Jul 29, 2009

Life After LANL

One of my ex-LANL colleagues, Ron Minnich was written up a couple of days ago in the New York Times, and, even more impressive: in Slashdot today.

Congratulations, Ron!


Click to Enlarge

Jul 26, 2009

Comment of the Week

When I first saw this comment on last week's Direct Line to Washington post, I thought to myself, "This is the COW!" After thinking about it for a split second or two longer, however, I realized there is really not all that much left to say about conditions at LANL which has not already been blurted out here, repeatedly. Further, having watched the trend in blog commentary since 2004, I've noticed a distinct degradation in the overall literacy of comment contributions, meaning that repeated poorly written complaints about conditions at LANL will only have an accumulative negative impact.

It should be noted that this "direct line to Washington" has been live since day one. Congressmen, Senators, DOE, NNSA, the news media, and all the involved corporate entities read the blog. They are familiar with all of the issues that are repeatedly discussed here. And yet the status remains quo. Therefore, by definition they collectively like things at LANL just the way they are. So, I still select this as comment of the week, but probably not for the reasons that the submitter had envisioned. Instead, I'd like to use this comment to illustrate that the "direct line to Washington" has had no effect whatsoever on how LANL is being managed. Nor will it, in all likelihood because those responsible for the new for-profit scheme for running LANL are quite happy with the result.

Our COW:

A *huge* thanks to PAD Rees for reminding us that we have this direct line to Washington available for our use. I suggest that we have a "Direct Line to Washington" message that our blog moderators select periodically and post To The Attention Of: Our DC Readership.

Perhaps this way we can raise the visibility of the damage that NNSA's "for-profit" national laboratory sell-off has caused.

Thanks for providing the germ of an excellent idea, Will! You are clearly a "big picture" person.

Another comment that just came in this morning deserves honorable mention:

Reading and writing from DC

Like much of this blog, these letters miss an essential point. It is not the guard force or the management that makes LANL such a sick institution. It's simply the billions of dollars of bad science that was enabled by Domenici, the misuse of secrecy and ineffective peer review. The evidence is clear and comes from an analysis of DOE Office of Science grants. These guys are competent and professional and they have given out the last of the Domenici monies. There is only a remnant of disgust now that the playing field has been leveled.

All LANL has to do now is re-enter the competition and somehow undo the effect of so many years of bad behavior.

I agree with our DC contributor that Dominici's paternal largess towards LANL over the years did indeed foster a LANL that was not required to be competitive. The money came in each year regardless. However, I disagree with his having downplayed the effects of ineffective management as a contributor to LANL's current state. Ineffective management will lead to an ineffective institution. Period. Mr. Reading and Writing from DC: your Kung Fu is not strong.


Jul 25, 2009

Los Alamos guard company laying off workers

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - A company that provides uniformed guards for Los Alamos National Laboratory, SOC Los Alamos, plans to cut up to 18 jobs.

The action is being taken because of a reduction in funding, according to a company e-mail forwarded to the Los Alamos Monitor by SOC Los Alamos general manager Ken Freeman.

SOC is encouraging workers to apply for a voluntary separation to minimize layoffs.

The reductions are expected to be completed by Sept. 30.

Jul 24, 2009

Accident victim dies after years in coma

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A tragic chapter for the community and particularly for Efren Martinez of Cordova, N.M. and his family came to a close this week. Martinez died Tuesday after 13 ½ years in a coma caused by a traumatic electrical accident while working for a construction contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Martinez’ brother-in-law Richard Pacheco, speaking for family, said, “This brings closure to the family. We did not want him to be forgotten.”

The accident occurred on Jan. 17, 1996. The father of two sons, he was 35 years old at the time, when a jackhammer he was using struck a 13,200 volt power line. According to Monitor reports from that time, Martinez was working in a basement at the former Plutonium Processing Facility on DP Road. He suffered massive electrical shock and went into cardiac arrest. He was treated by employees and emergency technicians who rushed to the site and was then taken to the intensive care unit at Los Alamos Medical Center. His heart was restarted, but he never woke up again.

During the years that followed, his case became symbolic of inadequate safety practices at Los Alamos. According to the Monitor summary, construction projects were halted for a lengthy period of time while reviews were conducted.

Subsequent laboratory statements acknowledged that Martinez was working on a job that had not been properly analyzed for health and safety hazards or adequately managed for the level of risk involved. Still later, Department of Energy occurrence reports surfaced detailing a series of mistakes that contributed to the injury.

“It was an accident waiting to happen,” Pacheco said, “It happened to be him.”

On June 23, 1998, the laboratory announced an “out-of-court” settlement had been reached in the case, that included a $13 million payment to the family, negotiated by celebrity trial lawyer Gary Spence.

“It was so many years ago, said Pacheco. “A lot of people lose track.”

The older son, Marcos is now 21 and Antonio is 17.

“The kids grew up without a father,” Pacheco said. “It’s been hard for them to see their father like that. They’re okay with it now. He died surrounded by friends and family till he took his last breath.”

During Martinez’ years in an unconscious state, he was cared for at the Sombrillo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Los Alamos.

