May 30, 2009

False Choices at the Nuclear Weapons Complex: We Don't Have to Accept Lies and Shoddy Work in Order to Have a Reliable Stockpile

Today, the Los Angeles Times published a story about how the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that the "first refurbished W76 nuclear warhead had been accepted into the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile by the Navy," when in fact no delivery was ever made to the Navy.

POGO alerted the Times about the story because the NNSA was (mis)using the example of the W76 to promote itself. In March of this year, NNSA's Deputy Administrator boasted of the refurbished W76: "This is another great example of the unsurpassed expertise throughout NNSA's national security enterprise." In fact, it was the NNSA's mismanagement of the refurbishment process that led to the serious technical problems that resulted in the warheads' status--currently in pieces inside a production cell at the Energy Department's Pantex plant. The Navy told the Times, "We have not received delivery of any refurbished W76 warheads. The answer is none."

Those who believe in the refurbishment process, also known as the Life Extension Program (LEP), are outraged at how the process has been devalued by senior Lab management. For example, Roger Logan, a former Livermore Lab weapons designer and certifier, told POGO:
"LLNS&LANS [the contractors running Livermore and Los Alamos]...did everything they could to chase away W76 (and B61) expertise at both Livermore and Los Alamos. I was alarmed when my colleagues at Los Alamos sent me the long string of names of experts on these systems that LANS...chased out of the weapons program. Why? Because these people were honest and therefore a threat to the LLNS&LANS profiteering agenda.

Protect the labs...and screw the production plants. This theme pervades nearly every study to this day...It is often unintentional -- but fueled by the "Gray Beards", protecting the money at the labs they fondly remember at the expense of the "non-scientists" and production plants. Manufacturing and assembly is just viewed as menial and trivial, often by those who have never done it. The result is that the people at the plants -- and considering such careers -- got the message -- LEAVE. So they did."
NNSA instead promotes unproven, but showy, projects like the National Ignition Facility (NIF) instead of the LEP program and high risk components for a critical weapons system. According to Logan, these more boring, menial (but essential) missions were neglected at the expense of drama, purported science, and profit. The operating costs of refurbishment is about $200 million per year as opposed to the $400 million per year operating costs on NIF alone (if it works).

This story is not to say that the LEP program can not work. In fact, the Knoxville News' Frank Munger reports that the technical problems at Y-12 that had been holding up the completion of the W76 refurbishment were finally resolved in March. So the issue is not that we can't refurbish the warheads, but that NNSA is incredibly sloppy and regularly hides behind national security to avoid accountability, and we've been letting them get away with it for too long. And pretending they are doing a good job when they are not does not provide the confidence necessary for this critical mission. NNSA needs to be held accountable for not maintaining the integrity of one of its most important responsibilities and lying about the status of its programs. Ultimately, what this story shows is that NNSA needs new leadership that will no longer make excuses for its mismanagement, but will instead demand excellence.

-- Ingrid Drake and Peter Stockton, Project On Government Oversight

May 29, 2009

Comment of the Week

This week the LTRS COW honors the three year anniversary of LANS, LLC having taken over the LANL contract. So I thought it would be fun to read through the blog to see what festivities LANL staff are planning to help celebrate this event. Here are two comments that I found on the Better Way To Spend $2 Billion The Albuquerque, which split the COW honors this week.

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

followed by

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

We would also like to award a "special mention" honor to a comment in this same theme from the From Pyongyang to Tehran, with nukes Tue, 05/26/2.. post:

Can anyone at LANL imagine our current Director, Mike Anastsio, ever having the same stature and prestige as Sig Hecker? Those were the days!

I miss having the likes of men like Sig running our lab. Things started to go rapidly downhill with the Nanos era and got much worse under LANS. Sig is forthright and bold in his words and told the Senate that LANL has become more like a prison than a world class research institute while under the direction of a for-profit LLC and a extremely risk adverse NNSA. As usual for Sig, his analysis of the condition of the NNSA labs was right on the mark.

On that note, happy 3rd anniversary, LANL!


NNSA, LANL file tort claims against Los Alamos County

By Carol A. Clark, The Los Alamos Monitor

In separate documents Friday, the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos National Laboratory submitted notices of tort claims against Los Alamos County.

The notices pertain to a Feb. 21 incident that reportedly occurred while the Los Alamos Fire Department was conducting training at a LANL parking structure at TA-3.

The fire drill involved connecting a pumper truck to a stand pipe within the parking structure and then pressurizing the fire protection system with water.

Not long after starting this operation, a portion of the fire protection piping failed, causing damage to the parking structure, according to the claims. Los Alamos National Security, LLC, (LANS), conducted an investigation and determined that the failure of the fire protection piping was caused by the negligent “over pressurization” of the system by firefighters involved in the drill.

NNSA’s tort claim states, “It is our understanding that LANS is filing a claim for these damages against the county. In the event that LANS is unable to prevail on its claim, NNSA, as the landowner for LANL facilities, intends to pursue recoupment for the cost of the repairs to the parking structure and the fire protection system, the expenses incurred by LANS in evaluating the damages, and all other costs associated with the claim.”

Site Counsel Silas R. DeRoma, who signed the notice of claim for NNSA/DOE, referred media inquiries to NNSA local site office spokesman Don Ami.

“The lab ran some extensive cost estimates on this so they would have a better idea of how much those costs might be,” Ami explained in a telephone conversation late Wednesday.

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said this morning that it won't amount to a "big number."

“After discussions with the NNSA Site Office, the Laboratory provided preliminary notice to Los Alamos County that it may be asked to pay for damages to the fire suppression system at the Laboratory’s main parking garage,” Roark said. “We hope that this matter can be reasonably resolved, but filing at this time was necessary to protect LANS’ rights under state law.”

