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.

Sincerely,

—Brad Lee Holian
Santa Fe, NM
Email: blhksh@comcast.net

[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.


Sincerely,

JEFF BINGAMAN
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

 

LANL Security Probe Will Not Be Delayed

-John Arnold (Staff Writer, ABQ Journal, Santa Fe Edition, Saturday, March 31, 2007)


A powerful congressional committee has rejected a request from New Mexico lawmakers to delay a government inquiry into Los Alamos National Laboratory security problems. House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., last month asked the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the feasibility of moving classified activities to other national laboratories "where there is a better track record with respect to security."

Earlier this month, Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., wrote to committee leaders, asking that the GAO hold off on the investigation for six months to allow lab managers time to implement new operating and security procedures. Dingell and ranking member Joe Barton, R-Texas, rejected the request this week, saying that the GAO study "will not interfere with any steps (LANL managers) may be taking to improve security."

"The national security failures at Los Alamos are a matter of the utmost urgency," Dingell and Barton wrote in a letter dated March 27. Dingell has asked GAO to evaluate how LANL can reduce and consolidate the volume of classified material and the "security footprint" of the lab. His request followed January's congressional hearing in which lawmakers grilled LANL and Department of Energy officials over the lab's most recent security breach— the discovery of hundreds of classified documents in the home of a former lab contractor.

Domenici said in a news release issued Friday that he is disappointed with Dingell's decision to move forward with the investigation. "However, if this GAO investigation goes forward, I believe it should focus on evaluating cost-effective security solutions at the lab, as opposed to solely focusing on punitive and unproductive assessments that would only lend themselves to breaking up the lab," Domenici said.

Friday, March 30, 2007

 

Is U.S. Government 'Outsourcing Its Brain'?


Boom in Tech Contracts Sparks Complex Debate; A Mecca in Virginia


By BERNARD WYSOCKI JR., Wall Street Journal Online, March 30, 2007; Page A1

TYSONS CORNER, Va. -- The moment visitors arrive in the lobby of the campuslike headquarters of Mitre Corp., they're asked: Do you have a national-security clearance?

If the answer is yes, Mitre's receptionists tap a few computer keys to verify. If it's no, the visitor gets a special badge and a constant escort. It's the sort of scrutiny one might expect at the Defense Department or a U.S. intelligence agency.

Mitre is one step from that: a private company with one major client, the U.S. government. Mitre does high-tech engineering and other computer work for the Pentagon, various intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security -- and business is booming.
OUTSOURCING BONANZA

"There is no doubt that post-9/11 there is more growth than we have experienced historically," says Chief Executive Alfred Grasso. In 2006, Mitre, a nonprofit that runs three federally funded research-and-development groups, says revenues topped $1 billion for the first time.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the federal government's demand for complex technology has soared. But Washington often doesn't have the expertise to take on new high-tech projects, or the staff to oversee them. As a result, officials are increasingly turning to contractors, in particular the hundreds of companies in Tysons Corner and the surrounding Fairfax County that operate some of the government's most sensitive and important undertakings.

The risk of this approach, in the words of Warren Suss, a Jenkintown, Pa., consultant and expert on federal computer outsourcing, is that the government could wind up "outsourcing its brain." The number of private federal contractors has soared to 7.5 million, four times bigger than the federal civilian work force itself, according to Paul Light of New York University. Congress, meanwhile, is learning how hard it is to keep tabs on these activities.

As a Mecca for this sort of work, Tysons Corner has emerged as outsourcing central. Once known mostly for its shopping malls, it's now a land of glass towers, manicured office parks and Tiffany boutiques, where private-sector budget analysts, project managers and highly paid executives do the work that clock-punching civil servants in downtown D.C., 10 miles to the west, can't do.

The government still buys pencils and office furniture, but now relies on others for sophisticated technology work, especially what's known as "systems integration" -- pulling together complex information networks for the military, homeland-security personnel and others.

"Our ignorance is their gain," says Richard Skinner, inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. Projects currently under way range from the design of next-generation military computer networks to the oversight of a $30 billion electronic "fence" being built along the Mexican border.

Teaming Up

Outsourcing originally sprang from concerns about overspending and mismanagement by the government itself. Starting in the 1980s, agencies realized it was cheaper to buy certain services directly from companies. In the 1990s, teaming up with the private sector became a popular idea, in part as a way to reduce the number of federal employees on the books.

Today, the potential pitfalls are legion. Big contracts are notorious for cost overruns and designs that don't work, much of which takes place under loose or ineffective government scrutiny. Underlying this tension is the fundamental question of whether one system is better than the other.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has castigated the Department of Homeland Security for lax oversight of the Coast Guard's $24 billion fleet modernization, which is being run by two defense giants. He has also faulted its management of the "fence" project, formally called the Secure Border Initiative, complaining that 60 of the 98 people overseeing the border project are contractors.

Outsourcing details to private contractors "can be a prescription for enormous fraud, waste and abuse," Rep. Waxman said during a February hearing on the issue.

Mr. Skinner, the Homeland Security inspector general, says his investigation into the Coast Guard project, known as Integrated Deepwater System, found inadequate management and oversight, resulting in delays, cost increases and design flaws.

Deepwater, awarded in 2002, is a 25-year program aimed at upgrading the Coast Guard's boats, aircraft and communications systems. The contract was awarded to a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Unlike standard contractors, they were given a bigger role overseeing the project's many different strands.

Mr. Skinner says his office found that the top decision makers were contractors, not civil servants. The Coast Guard was relegated to the role of "adviser" on technical matters, and was essentially shut out of decisions on subcontracts. Partly as a result, he says, the cost of the first two large armed boats, called cutters, is expected to be well beyond the $775 million original estimate.

During congressional hearings on the matter, a Lockheed Martin executive defended the program. The performance "has been closely supervised by the Coast Guard" with additional oversight by Homeland Security, Congress and the Government Accountability Office, he said.

The Coast Guard recently stripped some management work from the Northrop-Lockheed venture, saying it could acquire 12 smaller cutters faster and at lower cost.

Mr. Skinner says Homeland Security is also trying to exert more oversight over its "fence" project. One problem is that the department, with 900 procurement officers, constantly battles turnover. He says the department is lucky if it can keep procurement personnel for three years before they bolt -- to places such as Tysons Corner.

Once a sleepy crossroads, the area has boomed in part because of its location halfway between downtown Washington and Dulles International Airport, straddling the Beltway that rings the capital.

