Jun 29, 2009

Note from ADEPS

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Note from ADEPS
From: "Susan Seestrom"
Date: Fri, June 26, 2009 5:32 pm
To: adeps-all@lanl.gov


Welcome Students!
We are delighted to have our students here for the summer - students
bring with them an atmosphere of enthusiasm, curiosity and vitality
that re-energizes us all.

LANL is a unique organization; since it's inception and the
world-famous Manhattan Project, this lab has been committed to
national security science and all that it requires.

The following quote sums up our contributions to national security quite
"There is no group of people in this country whose record over the
last 20 years has been more pre-eminent in the service of their
country than all of you here in this small community in New Mexico.
We want to express our thanks to you. It is not merely what was done
during the days of the second war, but what has been done since then,
not only in developing weapons of destruction which, by irony of
fate, help maintain the peace and freedom but also in medicine and
space and all other related fields which can mean so much to
- President John F. Kennedy (1962)
Caution Students - Security is a big deal here!
A critical requirement for participating in national security science
is rigorous security. Many of the things your a accustomed to doing
at your universities with computers, iPods, cell phones, peer-to-peer
communications (like Skype) and other wireless devices will get you
in trouble here! Here are a few reminders:

Accessing pornographic or gambling sites is not allowed. Using LANL
computers for personal purposes should be limited to a few minutes a
day. There are specific policies and rules for bringing your personal
computer, camera, or other wireless devices behind on to lab
property. Think about what's in your vehicle and your pockets before
you enter lab property. Check with your mentor, first line manager or
group leader before bringing personal electronics to the lab.

I have attached a checklist that lists a number of security and
cyber-security issues. Each item tells you where you you can find
information or policies to address your concern- you can find them on
the internal lab web site. If you have questions, ask you mentor,
team leader or group leader.

and so is Safety!
So, be very careful. Make sure you understand what you're doing, that
you have had the right training and that your mentor or first line
manager has approved the work assignment before you begin working.

Students, I hope you have an interesting and productive experience here!

Senior Management Retreat for ADEPS
EPS division leaders Wendy Cieslak (MST), Doug Fulton (P), Toni
Taylor (MPA) and Kurt Schoenberg (LANSCE and LANSCE User Facility),
along with me, Pam French and Jean Elson participated in a retreat
focused on strategy and teaming. It was extremely productive and
perhaps the best I have ever attended. We hit the right balance of
"touchy-feely" (not too much ;-)) and strategic planning (lots).

I asked them to seriously consider the question, Why EPS? Are we just
independent divisions or is there a rationale and reason for us to
work together?

We talked about several topics that call for a "shared fate" view of
science in EPS and the Lab and we selected one to become our
overriding priority or rallying call for the next several months. It
is the successful approval of LANSCE-R CD1.

The history of LANSCE has been stellar and rocky. It's long been an
attraction for international collaborators, users, post docs and new
hires. Funding, however, has always been a rocky road and the LANSCE
Refurbishment Project is no exception. Our team agreed that this is
the most important item on our strategic radar for the next few

Some may think that if LANSCE -R is not supported, there will be more
money for other LANL facilities and equipment - I don't think that is
the way it would play out. I strongly believe that high capability
user facilities are what distinguish us from other labs and that if
we were to lose LANSCE-R, we could jeopardize other facilities as
well. If we want to be successful in capturing MaRIE, we must first
successfully execute LANSC-R which, in my mind, is the first step on
the path to MaRIE.

Toni, Wendy and Doug were not sure there was a role for them and
their divisions in achieving this goal. After an hour of discussion,
we found many important responsibilities that all three division
leaders can and will take on to help move us toward achieving
LANSCE-R CD1 this fall. We must all work to demonstrate to both NNSA
and Office of Science customers that LANSCE-R is important to
national security science. We will do this by communicating examples
of important results from LANSCE experiments that have successfully
impacted program deliverables and decisions. We will also focus on
preparation for the upcoming reviews.

We created a draft vision and mission that we will publish once
finalized. I am sharing the draft VISION with you in the hopes of
receiving some constructive criticism. I will share the detailed
mission in a subsequent note.

World leading people, facilities and experiments delivering
innovative scientific solutions, anticipating national security


Susan J. Seestrom, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Experimental Physical Sciences
Mail Stop A106
(505) 665-4454 FAX (505) 665-1293

Jun 28, 2009

Lab addresses fire protection criticism

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A new report by a federal auditor revisits old vulnerabilities in the area of fire protection at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

At the same time, the report gives laboratory managers credit for taking substantial actions based on the audit.

The report found past failures to correct fire safety issues “that increased the risks of injury or loss of life had a fire occurred at Los Alamos,” along with the risk that hazardous or radiological material could have been released, operations disrupted and buildings and components lost.

Recommendations included structuring the contract incentives to reflect clear expectations on the fire safety questions.

A response by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is ultimately responsible for fire protection at the nuclear weapons laboratory, agreed with the report’s recommendations but not with its conclusions.

In a background memorandum the Department of Energy Inspector General summarizes the findings of an audit that has been going on for about 16 months and is one of at least four conducted since 2005 on the subject of fire safety with another one already underway.

Before Los Alamos National Security, LLC, became managing and operating contractor for the laboratory in 2006, they conducted formal inspections related to potential liabilities and losses. At the time, they identified 812 pre-existing fire protection deficiencies, which the new audit says were not all resolved.

“Of 296 pre-existing deficiencies we selected for audit, 174 (59 percent) have not been corrected,” Inspector General Gregory Friedman wrote, adding that 32 of the deficiencies categorized as “significant,” had been closed by the previous contractor (the University of California), even though the deficiencies had not been corrected.

Jim Streit, Fire Protection Division leader administratively oversees the lab’s fire protection group, consisting of engineers, technicians and inspectors and organizationally oversees the Los Alamos Fire Department under an independent agreement with Los Alamos County.

“We’ve acknowledged that we could have done a better job,” he said. He added, “The report acknowledged that we have taken steps recently.”

Among them, he said, the laboratory changed his role to focus more attention on the fire protection deficiencies.

“In February, the lab made this change to try to get attention on this,” he said. “I’ve been given the role to champion that, to drive those improvements, help find money and drive the priorities to fix those things.”

Among problems noted by the report were missed tests for a kitchen hood fire suppression system at Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, failure to provide a secondary fire exit on the second floor of a primary office building, and not replacing an antiquated fire alarm panel in the Plutonium Facility.

“There is a big list of issues,” said Streit. “Is someone running this to ground and managing this to closure? That’s my role and we’ve focused on the top issues and got them resolved.”

As for the panel, he said. “Our position is that the panel is there for folks’ safety. My contention is that the system is operable and functional. We know we need to replace it.”

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board wrote to the NNSA administrator in December 2008, expressing concerns about inadequate staffing and slow progress in correcting fire protection shortcomings.

LANL and its federal managers recently filed tort claims against the county for damages to a laboratory parking structure during training exercises by the LA Fire Department.

The IG report mentions another current inspection “to determine whether fire suppression and related services (for LANL) are assured through agreements with Los Alamos County.

Among other IG reports on fire protection at the lab, a March 2007 document found that wildland fire mitigations activities had either not been performed or were not completely effective. “Further, Federal officials had not always actively monitored contractor wildland fire protection programs, coordinated protective efforts or validated the effectiveness of contractor fire mitigation activities,” a summary states.

[Download the full report here.]

Comment of the Week

There isn't one!

I'm on vacation.


Jun 24, 2009

Los Alamos Science Complex

PEP Los Alamos’s conception of the proposed leased Science Complex.

This note is in regard to the proposed Los Alamos Science Complex (LASC), a proposed $250 -$400 million (M) project planned for a 16-acre piece within TA-62, north of West Jemez Road. (Experience suggests it may be more realistic to modify this cost range to $300 to $500 M.)

