Apr 30, 2009

A request ...

I would like to please ask the participants on this blog for a favor. That being, you may not like me, have issues with me, etc., but keep your issues with directed towards me and please leave my postdocs out of it. None of my postdocs are second-rate and all of them are great guys and superb scientists. Yes, they all have fellowships - Seaborg and Director's, which they got on their records of achievement and performance. I also put my postdocs up for subsequent awards based on their LANL performance (Publication Prizes, Distinguished Peformance Awards, LAAP Awards, etc).

Yes, the Reines Fellow (as he has been referred to), after nearly 5 years no longer works with me, and that's his business, not yours. Insulting him on this blog is truly uncalled for - he did not sue or threaten to sue for his fellowship, or get paid off, he earned it, as he did his Seaborg and Director's fellowships before that. He is on no less than 19 papers with me during his stint at LANL. How many "second-rate " postdocs have this record, especially after having their research disrupted twice, by a standdown and a Type B Investigation? In any event, he is starting his career at UPenn so let's wish him all the best, OK?

Finally, you clearly don't know my postdocs if you think they kiss my ass or suck up to me. They may not like what I say to them at times, and vice-versa :-), but we have an open relationship and we respect each other and you know what? Yeah, we go out for drinks and celebrate each others successes. But they work their butts off and their records show this. So can we just leave them out of your issues with me? Please.

Thank you,

Jaqueline Kiplinger (aka JK, JLK, Doc Aq, etc.)

Apr 27, 2009

NM labs selected as energy research centers

Associated Press - April 27, 2009 9:55 PM ET

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories have been selected as "Energy Frontier Research Centers."

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation made the announcement Monday. They say the designation comes with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for the advancement of clean energy technology.

Sandia will receive $3.6 million for researching solid-state lighting, which uses a semiconducting material to convert electricity directly into light. That maximizes the light's energy efficiency.

Los Alamos will receive $3.9 million to research how to improve the efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity. The lab will receive another $3.9 million to research the behavior of materials under extreme conditions.

Apr 25, 2009

Comment of the Week

The theme for this week's COW is Yin vs. Yang. As those of you who follow eastern philosophy no doubt already know, these are two opposing forces, or perspectives. "Yin" would be dark, passive, downward, cold, contracting, and weak, "yang" would be bright, active, upward, hot, expanding, and strong.

The following are selected comments that exemplify the light and the dark perspectives on what it is like to work at today's LANL:

From last week's Comment of the Week post, a Yang view:

"more idealistic motifs are reasons for work, such as making great discoveries, serving the country or mankind."

all of the above. i am one of the lucky ones at LANL, since i still get to do science, and i look forward to coming to work every day to do so. yeah, the bureaucracy is a big, ridiculous pain, but i know a lot of very talented unemployed people these days, so i count my blessings that i have a good job; one that is intellectually fulfilling/challenging, and that i enjoy very much. and, yes, it pays very well.

any bad thing could happen at any time, but until that time comes, i am going to try to get as much good science in as i can. what else is there to look forward to? if i pay too much attention to the fact that i have no trust in top management, my quality of life diminishes.

This was followed immediately, of course, by a nugget of Yin:

Nicely said, 7:54. Thanks. Too bad that will never make the comment of the week. Too coherent and not anit[sic]-LANL enough.

More Yang, from the Will this be a problem? post:

By all means be honest about the DWI. And, be prepared for several follow-on questions regarding your use of alcohol since the incident.

Alcohol related history can also drive several questions regarding any use of controlled substances.

Best of Luck.

This triggered some more Yin:

To the original poster: Is coming to LANL the best you could do? You reference an "internship" - does that mean a post-doc? Be aware you will be subject to so many safety and security rules (regardless of your area of work or clearance) that you will not be allowed to get any actual work done. If you can, avoid LANL like the plague. Your career will not be advanced here, but retarded. Your stint at LANL will always be seen as a negative. You will not be happy working at LANL, and your spouse (if any) will find the Los Alamos social, cultural, and shopping wasteland a hell on earth. Stay away if you can - you do not want to be sunk in this swamp.


If you've been reading this blog and you still think working at the Lab is a great idea you may not be so young anymore. But dumb?

and this one, which sort of straddles the fence between Yin and Yang.