The Tysons area and surrounding Fairfax County have enjoyed the boom in federal procurement in the post-9/11 era, with $18 billion of work performed in the area in 2006, up from about $10 billion in 2000. To economists such as Stephen Fuller of nearby George Mason University, Tysons is a natural anchor for outsourcing, close to the "honey," of the federal government, and attractive to young engineers and entrepreneurs.

One flashpoint today is whether contractors hire other contractors without enough controls or competition. In March, Rep. Waxman introduced a bill that would put limits on contracts awarded without competitive bidding. It passed the House by a wide margin and is raising fears among contractors that it could dent their growth. Federal procurement is already expected to slow because of budget constraints and the slowing of the post-9/11 spending boom.

Rep. Waxman's staff, in a Feb. 8 memo, said that "at least one contractor hired to engage in contract oversight on the border project, Booz Allen Hamilton, may have a conflict of interest with Boeing Co.," the prime contractor. Booz Allen has done consulting work for Boeing and has been a member of the Boeing team on other contracts.

Ralph Shrader, chief executive at Booz Allen, flatly denies the charge. "I take the greatest exception to the idea of conflict of interest," Dr. Shrader says, adding that Booz Allen is doing "support" and "coordination" work on behalf of the government, and doesn't "oversee" Boeing. He adds that Booz Allen has for decades taken pains to avoid conflicts of interest, and has a rigorous process to avoid such conflicts. (Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has hired Booz Allen to help the company with its news strategy.)

Booz Allen epitomizes the successful, well-connected Tysons consultant-contractor on a giant scale. Once mostly a management consultant to corporations based in New York City, Booz Allen's government business now accounts for more than 50% of its $4 billion in revenue. In 1992, it moved its headquarters to Tysons Corner.

The firm's past three CEOs have come from the government side of the firm. Dr. Shrader, with a Ph.D. in engineering and CEO since 1999, had experience on the commercial side early in his career. Since 2000, Booz Allen's revenue has doubled in size. It plans to hire 4,000 people in 2007 alone, adding to an existing work force of 18,000 people.

Booz Allen has extensive government contracts -- totaling more than $2 billion a year -- with the Pentagon, intelligence services and various civilian agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.

It employs numerous retired military officers and former intelligence-agency chiefs. Retired Navy Admiral J. Michael McConnell, former head of the National Security Agency, was a $2 million-a-year Booz Allen executive until President Bush named him director of national intelligence in late 2006. James Woolsey, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, is another rainmaker.

Booz Allen does so much business with the Department of Defense that it conducts brown-bag lunches for young civilian recruits dubbed "DOD 101," where it explains, among other things, the difference between the insignia of a captain and a general. Ex-military types attend a "forum" to learn the commercial ropes, as well as ways of working in less hierarchical environments.

The company argues that it can mobilize staff more quickly and cheaply than the government. As one example, Booz Allen cites its work on the Pentagon's communications network, which was damaged in the 9/11 attack. Booz Allen says it put together a special "surge" team to design what it calls "survivable telecom system." It turned the plans over to the Pentagon in just six weeks.

Grand Database

Among its more controversial projects was Total Information Awareness, a Defense Department plan for a grand database to thwart terrorists. It was conceived shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and soon came under criticism from members of Congress and others as a privacy invasion, before being scrapped. "I really have no problems with the decisions we have made," says Dr. Shrader, who adds, without being specific, that "there are things we have chosen not to do."

Booz Allen has filled up its headquarters, which is technically located in McLean, Va. County zoning rules won't let the company add more people beyond its current 6,500, so Booz Allen has set up another campus near Dulles airport, which housed 1,700 people as of February.

Fueling the growth at Booz Allen and other big firms is a move toward giant, complex projects, awarded by Uncle Sam but pulled together by what's called a "lead systems integrator." Big contractors have become even more powerful in the post-9/11 era, some say, because the government has turned conservative, preferring to award contracts on critical national-security projects to proven players, especially as knowledgeable civil servants retire.

The U.S. government "is losing their system engineering, program management, acquisition expertise," said Kenneth Dahlberg, CEO of Science Applications International Corp., of San Diego, at a recent Wall Street investor conference. He vowed that his company, one of the biggest federal contractors with 44,000 employees, would be there to fill the void. SAIC recently formed a special team to go after big government contracts valued at $100 million or larger.

Portraits at the Palm

The contracting industry has consolidated recently, with big guys buying up many midsize firms. That's apparent from the walls of the tony Palm restaurant in Tysons Corner. Unlike its downtown Washington, D.C., counterpart, which displays caricatures of people from the political world, the portraits at the Tysons Palm run toward local technology entrepreneurs and founders of federal contracting companies, many of whom have made fortunes selling to big contractors. One is of Ed Bersoff. He founded BTG Inc., a government-contracting company, and sold it for $174 million in 2002 to another contractor, which has itself since been acquired.

In this small neighborhood, big contractors have started bumping into each other. A few years ago, Booz Allen tangled with next-door neighbor SAIC after the road near the two companies' office towers was named "SAIC Drive." After some back and forth, that part of the road was given a new name: Solutions Drive.

Fairfax County is now home to 358 foreign-owned firms, some of which have been lured by the county's Economic Development Authority, which has five overseas offices. Recently, Camero Inc., a unit of a Tel Aviv company, set up shop in Tysons Corner so it can better promote a radar system that can see through brick or concrete walls.

Robert Judd, the president, says he considered Arlington, Va., but the atmosphere seemed very Pentagon-centric. The office parks near Dulles seemed too commercial in nature. So he settled on Tysons, halfway between them, and a blend of the two.

The one drawback is the traffic. "We work 7 a.m. until 4 to avoid the worst of it," says Mr. Judd.

