May 4, 2009

State Labs Await '10 Budget Report

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

When retired federal nuclear weapons program manager Everet Beckner went before a congressional committee in March, his premise was clear.

"The budget's getting smaller," Beckner said.

The question, Beckner explained to members of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, is how to maintain the complex of labs and plants needed to take care of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the face of such budgetary reality.

The answer federal officials come up with is of particular interest in New Mexico. With two nuclear weapons laboratories, the state receives more nuclear weapons money than any other state. Last year's amount was $2.7 billion.

The expected release this week of the Obama administration's full budget request for 2010 should provide the first detailed picture of how the new president's national security team hopes to answer Beckner's question.

Administration officials declined to comment in advance of the budget rollout, but congressional testimony, interviews with independent experts and a review of public comments by administration officials suggests a budget aimed at significantly reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile while expanding spending on nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

But the details of how that budget direction might affect Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, which together employ more than 20,000 New Mexicans, remain unclear.

At the top of the list of questions is the fate of a proposed $2 billion plutonium laboratory at Los Alamos. It would replace the lab's Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building, built nearly six decades ago and declared a hazard to workers and the public by federal safety auditors.

Thomas D'Agostino, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told Congress on March 17 that replacing the old CMR building was "critical" for maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons. But questions have been raised in Congress about whether the project is needed as the U.S. nuclear stockpile shrinks.

The project's $2 billion price tag is also likely to be in competition with two other expensive nuclear weapons projects, Beckner noted in his testimony at the same hearing.

D'Agostino's agency also wants a new building complex in Tennessee to work with uranium nuclear weapons parts and a facility in South Carolina to help dispose of plutonium from retired nuclear weapons.

It is unlikely that all three projects, each costing in excess of $2 billion, can be built simultaneously, given the financial constraints facing the nuclear weapons program, Beckner said.

"The budget cannot swallow those three projects as presently aligned," Beckner told members of Congress.

Speaking at a news conference April 10, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said a decision about how to proceed on the new plutonium laboratory would have to wait until after completion of the Nuclear Posture Review, a Pentagon study of the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, and the weapons' role in national security policy.

"I think the best thing to do is, let's wait for the Nuclear Posture Review," Chu told reporters while visiting Sandia National Laboratories.

Another thing to look for in the coming budget release is how the new administration approaches maintaining the labs' base of scientific expertise as nuclear weapons spending declines, said Raymond Jeanloz, a University of California nuclear weapons expert who frequently serves as an adviser to the federal government.

"To what degree and in what ways will the labs be diversifying their portfolios?" Jeanloz asked in an interview.

Jeanloz also noted that the upcoming budget debates will take place in a changing Congress. Two New Mexico Republicans who had expertise in the weapons program — Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson — are gone this year. Domenici retired from the Senate, and Wilson gave up her House seat in an unsuccessful attempt to replace Domenici.

In addition, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., who represents Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has been nominated to a position in the State Department. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who represents the district that includes the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation, has announced plans to step down next year to run for governor.

Collectively, the departure of those four members represents a loss of significant congressional expertise on nuclear weapons issues, Jeanloz said.

"I think that's hugely important," he said.


Anonymous said...

"Another thing to look for in the coming budget release is how the new administration approaches maintaining the labs' base of scientific expertise as nuclear weapons spending declines, said Raymond Jeanloz" (News)

Don't worry, Bechtel is firmly in charge of that one. Cleanup, construction projects and maintaining lab facilities is very scientific work. LANS just need to "restructure" the work force and replace many of the scientists with CSEs and more construction managers. We'll soon be world class in this area. :-(

Anonymous said...

"The budget's getting smaller," Beckner said.

Incoming! Duck and cover.

Anonymous said...

We are going to get a "double whammy" at LANL: the budget is being reducted , and without Sen. Domenici, Congress can and will cut the living shit out of LANL. This is somthing they have been planning for for a long long time. Those of you who really follow the budget wars know just how imprtant Sen. Domenici was to the process. The reason Sec Chu put of his answer to the new CMMR bulding is that he is going to be told (by a committee)that no funding will be available. If you have any intention on leaving LANL, your time is now, don't wait until they make the final announcment regarding the budget, it may be too late. This is forming the "Perfect Storm".

Anonymous said...

I agree with 4:41 PM. Looking at the other plans, SRS will get the bulk of that money given the current administrations attitudes towards nuclear weapons. LANL, on the other hand, will have a big hole in the ground. Should we wait and see, or jump ship while we can?