“The family wants to thank the nurses and the staff at Sombrillo for their outstanding care during the saddest and lowest times for them,” he said. “We also want to thank friends, coworkers and all the trade union members who helped the family when this accident struck.”

[Download the 176 page Type A Accident Investigation Board Report here.]

Jul 20, 2009

New Order Message?

The newest AD for Environment, Safety and Health, is yet another Bechtilian. He and his predecessor Dick Watkins (Bechtilian) successfully lowered recordable injury and illness statistics NOT through the implementation of better safety programs, but by getting the message across to medical management that most injuries occurring at LANL are “not work related” and therefore do not enter into LANL injury illness statistics. (This message is counter to the directive of Federal regulations governing determination of which injuries/illnesses are work related and therefore enter into LANL statistics).

As a result of the “new order message” Occupational Medicine management makes convoluted analyses that the “the mechanism of the injury/ergonomic malady” was not related to the injury happening at work. So PRESTO, it’s not work related! And incidentally, it doesn’t “count” as an injury/illness in LANL statistics.

Cantwell may also have gotten “creative” when outlining his education after his Bachelors degree. The following comes from a press release on his promotion. He is supposedly working on a master’s degree through an online university called Walden. (One wonders whether it is related to the Walden School in Doonesbury, which was a “safety school “that anyone could get into…) Cantwell’s supposedly working an a masters in industrial and organizational psychology, but a call to the university 800 # and a review of their website does not list such a degree. Perhaps Cantwell is too busy now that he’s attained AD status to actually pursue the mythical degree…


In addition to helping the Lab fulfill its environmental stewardship role, Cantwell will lead the Lab's initiatives to protect the safety and health of its employees and that of residents of surrounding communities. Cantwell joined the Laboratory in 2006 and has led the Laboratory's Environment, Safety, and Health Integration Office, where he was responsible for integrated work management and safety improvement initiatives, such as the Voluntary Protection Program, Human Performance Improvement, and Behavior Based Safety programs. He also was in charge of Environment, Safety, and Health training and the Laboratory's Barrier Removal process.

Previously, Cantwell served at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as Quality Services Division director, and later as Safety Leadership Program director and Health and Safety Field Services group leader. From 1989 to 2000, Cantwell worked at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo as Environment, Safety and Health Support Services manager. Cantwell started his career as an industrial hygienist and bioenvironmental engineer with American Airlines.

Cantwell holds a bachelor's degree in environmental health from Colorado State University and is currently completing his master's degree in industrial and organizational psychology from Walden University. He is a board-certified industrial hygienist and safety professional.


I looked up Walden University on the web. If I'm looking at the correct university, they do have a master's program in Organizational Psychology and Development. Perhaps the name of the program has changed slightly, or the press release is just mistaken? I'm not sure because the web page says:
You can focus on a variety of areas, including
  • The evolution of the organization (dynamics of international and virtual organizations)
  • Talent management and development
  • Leadership and motivation through a consultative approach
  • Cross-cultural communication and collaboration
  • Organizational adaptability to positive social change within a global environment
That doesn't sound like the best fit for the associate director for Environment, Safety, Health & Quality.

By the way, could you forward a copy of the "new order message"?

Jul 18, 2009

Direct Line to Washington

This just in: In a fit of pique last week, PAD of Global Security (does anyone else consider that to be a pompous title?) William Rees declared that he was tired of there being a "direct line" to Washington which continued to allow "unfortunate" news tidbits to bypass the LANS PR folks before being released into the wild.

Rees declared that he was therefore "going to shut that blog down". It was not clear if Rees planned to do this before, or after he became the lab's next Director. We presume that he meant he planning to shut down this blog, but I suppose he could have been venting his spleen about John Fleck's Albuquerque Journal blog instead.

The outburst was apparently triggered by his ire at the news leakage of last week's
TA-35 events (acetone and nitric acid mixing experiment).

Well, there you have it: we're getting shut down. Or John is.

Now, let's move on to more important stuff: Comment of the Week. We had several topic areas which generated COW candidates. There was, of course, the great Purell debate, in which one faction was lobbying for LANS to install dispensers at the hand readers.

And then there was the recurring topic of having "for profit" contractors running our National labs. Also, the report on DOE's Secretary Chu possibly deciding to give DOE a "shock treatment" received a number of good comments. It is from this category that our COW was eventually selected. From the CHU MOVING TO OVERHAUL DOE MANAGEMENT, CONTRACTOR OVERSIGHT post, here is our winner of the LTRS Comment of the Week award. The author of this comment demonstrates a clear insight into the nature of DOE, and how DOE's ineffective bureaucracy cascades down to its contractors.

I think that Drs. Chu, Holdren and Koonin understand the symptoms at DOE, but they don't understand the problem. Bureaucracies are a lot like people: they grow old, incontinent, and feeble-minded. The only the difference is that bureaucracies are put on perpetual life support. Everyone's afraid to pull the plug because they don't want to "throw out the baby with the bathwater".

Unfortunately, at the DOE the baby drowned a long time ago. The problems exhibited at DOE are not of recent origin. I worked at LANL for close to 30 years and every year the bureaucracy was worse than the previous year. It was always more control from Washington, more paperwork, more unfunded mandates, and a more dysfunctional bureaucracy. Every year you could accomplish less and less.