Write to Bernard Wysocki Jr. at bernie.wysocki@wsj.com 1



Outsourcing Bonanza
A sampling of large federal contracts
Company Value Covers Relevant agency
Electronic Data Systems Corp. $3.26 billion Data processing and telecommunications Defense Department/Navy
$1.66 billion Electronic identification systems Multiple agencies
$295.9 million Defense enterprise services Defense
Northrop Grumman Corp. $10.14 billion Sustaining B-2 bomber Defense/Air Force
$3.93 billion Aircraft carriers Defense/Navy
$3.9 billion Amphibious assault ships Defense/ Navy
Computer Sciences Corp. $2.2 billion Engineering services Defense/Air Force
$1.41 billion Prime integration services Treasury/Internal Revenue Service
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. $1.29 billion Information system design Multiple agencies
$595.4 million Management, organization improvement multiple agencies
Science Applications International Corp. $1.95 billion Computer aided design Health and Human Services/
National Institutes of Health
$1.92 billion Automated data-processing software multiple agencies

Source: Eagle Eye Publishers, based on public federal data

Hyperlinks in this Article:
(1) mailto:bernie.wysocki@wsj.com
Copyright 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

-----

Can you please post a new thread on "Do you know a good labor lawyer?" before you retire?
Thanks,
-Anonymous

Post away, folks. Time is running out.
-Pat

 

Building weapons to reduce weapons

by Jay Davis and Bill Nebo (San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, March 30, 2007)

Having the sense that the national discussion about the new generation of nuclear weapons will go on for some time, we decided as old friends with very different perspectives to see if we could join our knowledge and opinions and come to a common conclusion about the weapon and the program to build it, the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

We hoped that success in this matter would provide a useful guide for others as the dialogue and debate go forward. Programs dealing with weapons that can cause mass casualties and environmental change create moral and political concerns that must be addressed each time we renew them. We contend that our nation should be intentionally and responsibly led into visiting these political and moral concerns at the front end of efforts to renew our nuclear arsenal.

First: What is a reliable replacement warhead?

It is the first weapon to go into the nuclear stockpile in more than 20 years. It is designed to replace existing weapons carried on U.S. ballistic missile submarines and to be safer and more secure, with a much longer service lifetime. It is not a new weapon, in the sense of its military capabilities or of the targets to which it would be assigned. As such, it represents no change in use doctrine or threat. Our current weapons were not designed to last as long as they already have. While the plutonium cores continue to be viable, the non-nuclear components that live for decades in the low-radiation level of the cores weren't designed to last this long. In the past, were these parts to be replaced with modern ones, as one would logically do in rebuilding a car, a nuclear test would have been called for to validate the weapon's performance. Such a test is not possible under the moratorium. The military reaction to questions of reliability is to want large numbers of weapons in reserve, and to have multiple types of weapons, impeding further efforts to reduce the remaining large American and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

Second: Why build a reliable replacement warhead?

Having a more reliable weapon will allow the United States to reduce the size of its arsenal as fewer weapons will be needed to achieve a credible deterrent. The weapon offers the possibility of reducing the size and cost of the nuclear weapons-production complex, while making it more responsive to possible future threats -- that is, after a substantial investment.

On the other hand, the case against reliable replacement warheads is similarly stated: That it would encourage proliferation and, being a new weapon, would somehow lead to new threats of use or a lower threshold to use.

The first is easy to dismiss: Proliferation directed against us is stimulated almost exclusively by our conventional military superiority and by our policies and actions, such as the assertion of the unilateral right to declare pre-emptive war to repel or deter an attack, and to cause regime change in other nations at our whim.

Nuclear proliferation among regional neighbors (e.g., Egypt and Saudi Arabia versus Iran, Japan or Taiwan versus China, South Korea versus North Korea) is little affected by our weapons policies, unless we fail to make guarantees to allies under our nuclear umbrella both clear and credible.

As for the second, the reliable replacement warhead is not a new weapon and has no new utility, something that in fact the military may not like.

We believe that before this program goes forward, the reliable replacement warhead issue requires our nation to have a full and clear discussion of what our nuclear doctrine is. During the Cold War, Americans knew precisely whom our nuclear stockpile was intended to deter. We had a clear vision of the circumstances under which the stockpile was likely to be used and the consequences of such use.

Today, we lack that clear vision. Establishing that vision seems essential to achieving a political consensus that will support a reliable replacement warhead program. In replacing Cold War weapons with new ones, even if their military characteristics are the same, it is very important for us to be clear about their intended use. What are our present threats these weapons would deter and what future threat might they deter?

Additionally, the international dialogue needs to be free of bullying, posturing and threats because such behavior does not lead to the understanding and trust required for verifiable arms control agreements. We need to offer a return to treaty regimes (e.g., the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) that are conducive to mutual trust.

At the end of the day, nuclear weapons are presidential weapons reserved for dealing with existential threats to the nation, either by deterrence, or in case of the failure of deterrence, by use. Casual discussion of their use by those not holding these sobering responsibilities is not useful in creating the clarity and understanding that this subject demands.

Jay Davis is a retired nuclear physicist who spent more than 30 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He was the first director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, having operational responsibility for U.S. arms control inspections. Bill Nebo retired last year after 30 years as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Livermore. They have had a 20-year long discussion on these issues.

 

LANL Settlement Objection Overruled

By John Arnold, ABQ Journal, Santa Fe Edition, Friday, March 30, 2007

A federal judge has overruled a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee's objections to a $12 million class action lawsuit settlement. The ruling, handed down this week by District Judge William Johnson, could clear the way for final approval of the settlement, which was negotiated after several women sued the lab alleging years of racial and gender discrimination. A final approval hearing was originally scheduled for last October, but legal objections delayed it.

Johnson is waiting on a panel of arbitrators to determine what attorneys' fees will be before rescheduling the hearing, lawyers in the case said Thursday. Checks could be mailed out "by late summer or early fall, if all goes smoothly," said John Bienvenu, a lawyer representing workers in the case. More than 7,700 current and former employees may be eligible for payouts, which would range from $200 to $9,200 for class members. Five women who initiated the suit would receive $122,000 each under terms of the agreement.

LANL worker Laurie Quon formally objected to the settlement, arguing that the women who initiated the lawsuit would receive excessive payouts. She also contends that the agreement, which releases the lab from future discrimination claims, is too broad and that proposed attorneys fees are excessive. Johnson overruled those objections, noting that employees who aren't satisfied with the settlement can opt out and pursue their own cases. Quon's attorney, George Geran, said Thursday that he may appeal Johnson's ruling to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Settlement payouts could be delayed "indefinitely," pending the outcome of an appeal, Bienvenu said. Six female LANL employees (one of whom has since opted out of the settlement) filed separate discrimination lawsuits against former lab manager the University of California in 2003 and 2004. The suits, which allege pay and promotions disparities stemming from years of gender and racial discrimination, were merged into a single class-action case, and the parties announced a settlement agreement last May. So far, 3,100 employees have filed claims, while 129 have opted out of the settlement, Bienvenu said.

 

Criticality accidents in Japan, and the LANL story

Accident info must be shared
Suppressing details of reactor mishaps imperils workers, facilities

by Kyoichi Sasazawa, Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer (Mar. 30, 2007)

Following the revelation of a criticality accident at Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s Shika nuclear power station in Shikamachi, Ishikawa Prefecture, it was brought to light recently that a criticality accident likely occurred at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in November 1978.