Some 1,400 to 1,600 LANL workers are to be housed there.

This is to be a third-party-financed project built on government land. That is, a private developer would own the building and lease it to LANS, which would in turn bill the Department of Energy (DOE) within DOE’s operating funds for LANL.[1]

For the first time, a big hunk of LANL’s infrastructure would be owned by private real estate investors, about which more in a moment. The amount (and mission-critical quality) of space leased by LANL from private real estate interests, and DOE’s annual payments for same, would make a very big jump.

I am not sure whether it is DOE’s Office of Science, or NNSA itself, that would approve this lease – or from where exactly these funds would come each year. (Other approvals are also required.) It appears that annual lease costs would be in the general range of $28 M, the amount which would service a $400 M, 25-year mortgage at 5% interest.[2]

There would be three buildings in this complex: an office and laboratory building, a parking garage, and a secure area. A 3,332 sq. ft. office suite for the Associate Director for Science (currently, Terry Wallace) is included. There would be some 276,000 net square feet of unclassified space, 52,000 net square feet of secure space, and a parking space for everybody.

The April 11, 2008 RFP was posted here. Perhaps it still is. I don’t have it.

On or about May 6, 2008, LANS held a bidder’s conference.[3] On September 10 LANS announced its selection of Pacific Equity Partners (PEP) as the project developer.
Los Alamos National Security, LLC has selected Pacific Equity Partners Los Alamos Science Complex LLC (PEP) to develop the Los Alamos Science Complex in response to a request for proposal issued earlier this year.

LANS received a total of five bids from potential offerors to design, finance, construct, lease, and operate the proposed Science Complex -- comprised of two buildings and an adjacent parking garage at Technical Area 62 northwest -- located about a half mile west of TA-3….

"It is an honor and a privilege to be selected in a highly competitive process to build a world-class facility to advance science and technology for the United States of America," said Enrique Landa, managing partner of PEP…

Now that a developer has been selected, LANS will begin preparation of the final acquisition strategy plan for submission to NNSA. If all necessary approvals are secured, groundbreaking is projected in 2009. Construction is scheduled for completion in 2010 and researches are expected to begin moving into the new facility in 2011.
In October Terry Wallace described the LASC as “the poster child for the future of the Laboratory.”

Just last month (May 2009) LANS Director Mike Anastasio gave an upbeat assessment of LASC prospects.
“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.
Earlier this month (June 2009), we heard that Terry Wallace said he hoped to break ground on the LASC “before the end of this fiscal year.”

Who is Enrique Landa and what is Pacific Equity Partners (PEP)? Who are their friends? How have they done business before?

(I am grateful to Darwin BondGraham for some of the following research. Remaining mistakes are mine.)

The Wall Street Journal described Landa as a
…Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., architect-turned-entrepreneur and son of a Mexico City architect. Messrs. Landa and [partner James] Simmons had put together packages of permits which they sold to construction companies to build a waste-treatment plant in Sonora state in Mexico [Agua Clara, LLC], and to upgrade treatment at a Mexico City plant.
Landa was also involved with a Tijuana maquiladora development, El Florido, and a golf course development in Maui. (See “Smelling money in sewage: Area firm hopes to sign no-bid deal with U.S. agency to treat Tijuana region's polluted water, then recycle it,” Mike Lee and Terry Rodgers, San Diego Union Tribune, November 13, 2005.)

Landa and Simmons created “Bajagua” out of Agua Clara, later adding partner Irwin Heller (a Boston lawyer, about which more below). Bajagua’s basic idea was to get the U.S. government to pay for building and operating a sewage treatment plant and associated conveyance infrastructure in Tijuana in order to prevent Tijuana sewage from polluting the ocean, especially after big rains.

There were no other bidders, in fact no bid at all. Creating that monopoly situation took a lot of money and influence applied in the right places over several years.

They paid to play.

Bajagua had major conceptual and engineering problems, such as failure to address a root cause of the sewage problem – lack of household plumbing in Tijuana.

In 2006 Nick Schwellenbach, then at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), wrote a very good, in-depth review of Bajagua’s business methods, basically a sophisticated, broad-scale application of textbook techniques for corrupting government contracting.[4]

Landa and his colleagues were eventually stopped in California, just about the time they “won” the bid for the LASC. Bajagua cost Tijuana and San Diego years in the fight for clean water, however, because Bajagua-supported politicians held back all other more feasible options as favors to Landa, Simmons, Heller, and their friends.

The Wall Street Journal dissed Bajagua on January 29, 2007 (“Smell Test: How Politics Influenced A Big Clean-Up Deal", by Scot Paltrow). The WSJ didn’t pull punches: “Bajagua's tale shows how plans for federal public-works projects could be diverted by a small group of lawmakers, who were able to push contracts toward big campaign contributors.”

Paltrow says Bajagua
grew out of a partnership in the 1990s between James D. Simmons, a former San Marcos, Calif., city councilman who runs a consulting business, and Enrique Landa, a Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., architect-turned-entrepreneur and son of a Mexico City architect. Messrs. Landa and Simmons had put together packages of permits which they sold to construction companies to build a waste-treatment plant in Sonora state in Mexico, and to upgrade treatment at a Mexico City plant.
He describes Bajagua’s plumbing – expensive to build and to operate – like this:
Under Bajagua's plan to build a plant in Tijuana, 25 million gallons a day of raw sewage would continue to flow to the San Ysidro plant on the U.S. side where, as now, it would be treated only to primary standards. Then new pumps and pipes would send it back uphill into Mexico to the new Bajagua plant.

After treating the sewage there, Bajagua would send it downhill again, through yet another set of new channels, where it would cross the border a third time, to San Ysidro. Then it would be shunted into the ocean through the existing pipe. Eventually, the Bajagua plant would also treat an additional 34 million gallons of sewage directly from Tijuana, to be sent across the border to the ocean pipe.
Sewage was to be just the beginning. Bajagua’s really big profit center was apparently going to be a by-product of U.S. taxpayer investments, at least in part: drinking water, a scarce substance in Baja California.
By leveraging a U.S. government-funded wastewater treatment system pegged for Tijuana, developer Enrique Landa and consultant Jim Simmons aim to become the kingpins of recycled water in the parched state of Baja California.
(In a separate project, Landa also was and may still be pushing a desalinization project in southern California called “Nevagua.”)

The Bajagua scheme was apparently going nowhere until Landa and his associate James Smith traveled to Roswell, N.M., on October of 2002 to meet with Vice President Cheney and Republican contributor George Yates at a fundraiser.

In the years following this meeting, Bajagua spent over half a million dollars lobbying. They also discovered the civic benefits of repeated, large campaign contributions in key places.

One wonders what connections were made and what business opportunities later came to light among those who gathered at that Roswell fundraiser. When did the subject of the Los Alamos Science Complex come up? At that time or later, and with whom?

PEP LASC’s incorporation file on the NM Sec. of State website lists three entities as limited liability partners: Pacific Equity Partners, LLC; Endol, LLC; and Enrique Landa.[5]

In addition to the for-profit PEP Los Alamos Science Complex LLC (PEP LASC), Landa has also created a nonprofit called the "PEP Los Alamos Fund.” (See also http://www.nmprc.state.nm.us/cgi-bin/prcdtl.cgi?4120929+PEP+LOS+ALAMOS+FUND). Nonprofits need not disclose donors. Under some conditions they can lobby. Visiting the executive branch isn’t even “lobbying” as the Internal Revenue Service uses the term in connection with nonprofits. What, exactly, are the purposes of this organization? Who are its funders if any?

The PEP Los Alamos Fund has Irwin Heller as a director, a Bajagua investor. Heller, we saw, is a Massachusetts lawyer, lobbyist – and a trustee of Tufts University (which is important, see below).

Like other Bajagua partners, Heller made maximum campaign contributions to several CA Reps. at opportune moments when Bajagua's no-bid contract was coming up for vote in the House.