If I were you, I'd run, not walk, to just about any other job you can find. If you decide to stay, check your ethics at the door. The only way to advance these days is as a LANS manager with no moral code whatsoever. Good luck.

Comments this which week which notably did not make the COW list included political spammings, such as verbatim repostings (including footnotes) of press releases of political speeches, and claims that this or that posting originated from Chris Mechels. The latter, as usual, didn't even survive the comment rejection process.

Keep trying, though. You'll get the Yang of it eventually.


Apr 23, 2009

Will this be a problem?

I recently came across your LANL blog and I had a question- do you know LANL's policy on candidates for hire who have DWIs on their record? I screwed up way back when I was young and dumb, and I was wondering what trouble I'm facing in regards to security checks before I drive across the country for an internship there. I didn't hide it, it's just they gave me the internship before I could say anything. Please understand how awkward and embarrassing, as it should be, it is to go out of my way to ensure they know about it? I was hoping you might have some insight in regards to their hiring processes... Thanks.

I don't know the answer to your question but I'm certain one of the blog's readers will. Since it was only once and it was a long time ago, I'm betting the DWI will not be an issue. Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

PS Don't mention that you read the LANL blog during the interview!

Apr 18, 2009

Comment of the Week

Only at LANL...

This week, the full Comment of the Week award goes to this insightful glimpse into what it is like to work at LANL under LANS, LLC. Our winner comes from the LANL PurchaseIT Rollout Designed to Eliminate Laptop Usage post which, although pretty funny, was sufficiently close to the mark as to be a little scary, as well.

Interesting thought. Let me see if I got it. You pay for a computer with a wireless feature. You then pay more money to get that feature physically disabled. You then buy a wireless card, to allow your laptop to have a connection. Makes total sense. Great stewardship of taxpayer dollars, to be sure. Why not repeat this cycle a few times, just to be safe?

Of course, getting the wireless card would require tons and tons of special paperwork, approved at the CIO level, right? No big deal, it's just scientists' time. What do they have, project deadlines or something?

But wait, after all, the LANL policy has absolutely nothing about any option to add a wireless card. They really thought this one through.

Next week, we'll discuss thin clients. Or perhaps bottled water. Or maybe day care.

Until then, PBI's baby!


Apr 17, 2009

Sick Resident Blames Research

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

A second lawsuit has been filed alleging Los Alamos residents were made sick by research performed in the early years of the town's federal nuclear weapons lab.

Cora Medina claims in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that she developed thyroid cancer and asthma as a result of playing in canyons near what today is known as Los Alamos National Laboratory as a girl for much of the 1950s.

“While playing in the canyons, Cora Medina and her friends would jump from barrel to barrel and from canister to canister,” the suit states. “When puddles of water were present in the canyons, Cora Medina and her friends would splash each other with water, which possibly contained radioactive waste.”

The complaint states Medina, who now lives in Alcalde, also drank milk bought from local grocery stores. The milk could have come from cows “which ingested radioactive materials by eating grass and drinking water in the areas surrounding LANL,” the suit states.

The complaint is thought to be the second of its kind. In a similar suit brought last April, the daughter of Lowell Ryman alleged that his 2005 death, at age 63, was the result of multiple myeloma caused by years spent playing in Acid Canyon near LANL as a child in the 1950s.

Michael Howell of Houston is the attorney on both cases. An Albuquerque attorney also involved in the lawsuits did not return calls for comment.

Both complaints names as defendants the Regents of the University of California, which ran the lab until 2006, and The Zia Company, the contractor that performed management, construction and maintenance duties at the lab until 1986. The lab is now run by Los Alamos National Security, a for-profit contractor of which UC is a partner.

UC spokesman Chris Harrington said in a statement: “While it is well known that waste was discharged into Acid Canyon from the beginning of the Manhattan Project and through the mid-1960s, this waste did not pose a risk to human health or safety.”

The spokesman said the lab continuously monitors for all contamination both on and off the lab property.

“All areas are well below the Department of Energy standard for public human health as it relates to radioactivity in soils and air,” Harrington said.

An attorney for Zia did not return a call for comment. A lab spokesman referred questions to Harrington.

In court filings in the ongoing Ryman case, UC acknowledged releasing “nondangerous quantities” of radioactive liquid waste into Acid Canyon during the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, continuing until 1951.