County Attorney Mary McInerny confirmed that the law requires that notice of tort claims be filed within 90 days following an incident. These notices arrived on the final day of that time frame, she said.

“The notice is an administrative process to let the governmental entity know they may attempt to collect on a claim,” McInerny said. “It’s a legal requirement in the Tort Claim Act.”

The county intends to send the notices to its insurance carrier, she said.

“They’ll conduct an initial review to determine if we have any potential liability under the law,” McInerny said.

If the insurance carrier finds no liability, the county will notify the laboratory of that fact, she said. However, if responsibility is found then there will be some sort of normal claims adjuster review.

“The county doesn’t have to respond to a claim but it does have to respond to a law suit,” McInerny said, adding that several claims are filed against the county each week, ranging from alleged equipment damage from a power outage to property damage from a snow plow.

Contact Carol A. Clark at or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at

Program to refurbish aging nuclear warheads faces setbacks

Technical problems and an erosion of scientific expertise are blamed for delays in the effort to replace thousands of parts that have aged since the bombs left the factory decades ago.
By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times

A decadelong effort to refurbish thousands of aging nuclear warheads has run into serious technical problems that have forced delays and exacerbated concerns about the Energy Department's ability to maintain the nation's strategic deterrent.

The program involves a type of warhead known as the W76, which is used on the Navy's Trident missile system and makes up more than half of the deployed warheads in the U.S. stockpile.

The refurbishment program is aimed at replacing thousands of parts that have aged since the bombs left the factory 20 and 30 years ago.

The $200-million-a-year program is a cornerstone of America's nuclear deterrent strategy, and the Energy Department has been under growing pressure from the military and Congress to meet tough deadlines to get the weapons ready.

In February, the department's National Nuclear Security Administration announced that the "first refurbished W76 nuclear warhead had been accepted into the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile by the Navy."

But no delivery was ever made. The warhead is in pieces inside a production cell at the Energy Department's Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas, according to an engineer at the facility.

The delay in retrofitting the warheads appears to validate long-standing concerns about an erosion of technical expertise at the Energy Department, as Cold War-era scientists and engineers retire and take with them detailed knowledge about the bombs.

Although the nation's nuclear weapons are functional and reliable, the W76 issue represents one of the most serious setbacks in the nuclear weapons program at least since the end of the Cold War and raises questions about the future, several experts told The Times.

"I wouldn't say the deterrent has been affected at all," said Philip Coyle, a former deputy director at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and former assistant secretary of Defense. "It is, however, a reminder that expertise about nuclear weapons is a precious thing and needs to be maintained."

He said the W76 problem underscored concerns experts have long raised about maintaining nuclear weapons decades after they were designed, manufactured and tested.

As the nation reduces the size of its stockpile under treaty agreements with Russia, he said, the reliability of the remaining weapons becomes more important.

Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said the department had not lost its crucial skills, but he acknowledged that retaining experienced weapons scientists and training a new generation of scientists were "an ongoing concern."

At issue with the W76, at least in part, is a classified component that was used in the original weapon but that engineers and scientists at the Energy Department's plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., could not duplicate in a series of efforts over the last several years.

The component, known by the code word "fogbank," is thought to be made of an exotic material and is crucial to a hydrogen bomb reaching its designed energy level in the microseconds before it blows apart.

The W76 is designed to release energy equal to about 100 kilotons of TNT, through both fission and fusion of atoms.

When it came time to make new batches of fogbank for the refurbishment program, the current workforce was unable to duplicate the characteristics of the batches made in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a March report by the Government Accountability Office.

"I don't know how this happened that we forgot how to make fogbank," Coyle said. "It should not have happened, but it did."

Given the problems, the technical staff at the Pantex plant was stunned by the Energy Department announcement in February that the warhead had been delivered to the Navy, according to an engineer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

B&W Pantex, the private company that operates the plant, was still awaiting delivery of a classified part from another facility and cannot assemble the warhead, the engineer said.

Navy spokesman Lt. Clay Doss told The Times on Thursday: "We have not received delivery of any refurbished W76 warheads. The answer is none."

LaVera defended the accuracy of the February announcement, saying a federal council had decided to accept the final design of the weapon and therefore it was technically a part of the stockpile.

The failure of the Energy Department to actually deliver a W76 was brought to the attention of The Times by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based watchdog group that has long expressed concern about poor performance at the nation's weapon sites.

"NNSA gets away with producing shoddy work . . . and even lying to the public," said Danielle Brian, the group's executive director. "Our confidence in the stockpile cannot depend on lies."

The technical problems with the W76 were also partially disclosed in the report from the GAO, which said the Energy Department had failed to "effectively manage cost, schedule and technical risks" not only on the W76 program but on another refurbishment effort for a warhead known as the B61.

In the case of the B61, the Energy Department boasted that it had completed the job ahead of schedule and under cost, even though it sharply reduced the number of bombs that it rebuilt and curtailed the scope of the work on each bomb, the GAO said. The cost of refurbishing each bomb doubled, the office said.

LaVera said all issues with fogbank had been resolved. The only remaining W76 issue involves potential minor defects in its arming, fusing and firing system, the safety controls that prepare a nuclear weapon for detonation.

He said the existing design of the arming system had been certified, though the department was continuing to examine the issue.

"It is inaccurate to say that we are unable to ship the weapons because there is an issue or problem," LaVera said.

Not everybody agrees that the fogbank problem raises broad concerns about a loss of expertise.

Since the late 1990s, the nation has embarked on a program to invest billions of dollars in scientific research to keep the old weapons viable.

