Jun 1, 2009

Cuts May Kill LANL Accelerator

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

The federal government's on-again, off-again efforts to rehabilitate an aging Los Alamos particle accelerator are off, leaving some scientists scratching their heads and leaving New Mexico's political leadership gearing up for a fight.

The Obama administration characterizes the $180 million upgrade to the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center as unneeded, a program kept alive by Congress against the wishes of the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, the two federal agencies responsible for Los Alamos.

The decision comes as a new facility with similar capabilities, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, comes on line.

After the administration announced plans to kill the upgrade — essentially a slow death sentence for the nearly three-decade-old accelerator — the state's congressional delegation went on the attack.

"LANSCE is a critical tool not only for the stockpile stewardship program but for other nonclassified science applications, such as isotope production, nuclear forensics and nuclear fuels analysis, among many uses," said a May 13 letter from the five members of the state's congressional delegation to Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag.

Laboratory officials declined to comment, saying they had been barred from speaking on the record about the proposal by federal managers at the National Nuclear Security Administration. But in an internal e-mail message published on LANL: The Rest of the Story, a blog popular with lab workers, a top Los Alamos official said management was working to reverse the decision.

"Rest assured that our Laboratory senior management strongly support LANSCE and the (refurbishment) project and are working hard to fix this problem," wrote Kurt Schoenberg, LANSCE's director.

A National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman declined to comment beyond the brief statement issued earlier this month announcing the proposed cut.

The medical community will feel the loss if LANSCE's life is not extended, said Jeffrey Norenberg, a University of New Mexico professor and associate director of the New Mexico Center for Isotopes in Medicine. The center is a UNM-Los Alamos partnership that uses LANSCE to create radioactive medicines used in medical treatment and research.

"It's making a major difference right now," Norenberg said of LANSCE's medical contributions.

Located on a narrow mesa west of Los Alamos National Laboratory's main research area, LANSCE contains a particle accelerator that began operation in 1972. Particle accelerators are the workhorses of physics, creating high-energy beams of subatomic particles that are used to address fundamental scientific questions.

The quarter-mile-long machine creates a stream of high-energy protons, one of the fundamental building blocks of all matter.

The protons are used for a wide variety of research, from creating X-ray-like movies of detonating nuclear weapon components to making radioactive materials used in medical research and disease treatment.


Anonymous said...

The arguement is that the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge produces a lot more neutrons than LANSCE and thus LANSCE is no longer needed.

But, they do not produced medical isotopes or do classified research at the SNS.

Anonymous said...

NNSA does not want LANCE,
what more is there to say?

Anonymous said...

Isn't it obvious to anyone that DOE, NNSA, and congress have finally decided to stick a fork in this baby because it's done??

Think about it, all capabilities are being moved OUT of LANL and into other labs. You can try to justify the need here all you want, but it's simply easier to do the work elsewhere. AND DOE doesn't have to worry about the other labs making the NYT. This trend started once LANS took over (if not earlier). I think rather than bitching on a blog, it's time to beef up your resumes and look for another job. Good luck because employers aren't looking to hire the over-50 crowd.

Anonymous said...

See the comments from the LLNL crowd.


Anonymous said...

The Spallation Neutron Source was an idea that came out of LANL. BUT, Al Gore made it happen at Oak Ridge.

Anonymous said...

No argument here: NNSA & LANS are doing a heckofajob...

At paring LANL down to being just a plutonium fab operation.

Nice job, guys! You are delivering as advertised. Happy 3rd Anniversary!

Anonymous said...

This if off topic, but the comments here lead me to this interesting information.

One poster here gives a link to the LLNL blog, and I went there to look around. I noticed a link to this proposed California tax:
which proposes a surcharge on nonresidents with vested pension benefits from a California employer. The surcharges are quite heavy which is to be expected for any flavor of Socialist or Fascist state like California.

It is not clear if the law would be applied to LANL UCRS retirees especially those who never resided in California and given the sequestering of LANL UCRS funds done years ago. However, California politicians seem to have gone insane in their quest for more and more money even more so than the Federal Government, right now. Whatever the questions on the law, if UCRS takes out the surcharge, it would be difficult to get back.

Also, take a look at the paragraph near the end labeled "Potential Legal Problems of the Excise Tax." There they admit that this scheme likely illegal especially for nonresidents. So why don't they have the integrity to simply not propose or pass an illegal law?

Anonymous said...

LANSCE (formerly LAMPF) has been under threat of closure since about 1990. That has caused a lot of stress on the employees as well as made internal recruiting very difficult.

At some point, maybe they should just get it over with.

Anonymous said...

This proposed tax in California is obscene. Something has to be done.