The accident at the TEPCO plant occurred when control rods became dislodged, but the accident did not have any effect outside the plant, as was the case with similar control rod problems at other nuclear power plants.

Japan is the only country where two criticality accidents have been reported since the 1970s, when nuclear power generation was put into commercial use. Why were these extraordinary accidents covered up for such a long time?

...

In addition to the two accidents in Japan that recently came to light, 60 criticality accidents have occurred here and in eight other countries, killing 21 people, according to a report by Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States. These 21 victims include two who were killed in the criticality accident at JCO Co.'s nuclear fuel plant in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, in September 1999.

...

In one case, a criticality accident lasted for 37 hours. Why did a criticality accident last for so long at a light water reactor that was supposed to be very safe?

...

Past criticality accidents include many that happened at nuclear development facilities such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, both in the United States, where secrecy is paramount. Even these organizations have disclosed details of accidents to prevent recurrence, ensure safety for workers and share information with others, according to a report from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

At a news conference last Thursday, TEPCO stressed its response to the accident was appropriate. "There was no institutional obligation to report such an accident at that time," an official said. But there remains a problem from the perspective of engineering ethics on sharing information on accidents with others.

According to a report by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, accidents and problems at Japan's nuclear power plants, which are supposed to be reported to the government, total about 30 a year. As many as 200 minor accidents that are not required to be reported occur each year--about 10 percent of the figure recorded in the United States.

"Regulation was different than it is today," said Prof. Kazuo Furuta of Tokyo University's graduate school, an expert in system quantum engineering. "They thought they were performing their jobs without problem, but actually they might have made a mistake inadvertently. We must consider the issue by stepping into the mind-set of engineers in those days."

 

Are there pensions, though?

Hello Pat- Could you make this a top level post? This DOE 'request' could spell out the premature END of LANLs pension plans... Maybe a nip can spur the sheep into action...

Request for Public Comment on Department of Energy Contractor Employee Pension and Medical Benefits Challenge

[Click on title for link.]

Summary:

The Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comments and/or recommendations on how to address the challenge it faces due to increasing costs and liabilities associated with contractor employee pension and medical benefits. Under the Department’s unique Management and Operating (M&O) and other site management contracts, DOE reimburses its contractors for allowable costs incurred in providing employee pension and medical benefits to current employees and retirees who are eligible to participate in the contractors’ pension and medical benefit plans.

How to Submit Comments:

Please submit your comments via e-mail to contractorpensions@hq.doe.gov.

Comments due by COB, Friday, May 11, 2007.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

 

Audit questions job shifts at labs

Pat, a little update on Nanos...
-Anonymous contributor
-----------

Livermore has largest share of dubious costs
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER, Inside Bay Area, 03/29/2007

A scientist from Lawrence Livermore Lab went to work in a French research facility, as a U.S. liaison. That was back in 1998, yet the scientist is still collecting salary and "dislocation allowances" of about $300,000 a year for housing, furniture rental, private school for his daughter and, in the past, foreign language lessons for his wife. So far the total bill is more than $2.7 million, according to an audit released Wednesday by the Energy Department's inspector general.

Winning an off-site assignment from the nation's nuclear weapons labs can be a career plum, a brief but valuable chance to work inside the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security or the CIA.

But one of the secrets inside the labs is that reassignments elsewhere also can offer a handy way of finessing senior management problems, such as an incompetent manager or one angered at being passed over for a promotion.

Either way, the practice of reassignments is largely unregulated inside the Department of Energy, and while auditors found it hasn't resulted in dubious or wasteful spending at basic science labs such as Lawrence Berkeley Lab, they found millions of dollars in questionable expenses for reassignments from the nation's three nuclear weapons labs.

Overall, in 2004 and 2005 the inspector general found $11.3 million in weapons lab reassignments that "were either too long, resulted in excess costs, or were not appropriately cost-shared with host entities."

At Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico, the University of California in years past has provided lab-salaried scientists as staff to Sen. Pete Domenici, the top Republican on a key appropriations committee holding purse strings on nuclear weapons work. More recently, the university has resolved problems with unpopular lab managers by finding them jobs at the Defense Department while still paying them Los Alamos salaries and entitlement to UC's richly funded pension plan.

That was the case with retired Vice Adm. G. Pete Nanos, who left Los Alamos after a tumultuous period as director in which he derided staff as "buttheads." The university secured a job for Nanos planning strategy for scientific research at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and paid him a Los Alamos salary of $289,000. When an internal audit questioned the payment, the university itself took over Nanos' salary, now at $235,000.

"He has knowledge of Los Alamos and knowledge of (the Defense Department) and he's been able to apply that at DTRA," university spokesman Chris Harrington said. "Being able at times to present the perspective of the laboratory, having a liaison at times, is valuable for the laboratory."

Of the three bomb labs, Livermore Lab had the largest share of questionable expenses noted by the inspector general — more than $5 million for 2004 and 2005.

Auditors found the lab's payment of 100 percent of the $3.7 million costs for four employee reassignments "especially troubling" because the reasons for the assignments were not documented and because lab officials acknowledged other agencies were getting some benefit and should have been charged.

"We use these because we really feel there are benefits to the laboratory and the agency that the employee is being transferred to," lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said. "We agree we can improve our documentation."

Auditors also found that in several cases Livermore employees were kept on assignment for the more than the maximum of four years and that the lab had no plans on file to take the employees back.

In one case auditors found a Livermore scientist took a six-month assignment and still hasn't come back after 15 years and $1.2 million in lab expenses.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

 

DOE Has Its Evil Eye On You, John


(Click image to enlarge)

 

“Bull in a China Shop”, “Flatheaded”

http://www.pogo.org/p/homeland/ha-070304-lanl.html




March 22, 2007


“New” LANL Management Can’t Get a Grip
on Cyber-Security Issues



For Immediate Release
Contact: Jennifer Porter Gore jgore@pogo.org or Peter Stockton (202) 347-1122


WASHINGTON —The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has received copies of an internal assessment of the Los Alamos National Laboratory showing that six months into its tenure the lab’s new management had no cyber security protection plan.

The new management is a consortium led by University of California and Bechtel. The University alone managed the lab for 60 years—until a series of cyber-security lapses and breaches forced a re-bid of the original management contract. However, the internal assessment of the lab’s Cyber Security Program conducted in November 2006 reveals crucial management problems. These problems include lack of a clear cyber-security policy and a program plan that still hadn’t been finalized.