The issue is highly sensitive because many arms control advocates worry that such a loss could become a rationale for a resumption of nuclear testing.

The Energy Department's scientific program to support the stockpile "has done very well so far. Most people would say it has been a terrific success," said Sydney Drell, a nuclear weapons expert at Stanford University.

The department plans to deliver the first batch of W76s in late fall, LaVera said.

That would put it about two years behind schedule, a delay that has caused logistical problems for the Navy, the GAO said.

It is not yet clear how long it will take for the department to refurbish all 2,000 warheads in its current plan, but the process of gradually taking warheads out of service, refurbishing them and returning them to service could take an additional 10 years.


May 27, 2009

From Pyongyang to Tehran, with nukes

Tue, 05/26/2009 - 12:41pm,

North Korea's tests are not the scary part. It's the country's collaboration with Iran.

By Siegfried S. Hecker

International condemnation of North Korea's underground nuclear test Monday resonated the world over -- just in time for Pyongyang to defiantly test two short-range missiles. After the U.N. Security Council condemned Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch on April 5, the country walked away from all previous nuclear agreements and threatened to restore normal operation of the Yongbyon nuclear plant, reprocess spent fuel rods to extract plutonium bomb fuel, pursue a light-water reactor, conduct nuclear tests, and launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. Kim Jong Il and company seem intent on pushing the limits of international patience, and raising the stakes with each provocation. But how worried should the world be? That is, what is North Korea actually capable of doing?

Concern over North Korea's tests is warranted. Pyongyang is on a well-planned trajectory to enhance its nuclear and missile capabilities -- something that officials made very clear when I visited the country in February. North Korea had slowed down the disablement of its nuclear facility, Yongbyon. It then launched a multistage rocket and walked away from the nuclear talks. Pyongyang is strengthening its "deterrent" threat by building more bombs, and possibly more-sophisticated ones at that.

But it is what North Korea did not threaten that should give us greatest concern: expanded nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran. The two countries' abilities and needs are highly complementary, and past collaboration tells us that the diplomatic channels may be as well.

North Korea shut down Yongbyon in July 2007, but began to restart the facility last month. The country has now restored the reprocessing facility and has begun extracting roughly 8 kilograms of plutonium from spent fuel. Although Yongbyon will not be able to complete reprocessing for four to six months, the anticipated increase in plutonium is what has allowed it to conduct this week's nuclear test. Without the additional plutonium, Pyongyang was limited to 26 to 50 kilograms, or roughly four to eight bombs' worth. Its small nuclear arsenal was likely also primitive; its first nuclear test in 2006 was only partially successful. Hours before the test, Pyongyang informed China that it would conduct a test at 4 kilotons, but it achieved less than 1 (by comparison, the bomb at Nagasaki yielded an explosion of 21 kilotons). It appears the North Koreans scaled back their original design to 4 kilotons to avoid a massive breach of the test tunnel.

The test this week, however, was more successful, producing a yield that I estimate at 2 to 4 kilotons based on currently available seismic measurements and estimates of the test site geology. This test will enhance Pyongyang's confidence in its arsenal and may be an important step toward miniaturizing warheads to fit on its missiles. Still, the size of North Korea's nuclear arsenal will remain restricted by its limited plutonium inventory. Fully capable nuclear-tipped missiles will require further tests, so the sequence of this week's provocative steps foreshadows more of the same.

For now, North Korea will remain somewhat trapped by its minimal plutonium supply. To make more, Pyongyang would have to restart its Yongbyon reactor. It will take approximately six months to prepare fuel for the reactor and to rebuild the cooling tower that the country destroyed last June as a symbolic gesture. Once fueled, the reactor will produce 6 kilograms of plutonium, roughly one bomb's worth, per year for the next decade or so. Pyongyang is not currently capable of ramping up plutonium production from there. The threat to develop its own light-water reactor is not a great concern for plutonium production, but it does likely signal that North Korea will now seriously explore uranium enrichment capabilities. But it would take many years for Pyongyang to develop the uranium route to the bomb.

Of course, there is a terrifying way that North Korea could overcome its limitation while simultaneously helping another nuclear aspirant: It could work with Iran. Pyongyang lacks uranium centrifuge materials, technology, and know-how; Tehran has mastered them. Pyongyang has practical uranium metallurgy capabilities; Tehran has little. Pyongyang has its own nuclear test data; Tehran does not. Pyongyang knows all facets of plutonium technology; Tehran has little more than a plutonium-producing reactor under construction. Pyongyang helped Tehran establish a missile capability; now, Tehran's crash missile-test program and Pyongyang's long-range rocket tests could prove mutually beneficial.

Preventing escalation of nuclear and missile cooperation is critical to avoid destabilizing Northeast Asia and the Middle East. The urgency of this threat is underscored by North Korea's recent covert construction of a nuclear reactor in Syria and its extensive ongoing cooperation in missile technology with Iran. At least in its nuclear reach, Pyongyang isn't quite as isolated as it seems.

Siegfried S. Hecker is codirector of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and director emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

May 23, 2009

Comment of the Week

Click to enlarge

The winner of COW this week is a beautiful sharp-tongued response to one of those toxic anonymous comments we see far too many of. First the toxic bit, from the How chintzy is LANS management, you ask? post:

9:30 pm: "shovanist"

Huh? Did you by chance mean "chauvinist"? Don't you even bother to stop and think whether your spelling is correct? If not, you obviously don't care how stupid you come off. But since you obviously don't read unless forced to, you must be ok with that.

To which our winner supplied some instant, if not quite pre-emptive, karma a few minutes later at 10:02:

9:48, I apologize as English is not my native tongue. Thank you for pointing out my error. You are still a dick, however. I think I got the spelling correct on that one, no?