He has also been giving money to NM politicians (Bingaman and Richardson) as well as to others, e.g. Sen. Murkowski (R-AK, Senate Energy and Water Committee) and Rep. Visclosky (D-IN, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development).

He supported Richardson's presidential campaign. See http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/irwin-heller.asp?cycle=00: In fact Heller, then chair of the Tufts presidential search committee, once summoned then-DOE Secretary to his Boston law office, according to the Tufts Daily (“Sec. Richardson considered for presidential spot”).

Another thread is lobbyist David Godfrey, who has represented PEP LASC. His client list makes interesting reading, but perhaps the picture is already getting clear.

I have quite a few questions about this complex, but this post is too long already. Some questions may have already occurred to you.

One question is however too important not to mention: why are Landa, Heller, and Co. in New Mexico and at Los Alamos? I believe we can be very sure they would not be involved in this project without the strong likelihood of monopoly rents.

How far might this particular concept – “rents,” in the expansive sense of the term – go, and where might it go? I think far, but I don’t know where.

I am personally of the view there is more to this than just three buildings. Merely winning bids to provide buildings is not what these folks have been about.

Good luck,
Greg Mello

[1] NNSA’s contracts consume about 96% of its resources (See Competition - or Collusion? Privatization and Crony Capitalism in the Nuclear Weapons Complex: Some Questions from New Mexico (pdf) May 30, 2006). There is thus little fiscal space for further privatization of prime NNSA contracts. Overall business growth in NNSA services must occur either by growth of NNSA itself or by adding new layers of privatization, either “below” the ordinary prime contract (as we see in the case of the proposed LASC), or “above” it, as we see in the so-called “gorilla” weapons complex “integration” effort, where NNSA would basically pay a contractor to do what NNSA does now. In both cases overall business growth occurs by creating a market for goods and services not needed by NNSA before and in both cases agency and control pass from government and into private hands. (pdf) May 30, 2006). There is thus little fiscal space for further privatization of prime NNSA contracts, so overall business growth in NNSA services must occur either by growth of NNSA itself or by adding new layers of privatization, either “below” the ordinary prime contract (as we see in the case of the proposed LASC), or “above” it, as we see in the so-called “gorilla” weapons complex “integration” effort, where NNSA would basically pay a contractor to do what NNSA does now. In both cases overall business growth occurs by creating a market for goods and services not needed by NNSA before and in both cases agency and control pass from government and into private hands. The new “market” consists of new forms of overhead.

[2] DOE’s FY2010 request for LANL Office of Science activities is $68.1 M, a decrease from this year’s $74.4 M. If DOE’s Science account is going to pay for very much of this lease a significant costs must be shifted to it, or decreased somewhere else in the account by some means. An annual lease of $28 M is equal to the cost of about 180 LANL employees, fully burdened.

[3] “Lab makes another bid for new science complex,” Roger Snodgrass, Los Alamos Monitor, 5/4/08 or 5/5/08. This article is not available in the Monitor’s web archives.

[4] If you don’t want to read Schwellenbach’s extensive research article, RAW STORY provided the gist: “Whistleblowers allege influence peddling by members of Congress, VP in Mexico wastewater project,” by Miriam Raftery and Larisa Alexandrovna.

[5] We have not attempted to fully tease apart these companies and their partners.

Jun 21, 2009

Comment of the Week

I shouldn't be, but I am frequently astonished by certain, how shall we put this ... narrow-minded perspectives to which some people choose to limit themselves. Accordingly, this week's prize is awarded to a triplet of contributions that came in to the Committee Strengthens the Stockpile Stewardship Program post. The first one demonstrates the narrow perspective, in the sense that I classify conservative, Christian, right-wing flag-wavers as possessed of a certain narrow-mindedness. This is a good thing, however, because without it we would not have had the pleasure of reading the second two points of view.

Here we go. I hope most of you enjoy the contrast in perspectives as much as I did.


Long live the military-industrial complex!

6/20/09 10:00 AM

If it wasn't for the military industrial complex that you so happily berate, you wouldn't be posting on this blog as there would be no internet. The internet evolved from a DOD sponsored DARPA project back in the 70s to have a highly redundant communication system that could route its way around nuclear attacks.

If it wasn't for the military industrial complex, you probably wouldn't even be typing on a home computer. Computers evolved back in the 1940s and 50s from the US military's needs to have fast "calculating machines" that could compute artillery trajectories.

If it wasn't for the military industrial complex, the mutually assured destruction (MAD) standoff would never have occurred and the US would likely have been treated to a devastating WWIII sometime during the last 60 years.

If it wasn't for the military industrial complex, there would be little protecting your freedoms as a American citizen to vote and to have freedom of speech.

You owe the US military and its military industrial complex far more than you'll ever know. God bless the military industrial complex. It has done many good things for America and the world.


Rubbish, 12:51. Al Gore invented the internet; everybody knows that. It's just a bunch of tubes, anyhow -- even George Bush knows that.

Now, go count your guns or listen to Rush Limbaugh or something and quit bothering us with your right-wing blather.


12:51 does present a broad target, as a

Flag-waving, God-fearing Right-winger.

After you've unwrapped yourself from the flag, 12:51, be sure to go to church tomorrow and ask that all-knowing, all-powerful righteous Christian God of yours to bless America. Or at least the American military industrial complex. Maybe he'll accommodate you since he's probably got nothing better to do. I mean after all he's just been sitting around twiddling his thumbs since he finished creating the world & everything 6,000 years ago.



Jun 19, 2009

Committee Strengthens the Stockpile Stewardship Program

For immediate release:
June 16, 2009
Contact: Loren Dealy (HASC) 202-225-2539

Committee Strengthens the Stockpile Stewardship Program

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the House Armed Services Committee took great strides to strengthen the Stockpile Stewardship Program. This is the program tasked with maintaining the safety, security and reliability of our nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

“H.R. 2647 builds on the work we did in the last Congress, and on the recommendations of the Strategic Posture Commission. It authorizes important funding increases to the Stockpile Stewardship Program, from scientific and experimental activities to infrastructure maintenance accounts,” commented Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA). “And to support the stewardship program, the bill establishes a new Stockpile Management Program to codify clear objectives and boundaries for maintaining our nuclear weapons capabilities. I am proud of the ways in which this bill sustains and strengthens the Stockpile Stewardship Program.”

“The STRATCOM Commanders have told us that they do not need new nuclear weapons, but they do need unimpeachable confidence in the capabilities we have,” said Representative John Spratt (D-SC). “This bill bolsters that confidence and ensures a robust deterrent without the need to resume testing.”

Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) said, “By boosting the resources authorized to support stockpile stewardship and by establishing legal objectives and limitations for weapons stockpile work, H.R. 2647 brings badly needed clarity to the debate over our nuclear posture.”

The bill does the following:
  • Clarifies two broad objectives of the Stockpile Stewardship Program: to ensure that core intellectual and technical competencies are maintained and to ensure the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable without the use of underground nuclear weapons testing.
  • Establishes the Stockpile Management Program – a new program for weapons work in support of the Stewardship Program. The program requires that changes to the nuclear weapons stockpile may be made only if:
The following objectives are met:
  • Increase the reliability, safety, and security of the stockpile;
  • Further reduce the need for nuclear weapons testing; and
  • Reduce the future size of the nuclear weapons stockpile;
And only within the following limits:
  • Remain consistent with basic design parameters;
  • Include well understood components that can be certified without weapons testing; and
  • Fulfill current military requirements.
Amends existing requirements for an annual plan for the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programs to require an assessment of the adequacy of the capabilities and workforce needed to execute the Stockpile Stewardship Program, and to require independent peer review in the annual assessment and certification process.

*** All provisions are subject to change pending final passage of H.R.2647 ***

[Download a 650 page searchable PDF of H.R.2647 here.]

