boggles the mind. It´s amazing."

Boondoggle #8

Pricey Diplomacy

Spending bill: "With former Senator Hillary Clinton at the helm, the State Department is in line for a huge budget increase under the spending plan. The budget, including billions in donations to countries abroad, will jump by 12 percent."

Boondoggle #9

Regulatory Excess

Spending bill: FDA, $2 billion, 19 percent increase, The Consumer Product Safety Commission, $105 million, nearly 33 percent increase, Securities and Exchange Commission, $943 million, 4 percent increase.

Boondoggle #10

32 Billion Reasons for Concern

Spending bill: "Federal spending, due to the overall impact of the spending bill, would rise by $32 billion. That´s a budgetary expansion of about 8.3 percent, more than twice the rate of inflation.

And that doesn´t take into account the $700 billion bailout of the $787 billion fiscal stimulus plan. All this in a year when 4 million Americans have lost their jobs, and the federal budget deficit expected to exceed $1.3 trillion."


PS: RRW is not dead, it is probably in the black budget of DOE/NNSA, and/or DoD.

PPS: My Ranking of the Boondoggles: #1 The AGW Theory, #2 The Big Goverment Spending by the Democratic Left, Obama et al, #3 Obama´s Bailouts. (Trillions of dollars.)

Anonymous said...

Anonymousat 5/19/09 6:16 PM said...

"I fail to understand why someone such as Mr. Mello seems to get his opinions published so much when other, equally valid opinions by scores of homeless, substance-dependent persons, or those with severe personality disorders go unnoticed. I'm sure their thoughts could possibly be almost as interesting."

I think that it is this one-sided stuff that continually appears in the newspapers that is leading to the decline in newspaper subscribers. The public is getting fed up with this.

Anonymous said...

5/19/09 11:04 AM

See what I mean. Whine and complain no matter what.

Anonymous said...

5/19/09 6:44 PM You forgot to include the entire eight year Bush administration boondoggle...

Anonymous said...

7:30 pm: "You forgot to include the entire eight year Bush administration boondoggle..."

You really should seek help in getting over your PTSD about Bush. Try Obama-worship as a substitute - it's worked for millions!

Anonymous said...

Here is a thought ...why not spend $2 Billion dollars to invest in the CMRR research facility to keep LANL at the forefront of actinide and transuranic science ... like it should be. Greg, you are a big f*ck-wad. WHy not make LANL the actinide science epicenter of the world for peaceful purposes? Wallace is a big ignoramous who thinks all actinide research is bad and wants to just go "green" ... uh, yeah like that will fly mamma's boy.

INstead, let's designate CMRR for research. Why the hell do you always want to see LANL shut down versus being a center of excellence? We have the talent (in parts) and if we ignore Wallace we have a chance for peaceful research without his presence. He really is an idiot museum curator who thinks rocks and earthquakes are all that matter. But, hey, his momma thinks he is OK...

Anonymous said...

The Obama administration is waiting for the Nuclear Posture review due in January before making any final decisions about the NNSA complex.

However, you can probably place a solid bet that CMRR will never see the light of day. More stalling actions will be put in place, just as with Yucca Mountain. Neglect is the key word to remember when it comes to analyzing the future of the US weapons complex. It will slowly atrophy and begin to slip away.

Greg said...

Chapter Six of the "Bipartisan" Commission (Perry Commission) "America's Strategic Posture" report contains the following passage.

"NNSA needs the resources to perform its assigned missions. Although the NNSA decision to modernize in place is the right decision, the budget risk appears extremely high. The hope that consolidation would save money is unwarranted. Other important laboratory activities may pay a significant price. To juggle all of its competing commitments NNSA would have to reduce its base of scientific activity by 20-30 percent even in a flat budget and this would have a significant impact on the science and engineering base. NNSA does not know how large the core laboratory weapons programs need to be to maintain the deterrent."

While I think most of this report is hogwash, this passage is not.

NNSA has been carrying too many projects and programs, hoping there would be a big budget increase to pay for them as they matured. This "Field of Dreams" substitute for clear thinking is not working out. It never really worked in the past -- for the country, that is -- and is unlikely to work out in the future, for all concerned.

The CMRR Nuclear Facility and the Uranium Processing Facility create severe out-year fiscal problems if budgets are flat in real dollars. Major layoffs would be required.

Most of these layoffs would have to be at LANL and LLNL. Until a month or so from now, when she is likely to be confirmed in her new State Dept. post, Ms. Tauscher will protect LLNL. Perhaps even then.

There are several other fiscal icebergs threatening the NNSA Titanic. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is one. It was built, after great cost overruns, without a clear way to pay for its tacitly assumed level of operation. (Remember Atlas?)

Pension funds are another. There is also now a large hole there too, which has to be filled or otherwise diminished (by increased earnings or contributions or decreased benefits or some of each). The scale may be in the upper 9 digit range -- several hundred million dollars.