The time has come to pull the plug. Let it die and transfer all of those DOE managers into some other agency. Then maybe you can start all over with a clean slate. Reorganizing is just tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You have to get rid of all of the employees and all of the rules.


Jul 11, 2009

Health Benefits

The UC, LLNS, LANS Mashup

Consider the current political situation. NNSA is in the fourth year of its plan to reconfigure the nuclear weapons complex. The plan is oriented toward retrenching and down sizing probably requiring closing one weapons lab. Since some of the weapons work is being consolidated at LANL but none at LLNL, it is clear which lab they will chose to close. The move of Anastasio to LANL and putting Miller in charge at LLNL was another indicator. Miller was the also ran in every selection of a new director during my time at LLNL. He is a prime choice to preside over the dismemberment of LLNL.

The NNSA reconfiguration plan was predicated on Congress approving the Reliable Replacement Warhead and scheduling 5-year upgrade cycles. Not only is that not going to happen, Obama has promised to quit paying for the unused weapons of the Cold War. Guess what weapons are on the top of the list. That leaves NNSA with no weapons programs to fund the weapons labs. The way the government works, it takes time to wind down large unneeded organizations. The NNSA reconfiguration plan is a good start at it. Without viable nuclear weapons programs, is not a question of if but when LANL will follow LLNL into oblivion.

We at LLNL are fighting to have responsibility for our retiree medical benefits moved back to the University of California. LLNS and NNSA never intended to assume responsibility for our medical benefits. Last August, I complained to UC’s top lawyer, Jeffery Blair, that UC was in breach of my employment contract. Soon thereafter, NNSA modified the LLNS contract to allow retroactive modification of the TCP1 medical insurance requirements. Then I got an email from an LLNS lawyer saying that she was replying for Jeffery Blair and that LLNS was doing a great job providing our medical benefits. That made me mad enough to do something about the situation.

I formed the University of California Livermore Retirees Group to put public, political and legal pressure on UC to resume their obligation for our benefits. Neither UC nor we are parties to the NNSA-LLNS contract so it doesn’t change our legal relationship. We are at the point of soliciting funds and hiring legal council to initiate a suit against UC.

Earlier this year I tried to contract LANL employees and convince them to join us. At that time nobody showed any interest. I believe it is time to ask LANL retirees again if they are interested in joining their LLNL counterparts. If so, now is the time to act. We have collected enough funds to get our legal situation analyzed. We are negotiating with a top national law firm, having the expertise and resources to handle UC. LANL retirees are in nearly the same position as we. They haven’t been severely impacted yet, but it looks like it will not be for long. Remember that LLNS and LANS are LLCs so when they disappear, so do all their liabilities, including retiree medical benefits.

It would be a shame if we have the facts to prevail but lack the funds to pursue our case. We need more recruits to help us. If you would like to find out more about us, type llnlretiree.com into the navigation bar of your web browser or email llnlretiree@comcast.net.

- Joe Requa


Todd Jacobson, Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor

Preparing to make his first significant stab at streamlining the inner workings of the Department of Energy, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has initiated a far-ranging effort to examine the way DOE conducts business as a precursor to potential drastic changes, WC Monitor has learned. In the midst of a series of white papers, discussions and briefings, Chu is considering everything from a broad reorganization of the Department's management and regulatory structure to redefining the relationship between the Department and its contractors. Chu, as the former head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has experienced first hand a compliance-driven culture that one white paper obtained by WC Monitor described as emphasizing "compliance over performance, prescription over accountability, and more over better," and has indicated internally that he wants to make serious changes. "Steve has signaled quite strongly that he wants to change a lot of things," one official close to the discussions told WC Monitor. "He's talked to the contractors, and he's talked to the lab directors about it. There are definitely people inside Forrestal [DOE headquarters] working on this reform agenda."

When it comes to the organization of the Department itself, Chu is reportedly considering a number of options, such as rebranding DOE as the Department of Energy and Climate, making NNSA more autonomous, and splitting the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy into two separate offices, according to officials. On the management side, emphasis is being placed on truly achieving DOE's long-held goal of performance-based contracting through streamlining Department orders and changing the contractor oversight model. Chu, however, has not named anyone to head up the effort. "The real question is which areas do you want to tackle and what kind of authority is given to the person in charge of making it happen," the official said.

"The big test is whether somebody is going to be given the charge to go do this or is it just going to be a bunch of happy talk." The effort would likely be driven through Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman, but Poneman lacks a management background and efforts to hire a "deputy to the deputy" for management that might assume a leadership role on changes to the Department have stalled, the official said.

'Shock to the System' Needed

Attempts to reform the Department of Energy are nothing new, but Chu's experience as a former laboratory director has given some credence to his push for change. The idea has wide support among the contracting community, which has faced increasing hurdles in performing work under what some have said is a heavy burden of DOE rules and regulations.

According to the white paper that has circulated around the Department focusing on culture change between DOE and its national laboratories, "A significant shock to the system is needed to force change in the behavior of both the Department and our contractors."