Jun 18, 2009

Special Edition of Comment of the Week

Every now and then something happens around here that would likely just get lost in the noise. This comment speaks for itself, and carries an important message. It seemed appropriate to give it some visibility.


I don't know where else to post this, but I just wanted to say...

Adios LANL

After years of debate, I have finally decided I am taking my ball and going to play elsewhere. Today I quit my job at the lab.

I came to LANL straight out of grad school and have worked here now for several years. During that time, I regularly brought in multi-million dollars of funding each FY, scored in the top 3 on ORC scores in my group, blah, blah, blah. And during that time I can't say that I was allowed to do any science. In fact, LANL killed my scientific career -- many of my colleagues from other institutions pointed out how little of my potential I was being allowed to reach by staying here.

What Mikey and Terry and their LANS management croanies fail to realize is that LANL's reputation is SO bad right now, that most of the top universities are telling their students not to apply here. Many of them (a few that I have had relationships with) won't even let our scientists speak to their students anymore.

But the bigger problem to me is that LANS management just doesn't care. They don't care about getting science done or recruiting and retaining the best of the best. The only thing they care about are their bonuses and it doesn't matter to them who they step on or what science they crush along the way. Make no mistake, fellow bloggers. THEY DO NOT CARE. We can complain all we want on this blog, in the censored Reader's Forum, or wherever about how bad conditions have become. But the bottom line is that if those complaints don't put money into their pockets, it just doesn't matter to them.

So this junior staffer has had enough and is finally going to stand up and try to recreate a technical reputation. I am going someplace where I am being given the resources to do my job, not being punished for self-reporting cell phone incidents, and where I will actually be allowed to do science.

I would wish the LANS management "good luck," but from what I can tell, they were brought in to get LANL shut down and that is just not something I want to wish them well on.

Jun 14, 2009

Comment of the Week

It is somewhat reluctantly that I pick a COW this week, because there just was not that much that stood out in any positive sense. There were plenty of mediocre, shallow, or just plain immature contributions. I'm sure we will get a number of expert opinions as to why that is.

Among the more literate comments this week were several that discussed a perceived general decline in the quality of science associated with LANL under NNSA and LANS. Here are a couple of those from last week's Comment of the Week post:

I left LANL and went to work for a small company on the west coast. The company has a number of former LANL employees.

We have been told by a few potential customers that they were leery of doing business with us because "we had too many ex-LANL employees."

Believe me, LANL's reputation is in the toilet!


I don't think that we are getting the quality of PDs that we did five years ago. That has something to do with why our PDs are not getting good jobs. The smart PDs are going to places where science, not the Director's bonus, is important.

In a similar vein from the Lockout at TA-48/RC-1 post, one reader was interested in who was investigating last Wednesday's lockout event, to which 12:09pm replied,

"But if so, what agencies are the most interested?"

6/13/09 10:37 PM

No one is interested in Los Alamos anymore. You overestimate the importance of the place.

Finally, I've noted any number of wild, near-hysterical claims that LANL's continued existence was in some way essential to maintaining and/or establishing global nuclear security. Commenter 10:54am on the Radioactive Releases Documented at LANL post left a nice, clear, rational rebuttal to one of those comments:

Shutting down LANL and cleaning up its mess is not tantamount to unilateral disarmament. LANL's future in Plutonium pit manufacture has nothing to do with detection of a nuclear weapon in a container in the Port of Los Angeles. Geez-get a clue yourself.

LANL is not a necessary condition for non proliferation, although I understand your desire to keep your job, 8:26, and thus your rhetoric trying to defend LANL's continued operation. Fair enough. But please understand that many of us in the state think LANL's first priority should be to clean up its 60 year legacy of toxic dumping. To us, LANL's mess is more of an immediate threat than eliminating any role LANL might realistically play in stopping a mythical nuclear catastrophe in the Port of Los Angeles.

BTW, if you grew up in Los Alamos like I did, or worked there for any period of time (ditto) you really owe yourself a read of the CDC document that was released last week which details many of the accidents and chemical and radiological releases during Los Alamos' history. It is an eye-opener. The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment report is available online at http://www.lahdra.org/pubs/pubs.htm.

Until next week,


Jun 12, 2009

Lockout at TA-48/RC-1

Some of the latest comments on the Shocking News post are discussing a lockout at RC-1 Wednesday. Initially it was reported that foreign nationals were being turned away at the gate by guards. Later it was clarified that all non-Q cleared people were excluded due to a "classified exercise". Another commenter implies that the facility was searched, though there is no mention of law enforcement being involved.

So what's going on at RC-1? Could it be that something classified is missing and they didn't want uncleared people searching for it. Or perhaps RC-1 is one of the sites accidentally disclosed in the recent US declaration to the IAEA and security was doing a vulnerability assessment. What's your theory?

Jun 11, 2009

Radioactive Releases Documented at LANL

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

On Dec. 1, 1948, Los Alamos scientists detonated an explosive test that sent a radioactive cloud up over Bayo Canyon.

As he watched the plume drift over Los Alamos Mesa and settle into Pueblo Canyon, a lab health official observed that perhaps in the future it wasn't a good idea to set off explosions “without regard to wind direction and velocity.”

But such lessons were slow in coming in the early years of the lab.

A new report released this week identifies scores of accidents and chemical releases, as well as day-to-day operations from the lab's history that may have posed a public health risk.

The 558-page report is the culmination of 10 years of work by a team of researchers under contract with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers lifted the lid on scores of dusty old boxes and reviewed millions of documents to piece together instances in which the lab released radioactive and toxic materials. The report's findings will be discussed during a June 25 public meeting in Pojoaque.

The report is already prompting calls on the federal government to use the records catalogued by the researchers to conduct a full-blown study of just how much radiation past generations of New Mexicans were exposed to.

“All the other major production sites within the (Department of Energy nuclear) complex have already had a dose reconstruction done,” said Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.

The report concludes that a dose reconstruction is feasible with the records available.

Among the report's main findings is that past Los Alamos operations released significantly more emissions “than has been officially reported or published to the scientific community.”

The investigators unearthed one memo written in 1956 that, if accurate, indicates the lab's DP West Building emitted more airborne plutonium than all of the government's plutonium processing facilities combined.

But it was during the infancy of the lab, when scientists were racing Nazi Germany in the development of the atomic bomb, that perhaps Los Alamos' environmental and safety measures were most lax.

The 85 rooftop vents at the D Building plutonium processing facility, for instance, spewed contaminated air with no monitoring and little filtering.

Meanwhile because of the geography of the Los Alamos area, most housing had to be built very close to the lab. One apartment complex was just 200 meters from D building, while a trailer park on the rim of Los Alamos Canyon may have been exposed to radioactive gases from nuclear reactors situated on the canyon floor.

“We've learned a lot in the last 60 years,” lab spokesman Fred deSousa said Tuesday. “Today, LANL is one of the best-monitored DOE sites in the country.”

The spokesman said lab environmental programs include extensive monitoring of air, soil, water and wildlife, and outside groups and the state Environment Department perform similar testing. “We have multiple safety nets,” he said.

The lab is also subject to an agreement with the state that requires the identification and cleanup of legacy waste over the lab's 40-square-mile property by 2015.

The report released this week states that access to classified documents at Los Alamos was the most difficult that the researchers had experienced at a DOE site due to several factors, including the Cerro Grande fire and security incidents involving LANL staff.

Still, the team says it was able to significantly expand the amount of documentation that is publicly available about past LANL operations.

Those records could come into play in two landmark wrongful death lawsuits recently filed by the survivors of former Los Alamos residents who were allegedly made sick by decades-old lab operations.

The report, which is available online, includes chapters on LANL reactors, tritium processing, beryllium use, residential housing developments and the incomplete picture of radiation exposures stemming from the world's first atomic bomb detonation in southern New Mexico.