The historic dumping has been well documented and attributed to the lack of environmental safeguards in place at the time.

Higher than average rates of thyroid cancer in Los Alamos County have long been a concern.

A 1996 state Health Department epidemiology study could not explain why Los Alamos County residents developed thyroid cancer at a rate four times higher than the rest of the state between 1988 through 1995.

Last year, the Journal reported that the rate among non-Hispanic white males in Los Alamos County has been falling, and today is below the statewide average.

But the rate among Anglo women was still high: 66 cases per 100,000 residents between 2001 and 2005, compared with an average of 21 cases for all other counties. In real numbers, that's 22 cases among the population of non-Hispanic white women in Los Alamos County.

Health experts have warned against drawing conclusions about the causes.

One reason rates of thyroid cancer — a relatively rare but generally curable disease — could be high is because the highly educated, affluent population in Los Alamos has better-than-average access to medical care, experts say.

Medina says in her complaint that she underwent surgery to remove thyroid cancer shortly after being diagnosed between 1958 and 1960.

But, even as an adult, the complaint states, Medina has had to take thyroid medication and endure pain and suffering as a result of ongoing thyroid treatment.

She also continues to suffer from chronic headaches and asthma that first developed as a child, according to the suit.

The complaint adds that a “close childhood friend” from Los Alamos died of brain cancer in the 1950s.

The suit states that in 1990s Medina was working at a used-car lot when a LANL representative approached her and mentioned that the lab was conducting an investigation into whether lab operations caused health problems.

While Medina maintains that she told the representative of her condition, she later received a package of literature from LANL indicating that her illness was not caused by LANL operations, the suit states. Medina says she no longer has the papers and can't remember who sent them to her.

Among other things Medina is suing for negligence, engaging in dangerous activities and “fraudulent concealment.”

LANL PurchaseIT Rollout Designed to Eliminate Laptop Usage

Wacky World News, April 15th, 2009

Los Alamos National Lab announced their new PurchaseIT program this week to employees. It will be used to strictly control all future purchases of computer related items at the lab. The PurchaseIT program has been mandated by LANS CIO, Tom Harper (formerly a manager with Bechtel) in order to be compliant with Procedure P1011 ("Killing Off Science at LANL").

According to the new purchasing policy, all IT orders will only be accepted by Designated Procurement Representatives (DPRs). LANS is in the process of hiring hundreds of new support people using additional overhead taxes to fund these newly created positions.

Under these new rules, all purchase orders will be rigidly constrained to support current lab Information Architecture (IA) standards. This means that *ALL* incoming systems will have their hard drives erased and have wireless, Bluetooth, cameras, and microphones physically removed from systems so that they are permanently disabled.

It’s expected that physically removing Wi-Fi from LANL laptops will make them completely useless for lab travel and, therefore, force LANL staff to go out and purchase their own laptops. This should result in a major cost savings to the lab's equipment budget says CIO Harper. In addition to this, LANS hopes that these strict, new laptop policies will result in even greater savings by driving many of the best scientists out of the lab.

Customers who wish to not have these features disabled can apply for an exception by filing out LANS Form 666B in triplicate and then prostrating themselves in front of the CIO while begging for mercy. It is expected that almost all requests for exception will be haughtily denied by the CIO after making the customer wait for approximately 12 months.

The PurchaseIT system will require that all of these newly crippled computer systems be purchased only from a small selection or products offered by a select group of vendors who have strong connections with LANL's "Friends and Family" plan. Prices for these crippled computers will reflect the labor required to make them utterly useless. Laptops will start out at a price of approximately $6,000 for the least crippled versions and go up to $8,000 for systems that have been both utterly crippled and then beaten up with a hammer for an extra measure of crippling.

In tandem with this new program, LANS is also contemplating a new policy that mandates only software currently offered by the lab’s Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) system will be allowed on lab computers. ESD is expected to soon reduced the number of software programs that are available down to one choice: Microsoft Office.

CIO Tom Harper says,"This is just the first phase of our new Purchase IT program. During our next phase, we hope to move even further along in the process of destroying all the remaining science at LANL by requiring removal of all keyboards and LCDs from laptop procurements and mandating that all desktop computers be allowed to only run DOS 3.3."