Two sections of the lab’s draft master cyber-security plan titled “Bull in a China Shop” and “Flatheaded” are cited as “derogatory statements regarding the new LANS [Los Alamos National Security] management structure and its likely impacts on cyber security at LANL.” These sections were drafted by the lab’s Information System Security Officers.

In addition to not having a site-wide plan, the lab is reported to lack “rudimentary components” of a cyber security program including standardized periodic training, a site-wide cyber security manual, and an overarching policy for the lab’s cyber-security, noting “limited procedural documentation was available.”

The assessment involved representatives from several nuclear weapons facilities and was conducted in mid-November—weeks after a major cyber-security breach that led to more than 1,000 pages of highly classified documents from the lab being discovered in a trailer during a methamphetamine lab drug bust.

POGO’s investigations have found seven cyber-security breaches at LANL since 2002 (see http://pogo.org/p/homeland/ha-061003-lanl.html ). These breaches include a 2004 report of the loss of computer disks containing classified information and the mishandling of classified emails. Those events prompted LANL Director Pete Nanos to suspend all work activities for the Lab in July 2004 for several months, at a cost of at least $370 million.

“LANL seems to have the same never-ending problems,” said POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian. “Time after time the lab has promised to strengthen its cyber-security program, including finding better ways to secure classified removable media, but little gets done. I hope it doesn’t take another security breach to spur lab officials to real action, but I’m afraid it will.”

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government.

# # #


Monday, March 26, 2007

 

Letter to Pat from John Pedicini

Dear Pat,

From my reputation, you probably know that you and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet we share many of the same goals. I, for one, appreciate the effort that you have put into the blog, even though I do not agree with some of your posts. This is exactly what freedom of speech is about. I was sorry to see the announcement of the closing on April 1, but can understand your reasons. Again my thanks for your efforts. If my request to hold the blog open until at least September would make a difference, please consider this a request. You may quote the request with my name attached. By that time, we should know whether the decision to remain at LANL should be on the grounds of personal issues or the chance to make a difference for the nation. You may quote this paragraph in its entirety and attribute it to me.

Thanks,

John M. Pedicini

-----

Dear John:

The closing date of April 1st is firm, but there are others who have signaled the desire to carry on. Doug and I will discuss -- offline, for the first time, probably by land line, maybe even over a beer (he'll probably be surprised to learn my identity) -- just how to do this in the smoothest way possible, with candidates who come forward with a credible level of commitment. As to the two future posts you mention, "on the goings on in RRW and my future plans," I can guarantee you that they will appear, either on this very blog before April 1st, or on whatever follow-on that materializes after April 1st. That will be part of the "commitment" bargain with the new blogmeister.

As to our political differences, I doubt they are as far apart as you claim. A dedication to the long-term survival of the finest characteristics of humanity is the essence of conservatism, and I am that kind of conservative. So are you. Living well and letting others do so, as long as they don't impinge upon my living well, is the essence of liberalism (or at least libertarianism, if you prefer that word), and I am that kind of liberal (or libertarian). So, I believe, are you.

Thanks to you for your contributions to the nation's security and to the people at LANL through the medium of this blog.

--Pat, the Dog

P.S. As a scientist, as well as a conservationist, let me add one more comment on the definition of "conservative": When Thomas Jefferson wrote the words in the Declaration of Independence over 230 years ago, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness", no one, not even a scientifically educated man like Jefferson, had an inkling of the subsequent discovery of the laws of natural selection, general relativity, or quantum mechanics. He and the intellectuals of his Enlightened day had only the barest notions about the vastness of the beautiful, terrifying, and strange Cosmos we find ourselves in, nor of the even stranger tiny quantum universe of atoms, nor of the complex richness of the chemistry inside a living cell -- a universe in itself. So it is no wonder that when Jefferson spoke of "Life," it was human life that he had in mind. But now we know that "life" on our Blue Planet Earth is a complex, interconnected web of plants, animals, and bacteria, from which the lives of human beings cannot be separated, and which we may be seriously perturbing by our human activities. Life is a rare thing in our Universe -- our Blue Planet is a lonely speck, and we may never, as a species make contact with any other life forms -- and that makes the preservation of life on our planet a moral imperative. Science has brought our understanding of life to an unprecedented height, and at the same time, brought all life, including us, closer to extinction, especially with the invention of nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer's last unfinished hope was that nuclear weapons would never, ever be used again on the face of this planet. The RRW, properly realized, could facilitate the elimination of nuclear weapons, and this, along with the struggle to contain the lethality of human-caused global warming, constitute the moral imperative of saving all life on this Earth. Those who dedicate their lives to saving the biosphere are, in my mind, the Ultimate Conservatives.

 

Understanding the Reliable Replacement Warhead

On March 2, the Energy Department made the announcement that the nuclear weapons labs have long anticipated and arms control advocates have long dreaded: It selected a design for the first new nuclear warhead in two decades--a so-called reliable replacement warhead (RRW). Although Congress has not yet approved production of the warhead, Energy's announcement takes the RRW past a significant hurdle, into the final step of the design process (if Congress appropriates the $119 million necessary for this), and in the direction of production and deployment.

In 2006, Congress authorized the two nuclear weapons labs (Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) to develop competing designs for an RRW that might replace the most common warhead in the current stockpile--the W76. This is the warhead that sits atop most U.S. submarine-based missiles. Congress stipulated that the RRW design should be safer and more reliable than the existing W76 design, that it should not confer new military capabilities, and that it should not require nuclear testing in order to be certified.

The existing stockpile, of Cold War vintage, was designed to squeeze the most explosive yield possible out of the smallest amount of plutonium. These warheads, instead of being built to last, were designed right up against the edge of viability on the assumption that they would be retired after a few years and replaced with newer designs. Congressional advocates of the RRW, such as Ohio Republican Rep. David Hobson, have seen it as a program to replace temperamental nuclear Porsches with reliable Honda Civics in the hope that future administrations would be bolder in cutting the stockpile if they had more confidence in each warhead's reliability.

Energy announced that it selected the Livermore design for the RRW because it had "a very robust test pedigree," according to Tom D'Agostino, the acting head of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. While the Los Alamos design was more adventurous, the Livermore design involved tweaking a warhead (never deployed) that Livermore tested in 1980. Of the two designs, it best satisfied the Congressional requirement that the RRW not require nuclear testing. The RRW will also incorporate new protective features that make it, if Gen. James Cartwright of STRATCOM is to be believed, as useless "as a paperweight" if it falls into terrorist hands.