Congratulations, and thank you, 10:02. While I admit that is really is not all that difficult to make many of the anonymous contributors here look exceedingly stupid, you did so with style and a touch of flair. Bravo!


May 20, 2009

Los Alamos Plutonium May Pose Fatal Risk

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Los Alamos National Laboratory is watching stored plutonium more closely after safety auditors found a risk that water used for cooling the material could boil away, leading to what in a worst-case scenario could be a deadly radiation accident.

If the cooling system were to fail, there would be a chance plutonium containers could burst, according to federal auditors with the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board. Such an accident would have the potential to release a deadly dose of radiation within the lab's main plutonium complex, according to the Safety Board, which called the problem "one of the laboratory's highest consequence accident scenarios."

The Safety Board analysis did not look at the question of whether plutonium could escape the building.

To deal with the problem, Los Alamos workers have begun checking daily to make sure the water level does not drop, according to National Nuclear Security Administration chief Tom D'Agostino.

A Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman referred questions to the NNSA.

The lab plans to eventually reduce the risk by ensuring that all the plutonium is stored in containers that can withstand a loss of cooling without bursting, D'Agostino wrote in a letter to the Safety Board.

The problem involves 200 containers used to store plutonium-238, a type of the radioactive metal used to make long-lived power supplies for NASA deep space missions. The power supplies use heat from the plutonium's natural radioactive decay to generate electricity and warm spacecraft parts.

The natural heating, while an advantage in spaceflight, poses problems for plutonium in storage. Inside storage containers, helium builds up as the plutonium decays. Heat then raises the pressure of the helium gas, creating a risk that a container could burst, according to an April 7 letter from the Safety Board to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The first line of defense is containers that can withstand the heat and pressure. But according to the Safety Board, 200 containers at Los Alamos either do not meet that safety standard or there is insufficient data to determine whether they are safe.

In a worst-case scenario, according to the Safety Board, a single bursting container could release a 500 rem radiation dose (the rem is the standard measure of radiation exposure). According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a person exposed to a 500 rem dose "will likely die without medical treatment."

To reduce the risk, the containers are stored submerged in water, with a cooling system to ensure the water does not boil away. If the cooling system fails, the Safety Board wrote in its letter to NNSA, the water could begin boiling away within 18 hours, leaving the containers uncovered and subject to heating and eventual bursting.

Of the 200 suspect containers, a preliminary analysis suggests 160 could safely be left uncooled for 18 months, according to a report by NNSA staff to the Safety Board made public this week. An additional six containers have so little plutonium in them that they pose no risk, according to the report.

NNSA staff is still determining the risk posed by the remaining 34 containers.

In the meantime, according to D'Agostino's letter, Los Alamos has installed a camera to allow remote monitoring, and water levels are being checked daily. The tank is to be refilled as needed to ensure there is at least an inch of water above the questionable containers.

Eventually, the lab plans to repackage plutonium into safer containers, a task scheduled for completion in summer 2010, according to D'Agostino's letter.

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.

May 17, 2009

Compa Information

You may find this interesting as you read their web page you find LANS has struck again as they are former BECHTEL employees that own this company.
COMPA is an award winning, family owned and operated business. Its current CEO is Ms. Edna Lopez. COMPA was originally founded by Rene Laform Lopez in 1986. Rene was a nuclear engineer, who worked for the Bechtel Group on multiple national and international power plant projects, until he decided to start his own business in 1986. Based on the core value of family, the business was named COMPA. The word "COMPA" comes from the Spanish word "compadre," which literally means "co-parent." The original partners of COMPA were a tight group of friends, who celebrated major family events and holidays with each other and even served as godparents for each other's children, hence COMPAs. As the business struggled in the early years, Rene’s partners eventually bowed out and left the dream to Rene and Edna. Always wanting to return to their native Southwest, the family Lopez moved the COMPA's headquarters to Albuquerque where the business continues today.
Preliminary review will mean a reduction in compensation as their 401k retirement is less than half what COMFORCE has me on.
Subject: Compa Information
Date: Fri, 8 May 2009 16:06:26 -0600
From: "Terry McCabe"
To: "daniel jensenlopez" , "David R. Lopez" , "Edna Lopez" , "Michael R. Lopez"
Cc: "Mary E. Elliott" , , "Chaires, Armando R" , "Elizabeth J. Auchampaugh (Liz)" ,

To all staff augmentation contract employees at LANL:

Wishing you a warm greeting form the staff at Compa Industries.

As you may have heard, Los Alamos National Laboratory has recently issued a new contract to COMPA Industries to provide Workforce Management Solution (WMS) for contract labor. All of the current staff augmentation contracts currently held at LANL will be consolidated under this one new subcontract. What this means is that at the contract transition, which is scheduled for the week of June 28th, your assignment as a staff augmentation employee will be transitioned to the new Compa contract.

To keep you updated on the status of the transition and general information, we have set up a Compa transition web page at Please reference this web page for updated information including upcoming events in the transition. As we get more questions from the contract employees we will be posting them on the web site for your reference. We recognize that this change in contracts may bring questions and concerns about your specific job and how it will affect your employment status. We will do our best to answer your questions and provide a smooth transition.

We look forward meeting you personally and working with you in the future.
Terry McCabe
Program Manager
Los Alamos Operations

COMPA Industries
1350 Central Avenue, Suite 201
Los Alamos, NM 87544
505.662.2500 Office
505.662.3500 Fax
505.550-5003 Cell

Comment of the Week

Click to Enlarge

This week's selection for COW is perhaps a bit contentious; however, that is not why it was picked. Rather, it was selected it because it highlights a dichotomy that I have observed myself in dealings with my former (and current) lab colleagues. The dichotomy being that, depending on who you speak to, conditions at LANL are either rosy or they are abominable.