When LANL Director Mike Anastasio was asked by our reporter about the new PurchaseIT program he had this to say: “Don’t SLIP – Wear shoes that GRIP!”. He claimed that LANL staff would fully understand what he meant by this cryptic phrase.

In a separate news story, Bechtel, the prime "for-profit" manager of LANL, reported massive profits of $31.4 billion dollars for this last year.

Tune in next week to learn how an Etch A Sketch is substantially equivalent to a laptop (in the aggregate).

Apr 12, 2009

Comment of the week, regular edition

This week's rare mid-week version of COW was prompted by DOE Secretary Chu's drive-by visit to LANL earlier this week, followed by his more leisurely Sandia visit where he took the time to talk to staff. Several interesting comments were generated on that thread which will share COW honors today.

After much grumbling about Chu's having given LANL the cold shoulder, this comment appeared, seemingly from a Washington insider:

I don't think many people here grasp how sour the opinions of LANL are in Washington.

To which a reader responded:

Since you imply that you do know how sour the opinions of LANL are in Washington, perhaps you'd share with us what the opinions are regarding LANS, LLC: their "leadership team", their operational capabilities, and their strategic capabilities.

Mr. Washington Insider replied with

I have found the same sour opinions in DC.

There is no point in sharing details on this blog since the commenters here seem to be self destructive with respect to LANL's future not productive.

Many commenters have asked for productive discussion. So far, nothing just sniping.

The exchange concluded with

Frank has provided the discussion forum; what LANL staff choose to do with it is up to them.

However, if you are in fact a DC "insider" as you imply, then you have no real grasp of how poorly the LANS management "team" is exercising their leadership responsibilities at LANL.

PBIs, baby! That's what it's all about.

You have to work here to realize how hopeless LANL's future is under LANS, LLC.

I suspect that LANL staff (at least those staff who were even aware that Chu had visited) are now a bit more sensitive to LANL's standing within DOE.

One more comment deserves honorable mention for this week. It was a cost savings suggestion aimed at making LANL more cost-competitive when writing up all of those diversification proposals for non-weapons energy related work as Dr. Chu suggested the labs needed to do.

Please use both sides of the toilet paper.

Finally, this comment came in while I was writing this. It is rich in perspective.

"LANL has a very limited number of experts in climate modeling and alternative energy research..." [4/11, 12:04 pm]

Relative to Secretary Chu's remarks, this is the most substantive comment so far to have emerged from this entire discussion.

(Sidebar: 8:12, remember about people who live in glass houses? Typos happen. Live with it. Be nice.)

I was recruited to LANL about the time John Browne became Director, and I was attracted by his statements to the effect that his vision for LANL's future was in environmental sciences (including climate and alternative energy). That vision, of course, turned out to be something of a mirage due to the combination of DOE dithering and the Wen Ho Lee business a couple of years later.

But during my time at LANL, it became quite painfully obvious that Really Good Physicists are not (necessarily) really good climate scientists or any other variety either. LANL had then, and undoubtedly still has, far, far to go if it's going to transform from high-energy and nuclear science to environmental science.

And because the train has left the station, just like I and so many other scientists have left the Lab, it's doubtful that this transformation is feasible in any timely fashion.

Good luck to all.

Until next week,


Apr 9, 2009

Comment of the Week (rare mid-week edition)

From the Secretary Chu to Visit New Mexico’s Nuclear Security Laboratories post. Thank you, 7:00pm.

Just in case you all want to make sure Chu sees this: The.Secretary@hq.doe.gov

Update, 4-10: DOE is watching. Click for larger image.

Today's Lab Email (April 9, 2009)...

Message from the Director
Subject: Welcome to Secretary Chu

Los Alamos National Laboratory has a long history of world-class science on behalf of the nation, and we continue to be at the forefront of many of the world's scientific advances. This afternoon, I am pleased to host Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino here at LANL. This is Secretary Chu's first visit to our Laboratory since he was named DOE Secretary by President Obama.

While Secretary Chu is here, he will view computer simulations at our Power Wall and receive briefings from Lab scientists whose research is helping address some of our nation's most pressing problems. Per his request, we have also arranged a roundtable discussion with roughly a dozen LANL scientists to allow him to have open, candid conversations about the state of science here at the Lab.