Lawmakers attempted to strip the bureaucracy from the nation's weapons and nonproliferation programs when the National Nuclear Security Administration was created as a semi-autonomous agency within DOE in 1999. However, the Department's continued oversight of the agency sparked a recent push to reconsider the role of NNSA within the Department, including a study initiated by the White House Office of Management and Budget into whether NNSA might be better served as a part of the Department of Defense or as a completely autonomous agency. The problems that face NNSA contractors are emblematic of issues facing contractors across the Department, and the white paper criticizes the current relationship between the Department and its contractors. What was designed to be a relationship in which DOE specified the goals and requirements and contractors focused on meeting the mission with best business practices has "eroded to the point of invisibility" and "the current nature of the relationship between DOE and its laboratories is far from productive," the white paper says. "In fact, it is now reinforcing unproductive behavior by both DOE and the contractors."

Balancing 'Risk and Process'

Reflecting the Administration's interest in changing the culture at DOE, Under Secretary for Science Steve Koonin criticized the way DOE conducts its business in comments to the Energy Facility Contractors Group late last month.

"I am astounded, both from my business background and then more extensive university background, how the system does or does not do its business. There's a need to make things more transparent [and a] need to speed things up, not only the contractors, but inside the Department itself," he said, adding, "I think overall the Department has become overly conservative in the way it does its business.

We need to get to a reasonable balance between risk and process."

Indeed, the white paper delivers a scathing critique of the Department's management culture, describing it as risk averse and more focused on compliance with regulations than on achieving contractor performance.

The culture has evolved over many years, the white paper says, driven by a combination of contractor missteps, Congressional criticism, internal and external audits and guidance from the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board. "In this environment, DOE staff organizations expanded to fill the void and buttress the 'no risk' approach, each time responding to the crisis of the moment with a 'fix' that entailed the layering of additional process and oversight on the contractors," the white paper says This is most evident, the paper says, in the area of safety, where the compliance-driven culture has wreaked the most havoc on the ability of contractors to meet mission requirements.

"The Department and its contractors now find themselves entombed under the weight of innumerable pages of orders, manuals, guides, requirements, processes, etc. that are confusing, conflicting and duplicative," the white paper says. "Thus has the Department evolved into a true bureaucracy with a culture that operates under the presumption that the continual addition of new requirements and more layers of oversight on its contractors are acceptable and good practices."

External or Self-Regulation the Answer?

The white paper suggests shifting to an approach that minimizes the amount of requirements imposed on contractors and focusing on performance outcomes and results while holding contractors responsible for achieving those outcomes. It also suggests that an "appropriate" level of risk should be adopted by finding a way to "institutionalize and defend an appropriate amount of risk-taking in the way the Department does business." That will likely involve "holding the line" against outsideoverseers such as the DNFSB. Over the past several years, DOE has worked to push back against the idea that the board, which does not have a formal regulatory role over the Department, has a "veto" authority over DOE actions. In a 2007 memorandum, then-Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell directed that DOE staff would no longer be required to coordinate with Board staff prior to submitting correspondence, a move described at the time as working to ensure that DOE line managers were responsible for safety at Department sites and that the Board served in an oversight function.

External regulation has been suggested as way to simplify DOE's system of regulation and streamline operations- perhaps through the Operational Safety and Health Agency and/or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission-but that option presents its own set of hurdles and challenges, and Chu likely will move to refine the DOE order system instead. The white paper suggests significantly cutting down the documents governing M&O contractors, leaving the Worker Health and Safety Rule (10 CFR 851) and the Quality Assurance Rule (10 CFR 830, Subpart A) to govern the Department's expectations of contractors.

The paper also suggests a "brutal review" of "other relevant requirements documents" like DOE manuals, orders, guides, notices, standards or handbooks, doing away with strict compliance as a benchmark for contractor success and eliminating the system of penalties that hold contractors accountable for compliance failures. It would be replaced with a system that would require contractors to achieve third-party certifications for management systems and would focus accountability and enforcement on maintaining those certifications and meeting mission requirements. "The way the system works it prescribes not only what we are supposed to be doing but also how we're doing it," an industry official said. "Let's go back to the GOCO [government-owned, contractor-operated] model where the government describes the mission, tells the contractors what it wants done, and the contractors bring best business practices in terms of how to achieve those outcomes. That's a fundamentally good model. We have drifted substantially in the last three decades from that model."

Audit Smokes Out Lax Fire Protection at U.S. Nuclear Weapons Lab

Fewer than half of the fire prevention shortcomings examined at the Los Alamos National Laboratory had been fixed after previous evaluation, an Energy Department audit reports

By Katherine Harmon, ScientificAmerican.com

A recent audit of fire prevention measures has scorched the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the facility that created the atomic bomb during World War II and is now the home of top-level national security and radioactive material research.

The report [pdf] by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) inspector general reveals that the lab had failed to address problems pointed out three years ago in an evaluation that found at least 800 fire prevention "deficiencies". The most recent audit, conducted between December 2007 and April 2009, revealed that fewer than half of the 296 audited issues had been fixed.