“All assessments of doses from the Trinity test issued to date have been incomplete in that they have not addressed internal doses received after intakes of radioactivity through inhalation or consumption of contaminated water or food products,” the report states.

The report also provides a chronology of past accidents and other potential release incidents, as well as a prioritization of which events may have posed the most risk to the public.

The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment report is available online at http://www.lahdra.org/pubs/pubs.htm. A public meeting on the report is set June 25 from 5-7 p.m. at the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in room Tewa 3.

Gold theft investigation at LANL nearly complete

By CAROL A. CLARK, The Los Alamos Monitor

The Investigation into an attempted gold theft that occurred in late March at Los Alamos National Laboratory's TA-55 is close to wrapping up.

“We expect the investigation to conclude most likely by the end of the month, at which time it will be referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque for a decision on whether to prosecute,” FBI Agent Todd Hulsey said Thursday.

Hulsey mentioned it appears the employee acted alone in his attempt to steal gold from his workplace at TA-55.

He was discovered attempting to exit his area with an estimated $2,000 worth of gold shavings inside a plastic sandwich bag hidden in his clutched fist.

In his attempt to smuggle out the gold, the employee triggered the first of eight layers of security mechanisms and was stopped dead in his tracks inside the Plutonium Processing Facility.

The man has reportedly worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for more than 20 years.

“The individual is no longer employed at the laboratory,” said Public Affairs Director Jeff Berger in a recent interview.

Laboratory personnel conducted an inventory following the incident to determine if anything else was missing.

“The inventories have been completed without issue,” Berger said.

The name of the individual will be released if the U.S. Attorney’s Office determines sufficient evidence exists to call for his arrest.

The gold shavings seal cracks in platinum-lined containers used for plutonium-related work, according to information relayed to the Monitor.

The Plutonium Facility Site at TA-55 is located on 40 acres about one mile southeast of the central technical area at TA-3, according to information on the Los Alamos Study Group website.

The main complex has five connected buildings: the Administration, the Support Office Building, the Support Building, the Plutonium Facility and the Warehouse.

The Nuclear Materials Storage Facility is separate from the main complex but shares an underground transfer tunnel with the Plutonium Facility.

Various support, storage, security and training structures are located throughout the main complex.

Jun 10, 2009

Congress Wants To Give Nuclear Agencies a Nudge

By Kerry Young and Caitlin Webber, CQ Staff
June 6, 2009

No matter how you pronounce it — noo-kleer or noo-kew-leer — two debatable points emerge:

• The government needs more nuclear scientists — or maybe not, and;

• Government agencies that oversee nuclear operations need more money — or maybe not.

And therein lies the problem for Congress as lawmakers decide how much money to give those agencies in the next year.

Senate appropriators who oversee funding of the Energy Department said that the White House hasn’t allowed enough money for fiscal 2010 for certain nuclear programs, but one nuclear agency official told them they could hold off on increases for a year.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan , D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said at a panel hearing that the administration stinted in its fiscal 2010 request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency that oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal and also helps prevent terrorists around the world from getting atomic weapons.

Senate appropriators questioned the fiscal 2010 request of $9.9 billion for the NNSA, which has duties ranging from dismantling U.S. nuclear weapons and maintaining the remaining stockpile, to aiding in top scientific research and securing uranium supplies in countries such as Kazakhstan, Libya, Serbia and Vietnam,

“The fact is that NNSA is going to have a very active future,” Dorgan said at hearing, and ticked off some of the challenges facing NNSA, including President Obama’s goals for securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world and North Korea. At the same time, the United States is working toward further reducing the size of its nuclear arsenal.

“This will require more dismantlements, and that will require more funding,” he said. The United States is engaged in a review of its policy on atomic weapons, with a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report due out in early 2010 — but the NNSA cannot keep its activities in a holding pattern, especially when doing so could cause it to lose highly trained scientists, the appropriators said.

However, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said the agency wants to keep its programs near current levels in anticipation of the Defense Department’s release of the NPR, which will set the course for the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

Meanwhile, at the NTNF...

The appropriations hearing came on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report stating that nuclear scientists are in short supply, and the government agencies responsible for investigating a nuclear attack are uncoordinated and unprepared.

In portions of a declassified report released June 1, the GAO said the National Technical Nuclear Forensics (NTNF) program, comprised of several agencies and coordinated by the Homeland Security Department, needs a better plan to recruit and train nuclear forensics experts.

If a nuclear attack were to take place, these experts would be responsible for identifying the type, material and origins of the device used.

The GAO also cautioned against proposed budget cuts that would affect nuclear forensic programs within the NTNF agencies.

“A comprehensive and responsive nuclear forensics capability is critical to the national security of the United States because it provides a deterrent to other countries that may provide nuclear materials to terrorists and can help attribute a nuclear or radiological event to specific perpetrators,” Gene Aloise, the director of natural resources and environment for the GAO, wrote in the April 30 report.

Tension and ‘Bad Ideas’

At the hearing, Dorgan and Robert F. Bennett of Utah, the ranking Republican on Senate Energy-Water Appropriations, referred to tensions that they detected between the NNSA and the Office of Management and Budget. “You are not ultimately responsible for this budget request, but you have nonetheless come here to answer questions about it,” Dorgan told D’Agostino, and referred to official internal communications between NNSA and the OMB.

Bennett told D’Agostino he understood the “frustration” that agency officials sometimes face in working with OMB and then having to defend the resulting budget plans. Still, Bennett criticized the fiscal 2010 request that D’Agostino, who was appointed to his job in 2007, was there to defend.

“I don’t think the budget provides adequate funding to the scientific community,” Bennett said. “I think it falls flat.”

Dorgan also asked NNSA to persuade OMB to drop its current consideration of moving responsibility for the U.S nuclear stockpile to the Pentagon, a proposal that’s been considered and rejected in the past.

“It reminds me that bad ideas have unlimited shelf life here in the nation’s capital,” Dorgan said. “This is a bad idea that has been debated and long ago discarded.

“Also, bad ideas are bipartisan. If you get a chance to talk to OMB, would you suggest that they close the cover of that book and move on?”

“Yes, sir, I’d be glad to,” replied D’Agostino.

Jun 9, 2009

Positioning the Laboratory to meet global security challenges

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: LANL-ALL2287: Director's Outlook
Date: Mon, 08 Jun 2009 12:25:21 -0600
From: Distributions
To: LANL-ALL@lanl.gov

June 8, 2009

Positioning the Laboratory to meet global security challenges
President Obama announced in Prague earlier this spring that he and his Administration will work tirelessly to “ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon.” In order to meet that goal, he announced “a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” He added, “We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.”

We see frequent evidence that the challenge of proliferation is not shrinking but in fact growing. We were reminded of this most recently by news reports that North Korea had attempted yet another nuclear test.

As you all know, the Laboratory has for decades played a significant role in what to date we have called Threat Reduction. Threat Reduction is not one mission but many, providing support to the NNSA’s nonproliferation efforts, to the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the broader intelligence community. Among other areas, the Lab has been a leader in developing technologies to detect and identify nuclear materials, as well as safeguards technologies that ensure that materials are secure and accounted for.

The work that LANL and the other NNSA laboratories do in this area is well recognized, and elements of that work were cited in the recent report of the bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission. In the area of nuclear weapons intelligence analysis, the Commission specifically noted that “For decades, the laboratories have provided unique insights into foreign weapons programs because of their ability to bring weapons design expertise to the study of such programs. As concern about nuclear proliferation and terrorism has grown over the last two decades, this expertise has been in rising demand.”

Given the importance of these mission areas to the Laboratory’s future and their increasing emphasis by the Administration, I have elevated the level of the Laboratory’s leadership position in this area to principal associate director, or PAD.

This new organization, which includes programs in nonproliferation, intelligence support, defense, counterterrorism, and homeland security, will lead the Laboratory’s initiatives to meet the nation’s global security challenges.