It's looking well for the Los Alamos Cleanup Site. Slogan: Don't slip, wear shoes that grip.

Anonymous said...

With cuts to Pit Manufacturing, there will be plenty of room in PF-4 for a small-scale PDCF.

Anonymous said...

was this ever posted?

of the $6B for the recovery act funding for environmental cleanup, lanl got $212M to demolish 35 buildings and structures across the complex, reducing the footprint by more than 260,000 square feet.

Anonymous said...

Only LANS could make destruction of buildings a $900 per square foot enterprise. Incredible.

Anonymous said...

I disagree 5:18 pm. SRS will NOT
get a majority of the funding. PDCF is so behind schedule and so overspent, it makes no sense to keep dumping money into this building, where the project can be done at LANL with some modifications. K basin is limping along. What do they have to offer facility-wise to continue a nuclear weapon's mission?

I think the start of construction for PDCF is many years post-start of MFFF! Where is MFFF supposed to get PuO2 feed since PDCF isn't up and running? Can you say LANL?

Further, I can't see the current Administration, if they were smart, dumping 100's of millions of additional dollars into this facility, which is already tagged at $3 billion. Ican't see the current Administration spending $3bill on a new nuclear building.

Last, my colleagues in pit manufacturing said their budget looked good for next year. The out years are a different story.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, is 4:41pm a complete idiot? If you have any intention of leaving, leave now? What does that mean? If - and it's a HUGE if - these draconian cuts are coming, your best bet is to wait, and let LANS RIF you. You get a nice sevarance package (by contract) in that event; you get squat if you walk out the door voluntarily.

Anonymous said...

Mikey will explain next year's budget to everyone at his All-Hands scheduled for Thursday at 2PM.


April 29, 2009 - Director's Page

LANL: Home to Two Energy Frontier Research Centers

We received excellent news this week that LANL will be home to two of 46 new multimillion-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). These were announced by the White House in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science solicited proposals from universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation. LANL submitted multiple proposals, and the two selected as EFRCs are 1) Extreme Environment-Tolerant Materials via Atomic Scale Design of Interfaces (Lead researcher: Dr. Michael Nastasi) and 2) The Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (Lead researcher: Dr. Victor Klimov).

Addressing the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama promised a major investment in research and development for scientific innovation, saying the United States has fallen behind. Specifically, he pledged to devote 3 percent of our gross domestic product to research and development. “We will not just meet but exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race,” he said. Here at the Lab, we take that as very encouraging news, and we look forward to opportunities to participate in national scientific innovation – not only here at LANL but also in collaboration with other DOE laboratories.

The President’s announcement comes just weeks after we had the honor of hosting Secretary of Energy Steven Chu on his first visit to LANL. On a whirlwind tour, he was able to see the Lab first-hand and meet directly with some of our scientists, who briefed him on research work under way at the Lab on such topics as the electric grid, climate modeling, hydrogen storage, nanotechnology, and HIV/AIDS research.

After his tour of LANL, he visited Sandia and made a presentation to employees, which you may have seen on LABNET. While we were disappointed that Secretary Chu’s schedule didn’t allow him to address LANL employees, the messages he delivered from Sandia about mission and capabilities of the NNSA Labs were encouraging. He reaffirmed our core mission as sustaining the stockpile for nuclear deterrence and the importance of the underpinning science to achieve it. He also reinforced the need for the Labs to play a key role in meeting the nation’s challenges in energy security and climate change.

Congress is now gearing up to work on the FY10 budget and spending bills. We are hearing that budget details are likely to be made public by the Administration in early May, around the same time that the final report on the future of nuclear weapons policy is due from the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of Energy and Defense James Schlesinger. With the Administration’s announced shift in foreign policy and nonproliferation priorities and in anticipation of the new budget, I have been spending a significant amount of time in Washington, providing updates both to the new Department of Energy leadership and to key Members of Congress.

I am scheduling an All-Employee Director’s talk on May 7, 2:00 p.m., in which I plan to share my insights on the FY10 budget, my thoughts on the Perry Commission report, and a progress report on the 90-day improvement initiatives that I announced in January to make our work here at the Lab more efficient. Please join me at the NSSB auditorium for the meeting, and please bring your questions, as I will reserve plenty of time for Q&A following my remarks.

Anonymous said...

An all hands and he's going to take questions? This can't be good.