The subject of fires in the area is especially sensitive after a 2000 blaze charred 43,000 acres (17,400 hectares) that included 7,700 acres (3,100 hectares) of lab property.

"Safeguarding against fires, regardless of origin, is essential to protecting employees, surrounding communities, and national security assets," wrote DoE Inspector General Gregory Friedman.

"If such a fire did occur and was not quickly suppressed," the report authors noted, "there could be a risk that hazardous or radiological material could be released." The authors assert, however, that such a release wouldn't entail "nuclear safety issues.”

A sampling of problems the audit pinpointed include: a request to replace an "unreliable" fire alarm panel in a processed plutonium facility had not been fulfilled; a kitchen hood fire suppression system, required to be tested semiannually, had not been tested in four years; and facility operators did not always have money and time earmarked for fixing outstanding issues.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the contracts for operating the facilities, disagreed with some of the audit's conclusions and attributed any negligence to managerial "weakness" of the lab's former operator, the University of California, which had crossed 32 problems off the list despite not having rectified them. The current contract operator, Los Alamos National Security (a partnership among Bechtel Corp., Babcock & Wilcox's BWX Technologies, the University of California, and the URS Corp.'s Washington Group International), took over after the 2006 evaluation and is in charge of making sure that fire safety standards are followed. The NNSA declined to comment.

In the meantime, the lab has earmarked $4 million to help resolve any lingering problems, and in February it launched a new Fire Protection Division "to help prioritize and identify these issues—and get to work on them," says Los Alamos spokesperson Kevin Roark.

"We believe we've made considerable progress," Roark adds. Among the improvements, he notes, is the replacement of thousands of outdated sprinkler heads.

The $5.9-billion laboratory consists of some 1,800 buildings and sits on 25,600 acres (10,350 hectares) of arid New Mexico land, 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the state capital, Santa Fe.

Jul 10, 2009

Comment of the Week

There will not be a COW award again this week. Instead of reading LTRS comments for the past 11 days, I was otherwise engaged.


Spill at LANL Waste Plant

Frank's laptop died this morning, and so he asked me to post for him this John Fleck news article from yesterday's Albuquerque Journal.


By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer

A 40-year-old plant at Los Alamos National Laboratory that treats liquid radioactive waste had another leak last month as some members of Congress are balking at the rising costs of the plant's replacement.

The leak happened when a plastic connector cracked, spilling 500 gallons of contaminated water onto the floor inside one of the plant's buildings, according to a report from federal nuclear safety officials. The water flowed into a sump inside the building, and none of it escaped, according to the report.

The incident highlights the increasingly fragile nature of the aging plant. In a report to Congress earlier this year, the National Nuclear Security Administration said the portions of the plant's waste treatment systems “are over 40 years old and their reliability is significantly diminishing.”
But a key House committee this week eliminated funding for major upgrades, complaining about “significant cost overruns” for the project.

The June incident is the second time in the last year that a similar plastic part cracked, causing a leak, according to a report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a federal body that provides independent oversight at Los Alamos and other nuclear weapon sites.

The Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, located in the lab's Technical Area 50, came on line in 1963.

The plant, connected by a network of piping to 63 buildings at Los Alamos, treats water contaminated with radioactive materials as a result of work on nuclear weapons and other projects at Los Alamos.

Los Alamos spokesman Kevin Roark acknowledged that the plant “does not comply with current codes and standards,” including seismic, building and electrical codes.

The Safety Board has argued that problems at the waste treatment plant threaten the lab's ability to carry out work with radioactive plutonium done at Los Alamos to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons, because continued breakdowns would leave no way to deal with the radioactive waste the work creates.

Roark said the spill was cleaned up within days and did not interrupt operations at the plant.
In 2006, the National Nuclear Security Administration estimated the cost for waste management upgrades at $80 million to $100 million, but a budget report sent to Congress this year said it was likely to rise.

The House Appropriations Committee voted this week to cut all funding for the project, with committee members saying they are “concerned with the significant cost overruns” on the project and want to delay spending until design issues can be resolved.

Roark declined comment on the House committee's vote to cut funding for the project. “It is much too early in the appropriations process to assess potential future impacts,” he said.

Jul 9, 2009

Budget Soup

The Senate Committee on Armed Services National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 is now available online here. It's 350 pages and I haven't read it all, but here are some highlights:
Readiness in the technical base

The committee recommends $1.7 billion for readiness in the technical base, an increase of $10.0 million above the budget request. This account funds facilities and infrastructure in the nuclear weapons complex and includes construction funding for new facilities.

The committee recommends a decrease of $20.0 million in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Facility Replacement project (CMRR), Project 04–D–125, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a result of uncertainty in the design of the CMRR. The committee notes that the certification required to be made by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB) and the National Nuclear Security Administration has not been made. The committee continues to believe that replacing the existing facility is essential but the CMRR has significant unresolved issues including the appropriate size of the facility. Some of these decisions will not be made until the Nuclear Posture Review is completed at the end of the year. The CMRR is one of two projects that the DNFSB has identified as having significant unresolved safety issues. These issues are associated with the project’s safety-related systems. Until such time as the safety basis documents are completed, the outstanding issues cannot be resolved. CMRR will be a category I facility supporting pit operations in building PF–4 and has a preliminary cost estimate of $2.6 billion. As stated last year the committee continues to support reconstitution of the pit manufacturing capability in PF–4 but urges that all safety issues with CMRR be resolved as soon as possible. If there is any change in the planned mission at CMRR, the committee directs the Secretary of Energy to notify the congressional defense committees.

