Monday, March 19, 2007


RRW: To Build or Not to Build, That is the Question

Various individuals in Congress are assessing the necessity of the RRW program. There are multiple reasons why I believe the entire RRW program (RRW-1 and RRW-2) should be stopped immediately and they are outlined below.

The original goal of the RRW program was to make advances in nuclear safety and security, improve manufacturability, and increase robustness. However, according to NNSA, it is now certifiability by an arbitrary date. The easiest weapons to certify are the ones in the stockpile so the life extension program (LEP) approach is the most logical path forward. There is no need for RRW-1 or RRW-2, just do more LEP’s. NNSA, by there own admission, has successfully destroyed every reason for the RRW program.

Secondly, who defines which RRW designs are the easiest to certify? The LANL team believes their design is easer to certify than their competitors; likewise, LLNL sides with their design. In fact, Marty Schoenbauer, a top NNSA official, acknowledged that both designs are equally certifiable. The truth is, no RRW design will be easy to certify without nuclear testing; as a result, RRW only makes sense if we make revolutionary advances in nuclear safety and security, improve manufacturability, and increase robustness.

Likewise, should we spend tens of billions of dollars to generate a nuclear weapon that is more difficult to certify than the current stockpile, and requires an expensive nuclear weapons infrastructure? The original vision for the RRW program was to use science as the nuclear deterrent in combination with a small and agile infrastructure where nuclear weapons could be built in a rapid manner if they are needed. Unfortunately, the path that NNSA is taking is opposite of the RRW objective. Sadly, NNSA is heading down a costly path that will require an expensive infrastructure that will not be able to respond in a manner consistent with RRW vision sold to congress.

Unfortunately, the most atrocious problem with the RRW program is the disregard of science. The LANS management on many occasions ordered the RRW team to not refute statements made by LLNL, even though LANL had experimental data that proved LLNL statements were wrong. I am very fearful that LANS will continue the gag order on LANL scientists. The entire RRW program (RRW-1 and RRW-2) is destined for failure if we suppress the senior weapon designers who have designed and detonated nuclear weapons at Nevada.

Congress, please do not be fooled by all the marketing tactics. LLNL has a long history of grandiose promises, and never delivering on what they promised. Two recent examples of LLNL failures are NIF and the second axis of DARHT. The NIF facility is billions of dollars over budget and many scientists at LANL do not believe it will ever achieve ignition. Likewise, the second axis of DARHT, which LLNL designed, still does not work correctly, and it may not be operational for some time to come. We should learn from history so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

Finally, I would highly encourage the members of Congress to look deeper into the RRW program and the competition process. Plus, it would be very beneficial for the Q-cleared members of Congress to hear the peer-review presentation from the LANL RRW team prior to proceeding with the RRW program. I think that these members of Congress will be shocked at what they discover!

--A nuclear weapons scientist

This excellent letter (obviously from a LANL RRW team member) affords me the opportunity to thank Pat, the Dog, for his (or her) contributions to the Laboratory community. Many's the time when Doug and I have said to each other, "Whoever this is, they're doing a better job than we did." (I, of course, merely stood in Doug's shadow and managed the blog for a couple of weeks while he biked his way to Canada and back after retiring. Otherwise, the old LANL blog was truly a Doug Roberts show.)

Now, with the RRW in the tank, and with pee going into individualized cups, it looks like Pat has seen the way the corporate train is headed, and is preparing to jump off before it builds up too much speed. I will miss this blog. I didn't read it every single day, but it was surely near the top of my list for web browsing.

One last thing: If Congress really doesn't investigate the RRW decision-making process, the country will not have been served well by them (to no one's huge surprise -- we've long ago come to expect that kind of service from the Executive Branch). It's only a small test in the scheme of things, but our New Mexico delegation should find time to do the right thing, IMHO (in my humblest of opining).

-Brad Lee Holian

P.S. Good luck, Pat! Dig up some bones and catch some rays.
What was written about the second axis of DARHT is not accurate. According to the Project Execution Plan (PEP) for the “DARHT 2nd Axis Refurbishment and Commissioning Project”, the second axis of DARHT is a tri-lab collaborative project led by LANL and including LBNL and LLNL. Quoting from this document, under the Organization Structure, Roles and Responsibilities [p. 19]: “LANL has overall leadership and ultimate responsibility for success of the project.” Under the title: Project Leadership, it further states: “Given its importance to the Laboratory, DARHT 2nd Axis Refurbishment and Commissioning is formally structured as a project at LANL.”

Many aspects of the original design for the DARHT 2nd Axis were addressed in this project. Again quoting from the PEP [p. 3]: “A major aspect of this project is to redesign the cells and then refurbish the injector and accelerator cells so that they meet the original technical requirements.” From what I’ve learned, the design of the injector and accelerator cells was shared between LBNL and LANL. In addition, there were several issues related to how the accelerator cells were assembled by the LANL staff that were corrected.

With respect to progress, recent accelerator tests have demonstrated the robust operation of the redesigned cell hardware and assemblies. In addition, the electron beam stability and the 4-pulse target designs have been demonstrated. Finally, the DARHT 2nd axis is scheduled to be completed in FY08.
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