Saturday, March 03, 2007
LANL Named "Miss Congeniality"
ROGER SNODGRASS Los Alamos Monitor Assistant Editor
The National Nuclear Security Administration named the winning design team for the Reliable Replacement Warhead Friday morning and it was not Los Alamos.
Acting NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino told reporters that the "very robust test pedigree" of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory blueprint provided the winning margin.
The competition was to find a better substitute for the W-76 warhead used on submarinelaunched ballistic missiles.
NNSA acknowledged that both designs met all the requirements, but D'Agostino emphasized that there was a higher degree of confidence that the Livermore design could be certified without underground testing, and that gave them the edge. He called it "the most conservative approach."
D'Agostino said some of the highly innovative features developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory will continue to be developed in parallel with the effort at Livermore and may even be introduced into the RRW design as it progresses.
Glenn Mara, the head of the weapons program at LANL, greeted the news with some relief.
"There is excitement that we are moving forward in this next phase," he said in a post-announcement press conference. "The deliberations have taken longer than anyone expected."
He said LANL would continue to play a key role, not only in developing some of its innovative designs, but also because of its exclusive capacity to make the plutonium pits that any replacement warhead will need as the primary trigger.
The runner-up will also be among the first to provide peer reviews for the California plan as it develops.
Mara said about 200 people at LANL had been involved in one way or another with the two-year effort, but he saw no major shifts or changes at LANL.
"There always are minor shifts that are easily accommodated within the program," he said.
In hindsight, some might speculate that LANL's attempt to take a more innovative approach in the contest could have been a handicap.
When questioned by a congressional analyst last September, the LLNL team responded that "all components in their design" or components "very similar" to their design "have been nuclear tested."
They continued, "For example, the primary uses a tested design with a modest and very well understood modification of the pit to provide added margin. Thus there is direct nuclear test proof that the (California RRW) design will perform properly."
They said the California design drew on over 100 other nuclear tests to assure confidence in materials, components and features.
Further, they told Jonathan Medalia, who was preparing the first of two Congressional Research Service reports, that LLNL "made basic design choices that ease certification without testing."
In subtle but revealing contrast, LANL said they "began with an exhaustive evaluation and statistical analysis of nuclear test data that led to design choices made to improve the margin ... for performance parameters dramatically while avoiding known failure modes."
While the LANL design may be more "reliable," Livermore clearly succeeded in establishing that its design was better "tested."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman expressed additional consolation for the runners-up.
"Notwithstanding this decision, LANL clearly is home to some of the best scientists in the world and will continue to play a major role in ensuring we have a safe, reliable and secure stockpile, and in advancing basic science and technology R&D," he said in announcement Friday.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. saw it as round one of a longer contest, as the nuclear weapons complex enters a period of change.
"This is not the end of our RRW effort. One system is not equivalent to a transformation and we need to move on a second design competition, one that should give priority consideration to pit reuse," he said in a prepared statement.
Now that a decision has been made, attention is expected to turn next to independent reviews, congressional hearings and public debate.
[The following post from an anonymous contributor sorta sums it all up ...]
"Now that a decision has been made, attention is expected to turn next to independent reviews, congressional hearings and public debate."
I can hardly wait. If the hearings are of the type where the "experts" in congress are not happy with a decision because it is was not THEIR view of the "facts," then heaven help us.
But since LANL is the whipping boy, I would not expect any serious investigations by Congress. After all the whipping boy is already on the bottom of the heap, so why belabor the point.
Perhaps this RRW decision will result in LLNL being the new screw in "screw"-tinize.
Let's take inventory:
LANL is #2 in nuclear design expertise (read last)
LANL is not the nuclear energy center (Oak Ridge, Idaho or Savannah River is better suited).
LANL is not the Bio center.
LANL may not be the Homeland Security center (e.g., Nonproliferation).
But, hey, we do have more contamination than most other places, so we ARE the #1 successor to Rocky Flats.
We also have the only fully operational plutonium facility in the US.
We have a pretty good hydrodynamics test facility (a place to test high explosives in weapons configurations) in DARHT.
We have an obsolete and under-powered proton accelerator (LANSCE), but we CAN do experiments on special nuclear materials there.
WE also have (really) a world-class bunch of scientists on staff that, given proper motivation, could likely solve almost any problem (including energy sufficiency and global warning). But, the key may be the proper motivation.
Setting all this aside, the one thing LANL excels at more than anywhere else is the number of support staff whose main job is to keep the doors open. These include safety, security, quality, financial, administrative and janitorial staff just to name a few categories. Why, I dare say we have more of these folks that you can shake a stick at.
Therefore, even without RRW (and therefore no forward looking mission), we will be able to spend every cent the Federal government send to LANL. And that, folks, is the real mission of the lab: Spend the money and don't get caught (at least not today...)
"The world's greatest management covering their big bonuses."
--Pat, the not-so-congenial Dog
Heck, Mike doesn't even carry a risk of losing his LANS pension, as his Golden Parachute protects him from any pension loss if the LANS pension goes kaput! That's a fact that should be scaring the daylights out of the remaining staff at LANL who decided to cast their lots with TCP1. We do not share a common destiny with the LANS upper management or with UC.
And has any one noticed how quiet UC has been about starting the process of transferring our pension assets from UCRP to TCP1? Until the exact amount of those assets are agreed upon and are finally transferred over to TCP1, you have no accrued benefits. Good luck collecting a full pension when the treasure chest may be smaller than expected and the chaotic operating budgets back at LANL don't allow for much in the way of additional pension support.
I suspect this place is quickly headed for a big fall in more ways than one. It's become almost impossible to stay in denial any longer about what we are witnessing at LANL. We are being "Rocky Flattened" from all sides. LANS motivational material has decended into showing the staff depressing clips of Congressional "shut-the-place-down" videos and new security posters that warn everyone to watch your fellow office mates as they are probably a bunch of thieves (i.e., read the new PDF poster just issued by our Security Office).
And what does Mike have to say about all this? "Morale at LANL? ... It's improving!" (Congressional Hearing, Jan 07). Right!