Anonymous said...

"...please bring your questions, as I will reserve plenty of time for Q&A following my remarks."

The Director says he wants lots of time for Q&A, so stay awake during this one and bring him your toughest questions.

Anonymous said...

The Obama military doctrine, peace through weakness, his pipe dream of a Nuke-Free World, his arbitrary number of 1,000 US nuclear strategic weapons in a future strategic arms control treaty with Russia, and the future risk of the destruction of the classic nuclear triad, ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers, as well as the abject future of reducing the US nuclear weapons complex (NWC) into just three sites, 2025, LANL, SNL, and Pantex,, and the full report, Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World, Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy Network, April 2009, Residual Capabilities in a 3-site Nuclear Weapons Complex, Supporting 500 Warheads, Lead Author Robert L. Civiak,

And finally; To address any budgetary numbers is almost beyond irony, due to the fact that Pres. Obama seek a world of zero nukes, a global denuclearization, a world that clearly wouldn´t benefit US national security.

Anonymous said...

"..Only LANS could make destruction of buildings a $900 per square foot enterprise. Incredible..."

mE THINKS THAT IT'S THE epa that makes demolition of radioactive mixed waste so costly.

Left only to me, it'd be in a desert arroyo for $50 per square foot.

Anonymous said...

5/5/09 10:21 PM

Excerpt for Fareed Zakaria's interview of Sec Defense Bob Gates, aired May 3, 2009 on CNN, it may give a hint at how this year's NPR may come out...

ZAKARIA: President Obama has laid out a vision for a nuclear- free world, for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Now, since 1945, there has been no war between a major power, and many people attribute that to nuclear deterrence. So, would a world free of nuclear weapons be more stable without nuclear deterrence?

GATES: Well, I don't know. And I don't think anybody does.

I think that it's -- you know, we have had a number of countries forego nuclear weapons, countries that had nuclear weapons programs, who really voluntarily walked away from them -- South Africa, Libya, Taiwan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil. So, total pessimism with respect to nonproliferation, I think, is unwarranted.

President Obama is the fourth president that I have worked for, who has said that he would like to -- has said publicly -- that he would like to see an end to nuclear weapons and having a nuclear weapons-free world.

I think that's a laudable objective. I think it's clear to everyone it's an approach -- it's a goal that you have to move towards step-by-step.

I think that continued nonproliferation efforts -- the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, another post-START agreement with the Russians in terms of further reducing our stockpile -- I think these are all important steps in that direction. But my guess is it's a long march.

ZAKARIA: But if we went to zero, and the Chinese went to zero, would the relationship be more stable? I mean, certainly, the U.S.- Soviet case, it seemed as though the fact that we both had nuclear weapons kept the peace.

GATES: Well, you're asking about a hypothetical world. And I think that's -- we don't know the answer to that question.

The question is, how do you deal with the technology? I mean, when you get down to very low numbers of nuclear weapons, and you contemplate going to zero, how do you deal with the reality of that technology being available to almost any country that seeks to pursue it? And what conditions do you put in place? What U.N. verification measures, or IAEA verification measures, do you put in place to prevent others from getting that?

So, I think this is an important goal for everyone to have in the world. But I think that it's a long road to get there.

ZAKARIA: Your defense budget has gathered a huge number of opponents. There's the contractors, people in Congress, parts of the services.

Are you going to get through the budget you want? Or do you think some significant compromise is inevitable?

GATES: Well, I think that, since the budget isn't even on the Hill yet, I'm not prepared to talk about compromises.

But, you know, I think there -- I will tell you, I have actually been surprised by how limited the criticism has been. And where I have heard criticism, it has come from predictable places.

And I think that there also have been some voices raised -- some important voices -- in support, including Senator McCain on the Armed Services Committee, and others, as well, on both sides of the aisle.

So, I'm relatively optimistic, actually. I think we've presented a very -- as one news magazine referred to it -- "radically sane" set of proposals. They don't represent a cut. And where we have eliminated one program, we have added to others.

So, it's a question of how do we balance our preparations for some future conflict with the capabilities necessary to be successful in the conflicts that we're engaged in today? And so, it's that rebalancing that I'm trying to do.

But at the end of the day, 50 percent of our procurement budget is still for these high-tech, modern, modernization programs; about 40 percent for dual-purpose capabilities, such as C-17 cargo planes; and about 10 percent for irregular conflict. So the notion that I've sort of abandoned looking at future threats is contrary to reality, and I look forward to the opportunity to go to the Hill and make that case.