Anonymous said...

You know what? Who cares about LANSCE anymore - that facility has been siphoning away resources from the weapons program and other funding sources for years. THe only reason it is on the priority list is because Sue Seestrom's husband Chris Morris does research with it and Sue thinks it is needed to make MaRIE happen - and guess what ... her $1M+ bonuses are tied to that. 'nuff said.

Anonymous said...

We might just stand a chance if we could get all the idiots responsible for the Oracle systems, the wonderful new travel system and the spectacular LIMITS moved to ORNL. I'm sure these people could help make it a level playing field.

Anonymous said...

4:48 PM, FWIW Neu's bonuses are also tied to MaRIE, which is why she has this year been suddenly considered an expert on MaRIE panels.

Anonymous said...

"Cuts May Kill LANL Accelerator"

Sounds like curtains for MaRIE. Way to go, Terry! How are you planning on spinning this ugly news at your next All-Hands meeting?

Anonymous said...

"We might just stand a chance if we could get all the idiots responsible for the Oracle systems..." (5:13 PM)

The Oracle system is seen as a great success by LANS upper management. You just need to be re-educated so that you, too, can see things in the proper light.

I suggest you begin by re-taking all of your online training and then viewing all of the All-Hands meetings that have been taped over the last 3 years. Oh, and don't forget to check your feet to be sure you are wearing shoes that GRIP! Perhaps your lousy foot ware is causing you to have these troubling bouts of bad attitude.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Chu couldn't wait to get out of Los Alamos during his whirlwind visit last month even though Mikey mentioned during his All-Hands meeting that he pleaded with him to stay and address the LANL employees.

The message in all of this is telling and doesn't bode well for LANL's future. The recent DOE decision to cut off LANSCE funding fits into this DOE's strategy. The DOE energy labs, along with SNL, will do well going forward. The NNSA weapon design labs (LANL and LLNL) will be treated to increasingly severe budget cuts and work force reductions. Some extra money will be doled out for enviro cleanup to help make up for the cuts. Most of this extra money will be used to hire cleanup sub-contractors.

What's not to understand in all of this? Dr. Chu is not trying to be subtle with his message.

Anonymous said...

The "crown jewel" of the DOE complex just lost a little more of its luster, and there wasn't much left to begin with.

Anonymous said...

The increasingly high costs (i.e., FTE rates), low productivity (i.e., "Work Free Safety Zone") economic model that NNSA and LANS are espousing at LANL is not sustainable for a R&D lab. It doesn't even work if you are trying to direct LANL into becoming a more generalized "national security" lab. Costs and productivity issues matter to outside clients.

It's a fine model if you're mostly interested in doing cleanup, construction and plant maintenance work because that's paid for by NNSA and they are not going to protest the low output they get for their funding dollars. They just want to keep LANL out of the Bad News department and keep Congress off their back. However, this high cost/low productivity model won't work if you're trying to generate growth in LANL's declining portfolio of scientific research.

Unless this model is changed, and quickly, most of the scientific research done at LANL with whither away and the scientific workforce will radically shrink. This path is already well traveled as evidenced by the increasingly rapid exit of the best and brightest from Los Alamos. If we continue along this path, LANL will be left with a small amount of internal research that is funded largely by the 8% LDRD tax (now frittered away by the recent addition of large overhead charges), plus a small amount of highly specialized research generated by NNSA's shrinking Stockpile Stewardship program.

Recent reports about the NNSA complex have helped to bring these problems of high cost/low productivity into focus. However, because of entrenched political decisions to keep the status quo, LANS and NNSA are unlikely to deviate from the current path. The current path also has economic advantages for the for-profit LLC partners of Bechtel and BWXT and for LANS highly compensated executives.

Yes, this current path will end up killing off the scientific reputation of LANL. However, be assured that NNSA and LANS have a well thought out plan to counter-act the declining scientific reputation by using large amounts of: (a) smoke, and (b) mirrors. Enjoy the show as best you can, hopefully from a distance.

Anonymous said...

Face it, LANL's days as a scientific laboratory are over. No first-rate scientist or engineer would come to work here.

Anonymous said...

No first-rate scientist or engineer would come to work here.

6/2/09 7:36 PM

No, but a lot of 2nd and 3rd rate scientists and engineers would. In fact, if you look around you'll see that they are already here. LANL is now being managed by them.

Anonymous said...

11:46 am: "...a lot of 2nd and 3rd rate scientists and engineers would. In fact, if you look around you'll see that they are already here. LANL is now being managed by them."

You sound as if you consider yourself "first rate." If so, why are you still here? Are you content to be managed by people inferior to you?