In the coming weeks, I will formally announce my selection for the PAD Global Security.

Lab Director Michael Anastasio

Contact: directorsoutlook@lanl.gov

Director Anastasio addresses the Laboratory workforce in a periodic message.

Director's Outlook: 20090607551

Jun 7, 2009

Shocking News!

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Note from ADEPS
From: "Susan Seestrom"
Date: Fri, June 5, 2009 5:53 pm
To: adeps-all@lanl.gov
Cc: "Terry Wallace"

Cyber Security

Cyber security continues to be a concern at the Laboratory. There has been a dramatic increase in targeted phone calls (those targeting a specific person). Recently examples are calls claiming to be from local banks, local medical facilities. The caller knows your name and telephone number and solicits personal identifying information. Do not give out your personal information. If you think it could be legitimate, call back to the normal phone number for the organization if it reputes to be one you deal with.

We have also been hit by war dialing - over 40,000 calls this last weekend. Phone calls that solicit PII or other suspicious information should be reported to the SIT (Security Inquiry Team 665-3505) The lab have moved to proactive defense, so let NIE (Network Infrastructure and engineering) Organization (667-6430) know if you have a legitimate requirement to collect information through phone calls.

We continue to see new threats involving email. The Lab received 3.664M emails last month from external resources; NIE stripped 1.728M of these emails because they appear to be SPAM. They also stripped between 100 and 2000 emails a days for virus content in the last month

A new threat: targeted nation-state spearfishing. One example from this week: a collaborative community of researchers (internal + external) with a shared email list was targeted. Someone appearing to be known to the group solicited information from the members of the lists about z number or password. A few people responded. When malicious outsiders have this information it can be used to compromise our network security.

Report emails that solicit information such as Z numbers, passwords, or PII to the SIT. NIE is proactive in shutting down external URLs/IP addresses solicit information: please let them know if you are using these types of services.

Privileged Computer Access for Non-US Citizens

Once again I request your patience in working through the problems posed by the new computer system designed to track, justify and approve computer access for Non-US Citizens. The implementation has been very rough, as I know from the amount of time it has taken me to approve them. I have spent quite a bit of time working with Tom Harper and Nat Farnham in CIO to resolve the numerous problems we have encountered. We received a one time extension to the process. This means that we have until June 12th to either obtain approval for privileged access - or to remove that access.

AS of this morning there were about 130 cases in which the host had not submitted the request for approval thru the PUAR system. Many of these may not really need to be submitted (because that system was mistakenly identified as needing privileged access, for example). My plea is that all hosts/co-hosts of foreign nationals ensure that the data has been entered into the PUIAR system for EACH SYSTEM to which your FN needs privileged access. Your division leaders have the complete data base on what is in this system and they can provide information if you are unsure that state of your requests.

I would also like to remind you all that the laboratory has been negotiating with NNSA at the highest levels to develop an approval process for privileged access on appropriate machines for Foreign Nationals from countries the Department of State has deemed "sensitive" (http://int.lanl.gov/security/isec/fva/countries.shtml). At this time we have not received final approval on this process - Terry Wallace is personally strongly engaged on this and he is optimistic we will have a process, but it is not yet approved. Until such an approval is obtained we have until June 12th to remove PA accounts for foreign nationals on the various machines/clusters that have not been re-approved by this new PUAR process. This will unfortunately require us to begin removing such accounts, including all those for sensitive FNs. We will continue to work toward an approval process for the needed tools for all our workforce to accomplish their work.

I understand this may have very significant impacts to the productivity of many of our foreign national employees and visitors. We must also comply with the policies that NNSA has laid out for us. Be assured we will work tirelessly to find ways to mitigate the impacts of this policy.

Electrical Safety Improvement

Safety incidents continue to be a grave concern of mine; one of our divisions has an incident almost every week and I am concerned that the sheer volume is a warning that a serious incident could happen at any time. Please, please ensure you are trained and authorized to perform work or tasks, and be vigilant and careful when you perform them. In particular - student mentors ensure your students are properly supervised, that they have appropriate training, and they understand what work they are allowed to do. Students - be sure your understand what you have been authorized to do - and if you have ANY questions ask you mentor (and if she/he is not available ask your team leader or group leader).

Right now the Lab is emphasizing electrical safety and we are asking that all of you take some actions to raise your awareness regarding responsibilities, qualification and training, to assure your electrical equipment is safe, and that IWDs adequately reflect potential dangers. This is why:

There have been twelve electrical incidents this FY:

* There have been 6 electrical events in March 2009.
* Two were serious shocks, to programmatic workers.
* Three resulted from work control omissions, using a voltmeter on energized circuits (Mode 2 work) without authorized work control (without a proper IWD)
* Three involved workers not qualified.
* Two involved unlisted, unapproved electrical equipment.
* One involved inferior quality equipment.
* One was a deenergized phone line struck during excavation.
* Two were clearly Human Performance related
* At least one could have resulted in a fatality if luck had not been on our side

Now let me tell you about another incident of concern that occurred just this last. On May 27, 2009, the Science Technology and Operations FOD declared a management concern relative to work management and worker qualification discrepancies identified on a pulsed magnet replacement. On May 21, 2009, the Materials Physics and Applications National High Magnet Field Laboratory (MPA-NHMFL) acting group leader became aware that a NHMFL student had inadvertently removed a cable connected to the cell safety switch while replacing a pulsed magnet in Cell 3 of the NHMFL. The cell safety switch, an engineering control, isolated the magnet from the 1.6 mega joules (MJ) capacitor bank energy source. A NHMFL technical staff member had tasked the student to replace the magnet due to its failure. Preliminary review found the magnet replacement work had not been properly authorized. The review identified the following discrepancies with the pulsed magnet replacement work:

* The MPA-NHMFL student has been in the NHMFL technical program for about two years. He had been assigned a mentor, but due to unusual circumstances, his mentor left and another mentor had not been re-assigned to the student.
* Work requests for students are processed through their supervisor which is usually a mentor. In this case, the student performed the magnet replacement work alone in Cell 3 of the NHMFL. The work request had not been processed through the student's supervisor; therefore, MPA-NHMFL management was unaware of the work until it was reported.
* Integrated Work Document No. NHMFL-35-124-l105-1, "Capacitor Control and Maintenance," defined the hazards and mitigating procedures for performing maintenance, repair or modifications of capacitor bank system. The IWD did not specifically address magnet replacement and the student had not been authorized to perform work under this IWD.
* Any maintenance, repair, or modification to the capacitor bank system must be performed by a qualified electrical work. The student, though extensively trained, was not a qualified electrical worker.

The issues of work authorization and appropriate supervision have the potential to cause problems anywhere in our organization. We are fortunate that the magnet lab center leader was well versed in the hazards of pulsed power, that the issues surrounding this event were appropriately brought to his attention, and that he responded with appropriate urgency. Please think about how you or your colleagues might be placed at risk due to similar causes and take action if you find some.

Gordon Receives NNSA Safety Professional of the Year Award!

We are fortunate to have the best chief electrical safety office in the complex! Lloyd Gordon received the NNSA Safety Professional of the year award for 2008. Gordon displayed outstanding leadership in electrical safety, both at the Laboratory and across the Department of Energy, said Tom D'Agostino, NNSA administrator. He is a primary author of the Electrical Severity Measurement Tool, which is now used across the DOE complex to categorize and report electrical incidents. Gordon also provided leadership and technical guidance to nearly 150 group and division electrical safety officers and developed and delivered training to thousands of Lab workers.