Following his visit here, Secretary Chu will travel to Albuquerque for Friday morning briefings at Sandia National Laboratories. And on Friday morning, he will speak from Sandia to employees at all three NNSA Labs on "The Role of the Nuclear Security Laboratories in Meeting National Challenges." We have arranged for Secretary Chu's talk to be broadcast live beginning at 9 a.m. on LABNET Channel 9.

We have much to be proud of at the Lab, and this is a wonderful opportunity to offer Secretary Chu a window into the important national security science we do here to serve our nation.


Why did LANS wait until the very day of Dr. Chu's visit to inform the staff that he would be here? And who were the hand-picked scientists who met with him for a "candid discussion" this afternoon about the state of science at LANL. Were Mike and Terry allowed in the room?

Shame on you, Mike Anastasio! LANS secretive handling of this visit is a new low.

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
By Marylia Kelley, TriValley CARES

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. Click here for Dr. Bodner's biography.

Apr 8, 2009

Secretary Chu to Visit New Mexico’s Nuclear Security Laboratories

Energy Secretary to Deliver Remarks on the Role of Nuclear Security Labs in Meeting National Challenges

Washington, DC – U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu will make his first visit to the Department of Energy's nuclear security laboratories in New Mexico on Thursday, April 9 and Friday, April 10. Secretary Chu will outline the critical role the laboratories will play in advancing the nuclear security agenda outlined this week by President Obama as well as the important contributions they make to addressing broad national challenges like energy security, climate change and economic development.

On Thursday, April 9, Secretary Chu will visit Los Alamos National Laboratory where he will participate in a brief photo opportunity before attending a classified tour and briefing. On Friday, April 10, Secretary Chu will deliver remarks on “The Role of the Nuclear Security Laboratories in Meeting National Challenges” and tour the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) Microelectronics Laboratory at Sandia National Laboratories.

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are administered by the National Nuclear Security Administration, a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.

Tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Who: U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu
What: Photo Opportunity
When: Thursday, April 9
4:30 PM (MDT)
Where: LANL computing center.

*** NOTE: Interested media should contact LANL Communications Office at (505) 667-7000 or (505) 665-9202 ***

Tour of Sandia National Laboratory and Speech on "The Role of the Nuclear Security Laboratories in Meeting National Challenges"

Who: U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu
What: Speech at Sandia National Laboratory
When: Friday, April 10
9:00 AM (MDT)
Where: Steve Schiff Auditorium
Sandia National Laboratories, Bldg. 825

*** NOTE: A tour of the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) facilities and a press availability will follow Secretary Chu's address. ***

Reporters interested in covering the remarks should contact Michael Padilla at (505) 284-5325. Sandia media relations personnel will escort media onto Kirtland Air Force Base from the Gibson Gate. Media are asked to meet at the southeast corner parking lot at the intersection of Gibson and Louisiana at 8:15 a.m.

Media contact(s):
Media contact: (202) 586-4940
NNSA Public Affairs: (202) 586-7371

Apr 7, 2009

Obama's nuclear nonproliferation plan heralds changes for DOE labs


President Obama's plans for reducing the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons and production of fissile materials signal changes ahead for the nation's nuclear strategy and weapons labs.

"The basic bargain is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy," Obama said in a speech yesterday in Prague.

"If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them. That's the first step."

While much of the speech pointed to long-term goals, Obama said that in four years he aims to safeguard currently unsecured radioactive material on black markets through better detection of materials in transit and through "financial tools."

Obama particularly highlighted the U.S.-Russia collaboration, urging its expansion as well as the creation of new partnerships and higher standards. In a meeting last week, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said they will begin negotiations in July to further reduce both nations' nuclear weapons stockpiles.

To further his goal, Obama said he will seek to "strengthen" the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by providing resources for international inspections and establishing "real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause." He will also boost support for the nation's Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism to make them into "durable international institutions." Obama's blueprint budget released in February shows an increase in funds for nonproliferation programs.

Obama also said he plans to host a global summit on nuclear security within the next year.

Obama said he will "aggressively" push for the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans the testing of nuclear weapons. The United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1993 and has signed the treaty but has yet to ratify it, along with China, North Korea, Pakistan and several other countries.