Here's the comment, from the How chintzy is LANS management, you ask? post:

The lab's web page recently had some excerpts from Mike's latest All-Hands meeting. Did anybody read these excerpts?

According to Mikey, enthusiasm and morale are LANL are running high, cost efficiencies are working and the lab is doing a swell job in diversifying the project mix!

Mike not only needs to be drug tested. He needs to be subjected to a lie detector test!!!

So, who is has the correct perspective regarding LANL's present state of health: Director Anastasio, or most of the contributors to this blog?

Hint: If this seems like a trick question, it might be...


May 13, 2009

Lab Pensions and the 2010 Budget

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Science Writer
Tuesday, 12 May 2009 15:22

Pension benefits are not as big a policy issue as nuclear weapons design and manufacturing, but they may turn out to be one of the big hidden land mines for Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories in the 2010 budget year and beyond. The question is how the major contractors who run National Nuclear Security Administration sites, including Los Alamos and Sandia, will meet ongoing defined benefit pension obligations given the way the huge market downturn has eaten away pension plan assets.

Sandia's plan lost 25 percent of its value last year, according to Mark Biggs, who manages program for Sandia. In the past, earnings on the plan's assets generated enough money to pay benefits to 6,500 beneficiaries (Sandia retirees and their surviving spouses). Sandia has already had to contribute $25 million last year, and is contributing another $50 million this year, Biggs said. The money comes directly out of Sandia's budget. It has not been given any addition money by NNSA to cover pension costs.

Nationwide, the NNSA has set aside $122 million for next year to try to deal with the problem, NNSA chief Tom D'Agostino told reporters during a budget briefing last week as the budget was being rolled out. According to budget documents, $64 million of that will go to nuclear weapons design and production sites (such as Los Alamos and Sandia), with the rest going to contractors that support the Navy's nuclear power reactors. It's not clear at this point how large the total obligation is, or how much will come via extra money from the federal government and how much the labs will have to pay by moving money within their existing budgets (as Sandia has thus far done).

Biggs said uncertainties about the market make it impossible to predict how much money will be needed. The NNSA budget request puts it this way: "Whether additional funding will be needed in future years will depend on the funded status of the plans based on plan investment portfolios managed by the contractors as sponsors of the DB pension plans."

May 12, 2009

How chintzy is LANS management, you ask?

A reader sent this today:
May 4, 2009
Fee for announcements
What is driving the $51.50 charge to place announcements on the internal Laboratory site? This used to be a free service. A fee strikes me as counter to effectively promoting and communicating Laboratory-wide information, successes, and resources—something that ought to be as easy and elegant as possible. Is there truly a significant cost impact to publishing these links that it now has to be covered by a fee?
--Robert Kramer

May 5, 2009
Response to fee for announcements
Institutional funding for this service ended recently. The Communication, Arts, and Services (IRM-CAS) Web team, which has been posting the announcements, decided it was important to continue the service; however, the team works on a recharge basis only, so it has to charge a basic fee for this service.
--Lilly Anaya
[Note: The blog does not charge to publish announcements. And you can bypass the Communications Office!]

May 10, 2009

LANSCE-R project

A reader sent the following email about the LANSCE-R project cancellation on Friday.
Subject: Administration press release on LANSCE-R
Date: Thu, 7 May 2009 19:24:52 -0600
From: Kurt Schoenberg

Colleagues -

By now you have heard or read the Administrations proposal, released today, to cancel the LANSCE-R project. The justification connected with this proposal is egregiously wrong. (For example, the statement "the Department of Energy Nuclear Energy program has recently stopped using LANSCE to produce medical isotopes. ", while technically correct, is very misleading because this important LANSCE function was transferred this year to the Office of Science! )

Rest assured that our Laboratory senior management strongly support LANSCE and the LANSCE-R project and are working hard to fix this problem and set the record straight. LANSCE is the Laboratory's signature experimental facility with research capabilities vital to the Laboratory and the Nation. LANSCE has achieved this importance and success due to your hard work. As we prepare for beam turn-on and the resumption of our user program, let us continue to demonstrate the skill and dedication that has led to our past accomplishments and that will lead to our successful future.

Kurt Schoenberg
Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE)
In 2005, LANSCE began operating a facility that uses 100-MeV protons to produce medical radioisotopes. I had heard of the medical isotope program during the supply disruption about a year ago, but not the LANSCE-R project. Here's what I found from the proceedings of the 2007 Particle Accelerator Conference.
At the core of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) accelerator lies an 800-MeV proton linac that drives user facilities for isotope production, proton radiography, ultra-cold neutrons, weapons neutron research and for various sciences using neutron scattering. LANSCE is in the planning phase of a refurbishment project that will sustain reliable facility operations well into the next decade.

The general goals for LANSCE-R are to (1) preserve dependable operation of the linac and (2) increase the cost effectiveness of operations. Requirements can be met for overall beam intensity, availability, and reliability with long-term sustainability and minimal disruption to scheduled user programs.

The baseline refurbishment project consists of replacing the 201 MHz RF systems, upgrading a substantial fraction of the 805 MHz RF systems, updating the control system, and replacing or improving a variety of diagnostics and accelerator subsystems.
To read more about LANSCE visit

May 8, 2009

Comment of the Week, Early Weekend Edition

I had been dutifully noting the comments that have been dribbling in this week, and I even marked a couple as candidates for COW. But then this one just came in and took the honors.

From the Anastasio gives upbeat update By Jennifer Garcia,... post:

Has this man been drug tested lately?