In short, NNSA's plans have been grandiose and over-optimistic, out of touch with reality. Congress is highly complicit; indeed much of the grandiosity can be laid at feet of pork-barreling politicians, Pete Domenici above all.

LANL salaries and benefits have risen to very high levels relative to the rest of the country, and the total number of LANL employees and contractors has also risen very far from, say, the early 1970s.

Tradeoffs are obviously required between salaries, pensions, huge new buildings, the number of people employed, and the other 99.999% of what the U.S. needs for its security.

The CMRR Nuclear Facility competes directly with other LANL jobs, before we even consider its competition with non-nuclear infrastructure projects. The projected annual outlays on the CMRR have exceeded 10% of the total lab budget. If it is built, and if budgets remain constrained, there will need to be major layoffs at LANL, just as the Perry Commission is warning.

The good news is that it, like the UPF, does not need to be built. It's a boondoggle, just like NIF is a boondoggle.

Now, since many of NNSA's underlying plutonium missions (current and proposed) are themselves boondoggles, we have the spectacle of ever bigger boondoggles being proposed to rescue prior boondoggles. As Dmitri Orlov has suggested, this can lead to a boondoggle black hole, an "event horizon" where only boondoggles are possible henceforth, until the money runs out.

Greg Mello

Anonymous said...

"The CMRR Nuclear Facility and the Uranium Processing Facility create severe out-year fiscal problems if budgets are flat in real dollars. Major layoffs would be required.

Most of these layoffs would have to be at LANL and LLNL..."

Ooooh, spooky, Greg. Now I'm going to campaign against CMRR, so I can keep my job!

Hey, what's up with your mention of Superblock, as if we should keep operations going there instead of building CMRR? Are you betraying your buds over at Tri-Valley CARES who want the 'Block closed? I thought you all were opposed to the security and public health risks of shipping Pu around the country.

Anonymous said...

5/20/09 5:57 AM Yes, NIF is a huge boondoggle. It will limp along but not will not be funded as well as had been hoped. How do we know this? LIFE, the transparent attempt to find a new mission for this remarkably expensive ill conceived machine who's makers have already concluded it will never achieve the scientific goals placed before it.

Anonymous said...

LANL has continued to be a wasteful money pit, how can this experiment continue? I'll be honest with you, most employees's see the excess (waste) of taxpayer dollars, but will not admit to it because they may be part of it, or part of it pays their salary. When a FTE costs the taxpayer 400-450K per year, you better hope that the general public stays in the dark, otherwise they (the American people) would call for the immediate reduction, or to completely close this Gray Train.
Things are tough for the rest of American, how much longer will Congress continue to fit this bill? Yet the blog is ful of cry-babies who don't like their managment and don't like the oversight, hey try doing without a job for a while, what a bunch of cty-babies (have mores) as Bush would say.

Anonymous said...

So if someone does not agree with having more nukes then their opinion is lunatic? Greg has had his opinion for many years, and it has remained fairly constant. He does sign his name and pays the price. But he has earned some respect for both his views and his willingness to oenly debate the issues at LANL, in a civilized way.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with Greg Mello's stance on US nuclear security. However, he has hit the nail on the head with his observations on NNSA's grand plans vs. the lack of funding for bringing them about.

Something will soon have to give if the Complex Transformation plan continues to go forward. The costs for many of the new buildings will continue to rise. There are no great cost savings to be seen in consolidation.

It's coming down to hard choices like CMRR vs. having scientists on board at the labs. Which will it be? In the end, I suspect the push for new infrastructure will win out. It's far easier to measure and see the construction of a shiny new building versus than the loss of the NNSA labs' intellectual integrity. Bechtel and BWXT also have a strong bias in this game. I suspect most of the staff left at LANL understand all too well where their bias lies.

Anonymous said...

I've got a suspicion that 5:26 is also one of those morons who wander around all day chanting "But Obama is going to take our guns away."

Anonymous said...

12:55 pm: "I've got a suspicion that 5:26 is also one of those morons who wander around all day chanting "But Obama is going to take our guns away.""

I'm sure you've seen several such individuals recently. Really. Wandering, chanting people. Yep, I believe it. Now go take your medication, that's a good boy. Just have a happy dream about Obama.

Anonymous said...

Jeez Greg, why are you concerned about operating expenses for NIF? They'll just move it to Nevada. Worked for Atlas !

Oh, wait -- that's one big Bekins van!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't spend time worrying about the fate of the CMRR at LANL. It's unlikely to ever get funded giving the Obama Administration and the current Congress.

However, I hear that Pakistan's nuclear weapons complex is growing. Same for many of the other nuclear nations. I wonder what it is that they all know that we don't?

Anonymous said...

11:45 am: "However, I hear that Pakistan's nuclear weapons complex is growing. Same for many of the other nuclear nations. I wonder what it is that they all know that we don't?"

It's not what they know that we don't, it's what they have that we don't (any longer): A will to defent their nation from mortal threats.

Anonymous said...