Safe Drinking Water

AD Bob McQuinn presented information on drinking water at our LANL team meeting on May 29. In April, LASO directed that bottled water is an unallowable expense if safe drinking water is available. LANL and LA County both comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1994. In 1993 LANL extensively evaluated drinking water and found trace levels of lead due to soldered joints in some water fountains. All of these have been removed from service. Since the LASO direction, safe drinking water access has been defined as a drinking fountain or kitchen sink. Access to only restroom supply is not considered acceptable. Bottled water can only be supplied if access to safe water is not available, and the FODs will work these issues. The Lab is analyzing water in buildings where there is some suspicion there might be a problem; none have been found. Although the origin of this issue was in the LASO determination on unallowable cost, this is a reasonable decision. for many other reasons. At a time of budget pressure there is no reason to spend money buying water when safe drinking water is available to us. Using the public water supply is more environmentally conscious than buying water and transporting it from other locations.

I wish you an enjoyable weekend and a safe and productive week!



Susan J. Seestrom, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Experimental Physical Sciences
Mail Stop A106
(505) 665-4454 FAX (505) 665-1293

Comment of the Week

This week our COW examines the relationships between certain NNSA individuals and the corporations that benefited from the LANS and LLNS contract awards. From the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Updated “Safeguards” and Net Assessments post, 11:02am asks the following question:

Why do you think D'Agostino put Bechtel and BWXT in charge of LANL and LLNL as for-profit entities and that he's constantly pushing things like Six Sigma?

He knows what he is doing. His buddy Smolen has recently made out well with his new position and D'Agostino also expect[s] to see a nice return on his "investment" in Bechtel and BWXT once he leaves NNSA.

Follow the money. It's not about science or national security any more in the NNSA complex

The "Smolen" referred to in the comment is Robert Smolen, former NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs. Smolen has since left the nuclear agency to become a senior national security fellow at Lawrence Livermore's Center for Global Security Research.

What do you think? Payoff for government-assisted profiteering, or just your typical, normal every day corporate America business as usual?


Jun 6, 2009

LANL Official Defends Neutron Center

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

A top federal nuclear official this week endorsed continued operation of a Los Alamos National Laboratory research complex, splitting with Obama administration budget officials who had said the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center was no longer needed.

Tom D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told members of a Senate subcommittee that the Neutron Science Center is important to maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons.

The Office of Management and Budget, in a budget-cutting report released last month, said the center's "usefulness ... is ebbing," and recommended terminating plans to refurbish the machine's aging components.

The proposed $19 million funding reduction was one of 121 cuts nationwide singled out by the Obama administration as evidence of its commitment to reduced federal spending.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have pledged to fight the cut, calling LANSCE vital for Los Alamos and the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The machine makes X-ray-like images of nuclear weapon parts and does other related research. Without the money for refurbishment, the three-decades-old machine's life is limited, according to a Los Alamos report.

D'Agostino, testifying Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, disagreed with the budget report's assessment of LANSCE's future usefulness.

He said decisions about LANSCE's long-term future will have to await completion of a Pentagon report on the future of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Jun 3, 2009

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Updated “Safeguards” and Net Assessments

Jonathan Medalia, Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy
June 3, 2009

Limitations on nuclear testing have been on the international agenda since 1954. The United States ratified one such treaty in 1963 and two in 1990 that together bar all but underground nuclear tests with an explosive yield of 150 kilotons or less. The United States has observed a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests since 1992. In 1996, this nation signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban all nuclear explosions.

The Senate rejected the CTBT in 1999. That debate focused on such pros and cons as whether the United States could maintain its nuclear weapons without testing, whether it could verify compliance with the treaty, and how the treaty would affect nuclear nonproliferation. Another aspect to past debates was “Safeguards,” measures that this nation can take unilaterally within the treaty to protect its nuclear security. To compensate for “disadvantages and risk” they saw in the treaty regime, the Joint Chiefs of Staff conditioned their support for the 1963 treaty on four Safeguards: an aggressive nuclear test program, maintaining nuclear weapon laboratories, maintaining the ability to resume atmospheric tests promptly, and improving intelligence and nuclear explosion monitoring capabilities. Safeguards were key to securing Senate ratification of the 1963 treaty. Updated Safeguards have been part of subsequent treaty ratification efforts.

In April 2009, President Obama pledged to pursue U.S. CTBT ratification “immediately and aggressively.” A debate on the treaty would involve its pros and cons and how they have changed since 1999. CRS Report RL34394, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Issues and Arguments, examines such issues, but no prior CRS report examined the role of Safeguards in a future debate. Like pros and cons, Safeguards could affect Senators’ net assessment of the treaty; unlike pros and cons, they are amenable to legislative bargaining and compromise. As such, they may play a key role in a CTBT debate. To that end, Safeguards could be updated, such as by adding Safeguards for the nuclear weapon production plants and strategic forces, and could be augmented with implementation measures.

While Safeguards may be part of a future CTBT debate, both supporters and opponents of the treaty could criticize them. Supporters may see augmented Safeguards as unneeded, arguing that the technical case for the treaty is stronger than in 1999. Many supporters favor further reductions and, ultimately, elimination of nuclear weapons, and view the CTBT as a stepping-stone in that direction; they could see revised Safeguards as moving in the opposite direction by supporting U.S. nuclear capabilities. Opponents assert that this nation cannot have confidence in its nuclear weapons or the program to maintain them without testing, and that nations could conceal nuclear tests. They hold that the United States has not adequately implemented existing Safeguards, and doubt it would do better with CTBT Safeguards. In their view, both the CTBT and inadequately-supported Safeguards would jeopardize U.S. security.

This report may be updated occasionally.

[Download the full CRS Report R40612 here.]

Senate Measure Would Withhold Funds for Planned Shift of Nuclear Component Work

By Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate has moved to at least temporarily ban a reassignment in design work on a key nuclear warhead component -- the tritium gas system -- from one national laboratory to another (see GSN, March 27).

(Jun. 3) - The U.S. Senate last month moved to delay a plan to transfer work on a crucial component used in nuclear weapons like the B-61 gravity bomb, shown above (U.S. Air Force photo).

The new legislative action came in the form of an amendment to the fiscal 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Bill, offered by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and adopted by the chamber on May 19. The Senate passed the full supplemental appropriations measure two days later.

The legislation would put the brakes on a National Nuclear Security Administration determination that the Bush administration announced on Jan. 5. The decision was to consolidate responsibility for designing tritium "gas transfer systems" from the two organizations currently performing the work -- the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories -- down to a single site, Sandia's facility in Livermore, Calif.

Under the legislation, no NNSA funds could be spent to consolidate these activities, pending further study.

The nuclear warhead component under discussion moves tritium from container bottles into the core of the nuclear warhead as the weapon explodes, boosting its destructive power, according to an NNSA statement.

The decision has proven controversial. Critics have asserted that consolidation could heighten the risk of nuclear warhead malfunctions by reassigning crucial work away from the most knowledgeable experts on Los Alamos-designed warheads, who reside at the New Mexico facility.

These design activities are ongoing in government efforts to keep the nuclear arsenal safe, secure and reliable, according to experts. As part of the "Stockpile Stewardship Program," funded at $5.1 billion this fiscal year, design work on the tritium system is performed to help maintain, repair and replace components.

These efforts comprise just one facet of refurbishment aimed at extending a warhead's service life in the absence of underground explosive testing.

Detractors also say the planned shift would offer a negligible reduction in the costs of maintaining the arsenal. Under the consolidation plan, tritium research and development activities would cost an estimated $415 million over 20 years, according to an independent report commissioned last year by the National Nuclear Security Administration before the decision was announced.

Alternative scenarios for which laboratories would conduct the work were estimated to carry a similar price tag, leaving NNSA leaders to conclude that "cost is kind of a wash," according to Robert Smolen, who announced the decision in January when he was NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs. "Cost is not a driving factor in making it either move or not move."

Smolen has since left the nuclear agency to become a senior national security fellow at Lawrence Livermore's Center for Global Security Research.