Have a great weekend, everybody.


Click the image to enlarge

Obama Proposes Cuts at LANL

By John Fleck And Michael Coleman, The Albuquerque Journal

The Obama administration Thursday proposed a $140 million budget cut for Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2010, a 7 percent reduction in the nuclear weapons laboratory's budget.

Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico's other major National Nuclear Security Administration, escaped the budget knife, seeing a cut in nuclear spending but offsetting increases in energy research as the new administration shifts priorities.

The budget offers the first detailed look at the Obama administration's spending priorities. The proposal now goes to Congress, where House and Senate appropriators will have the chance to make changes before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The total proposed Department of Energy spending in New Mexico for Sandia, Los Alamos and a number of smaller facilities is $4 billion in 2010, down from $4.3 billion this year.

The biggest portion of the Los Alamos cuts involved two major construction projects — a proposed new plutonium laboratory, and a major upgrade to the lab's neutron accelerator.

Decisions about the plutonium lab will be delayed for a year. The administration wants to kill the accelerator upgrade, officials said. But by keeping the major cuts to future construction programs, the budget leaves the lab's core scientific work force relatively unscathed.

The lab spending recommendations are part of the Department of Energy's $26 billion budget, which Energy Secretary Steven Chu unveiled at a Washington, D.C., news conference Thursday afternoon. Despite a heavy emphasis on energy research, Chu told reporters that nuclear weapons work remains an important part of his agency's mission.

“Nuclear security is still a very important part of the Department of Energy,” Chu said. “There is increasing risk of nuclear proliferation, so this budget includes (money) to work on nonproliferation. We still have to maintain our nuclear security enterprise, and coupled with Recovery Act money we're going to be accelerating dramatically the Cold War legacy cleanup.”

Nationwide, Chu's budget recommends $6.4 billion for maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons, unchanged from this year. Nuclear nonproliferation spending would be $2.1 billion, a 9.5 percent increase.

The budget also calls for $5.5 billion nationwide for nuclear cleanup, down 3 percent from this year.

Project delayed
Decisions on building the Los Alamos plutonium laboratory, which at $2 billion would be the largest public works project in New Mexico history, will have to wait until the Pentagon completes a review of the future needs for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Tom D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told reporters Thursday.

It would replace a 60-year-old lab complex that federal auditors have concluded is unsafe, but that lab officials say they must continue to use until a replacement is completed.

Design work on the replacement is under way, with a $97 million budget this year. The administration recommended cutting the budget to $55 million next year.

Critics, who argue that the project is unnecessary, said they were pleased with the delay. A shrinking nuclear arsenal will eventually eliminate the need for the building entirely, said Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group.

A congressionally chartered commission on Wednesday recommended making construction of the plutonium lab a priority.

The administration also singled out the upgrade to the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center as one of a long list of wasteful programs it wanted to kill, saying in a statement that it “no longer plays a critical role in weapons research.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., vowed to fight that cut, saying it is not only essential for nuclear weapons work, but is also widely used for civilian science.

In general, Bingaman said he supported the budget proposal, but said he would try to reverse the neutron science cuts.

“I believe LANSCE will play a major role in the diversification of Los Alamos into new science areas, which is why I will fight to reverse this wrong-headed decision,” Bingaman said in a statement.

Sandia, which also works on nuclear weapons, fared better. Money for Sandia to work on U.S. nuclear weapons would decline under the president's proposal, but the cuts would be completely offset by increases in money for renewable energy and nuclear nonproliferation work.

Los Alamos would also have an increase in nonproliferation work, but not enough to offset the cuts in its core nuclear weapons mission. The administration did not recommend any increase in energy research spending at Los Alamos.

May 7, 2009

DOE FY2010 Budget

The DOE Budget is available for download here. A more detailed breakdown for the NNSA is available here.

All-Employee Director’s talk

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.

I asked a question three years ago and I still have not received a reply. What spilled out of those pipes in the plutonium facility, Mike? Don't you have a CSE up to speed yet who can answer that question?

$2 Billion LANL Project Pushed

By John Fleck, The Albuquerque Journal

The federal government's failure to deal with aging nuclear weapons labs and plants has left “decrepit,” unsafe buildings at Los Alamos and elsewhere, according to a high-level commission chartered by Congress.

The old buildings, including a massive plutonium laboratory at Los Alamos that is nearly 60 years old, have languished as a result of “an accumulation of delayed decisions about the nuclear weapons program,” the commission, headed by former Defense Secretary William Perry, concluded.

Replacing the most troubled buildings will cost billions of dollars, and if funding is insufficient to do all the work at once, the plutonium lab at Los Alamos should be the first priority, according to the commission.

Other key recommendations include:
  • Expanding the focus of the U.S. nuclear weapons labs, including Sandia and Los Alamos, to deal more broadly with national security issues, including work for the State Department, the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Turning the National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency that runs the labs and nuclear weapons plants, into an independent federal agency. NNSA is a part of the Department of Energy, but needs to be given more autonomy to carry out its job, according to the commission.
The findings are part of a sweeping 360-page report on the future of U.S. nuclear weapons that includes recommendations to negotiate further nuclear arms cuts with the Russians, but to continue to maintain a nuclear arsenal for the foreseeable future.

“So long as it continues to rely on nuclear deterrence,” the commission's report concludes, “the United States requires a stockpile of nuclear weapons that are safe, secure, and reliable, and whose threatened use in military conflict would be credible.”

Bingaman cautious

The commission's suggestion to broaden the nuclear weapons labs into “national security laboratories” drew concern from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

In a telephone interview, Bingaman said he agrees the labs should diversify. But he said that only working for national security-related agencies was too narrow a charter and that areas such as energy research should also be included.