5/21/09 8:11 PM

Nuclear weapons were valueless in preventing the 9-11 attack. They were valueless in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait,Korea, Vietnam, Panama. Their sole purpose is as a deterrent against similarly armed nations from attacking us with nuclear weapons. They are valueless in preventing a a determined individual/individuals from secreting a nuke into the country and detonating it. Having thousands of war heads to maintain keeps a lot of people employed but that's about it. How many nukes are enough? Some on this blog think there can never be enough which is myopic if not bizarre.

Anonymous said...

God, I am so sick of the endless whining. Man up and stop your whining. Now everyone is whining about Cheney, the economy, Iraq, that the wrong person won American Idol and the flu. Stop it already. There is a saying in the military, "don't ask, don't tell and stop whining". Wa, wa, wa, wa, be a real man like me and stop whining.

I know this is harsh but I am in a bad mood because Adam Lambert lost.It is almost as bad as the time that Clay Aiken lost.

Anonymous said...

"I know this is harsh but I am in a bad mood because Adam Lambert lost.It is almost as bad as the time that Clay Aiken lost."

what are you, 12? go spew off your rants on

Anonymous said...

5/22/09 8:34 AM - Welcome to the club. This is the blog for whiners. All the anonymous posters are whining, Frank is whining about LANL not telling him what was in the broken pipe at TA-55 and Doug is whining about all the anonymous posters. And nothing will change.

Doug Roberts said...

And just to complete the circle, 10:29 is whining about the whiners.

Have I met you, 10:29? I don't think I'd like you.

Frank Young said...

5/22/09 10:29 AM hates the blog so much that he's still reading it more than two years later? That makes perfect sense.

In the spirit of the Memorial Day weekend, go have yourself a cup of coffee, 5/22/09 10:29 AM.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that Doug and Frank don't have to try real hard to make some of the anonymous posters here look stupid.

Anonymous said...

The item below is old news, but I had not seen it before. Adm. Bob Foley retired as UC's head of lab operations in mid-Feb. Anyone know who his replacement will be?

UC’s Foley Retires

February 13, 2009, LANL News Bulletin

The University of California Board of Regents recently recognized UC Vice President for Laboratory Management Robert Foley upon his retirement from the university. Foley led UC's lab management office for five years.

In a resolution passed by the Board of Regents February 5, the board recognized Foley’s service to the university saying “(the) Regents of the University of California express to Bob Foley their deep gratitude and warmest appreciation for his effective leadership in sustaining the scientific and technological breakthroughs that protect our nation and foster economic vitality.”

Foley was instrumental in the university’s successful participation in the competitions for the management of Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

Foley, a retired admiral with the United States Navy and an assistant secretary of energy for Defense Programs, joined the University of California in October 2003.

Foley’s retirement was effective Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it will be hard for UC to find another self-absorbed, arrogant, admiral to replace Foley. Where will they look? Where will they look?

Anonymous said...

5/22/09 11:35 AM
I've noticed that Doug and Frank don't have to try real hard to make some of the anonymous posters here look stupid.

Oh, I don't think they have to try too hard. Some people really make it easy ...

Anonymous said...

Act I in the drama involving the destruction of LANL became clear once UC decided to appoint Admiral Bob Foley to head up UCOP's weapon lab office back in 2003 and then followed it up by making Admiral Pete Nanos the Director at LANL.

Act II in the destruction process happened when UC decided to turn everyday management of LANL over to their LLC for-profit partner, a construction company by the name of Bechtel.

I can only shudder when I stop to ponder what UC must be planning for the final scene, Act III.

Anonymous said...

5/22 10:04 pm "I can only shudder when I stop to ponder what UC must be planning for the final scene, Act III."

UC isn't planning anything. It is hunkered down just trying to stay alive in bankrupt California. Bechtel now holds all the LANL cards.

Anonymous said...

If we do not build CMRR, we might as well start closing up the other buildings and start turning LANL into the LANL closure project! This institution of world class science has some of the oldest and most outdated facilities across the DOE. If this is to continue to be a place for science, then we better get some new laboratories.

To the anti-nukes, I hope that your hoping that Iran, Russia, China and North Korea are really wanting to be part of a nuclear free world. Some how I think not and thus when we cannot build, inspect, repair, or even study a nuclear weapon, burying your head between your ass cheeks will not save you, or any of us!

Anonymous said...

"If we do not build CMRR, we might as well start closing up the other buildings and start turning LANL into the LANL closure project!" (9:16 AM)

That's the plan. I guess NNSA and LANS haven't told you yet, huh? Just look around at what's been happening over the last 3 years.

Anonymous said...

June 1st will mark the third year of LANL's for-profit management under LANS LLC (Bechtel, BWXT, Washington Group and... UC?). How will you decide to mark this anniversary?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'll throw my shoe at a senior manager to express my appreciation.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps I'll throw my shoe at a senior manager to express my appreciation." - 6:50 AM

Just make sure that it's a shoe that GRIPS!

Anonymous said...

Hold on to those shoes, you're gonna be needing them.