Anonymous said...

"Obama seek a world of zero nukes, a global denuclearization, a world that clearly wouldn´t benefit US national security."


Anonymous said...

5:46 PM, a hefty chunk of the cleanup effort is not for buildings but for dirt, e.g. the long contaminated strip of land along DP road, across from Glover's and the ACE hardware.

Anonymous said...

mikey is already announcing a meeting over the FY10 budget? yeah, they already know the news isn't good.

get out the knee pads boys, you're gonna need them soon.

Anonymous said...

"yeah, they already know the news isn't good." - 9:01 AM

Just make sure your LANL job is in the current "safe" areas of cleanup, facilities engineering, construction, quality assurance, security & safety or that you are a lab manager. You'll be fine during any downturn.

If you're still sticking around as a TSM trying to eek out scientific work at an FTE rate approaching $500K per year then you may be in trouble.

Except for a select group of chosen scientists, LANL is in effect no longer a National Lab. It's now a very profitable subsidiary of Bechtel/BWXT Inc. and this is not going to change anytime soon.

Oh, and remember to keep wearing those shoes that GRIP! This year's PBIs depend on it.

Anonymous said...

We'll be OK at LANL. We've got Tom Udall, Jeff Bingamin and Ben Lujan fighting on our side.

On second thought, maybe it's time to worry. Start sending you prayers to our holy patron, Saint Pete. Maybe he still has some magical powers left in him.

Anonymous said...

The days of LANL are just about over, we have never been such a large organization, facing the larest cuts, from the largest government in history. We knew this could not last, nuclear weapons are a relic of the past, energy money will only be a trickle, clean-up funds will fade in the next few years. Kinda reminds me of a place called "Rocky Flats".
Our Director Sig Hecker who back in the 90's had the option of 'expanding" our mission instead choose to keep this a weapons lab.

LANL will not completey go away but, you don't want to be working at a thrid rate under-funded lab.

Anonymous said...

What! we get a severance package? please tell us more....

Anonymous said...

2 weeks pay for every year of service, up to a maximum of 40 weeks and the option for COBRA health care coverage. In addition, if you're RIFed, you qualify for state unemployment benefits.

If you walk away from your job, you get none of these.

Anonymous said...

since no one ever reads our obnoxiously long emails...

Anonymous said...

You guys are stressing over nothing. Plenty of funding for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Frank, make this a new post:

America´s Strategic Posture, The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, William J. Perry, Chairman, James R. Schlesinger, Vice-Chairman, United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009.


Anonymous said...

According to another blog, Anastasio told the Los Alamos County Council this week that "a skill mix problem would cause some forced separation issues to crop up soon."

Anonymous said...

From a UPTE-CWA letter posted on the LLNL blog...

"(3) UC/Bechtel Eliminate Retiree Health Benefits for Livermore, Who’s Next?

In a stunning setback, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab has replaced retiree health benefits with an annual check of $2400. This applies to those who retired when the lab was still run by UC as well as all current employees. LLNL is now run by a private limited liability corporation of which UC is a 50% owner."

Is this true? Is LANS, the sister org of LLNS, planning the same destructive action of retiree medical benefits at LANL, too?

How can this be considered "substantially equivalent"?

Anonymous said...

6:29 PM - you forgot to say please.

Anonymous said...


Actuallmm, LNNL has change the benefit delivery, not necessarily the benefits, for Medicare eligible retirees only, providing $2400 to each eligible member (retiree and spouse)to buy guaranteed issue coverage from a number of options that can be customized to the retiree's need. The jury is still out, but it appears that this is a truly proactive approach to managing Medicare retirees to minimize costs and continue to provide quality benefits. None of this applies to active employees or non-Medicare retirees.

Anonymous said...

5/7/09 8:49 AM

Finally. Somebody who knows what they are talking about. Personally, I find this a positive, not a negative as so many have suggested.

Anonymous said...

"2 weeks pay for every year of service, up to a maximum of 40 weeks and the option for COBRA health care coverage. In addition, if you're RIFed, you qualify for state unemployment benefits."

The disparity in severance benefits between different NNSA contractors has already come into the limelight. Several weeks ago I read about some hearings, etc., discussing this issue, but can't recall the source.

I wouldn't be surprised if they reduce the severance benefits at LANL in the near future.