It would be easy to assume that the weapons labs and the navy are united in wanting the new warhead, but the truth is more complicated. Many older weapons designers have been lukewarm about the RRW, which has been more strongly supported by a younger generation of weapons designers who were just hitting their stride when the testing moratorium of the 1990s slammed the door in their faces. The media have quoted Bruce Tarter, the former director of Livermore, and the legendary retired designer Seymour Sack (whose design is the basis for the RRW) as being skeptical about the need for a new warhead.

The warhead has also been opposed by two of the three newspapers in the Livermore Valley. And the navy, which has had a legendary blood feud with Livermore for at least two decades, was always ambivalent about spending the money a new warhead will cost. Now that Livermore has won the design contest, the navy's limited enthusiasm for this project can be expected to ebb still further. Also, judging by comments on the entertaining Los Alamos blog, there are Los Alamos scientists determined that the Livermore RRW will die at birth.

An interesting political struggle looms on the horizon as Congress moves toward hearings on the RRW. In this struggle, New Mexico and California politicians, who pay close attention to the weapons labs, are on both sides of the issue--though all claim to speak in the name of arms reductions. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and New Mexico Democratic Rep. Tom Udall have criticized the RRW, while New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and the representative from Livermore's district, Democrat Ellen Tauscher, have lined up behind it (the latter suggesting a bargain whereby the United States builds the RRW while, finally, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty).

In the debate on the RRW, such as it has been, opponents have mainly focused on two issues: the reliability of the existing stockpile and the danger that an RRW will stimulate nuclear proliferation. Many RRW opponents in nongovernmental organizations have cited a 2006 report by the JASON committee of experts, which concluded that the plutonium cores of existing warheads will be reliable for at least 85 years. If it ain't broke, they say, don't fix it--especially if the fix might provoke other countries. Thus, the New York Times has editorialized that the RRW is "a public relations disaster in the making overseas," while Feinstein has said the mass production of a new warhead, at a time when the United States is trying to isolate North Korea and Iran for their nuclear initiatives, would appear hypocritical and "could serve to encourage the very proliferation we are trying to prevent."

These are good arguments, but still something important has been missing from the debate. It is my own feeling that, if given the choice of waving a wand and changing all the current W76s into RRWs, one would do so because the RRW is a safer warhead whose design is less likely to trigger neurotic doubts about reliability among the men and women in white lab coats who can bring the test ban regime crashing down if they tell the president that they have lost confidence in the reliability of the stockpile. But changing the W76s into RRWs cannot be done by the swish and flick of a wand. Given that the United States currently has the capability to produce about a dozen new pits each year and that we are talking about replacing all the W76s--and eventually, the entire nuclear stockpile, after future RRW design exercises--it can only be done by expanding the U.S. plutonium pit production capability and, presumably, by building the new Consolidated Plutonium Facility Energy seeks as part of its $150 billion Complex 2030 initiative.

We need, then, to debate Complex 2030 and the RRW as two sides of the same coin and to ask whether we want to go back to being a country that mass produces nuclear weapons with all the political, environmental, and health costs that entails. Ten years after the test ban treaty was signed, at a time when the U.S. and Russian stockpiles are shrinking, at a moment when the U.S. budget deficit arcs deeper into the red each year, in a year when the Iraq War is adding $100 billion to the $450 billion defense budget, we need to ask whether we want to restore the relevance of nuclear weapons by devoting this much of our treasure to their refurbishment.

The real question is not so much what the RRW might mean to others, but what nuclear weapons mean to us now.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

 

Bill Moyers Speaks About America, But It Applies to LANL

From land, water, and other resources, to media and the broadcast and digital spectra, to scientific discovery and medical breakthroughs, a broad range of America's public resources have been undergoing a powerful shift toward elite control, contributing substantially to those economic pressures on ordinary Americans that deeply affect household stability, family dynamics, social mobility, political participation and civic life.

What's to be done?

The only answer to organized money is organized people.

Again:

The only answer to organized money is organized people.

And again:

The only answer to organized money is organized people.

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."

-Bill Moyers, an address to students at Occidental College, entitled "A Time for Anger, a Call to Action."

-----

Does this strike home to those of you who are NOT part of LANL's new "Power Elite"?

Think, before you answer.


--Pat, the Dog

PS: A herd does not qualify as "organized people"...



 

Blood in the Bathtub: A Better LLNL RRW?

Is new H-bomb design better?
Debate rages over bathtub shape

--Ian Hoffman, Staff Writer, Inside Bay Area, 03/25/2007


For Gen. James Cartwright, the military commander over U.S. nuclear forces, the first hydrogen bomb to come out of an American nuclear design lab in 20 years doesn't look very new.

The warhead is launched by the same submarines on the same missiles at the same targets and produces the same blast as the warhead it replaces.

"This is far from being a new warhead because it still has the same form, fit and function as the existing warhead," agrees Steve Henry, deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear affairs.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein figures by putting more sophisticated warheads on the same missile "you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon."

Weapons experts themselves are sharply divided.

In designing a hardier replacement for the warhead atop the Navy's Trident missiles, Lawrence Livermore Lab scientists poured more muscle and a few added features into an early 1980s-vintage warhead.

The new/not-new distinction is more than semantic: A truly new bomb probably would need explosive testing, something U.S. presidents have forsworn since 1992, partly to block other nations from testing new designs.

What everyone can agree on is that Livermore's latest bomb — the first in a planned series of "reliable, replacement warheads," or RRWs — never has been manufactured. That means it is vulnerable to the kinds of flaws and breakdowns that afflict every complex object, from trains to automobiles to computers and even living things. The same is true for newly made nuclear bombs, with thousands of parts.

"What you know from bringing in these bright, new, shining systems is they can bring in all these new defects," said Raymond Jeanloz, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who sits on several advisory committees on nuclear weapons matters. "The nature of the glitches have always been very small, detailed things. These are very sophisticated systems, and it's just really hard to be sure that every detail has been shaken down. That doesn't necessarily mean it will have to be the same in the future, but in the past, really diligent people were part of the design and development cycles, and there were glitches."

Scientists, engineers, factory workers and nature itself build unforeseen flaws into the things they make. That's why products are recalled, women miscarry and consumers repair a larger universe of unacknowledged mistakes in the things they buy. It's why Windows users still are downloading security fixes and "updates" after the nth service pack.

On the other side of the equation from these "birth defects" is aging. In time, more and more critical parts break down in any organism or product until it reaches the end of its service life or dies.