The committee recommends an increase of $30.0 million for the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) refurbishment, Project 09–D–007. The LANSCE is the only machine capable of performing nuclear cross section measurements of weapons materials to support the resolution of significant findings investigations. LANSE refurbishment would also further enhance the ability of the NNSA to perform surveillance on the stockpile.
Subtitle C—Other Matters
Ten-year plan for utilization and funding of certain Department of Energy facilities (sec. 3131)

The committee recommends a provision that would direct the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Under Secretary of Science (USS) at the Department of Energy to jointly develop a plan to use and fund, over a 10-year period, the National Ignition Facility at the Livermore National Laboratory, the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the ‘‘Z’’ Machine at the Sandia National Laboratory. The committee notes that these three facilities are primarily funded and maintained by NNSA, but each of these has significant contributions to the science and energy research communities. The committee believes that the NNSA Administrator and the USS should explore how these unique facilities could be used and supported collaboratively to ensure that the capabilities of the facilities are fully utilized.

Review of management and operation of certain national laboratories (sec. 3132)

The committee recommends a provision that would direct the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, to appoint an independent panel of experts to conduct a review of the management and operation of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Sandia National Laboratory.

The committee notes that several recent studies have focused on the organizational location of the three labs but not on their actual management and operations. The committee believes that the labs should remain under the Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, but believes that a review of the lab operations is timely.

Inclusion in 2010 stockpile stewardship plan of certain information relating to stockpile stewardship criteria (sec. 3133)

The committee recommends a provision that would direct the Secretary of Energy to include, in the annual stockpile stewardship plan for fiscal year 2010, an update on the stewardship criteria used to assess the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. The last update of the criteria was completed in 2005. The 2010 plan would also include a review of each science-based tool, such as experimental facilities, developed or modified in the last 5 years.

The committee believes that as the stockpile ages and the total number of nuclear weapons in the stockpile decreases, the Department of Energy should articulate clear stewardship program going forward.

Reminder -Entrepreneurial Postdoc Fellow Appointment

This announcement went out to about a dozen LANL TSM's earlier this week. In the interest of ensuring a robust competition to select the very highest-quality postdocs for this new fellowship, I wanted to bring it to the attention of the wider community.

From: postdocprogram@lanl.gov
Mon, 06 Jul 2009 14:47:02 -0600
Subject: Reminder -Entrepreneurial Postdoc Fellow Appointment

This is a reminder that the deadline to submit a candidate package for the Entrepreneurial Postdoc Fellow appointment is July 21st! We hope to receive a number of submissions!

Thank you!


Good afternoon!

Thank you for your interest in the development of a new Postdoctoral Fellow opportunity, the Entrepreneurial Postdoc Fellow. Many of you attended one of the two informational sessions offered and for those who attended, you were extremely helpful in providing input and suggestions which we have incorporated into our launch materials.

Sponsored by the Postdoc Program Office in coordination with the Technology Transfer (TT) Division, this new postdoc category will provide the opportunity to collaborate with LANL scientists and engineers who are performing research in areas that have strong potential for commercial applications. Special emphasis will be given to projects which could create a new business start-up in Northern New Mexico.

In addition to conducting research with their identified LANL technical PI/mentor, recipients of these fellow appointments will interact with Technology Transfer (TT) Division staff on a regular basis. TT staff and partners will provide the unique training and hands-on experience in complementary components of the selected postdoc’s research regarding the technology commercialization process.

Appointments will be for two years, with the possibility of a third year extension. Current Laboratory postdocs who have been at the Laboratory two years or less are eligible to apply for this opportunity. A complete description of the program is attached.

We are pleased to announce the launch of a pilot of this program, and will be accepting applications for this fellowship opportunity during the August review cycle, with packages due to the Postdoc Office no later than July 21, 2009. As stated in the info sessions, the application package will include all of the information required for all postdoctoral appointment categories with the addition of a memo highlighting the qualifications of the candidate for this particular fellowship. The following is the documentation required:
  • Candidate Summary Form - all packages must be clearly marked as a EPD
  • submission
  • Nomination Memo
  • Additional Memo highlighting qualifications for the Entrepreneurial
  • Postdoc Fellow appointment
  • Research Proposal
  • Three Letters of Recommendations
  • CV
  • Citation Information
  • Transcripts
If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact either of us.

Thank you!

Mary Anne With, Postdoc Program Office
Belinda Padilla, Technology Transfer Division

Jul 8, 2009

Job Cuts at Northern NM’s largest Employer? (Updated)

The Santa Fe Reporter

If there’s any truth to this anonymous tip posted on Frank Young’s feisty LANL blog, northern New Mexico stands to lose hundreds more well-paying jobs.

I’ve got an email out to a media rep at the Lab and will update this post when I get a response.

