Saturday, March 03, 2007


LANL's Path Forward ... (?)

[This is from an anonymous contributor. You'll notice that there are two #1's on the list. I decided to leave it that way, since maybe our contributor meant it as a not-so-subtle signal of the depth of the hole LANL finds itself in. My only reservation with regard to his/her suggestion is that I know people who've sent thoughtful e-mails to Mikey on this general topic and they've never heard word #1 back from him. Maybe he was just too busy working the RRW. --Pat]

LANL can survive if …

As a practical matter, LANL can survive and even prosper in the future, but not if it keeps depending on UC or the DoE for its direction. Neither of these bureaucracies have the incentive, the foresight, or the ability to fix the problems at LANL. LANL’s two key problems are:

1. It no longer has a mission that Congress and the nation recognizes as critically important. Stockpile stewardship isn’t such a mission, nor frankly was RRW. There is no shortage of critical national problems the lab could take on – global warming problems, developing better energy sources, pandemic control, infrastructure protection, etc. etc. But to survive, LANL has to take on one or two of these issues full bore – not spread itself around in lots of lightly-funded and thinly staffed boutique operations as it does now – and become recognized worldwide as THE place at the forefront of solving the issue. That will mean some painful triage choices, and some people will lose their turf, but LANL’s survival depends on getting focused, and being SEEN to be focused, on one or two problems the nation recognizes as critically important.

1. LANL has no idea how to market itself, and good marketing to Congress and the public is key both to maintaining the lab’s funding and to attracting the bright young talent that is its future lifeblood. Lockheed Martin would not have been a perfect partner, but at least they understand marketing and are good at it, as Sandia can attest. Since LANL didn’t get Lockheed Martin as a partner, it’s going to have to learn how to market itself on its own. But that is not impossible. LANL is full of smart people who can surely, with the help of books, the internet and consultants, teach themselves how to market their efforts effectively. They just have to decide it is important, which it is.

Some will grumble that these changes are impossible with the present LANL management. Well, if you think it is impossible, then by definition it is. On the other hand, lots of other organizations have been revitalized from the bottom up by the workers taking matters into their own hands. Management doesn’t want failure any more than the workers do, so if offered some good, practical ideas – if sold some good practical ideas (marketing again) – they will probably be receptive.

But more than anything else, LANL’s survival depends upon LANL staff deciding to take charge and change things, rather than just whining that UC/DoE aren’t doing it for them.


P.S. (added later) As for your observation about others sending thoughtful notes to management - persistence and marketing matter. In my experience, senior managers are usually up to their armpits in alligators, and like an Army mule, you have to get their attention first. Personal visits do better then emails, deputations and groups do better than a single person walking in, and practical ideas get a better hearing than just a suggestion that we ought to do something about this.... In general, someone has to drive the log, and in this case I suspect you can't depend on senior management to do that, so it has to be one or more worker bees, looking for allies, generating practical ideas of what the lab could do and how to get it funded and who to sell it to, and then doing the selling.

Livermore lab gets nod for new warhead
Nuclear arms program slammed, despite focus on safety, reliability

Comment on this story

At a glance


Last Updated: March 3, 2007, 05:21:35 AM PST

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration took a major step Friday toward building a new generation of nuclear warheads, selecting a design that is being touted as safer, more secure and more easily maintained than today's arsenal.
A team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories will proceed with the weapons design with an anticipation that the first warheads may be ready by 2012 as a replacement for Trident missiles on submarines.

The weapons program, which has received cautious support from Congress, was criticized by some nuclear nonproliferation groups as evidence the government wants to expand nuclear weapons production, not move toward eliminating the stockpile.

Critics also maintain that it sends the wrong signal around the world by pushing a new warhead, although characterized as a replacement for existing ones, when the United States is trying to curtail nuclear weapons development in North Korea and Iran.

Some lawmakers agreed.

"The minute you begin to put more sophisticated warheads on the existing fleet, you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon.

"And it's just a matter of time before other nations do the same," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "This could serve to encourage the very proliferation we are trying to prevent."

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, chair of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, expressed cautious support, but promised "a long evaluation process" in Congress to ensure the warhead will do what is promised without future underground testing.

There have been no nuclear underground tests since a 1992 ban.

"This is not about starting a new nuclear arms race," countered Thomas P. D'Agostino, acting head of the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons programs.