Laura Holgate, vice president for Russia/new independent states programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, said Obama's commitment and focus on nuclear nonproliferation should turn nonproliferation initiatives from an ad hoc effort to "more institutionalized mechanisms for nonproliferation."

As for Obama's four-year goal on securing nuclear material, Holgate said it will be "tough" but worthy.

"There is a lot to be done, unfortunately," Holgate said. "I think there has been a lot of damage done to the U.S. stature in the world. I think we need to repair that damage. It's a lofty goal, a worthy one, [and] certainly a goal the U.S. cannot accomplish on its own."

DOE impact

All of these goals will have serious consequences for the Energy Department's nuclear weapons labs, which have been the subject of intense debate recently.

DOE's nuclear weapons programs -- including nonproliferation -- received $9 billion in funds for the past two years, which is about one-third of the department's budget. Almost two-thirds of the budget is used to maintain the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Efforts to shrink the weapons stockpile or Obama's decision to cancel work on the advanced nuclear weapon known as the "reliable replacement warhead" in his recent budget puts into question NNSA's size and budget for the future, said Philip Coyle, a senior adviser at the World Security Institute and a former top official for nuclear operations and testing in the Defense Department.

"Assumptions made about how many nuclear warheads might be produced in the future are key to sizing the NNSA production complex for the future," Coyle said at a recent congressional hearing. "Now that the Obama administration has made a decision to halt the RRW, the production workload for complex transformation can be cut in half," he said.

A small nuclear weapons stockpile will mean less work and less funding for the nation's laboratories -- an alarming scenario for the labs' thousands of scientists and other workers in places like New Mexico, California, Nevada, Tennessee and Idaho. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said laying off the scientists in the labs could potentially be a national security threat, as scientists could be tempted to seek employment elsewhere.

The changing role of the labs and DOE's focus on renewable energy and technology have also prompted calls for a transfer of the nuclear weapons responsibility to the Defense Department or an independent entity. The Office of Management and Budget directed DOE, DOD and the National Nuclear Security Administration -- the independent agency under DOE that manages the nuclear stockpile -- to review such a move and report their findings in a report by September.

Lawmakers have been asking the administration to hold off on making any major decisions about the nuclear weapons labs until Obama officially releases his "nuclear posture review" in January 2010 -- although this could be a strong indication of what that report will find. They have also been emphasizing a lot of the other missions the labs work on, including nonproliferation and forensics (E&ENews PM, March 30).

Nuclear energy

Obama also emphasized that all countries that renounce nuclear weapons should have access to peaceful nuclear energy, listing the fight against global warming alongside the need to reduce nuclear weapons.

"We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change and to advance peace opportunity for all people," Obama said.

The world must create an international fuel bank so counties can get fuel without having to enrich uranium themselves -- a road that could lead to the capacity to create nuclear weapons, Obama said. Obama introduced legislation supporting such a bank when he was a senator. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently achieved a $100 million financial benchmark laid out by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which will match it with $50 million contribution (E&ENews PM, March 6).

The United Arab Emirates has been praised for its decision to move forward with a civil nuclear program by promising not to seek enrichment capabilities. President George W. Bush signed a civil nuclear agreement with the country last year but did not submit it to the Senate. The Obama administration is still considering the agreement.

But others are concerned about the two dozen countries previously without a reactor currently showing interest in nuclear power, including Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Apr 6, 2009

LANL Still Waiting for News on Future

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

In 1989, federal officials said Los Alamos National Laboratory's old plutonium lab was "at the end of its useful life" and launched a plan for its replacement.

That plan failed, as did another, and another after that, foundering beneath waves of uncertainty about the future of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Twenty years later, the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building — a concrete behemoth known simply as CMR — is still in use and a replacement remains beyond the horizon. Uncertainty about U.S. nuclear weapon policy remains, and, in the meantime, workers are literally wrapping plastic around aging radioactive waste pipes to stop the leaks.

This should come as no surprise. The place has, for years, been a leaky, seismically unsafe accident waiting to happen.

"Radioactive liquid released from the Industrial Liquid Waste System is a routine source of contamination in certain parts of CMR," the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the watchdog agency that has been trying for years to get the problems fixed, concluded in a Feb. 27 report.

But somehow we can't seem to get our act together to either replace CMR or shut it down.