Updated July 7: LANL spokesman Jeff Berger told SFR yesterday afternoon that the rumor is false. “We do not have plans for layoffs,” Berger says.



What about going forward?

“If the budget necessitates layoffs, we would go there,” Berger says. “But we’ve anticipated and experienced in recent years relatively flat budgets. That’s what we continue to anticipate.”

Jul 7, 2009

Recent issue with herbal tea bought in Peru

Date: Wed, 01 Jul 2009 08:25:54-0600
To: p-all@lanl.gov
From: R. Douglas Fulton

Subject: Recent issue with herbal tea bought in Peru


A P-Division employee recently returned from a trip to South America. At the conclusion of that trip some herbal tea was purchased in the duty free shop at the airport in Peru. The tea was made available for general consumption at the employee's workplace and at least one employee did consume the tea. That employee was chosen for a random drug test the next day and tested positive for cocaine metabolites.

The label on the tea stated that it contained Coca leaves and after laboratory testing, the tea was determined to contain cocaine in sufficient amounts to result in a positive test after consumption. A consultation between Occupational Medicine, Legal, Security, HR, and line management resulted in a determination that the employee could return to work with no disciplinary consequences.

If anyone is aware of the existence of this tea - or any other suspect substance - at work or at home, I recommend the following actions:
  • under no circumstances should you consume this tea or any other foods or beverages of unknown or suspect origin,
  • if you have this tea at home, dispose of it immediately,
  • if you are aware of the existence of this tea at work, collect all of it, notify line management, and transport it to Occupational Medicine (Dr. Sandra Scher is a good contact, 5-2647) for testing and disposal,
  • and finally, if you have consumed this tea, self report to your line management who can then arrange to accompany you to Occupational Medicine. Occupational Medicine will determine if a drug test is needed.
The policy that deals with these issues is P732 which can be found at


I'll be available to answer any follow up questions that you have. Myunderstanding is that LANL is crafting a message to the entire Lab to warn people of the dangers associated with inadvertent exposures to drugs. In general, we should all know that while various food and drinks may be completely legal in other countries, if their consumption results in a positive drug test, their legality elsewhere is unlikely to be a mitigating factor. In short, be careful as to what you eat or


R. Douglas Fulton, Ph.D.
Division Leader
Physics Division
Mail Stop F621
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, NM 87544
Phone: 505-667-2652
Fax: 505-665-3644

Jul 6, 2009

Be Forewarned

Please post the following.

Most of us don't know when the axe will fall, but we have the ability to reduce the damage to ourselves. The following article by Tom Jacobs while sobering, can be taken as being forewarned to what could befall us.

Getting Laid-Off May Lead to Early Death -- But There Are Ways to Cushion the Severe Health Impact of Job Loss

By Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune.com. Posted July 1, 2009.

Studies show that the current economic climate may be eroding months or even years from the lives of those on the bleeding edge of insecurity.

When you lose your job, with no prospect of finding another one quickly, you give up a lot more than income. You are deprived of a sense of security, a source of self-esteem, a certain status in the community. And, according to recent research, you also lose something even more precious: a year or more of your life.

That's the conclusion of two prominent economists, Daniel Sullivan of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Till von Wachter of Columbia University. Matching death records with employment and earnings data of Pennsylvania workers from the 1970s and '80s, they found mortality rates for high-seniority male workers spike sharply in the year following an involuntary job loss, and they remain surprisingly high two decades later.

If this higher death rate persists into old age, it implies "a loss in life expectancy of 1 to 1.5 years for a worker displaced at age 40," the researchers report. Or as von Wachter puts it more informally: "We were convincingly able to show that if you lose your job, you die earlier."

But the risk of premature death isn't limited to those who have actually been let go. A growing body of research suggests a nagging, persistent fear of losing one's job is also detrimental to one's health. University of Michigan sociologist Sarah Burgard, who has extensively studied the relationship between job loss, job insecurity and health, calls this "the waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop problem." Given the current state of the economy, many people are anxiously awaiting the thud of that falling footwear.

In recent months, official Washington has been consumed by two issues: jobs and the economy, and the cost and availability of health care. But there has been surprisingly little discussion regarding the ways in which they intersect. A series of recent studies not only provide evidence these public-policy problems are interrelated: They also suggest that if, as many fear, long-term job security is largely a thing of the past, the public health consequences could be enormous.


[Read the full article here.]

Jul 2, 2009


Anonymous please. HR groups are cutting people. Word is by 3% to 5%. People are being moved out to other operations, and away from the core areas.

Jul 1, 2009

Nuke Budgets Have a Way of Growing

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Maintaining old Cold War nukes has proven to be an expensive proposition.

They're fiddly, highly optimized feats of human engineering designed to pack the largest, deadliest wallop into the smallest possible package.

Taking care of them as they sit waiting to get the call does not come cheap.

So an idea hatched four years ago seemed to make a certain amount of sense.

Why not replace these Ferrari-like machines (weapons designers love their auto metaphors) with something more akin to a Volkswagen bug — less powerful, but much cheaper to build and maintain? With the Cold War over, federal officials reasoned, the need for massive blasts from the old Ferraris was gone.