“The labs also do a lot of nondefense work,” he said.

The report is intended to be a foundation for decisions to be made by Congress and the Obama administration during the coming year, said Morton Halperin, a member of the commission who served in the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton administrations.

Halperin and his colleagues released the report a day before today's scheduled unveiling of the Obama administration's budget request for 2010 — the first detailed look at the new administration's nuclear weapons spending priorities.

Halperin called it “astonishing” that nuclear weapons workers still spend their days in buildings dating to the 1940s.

Los Alamos officials have pushed for more than two decades to replace the lab's Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Complex, a massive lab for working with plutonium and other nuclear materials that was designed in the 1940s. Federal safety auditors say the old building is a hazard to workers and the public.

“It is just a very, very ancient building,” said C. Paul Robinson, the former head of Los Alamos' nuclear weapons program who also served as president of Sandia National Laboratories.

The latest plan, a large replacement complex with a price tag of as much as $2 billion, is on hold while the new administration reviews its nuclear weapons policies, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said during an April 10 news conference at Sandia.

Uranium work at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee is also done in an old building that the commission concludes needs replacement, with a price tag in excess of $1 billion.

While both buildings are needed, the Los Alamos project should be the priority if there is not enough money in the federal budget to do both simultaneously, the commission said.

Anastasio gives upbeat update

By Jennifer Garcia, The Los Alamos Monitor

In the past couple of years, many businesses have scaled back their budgets in an effort to cut costs and save money. For a lot of employees, layoffs have been a grim byproduct of a weak economy.

Despite the nation’s problems, however, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio remains optimistic about the lab’s future. During Tuesday night’s county council meeting Anastasio gave councilors a general briefing on the lab.

Anastasio spoke about the recent visit by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He said it was a whirlwind visit and an exciting time.

“Scientists got to talk to him about a spectrum of projects going on at the lab,” Anastasio said. In addition, he mentioned that Chu gave a talk at Sandia National Laboratory, as well; a talk he described as exciting and uplifting.

Anastasio said that the 2009 budget for the lab is pretty much what they expected. He mentioned the areas of energy and science are expected to grow by about 20 percent this year.

“We’re working to tighten up the internal process to be more efficient,” he commented. “I can’t tell you much about FY ’10. The budget comes out on Thursday.”

He did, however say he’s optimistic that the budget will come out well.

He also mentioned the building leases the lab has throughout town. He said every lease is looked at on a case-by-case basis, but assured councilors the lab has no plans to change their strategy as far as leases are concerned.

Thanks to the Obama administration, the lab will receive $212 million in stimulus money for environmental cleanup. The money will be used to clean up TA-21.

“The money will allow us to start the project and bring it to completion,” Anastasio said.

However, he also said there’s a lot of challenges that lie ahead, as well, particularly in meeting the requirements for obtaining the funds.

“We’re working through all those details. I expect the work will mirror the way we’ve been doing clean up work as we go,” he said.

He anticipates that the clean up work will be subcontracted through the lab.

Opportunities for the future, according to Anastasio, include the science complex. He said 1,400 scientists will move into the new office space within the complex.

“We’re well down the path on that process. We did an RFP, got bids and brought them forward for the science complex. We have support from the site office and NNSA. We’re getting really close. I can almost taste it,” he said. “This is another example of the lab’s priorities.”

As a part of building a good relationship with community leaders, Anastasio said regular breakfasts are held, during which tours of the lab are given. He said the gatherings are a good way to gauge community leaders’ reactions.

He also spoke proudly of the work the lab has done amidst the swine flu outbreak.

“The lab’s had a really influential role in the government’s taking a look at how the swine flu has spread. That’s another opportunity for growth,” he said.

In an effort to be the first to address internal problems, Anastasio said that he has been trying to get the word out to the public first, so that people hear the lab’s side of the story, rather than read about an event second hand.

Following Anastasio’s presentation, councilors asked him a few questions.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle asked him whether there would be job cuts at the lab.

“We don’t have a good sense yet. As we continue to change missions, there’s a certain level of need to get a different skill mix,” he answered. He also said that attrition has been used to control the work force so far.

Councilor Ralph Phelps wanted to know if the lab foresees any opportunities to work with the county Department of Public Utilities on the smart grid.

“That’s something I left out of my update. We do have stimulus money for cleanup and we have teams to go and look for opportunities for competing for stimulus money, or for us to partner with the state or other institutions. We’re interested in all those things, but we’re not ready yet to say these are the ones we’re going to go after,” he said.

Going back to the subject of the lab leasing buildings in town, Councilor Sharon Stover pointed out to Anastasio there are buildings around town that have been without leases for at least two years.

She asked him whether he was aware of the fact.

Anastasio said that he’d look into the matter and get back to council.

Councilors wrapped up their short series of questions with Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer thanking Anastasio for his stewardship of the lab during “these tough economic times.”

Ethridge to lead LANS office

By Tatjana K. Rosev

Jerry Ethridge is the new Los Alamos National Security, LLC executive staff director effective May 11.

He succeeds Joe Scarpino who left the Laboratory for a new assignment in December 2008. Robin Madison was the acting executive staff director pending the selection of Ethridge by Laboratory Director and LANS, LLC President Michael Anastasio.

The LANS, LLC office supports the Laboratory director and the Board of Governors in executing the Laboratory governance model required by the LANS prime contract with NNSA. In his new role, Ethridge will work with the LANS parent organizations to fulfill the commitment to support the leadership team in the management of the Laboratory. The LANS, LLC office supports the Board of Governors in its efforts to effect application of the best systems, tools, and practices at Los Alamos; provide independent oversight and assessment of Laboratory operations to ensure excellence and efficiency; and facilitate reach back to parent company expertise and resources.