The reasons go a long way toward illustrating the uncertainties facing Los Alamos and the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

In 1989, the Department of Energy told Congress that the old building was contaminated, with widespread corrosion, and asked for money to build a replacement.

A year later, Congress killed funding, saying the federal government needed to come up with an overarching plan for its nuclear arsenal and the infrastructure needed to maintain it.

In the two decades since, we have planned and replanned, formed commissions and task forces, that have never quite settled the question of what U.S. nuclear weapons are for, how many we need, and what sort of manufacturing and research infrastructure we need in response.

Assigning blame for a lack of leadership is hard. No presidential administration has ever taken the issue seriously enough to seize leadership and push for a solution. Congress has always found it easier to kick the can down the road rather than making the hard, and potentially expensive, decisions required.

In an interview about the future of the labs recently, newly elected Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., talked about the need to diversify Los Alamos' mission. I asked him what he thought ought to be done about replacing the old CMR. "That's one that I'm continuing to study," Udall told me.

Before being elected to the Senate, Udall represented Los Alamos for 10 years as a congressman. The fact that he is still studying what ought to be done about CMR does not bode well.

There are a number of paths forward. We could design and build a new generation of warheads, or work instead to extend the lives of the ones we've got. We could maintain a large arsenal, or make it far smaller, or even push toward zero nuclear weapons.

Decisions on those issues have consequences, in terms of the size of the plutonium lab at Los Alamos and a host of other issues, stretching from the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation in Tennessee to Savannah River in South Carolina to Lawrence Livermore in California.

Not deciding also has consequences. Other work is done in the old CMR, including on important nonproliferation and nuclear intelligence issues that have nothing to do with how many new nukes we might need to build. That other work has become collateral damage while we await decisions on the future of nuclear weapons.

Right now, we are — join me for the chorus — awaiting more studies.

The report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States was due out April 1 but, no surprise, has been delayed. Congress has also directed the Pentagon to produce another Nuclear Posture Review, an overarching review of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security. We've done several of these in the nearly two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the pipes at CMR are still leaking.

The late Ed McGaffigan, a congressional staffer who was one of the wisest people I've known on the interplay between politics and technical issues, put it simply back in 1990 when one of the many plans to replace the old lab died. "We just have to start over and get a sense of what they want to do at Los Alamos."

We are still waiting.

Apr 4, 2009

Comment of the Week

There have been 199 comments since last week, 107 of them on the Bottled Water Purchasing Curtailed post!

It is one of those comments that made it to the top of the heap for COW honors this week. Bottom of the heap, actually. Is there really someone who thinks whining makes America great?

You can't make this stuff up:

"so for chrissakes.. QUIT YOUR WHINING!!!!"

The only thing that made America great are people who "whine" as you say. History has been very unkind to the people who do not "whine".

Keep those gems rolling in, folks, but
Until next week,


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

Apr 1, 2009

Bottled Water Purchasing Curtailed

Hi Frank,
The idiots have done it again. Below is the Daily Links announcement we received yesterday with the first bullet telling us there will be no more water purchased. Let's see, we live in a desert and 99% of the buildings have unsatisfactory cooling and undrinkable water supply. How much money are they truly saving here? They can't buy us water out of their $70M fee? Hmmm, we will buy you yak-tracks and safety calendars but we won't fix the air-conditioning or give you water. Maybe if they stopped buying all the stupid signs like "It's cool ... to carpool" or "Don't trip ... get shoes that grip" or "Drive now ... phone later" we could afford water. This should really go a long way to improve morale.


Thanks, Anonymous. I wonder what people are saying around the soon to be gone water coolers?

"That job at Google sure looks good right now."
"Double plus good idea. I was taking too many water breaks anyway."
"Is it 5:00 yet?"

I just made those up. Hopefully the blog readers can supply better data.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Daily Briefs, Links
From: links@lanl.gov
Date: Tue, March 31, 2009 6:10 am
To: LANL-ALL@lanl.gov

Bottled Water Purchasing Curtailed:
Because of federal requirements, LANS is no longer able to provide bottled and commercially purchased water at the Laboratory because it is not an allowable cost. Starting today, water may no longer be purchased, unless it is for employees who work in a building with non-potable water. Click on the headline for more information.
See: http://int.lanl.gov/news/index.php/fuseaction/nb.story/story_id/16125