Engineers depict these facts of birth, life and death as a curve that looks like a bathtub. After a number of early design- and manufacturing-related failures, the surviving units stumble through a smaller, constant number of random defects and then begin to fail in larger and larger numbers as age takes its toll.

It is tempting to think the most horrendously lethal weapons ever devised by humanity are immune to these facts of engineering and manufacture. They're not.

Numerous studies have found the weapons to be remarkably defect-free, especially as scientists learned to seal moisture out of the most sensitive components. But flaws have been found — and when deemed necessary, fixed — in every kind of bomb and warhead in the current U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to a 1995 study by scientists at all three U.S. nuclear weapons design labs.

That study suggested the wholesale failure of one or more bombs or warheads could come somewhere around the 28th year after a weapon is manufactured.

The deadly right-hand side of the bathtub curve, in other words, was imminent.

Yet subsequent studies showed that conclusion was statistically infirm, based on too small of a sample of examined weapons. Twelve years later, with many weapons aging past that mark and an average arsenal age of about 23 years, weapons scientists acknowledge there is no evidence yet for an age-related meltdown. It is partly fear of such a meltdown that has driven a plan by the weapons labs and the Bush administration to design replacements for every U.S. nuclear explosive.

"What is true is I think there has not been an upturn in the frequency of age-related findings that would create a sense of dramatic urgency in the sense we need to do something in the next year or two years or three years," said former Lawrence Livermore director Bruce Tarter, chairman of a committee studying the replacement warhead program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

U.S. nuclear bombs and warheads then rest somewhere in the stable bottom of the bathtub, past most of their birth defects and adolescence.

"I don't know where the right side of the bathtub shows up, but it is measured in hundreds of years," said Bob Peurifoy, a retired Sandia National Laboratories weapons executive.

A newly manufactured bomb such as Livermore's latest will slip into the bathtub at the left side, before possible defects in design and manufacture are discovered. The lab's RRW-1 is based heavily on a well-tested warhead from the early 1980s but will never be tested in its final manufactured state, and the probability of defects is unclear.

Livermore designers say they learn from mistakes, just as any automaker does.

"Just like Toyota, you have many fewer birth defects today than on a Toyota that you bought in 1985," said designer Bruce Goodwin, head of the lab's weapons program. "But at the end of the day a lot of the lessons learned from the last 25 years come down to simplicity of design. If you could look at RRW, you'd see many fewer parts, you'll see things that come together simply and come apart simply."

If the lab's designers make mistakes that, as in the current arsenal, don't show up for a decade or two, the RRW-1 is designed so that its first explosive stage produces at least four times the energy necessary to drive the rest of the bomb.

"You do have a very, very large margin in the system and so you can absorb defects, you can absorb insults or things that make it work less well," Goodwin said.

Without the proof of a nuclear test, skeptics such as Peurifoy aren't convinced.

"When you do something new, it's the left side of the bathtub, and if you look at automobiles, flashlight batteries, I don't care, you'll find that statistically, you make mistakes that you only discover after you put something into inventory," he said. "I go with the tried and true. I go with the stockpile that has been surveilled and maintained and, when necessary, fixed, and that's what we have today."

 

Many reasons to support nuclear waste recycling


By Donald J. Dudziak

Santa Fe New Mexican, Opinions, Sunday 25 March 2007

If the Bush administration and Congress want to focus energy policies more sen­sibly, New Mexico is the place to begin.

Thirty years ago, President Jimmy Carter put a halt to the recycling of spent fuel from nuclear power plants, on grounds that plutonium removed during the process might get into the hands of irresponsible gov­ernments or terrorists and lead to production of a nuclear weapon. Although President Ronald Reagan lifted the ban on recycling, and other countries like France and Great Britain never stopped using the process, it was not resurrected in this country because recycling was considered too costly.

Now that could change, given the growing importance of nuclear power in the battle against global climate change. In the United States, 17 utilities are preparing to build as many as 33 nuclear power plants. And here in New Mexico, a new uranium enrichment facility is under construction, and one or more nuclear power plants might be built.

Worldwide, the number of nuclear plants is expected to double, with at least 1,000 oper­ating by midcentury, but the likelihood exists there might not be enough uranium.

If the spent reactor fuel now stored at nuclear power plants in the U.S. — some 50,000 tons — were recycled instead of dis­posed of as nuclear “waste,” it could be con­verted into new reactor fuel and used again to provide clean electricity. This would help conserve the world’s uranium resources.

Another benefit from recycling is that it significantly reduces the volume, heat and toxicity of nuclear “waste,” in effect more than doubling the capacity of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. It means that Congress would not have to decide on a second or a third site for addi­tional repositories after the first one is built.

The Department of Energy plans to spend $250 million to demonstrate and deploy tech­nologies for recycling, along with advanced “fast” reactors that can burn the recycled spent fuel. DOE’s goal is to stimulate the use of nuclear power around the world, by assur­ing an ample supply of nuclear fuel, while limiting the risk of weapons proliferation.

Known as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, the DOE plan is to build and operate three facilities in the United States: One for recycling spent fuel and fabricating a mixed-oxide fuel for use in nuclear power plants to produce more electricity. Another facility would be an advanced fast reactor, which would destroy long-lived radioactive elements, while producing power. And a research facility would be used to develop new recycling processes and other advanced nuclear technologies.

So far, 11 sites around the country — including Hobbs and Roswell in New Mexico — have received DOE grants to con­duct studies in order to determine whether they’d be suitable as locations for either the nuclear recycling center or the advanced reactor. Over the long term, the facilities are expected to require a capital investment of at least $16 billion and bring in 8,000 jobs.

The cost of developing new recycling technology would be stretched out over many years, so it will require an assurance of long-term, predictable funding for research, development and demonstration, involving universities and national laboratories.

No question about it, the idea of recy­cling is ambitious. It will entail perfecting a new technology for recycling, one that reduces the risk of weapons proliferation and is affordable. Also, a new generation of advanced nuclear reactors will need to be built. As we’ve learned well over the past 30 years, the absence of recycling and the unnecessary delays in opening the Yucca Mountain repository have placed nuclear power plants in the position of storing more spent fuel than expected, for longer than originally intended.

We need to move forward with GNEP now. Otherwise, we could seriously limit the ability of nuclear power to provide the essen­tially emission-free energy that the world urgently needs.

Donald J. Dudziak, Ph.D., P.E., is a fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a department head and professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University.


Friday, March 23, 2007

 

100,000 Visitors Today!