NNSA leaders have described the planned gas transfer system design consolidation as part of a larger effort to downsize, streamline and focus activities across the nuclear enterprise.

"The decision is to move forward with moving our enterprise to be smaller, less expensive, safe and reliable," NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino told Global Security Newswire in an April 30 interview. "It's consistent with the idea that we would not have multiple ... levels of redundancy. And whenever you start taking away a level of redundancy, you introduce some risk."

"At the same time," he added, "the risk is evaluated and you make a decision: What makes more sense?"

The National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department, was established in 2000 to oversee the national laboratories and other facilities in the nuclear weapons complex.

The Senate did not explain in its legislation why it seeks to stall, and perhaps ultimately torpedo, the NNSA move. Congressional aides similarly offered no additional details.

However, according to the Senate measure, no funds from the supplemental legislation -- nor from any earlier appropriations -- may be used to relocate gas transfer system design authority or research and development on tritium, pending the completion of an independent assessment.

That assessment would be a "technical mission review and cost analysis" of the gas transfer system decision. It would be part of a broader scrub the JASON scientific panel is expected to perform on "Complex Transformation," the NNSA initiative aimed at consolidating nuclear enterprise operations and facilities to achieve greater efficiency and cost savings.

The JASON council advises the U.S. government on science and technology issues. The panel typically performs most of its work during a "summer study" undertaken from July through November.

However, if the legislation becomes law, it is unclear whether there would be enough advance notice to add a new assignment on the gas transfer system to the group's upcoming summer study, which begins next month, sources said.

The independent report commissioned last year -- undertaken by a Los Alamos, N.M.-based consulting firm called TechSource -- cast doubt on any benefits to be gained from the proposed consolidation of tritium system design operations. However, NNSA leaders said this view was offset by other analyses supporting the shift in responsibility.

The House passed its own version of the supplemental bill May 14 without any language addressing the warhead component work.

Representatives of each chamber are expected to meet in a conference committee as early as tomorrow to iron out differences between their versions of the appropriations measure, according to Capitol Hill staffers.

Advance work being done this week by Senate and House aides to reconcile the two versions of the bill might result in any number of different outcomes for the gas transfer system provision. A conference bill could appear as early as tomorrow evening, staffers said.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration might itself opt to reconsider the NNSA decision in the course of its Nuclear Posture Review, a broad assessment of U.S. nuclear strategy and associated policies, operations and hardware. The review is ongoing and expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Though the gas transfer system design and tritium research and development constitute relatively small programs, there might be some interest in revisiting a controversial decision made during the final days of the Bush administration, according to nuclear weapon experts.

Given that TechSource found that gas transfer system work is "too important to NNSA and DOD operations and too successful to change without identifying substantive programmatic or economic benefits," a "JASONs review [of] the GTS decision could provide the additional data NNSA appears to need to rescind the action of the previous administration," said one nuclear policy expert who asked not to be identified.

NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera rejected such thinking, even as he left the door open to taking a new approach regarding the tritium responsibilities.

"It has nothing to do with reversing decisions or not reversing decisions," he said during the April interview. "It's that once the Nuclear Posture Review is done, we're going to be making the decisions about the requirements of the ... enterprise based on what the requirements of the president are."

The gas transfer move was also notable for being among the first specific actions the nuclear agency announced it would take to implement the Complex Transformation plan, leaving critics questioning why other initiatives that offer greater cost savings or lower risk might not be implemented first.

"A lot of the major infrastructure decisions that we'll be looking at, in essence, depend on the outcome of that Nuclear Posture Review," D'Agostino said.

"Today it's a done deal," he said, referring to the gas transfer system decision. "But can I predict that the NPR won't change that? No, I can't. Because we need to be flexible enough to adapt the program to where the country thinks it's going."

Jun 2, 2009

M&O Contractor Salary Increase Budget, Submission and Implementation

Department of Energy
National Nuclear Security Administration
Washington, DC 20585



SUBJECT: M&O Contractor Salary Increase Budget, Submission and Implementation

The purpose of this document is to change the cycle for contractor Compensation Increase Plan (CIP) submissions to October 1 and to delay resultant pay raises to allow consideration of the most recent annual Program Evaluation Plans (PEP) in pay programs.

The change to the CIP submission date from July 1st to October 1st is for two reasons: First, NNSA has approved employee performance incentive pay (bonus) plans at KCP and Y-12 and is expecting proposals shortly from LLNS and LANS. Also, SNL has a variable pay component tied to performance. These plans should provide pay to employees based on the contractors' performance against PEP measures and on individuals' performance. Since Contractors submit CIPs on July 1st each year and many distribute pay raises and bonuses to employees on October 1st, the cycle does not allow consideration of the contractors' PEP performance in setting pay. Second, a delay in submission will allow for use of more current salary survey results published in July to determine position to market. Starting in 2009, the contractors shall submit their salary increase requests for the fiscal year on October 1st and shall not provide pay increases/incentive payments to employees until the PEP evaluation is complete and is considered in employee performance evaluation and pay determinations, where appropriate for this year. For future employee performance cycles, contractors will be expected to develop a method to consider PEP evaluations in pay determination decisions for employees as appropriate. This will facilitate contractor focus on contract performance in executing pay programs.

DOE Order 350.1 and/or your site contract require NNSA approval of the Contractor's annual compensation increase plan (CIP). For FY 2009, NNSA approved salary increase budgets in July 2008 that ranged between 3.5% and 6.1%. However, more recent data indicates that most commercial companies, who are providing salary increases in 2009, have revised their salary increase budgets to between 2% and 3%. Additionally, a recent survey by Grant Thornton LLP shows that 65% of companies surveyed said that they will not give pay raises in 2009. Since our contractors have already distributed their 2009 increases they have likely gained ground in pay relative to their market competitors. Therefore any CIP request greater than 3% will be heavily scrutinized given the data available to date. Updated data will become available by August and should be incorporated into the contractor's FY2010 submissions. Contractors shall perform their usual market analysis to determine their CIP request. It is imperative that annual Compensation Increase Plans (CIPs) submitted for NNSA approval contain adequate, up-to-date information in order for NNSA to make informed decisions regarding expenditure of taxpayer money.

Contracting Officers are hereby requested to make appropriate contract changes to facilitate the October 1st submission date for CIPs with increase salary payment dates that allow PEP evaluation consideration in setting pay increase and bonus amounts for employees. Please direct questions to David Boyd, Director Office of Acquisition and Supply Management, at (202) 586-7554.

Cc: Site Office Contracting Officers
NNSA Service Center/OBS

How did it come to this?

By Ralph Damiani, The Los Alamos Monitor - Opinion

We have to admit, we were a bit confused – and surprised – by the filings notices of tort claims by the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos National Laboratory against Los Alamos County.

Why has this not been resolved already? What is the motive here?

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.

The fire drill reportedly 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 – according to the claim – a portion of the fire protection piping failed, causing damage to the parking structure.

Los Alamos National Security said it conducted an investigation and determined the failure of the fire protection piping was caused by the negligent “over pressurization” of the system by firefighters involved.

This is where we get lost. If there is a community that has a first-class fire department, it is Los Alamos. We have the best.

If they did indeed make a mistake – which would be rare – it seems to us that they would be the first to admit it and do what is right. The fact that this has reached this level indicates to us something else is going on.

Is there?

And the county would not run from a legitimate issue where it might have done something wrong. Max Baker and the county staff are way too honorable to hide from responsibility.

So what is going on?

County Attorney Mary McInerny confirmed the filing and said, “The notice is an administrative process to let the governmental entity know they may attempt to collect on a claim.”

But why this route? Is there so little communication between the county and the lab that a legal action is necessary?

We find it impossible to believe that if the county had been simply notified they would not have done the right thing if they were responsible.

We find it very disappointing – and upsetting – that a legal action was found to be necessary here.

Jun 1, 2009

Cuts May Kill LANL Accelerator

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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