Ethridge joined the Lab in 2006. As associate director for the former Infrastructure and Site Services Directorate, he managed operations and maintenance of all non-nuclear facilities and infrastructure at Los Alamos. He also was responsible for infrastructure planning, site services, and emergency operations. Later, as program manager in Weapons Physics, he oversaw programmatic operations and led the directorate’s strategic planning efforts.

Prior to joining the Laboratory, Ethridge worked for Bechtel National, Inc. on a variety of assignments for multiple federal customers, including Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, and FEMA. Ethridge joined Bechtel in 1999 after working at Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Ethridge holds a doctorate in ceramic engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, both from the University of Washington, as well as a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

May 6, 2009


Final Report

The final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States provides over 100 findings and recommendations on critical issues related to U.S. nuclear strategy. Key themes on which recommendations are focused include (1) challenges and opportunities inherent in the current security environment; (2) the roles, functions, and projection of U.S. nuclear forces, including missile defense; (3) the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile; (4) the state of the nuclear weapons complex; (5) arms control and nonproliferation; and (6) additional steps for the prevention of proliferation and the protection against nuclear use.

PDF Download the Executive Summary (0.5MB .pdf)
PDF Download the Final Report (2.9MB .pdf)

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.

May 3, 2009

No October increases at SNL, LLNL and LANL

From a friend at LLNL....

The DOE has directed that Sandia, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos will each be given a total of 3% for increases later this year. However, the normal October date will now be pushed back to an early January date, and will not be retroactive back to October.

Could this be a means of saving money for three months?

I thought it important to share this information with those who will be affected.

May 2, 2009

Comment of the Week

Ok, it is a no-brainer this week. From the NM labs selected as energy research centers post, where words like "pimping", and "whoring", and "snot eating, butt picking, gadfly" were cleverly being bandied about -- here is this week's winner of COW, posted at 8:34pm last night.

My God! Frank, Doug, HELP --- save us from the morons that have taken over this blog !!

Sorry, 8:34, we feel your pain. We don't write them, all we can do is read them and weep.


May 1, 2009

Concerns over lab’s plutonium project in memo

  • NNSA says memo taken out of context
By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A memo from a frustrated official in Washington earlier this year raised questions about management of a $13 million plutonium project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A program manager from the Department of Energy Office of Radioisotope Power Systems urged Los Alamos Site Office Manager Don Winchell at the beginning of the year to correct “the laboratory’s chronic poor performance on this program.”

The memo, which was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) in Washington, D.C., criticizes the lab’s plutonium-238 program which is supposed to supply nuclear-powered electrical systems for space and defense projects.

“They’re running a shoddy ship out there,” said Peter Stockton, POGO’s principal investigator, this morning.

A National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman disagreed.

“This is a clear case of a group taking information out of context to mislead the public,” said Damien LaVera, spokesperson from the NNSA in Washington. “The fact is that government oversight in this instance effectively served the taxpayer’s interests. The department raised issues with the lab and requested a planning document, which was immediately provided.”

LaVera provided a timeline of events, as follows:
  • Jan. 9, 2009 – Owen Lowe sends letter to the LASO.
  • Jan. 14, 2009 – Meeting at LANL with Owen Lowe’s staff.
  • Jan. 22, 2009 – Site Office forwards LANL's draft Planning Document.
  • April 8, 2009 – Meeting at HQ with Owen Lowe's Staff, Owen Lowe's verbal approval of Planning Document.
  • April 27, 2009 – Site Office forwards final Planning Document to Owen Lowe for review and disposition.
“The issues have been resolved to the Department’s satisfaction, and any suggestion otherwise is simply irresponsible,” LaVera said.

Last August, the laboratory announced that 40 plutonium heat sources had been purified and encapsulated to power NASA’s Mars Science Laboratories Rover.

This technology goes back more than 40 years and was used in NASA’s Galileo, Ulysses and Cassini missions, as well as in Voyager 1 and 2.

The contract falls under the category of “work for others,” that is, other than DOE, which the laboratory has said they were trying to emphasize in the face of declining DOE budgets in the future.

But according to the memo signed by Lowe, DOE’s acting director for the program, the managers in Washington didn’t know what they can expect or when they will be supplied an appropriate budget and schedule for the work that is supposed to be done this year.

The documents included a preliminary work statement which stated that schedule and cost plans for the activities were supposed to be fleshed out in a more formal document to be prepared by LANL and approved by the supervising site office.

But, the covering memo stated, “To date, LANL has failed to provide any reasonable plan for expenditure of the $13 million anticipated budget nor basic reporting information as required by the guidance memorandum.”

The memo was dated Jan. 9, three months into the fiscal year, while the laboratory and most government agencies were being funded by a continuing resolution.

“As a first step, LANL must be held accountable for its use of funds,” Lowe wrote. “I cannot allow continued expenditures of taxpayer funds with no accountability. If the laboratory does not provide an adequate task plan and a detailed financial technical report by Feb. 15, 2009, I will take steps to stop work and withdraw funding.”

POGO has been a persistent critic of inefficiencies and management and security failures at the laboratory.

The organization is a favorite drop box for leaked memos from the Department of Energy. Among their recent concerns was an inventory discrepancy involving radioactive materials in the Plutonium Facility at LANL.

Earlier this month, the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Steven Chu expressing concern about a safety system at the Plutonium Facility.

“Many of the highest consequence accidents at LANL involve the processing, handling and storage of plutonium-238 enriched heat source plutonium,” wrote Chairman A. J. Eggenberger.