Savings in maintaining fewer old Ferraris could make up for the cost of building the new VWs, they argued in trying to sell the program to Congress.

But while that public push was on, there were private fears that the cost-saving argument was being oversold, according to documents obtained by the Journal under the Freedom of Information Act.

The formerly classified documents, released earlier this month, date to 2005. Such is the effectiveness of the federal law that receiving a FOIA response in the mail is more likely to trigger a history exercise than inform a current public policy debate.

In this case, the Reliable Replacement Warhead is dead, pushed to near extinction by Congress and then killed off by the Obama administration. But the history exercise is nevertheless useful, offering yet another example of the trajectory that spending on U.S. nuclear weapons work often follows.

The documents outline discussions among members of the Reliable Replacement Warhead Project Officers Group, a task force of military officers, nuclear weapons designers and others.

Minutes of the group's first meeting, on May 11, 2005, note that someone (the name is deleted) "expressed some concerns that NNSA is building unreasonable expectations in Congress that RRW will result in large, near-term budget savings for stockpile management and support."

The issue resurfaced at the Project Officers Group's second meeting a month later. An unnamed group member (the name again is deleted) warns against selling the program on the basis of short-term savings.

The program had barely begun. Funding in 2005, its first year in existence, was just $8.9 million, a barely noticeable blip in the federal spending that surrounds U.S. nuclear weapons.

It was clear from the start that that was not enough. "The present budget is a constraint when spread across the list of deliverables," an unnamed Los Alamos National Laboratory official wrote in a briefing delivered at the May 11 meeting.

Not to worry.

If you've been around the U.S. nuclear weapons program for any significant period of time, you know where this is headed.

In 2005, as the meetings were being held, the NNSA's estimated budget for the first five years of work on the new VW bug-like warhead was $77 million. Within two years, that had more than tripled, to $249 million.

Reduced costs in maintaining old weapons would be sufficient to pay for the new spending, the NNSA told Congress in spring 2007.

Congress said no to the new warhead in 2007. The Bush administration tried to revive it, but the Obama administration's nuclear weapons team seems bent on killing it for good.

That might make this whole discussion seem like an academic history exercise, were it not for the nuclear weapons program's long-standing tradition of programs that come in vastly over budget.

The National Ignition Facility, a laser fusion machine built for nuclear weapons research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, came with a $1 billion price tag when the project was begun in 1996. Its final price, if you count all its bells and whistles, is in the neighborhood of $5 billion.

At Los Alamos, the Dual-Axis Radiographic Test Facility came with a $30 million price tag when the project was launched in 1988. The machine, built to take three-dimensional X-rays of nuclear weapon parts, was redesigned in midstream, and its final cost grew to more than $300 million. It doesn't work yet.

That's history, but it is not irrelevant. Today, federal officials are considering building a new plutonium lab at Los Alamos. When the project was proposed in 2004, the price tag was estimated at $500 million. The latest estimate, with construction not yet under way, is $2 billion.

UpFront is a daily front-page opinion column. You can reach John at 823-3916 or jfleck@ abqjournal.com. John also blogs on weather, science and other things at ABQjournal.com.

LANL Winding Down Search for Health Records

Associated Press

LOS ALAMOS — Los Alamos National Laboratory is winding down a decades-long project to find historical records dealing with chemical and radioactive releases from the lab and health-related issues.

The issue of releases from Los Alamos has long been an important one to people around the facility, where scientists have researched and developed nuclear projects dating back to World War II. The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project was an attempt to review the lab's historical operations and identify documents that shed light on releases of chemicals and radioactivity since 1943.

The project director, Tom Widener of ChemRisk Inc., told a public meeting in Pojoaque last week that the documents don't provide a reconstruction of detailed radioactive doses.

"What we have done is a long way from a detailed dose reconstruction, but we were hoping to direct resources and attention to those things that warrant a closer look," he said.

A draft report expresses confidence there's enough information to reconstruct public exposures from the most significant releases, which would allow health professionals to judge if significant impacts on health should be expected.

However, the report acknowledges some documents may never be found because they have been lost or destroyed, and said others will never be read because they are not legible. It also said many participants are no longer alive.

Some people have called for the project to be extended, but Charles Miller, a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there's no budget for additional work. The CDC sponsored the project.

Lab managers said they are taking the study seriously.

"We're in the process of carefully reviewing the draft final report and will submit a technical response during the 30-day comment period," Los Alamos officials said in a prepared statement. "We will also request an independent peer review by the National Academy of Sciences."

A letter from Tennessee State University public health researcher Ken Silver, who has studied releases from the lab, and others contend the draft report has shortcomings, including no response to a document about a 1969 incident "in which levels of radiation went sky-high" in a hot cell at a lab facility.

"Monitoring reports I obtained in 1996 under the Freedom of Information Act had the handwritten notation, 'These figures should not be recorded on yearly reports,"' Silver wrote. He said the project accepted the official position that the lab facility room specified was not in use at the time.

Project leaders also named a panel of experts to participate in a final review of the draft. The review will decide what future steps are taken and what specific issues, if any, are examined more closely.