Saturday, March 31, 2007


Bingaman to speak at LANL, Monday 2 April

Senator Jeff Bingaman will speak about the future of science and national security at Los Alamos in the NSSB Auditorium, at 10:15 am, Monday 2 April. Some grist for the Q&A mill from some earlier posts:


FROM: Brad Lee Holian
SUBJECT: Reliable Replacement Warhead decision
DATE: 5 March 2007
TO: Senator Jeff Bingaman
United States Senate
Washington, DC

Dear Senator Bingaman:

It is with considerable urgency that I write to you about the recent decision regarding the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) that was handed down on March 2, 2007, by the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy. In that decision, the design put forward by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was chosen over the one from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Paramount among the myriad problems that privatization has caused LANL is this matter of the RRW and its impact upon the nation’s nuclear security; so let me focus on that issue alone.

I believe that there are several significant concerns about weaknesses in the Livermore design that ought to be addressed in Senate hearings. In order to help you sort out some of these issues, I believe that your committee would be well advised to subpoena two witnesses from Los Alamos to testify: Joe Martz, the RRW team leader, and John Pedicini, the principal designer. (By subpoenaing them, you can protect them from potential reprisals.)

The issues that these two LANL gentlemen can address before your committee are as follows:

(1) Contrary to misstatements by NNSA’s chief, Tom D’Agostino, the Livermore design is not more “conservative” than Los Alamos’s. In order that the RRW satisfy the security and safety requirements of the Navy, both designs that were submitted were equally far from any Cold War nuclear warhead that was tested before the moratorium imposed by the first President Bush in 1992.

(2) Unlike the LANL design, the LLNL design does not meet the Navy’s security and safety requirements, that is, safety from accidental detonation (including from a nearby explosion), whether deliberate or accidental, under all imaginable transportation, terrorist, or wartime scenarios.

(3) The process by which the RRW design was chosen was deeply flawed, since the members of the committee (five from the military and two from NNSA) that performed hours of in-depth technical reviews over 18 months, voted overwhelmingly for the LANL design. Since the RRW is intended for placement aboard submarines, which carry by far the largest number of nuclear weapons in the arsenal, the Navy’s wishes ought to have been paramount, but they were overruled by NNSA’s political, rather than technical considerations.

(4) LANL’s new design, while not tested in its entirety in an underground explosion at the Nevada Test Site, is far from being “untested.” In fact, a number of experiments were performed on various facets of the design, including a non-nuclear implosion, diagnosed by radiography. Both the LANL and LLNL teams carried out independent computer simulations of each other’s RRW designs. Los Alamos’s computer simulations correctly predicted the marginal behavior of the Livermore design, and the successful behavior of their own; Livermore’s simulations erroneously predicted the “failure” of the Los Alamos design. On the other hand, the LANL team’s calculation of the implosion experiment, carried out prior to the actual experiment, correctly predicted the results, while the LLNL team’s calculation did not. This calls into question not only the capabilities of the Livermore designers, but the computational tools they use.

As a result of this troubling set of observations about the RRW competition between Los Alamos and Livermore, it would be appropriate and wise to receive sworn testimony from Joe Martz and John Pedicini. It would also be useful to subpoena the members of the Project Officers’ Group (POG), the only decision-making body that oversaw all technical aspects of the RRW competition, to ascertain under oath how they voted.

The ultimate goal of reducing the world’s nuclear arsenals cannot be accomplished without a reliable deterrent—both physical and intellectual—and I believe that the Los Alamos design (and the team that created it) is the only way to achieve that highly desirable end.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter of utmost importance to national security.


—Brad Lee Holian
Santa Fe, NM

[Disclaimer: I am an employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory, but I speak to you as a concerned American citizen. The opinions I’ve expressed in this letter do not reflect those of the management of LANL (LANS, LLC), nor of NNSA or DOE.]

The response from Bingaman (dated March 16, 2007):


Dear Mr. Holian :

Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) recent selection of a design by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).

Following the award announcement, my staff traveled to NNSA headquarters for a detailed briefing on the Livermore design and why it was selected. While classification issues prevent me from commenting on the specifics of the selected proposal, it is my understanding that the Livermore design was believed to offer scientists a greater degree of certainty without additional testing. With this said, I have forwarded your letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee with the request that they consider the issues you've raised during their oversight hearing with the NNSA. Additionally, I plan to meet with members of the Armed Services Committee following that hearing to ensure that they are comfortable with the overall selection process. Please be assured that I have followed the development of the RRW project very carefully; I will do what I can to ensure that the recent award to LLNL does not negatively impact the morale or quality of science at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Again, thank you for writing. Please continue to keep me informed regarding matters of importance to you and your community.


United States Senator


Based on the NM Congressional Delegation's response to Holian's letter, let me make the following prognostications:

* The weapons program at LANL will go into a steep decline (funding and morale), followed in due course by a decline in other, more basic research efforts at LANL. The LANL Pit Factory (Rocky Flats South) will remain, but only for a couple of years, before it, too, will slowly wither away.
* LLNL will be the "intellectual" center of the DOE weapons complex for the future, but not for long: that "future" will also begin to decline, since LLNL is behind LANL by two years in the inexorable (irreversible) mad rush to privatization.
* The RRW will never be built, but it will be funded -- for only about two more years.

The Cold War has ended; the Manhattan Project has faded from memory.
The handwriting is on the wall; you see it before you.

--Pat, the Dog

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