Asking $119M for design work

Steve Henry, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear matters, said the new design is hoped to lead to fewer warheads being needed. He said it has not changed the administration's determination to reduce the number of deployed warheads to fewer than 2,000, the lowest number since the 1950s.

There are believed to be about 6,000 warheads deployed and 4,000 in reserve.

D'Agostino, briefing reporters on the design decision, said the intent is to develop a safer, more secure warhead to ensure increased reliability without the need for underground tests.

He cautioned that the program remains in the early stages and that in coming months the Livermore team will expand on its design work to give a better estimate on overall costs, the scope of the program and a schedule toward full-scale engineering and production.

The administration is asking for $119 million for the next fiscal year for design work. Officials said they could not say how much the program will cost.

The so-called "reliable replacement warhead" has been the focus of a yearlong, intense design competition between Livermore and nuclear scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the government's two premier nuclear weapons labs.

Both labs developed proposals, and at one point there was discussion to combine the designs into a single program. But that was rejected, and D'Agostino made clear Friday the program would be Livermore's to develop.

The Livermore design was based on an existing warhead that reportedly had been exploded in an underground test in the 1980s, although never put into the stockpile. The Los Alamos design was based on a fresh approach but without a history of testing.

It was this "very robust test pedigree," D'Agostino said, that gave Livermore the upper hand.

"It … gave us the confidence … to certify and go forward without underground testing," he said, adding that without that assurance "we were not going to go forward."

Congress authorized design work on the new warhead in 2005, but with a stipulation that its primary goal be to ensure the reliability of the nuclear arsenal without resumption of bomb testing, and that it will help in the consolidation of the Energy Department's nuclear weapons complex.
Looks like NNSA already has a plan for
LANL. It will be pits or closed. In any case no science. Pits may well go to Nevada.
market LANL? Come on we work directly for DOE, through NNSA, and they know exactly what our capabilities are along with our proposed strengths and weakness are, if anything it is up to our Senior Management to make sure that we are utilized with-in the complex....unfortunatly, this is not happening. But besides the technical aspects to the decision (RRW) it is political in nature, LANL has unwiitingly pissed off too many very important people in Washington.....don't you understand that? It's not about technical expertise, better designs, it's all about eliminating LANL as a key player and they (the DOE, the Congress)are going to do just that, no matter how hard you as a individual try to convince them otherwise....Suck it up and weep it's over....It's over, with this final desision, it sends a very clear message to all....we really don't need you (or want you) ...even though you guy's (LANL) think that you are so have been humbled, and it will continue because of many reasons, yes arroggance, saftey , security , and all the others played a part, but "It's over" we are no longer a player...
It sounds to me like this author is looking for a serious management slapdown. The ABCs (arrogant butthead cowboys) may not challenge LANS' vision of the future, or LANL's course. Leave if you can, and keep your head down if you can't.

I can't belive it, but I think D'Agostino is worse than either O'Leary or Watkins.
Did this guy hit the problem on the head or what.

But more than anything else, LANL’s survival depends upon LANL staff deciding to take charge and change things, rather than just whining that UC/DOE aren't doing it for them.


I have been watching the two LANL blogs for a long time. At one point in time I use to feel sorry for all of the LANL employees and myself; feeling that I was getting the royal shaft. I was hopeful that by participation I would retained my UCRP retirement. As you can see, it did not. My retirement is gone forever and my wet-dream can now be put to rest. Yes, reality has set in.

For all of you I would have thought that once the new contractor took over you would have said to yourselves, "it is what it is" and got on with your new life with LANS where the whining would have stopped, but you did not. Having seen more complaints on this new blog than I did on the old one, with threats and dares focused towards NNSA, DOE and the UC, I am convinced that this is the reason you are not getting the projects you were hoping for. These acts of defiance in conjunction with the few security violations, have cost all of you more than it was worth. I sincerely believe that until LANL can shake the title of being the winning whiners of any nuclear complex, your chances of getting a worthwhile projects is doomed.

The bottom line is that most recent ANON posted hit the problem right on the head. Now it is up to all of you to change or continue to shoot yourself in the foot. It's your move.
One of the better posts I have seen on the blog. Very thoughtful and on target.
The RRW decision was my end of the road. I'm accepting a job outside of the lab. I'm done.
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