Congratulations, Pat!

>100K, 1 week before Shutdown!

Good boy! ... er, girl?

-Anonymous (#100,043)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

 

Where are the bright young people at LANL?

This just in:

***********************

Pat,

In response to your question of "Where are the bright young people at LANL?" I submit that they have already left, or are in the process of doing so. You seem to be laboring under the misconception that DOE wishes for LANL to be a science laboratory. To assist you in understanding what DOE's real intentions are for LANL, I suggest that you read the following comment left on the "Nuke Lab Workers' SOS to Congress": post. It describes LANL's future quite clearly.

-Anon

_________________________________________

Mallory has already said that TA-55 is to be manufacturing. TA-16 HE work will go to Pantex. SRS is here, at McQuinn's request, to do an assessment on WETF Tritium work. And I jut read that SRS is gearing up their Tritium facilities. Maybe Tritium will go to SRS and their assessment is just a scoping trip. SNL is getting more and more LANL applications.

With all this there may not be enough left for LASO to mismanage. Between LASO mismanagement, LANS mismanagement, LASO arrogance, LANS arrogance we make quite the team.

Outsourcing is coming. RIFs are coming. You'll have to be 60+ to get your TCP1. Time clocks. Pee bottles. Keystroke counts. A new world is a brewin'. We'll be back down to a 6000 person lab before we know it.

Heim's specialty was outsourcing at SRS. It'll happen here. Give computer support out. Get rid of travel. Give benefits to Hewitt. Give small science to universities. HE work to Pantex. Tritium to SRS. Don't need weapons engineers soon. Give engineers to Bechtel. Do a corporate reachback if we need them and it looks like a management function so there will be a management fee coming in.

Job classification restructure. Salary realignments. Formality of Ops. New world a blowin' in.

 

IF LANL CAN'T ANSWER THIS CHALLENGE, IT DESERVES TO WITHER


Al Gore testifies about global warming during a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters






Notice that this is from BUSINESS WEEK, not The Rolling Stone, or the Berkeley Barb, or High Desert News; this is from the Power Elite (Old Line Republicans, not Neoconservatives). So, deal with it! Where are the bright young people at LANL? We haven't heard from them in months ... Time to follow a REAL leader, one who will listen to scientists, for a change. (Just for your information: DOE stands for Department of Energy. Thought you would be interested in that little factoid. Check it out at Fox.News.com, if you don't trust your canine pal.)

--Pat

------------------------------


Top News
March 21, 2007, 5:46PM EST

Gore Rings a Green Alarm

Former Vice-President Al Gore's return to Congress to urge immediate action on global warming drew a mix of applause and strong criticism

Former Vice-President Al Gore received as close to a red-carpet welcome as its gets on Capitol Hill on Mar. 21, as he pressed Congress to pass legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Gore, who organized the first congressional hearings on climate change 30 years ago, stressed before a joint hearing of the House of Representative's Science & Technology committee that there is no time to waste in addressing what he called a "planetary emergency."

"Global warming is real and human activity is the main cause," he said in written testimony. "The consequences are mainly negative and headed toward catastrophic, unless we act."

Urging Aggressive Steps

Gore, who won an Oscar last month for his film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, appeared calm and confident as he laid out an urgent call-to-arms to address the "scientific consensus" of the climate crisis. Though there has been speculation he'll run for President in 2008, he outlined 10 proposals that promise to be wildly unpopular politically. First, he called for an immediate "freeze" on the level of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, followed by mandatory reductions.

He went on to list a series of aggressive steps, including taxing pollution while lifting employment and production taxes, raising even further the fuel-economy standards for cars, having the U.S. craft a new international global-warming agreement, requiring companies to disclose carbon emissions in SEC filings, and banning the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they capture and store carbon pollution. Gore assured Congress that he understood these policies will face opposition, especially in "tough districts." But he said he's calling on lawmakers to be courageous and "walk through that fire."

On what he said was an "emotional occasion," Gore stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation to address a threat he likened to Fascism during the last century. He also called for long-term thinking that he said flies in the face of the short-term mentality that has taken hold in the markets. "These are not normal times," he said, and lawmakers need to look beyond special interests and have the "moral imagination" to take political risks.

An "Assault" on Fossil Fuels?

"We do not have time to play around with this, and we don't have time to make a political football of it as we play politics as usual," said Gore, pointing to reports that radical action must be taken within 10 years before climate change becomes irreversible.

In the question-and-answer period that followed, Gore encountered words of admiration from both skeptics and supporters, but was not spared from the critical fire he acknowledged others would face.Representative Ralph Hall (R-Tex.) was one of the harshest critics. He said Gore's proposals mark an "all-out assault on all forms of fossil fuels," and emphasized their potential cost to the economy. "If we allow this attack on energy to go unanswered, and have it result in lessening our domestic reliance on fossil fuels, we will force a reliance on OPEC from a dangerous 60% to a recklessly dangerous and likely 80% of our total energy supply," Hall said. Other critics voiced concern that if the U.S. curbs emissions without the cooperation of India and China—which is starting up the equivalent of one coal-burning plant every four days—U.S. business will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Representative Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the U.S. needs to make more use of nuclear energy and asked for Gore's thoughts on the controversial issue. The former Vice-President said he is "not reflexively against" nuclear power and "not an absolutist." However, he said that the tremendous cost and lengthy construction times for nuclear plants can be a hindrance. "They only come in extra large," Gore said.

President George W. Bush and other Republicans remain opposed to a mandatory cap on carbon dioxide emitted from cars, power plants, and other human activities, arguing that it will harm the economy. The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are among groups that oppose mandatory limits on carbon emissions, citing competitive reasons.

Industry Support Builds

But major players in the business community are coalescing around calls for a federal cap in greenhouse emissions, stressing the need for both a uniform regulatory environment, as well as a reduction in the risks global warming poses to their businesses. In January, the heads of 10 large U.S. corporations, including Alcoa (AA) and General Electric (GE), said they supported mandatory caps. Last week, General Motors (GM), Ford (F), Chrysler (DCX), and Toyota North America (TM) endorsed a mandatory economy-wide emissions cap.

And on Mar. 19, a coalition of more than 50 institutional investors, including the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and Merrill Lynch (MER), called on Congress to take a leadership role in cutting emissions and setting federal standards on the issue (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/19/07, "Investors Call on Congress to Go Green"). A day later, some of the U.S.'s top utility chiefs told a House hearing that they don't oppose one .

After his morning appearance in the House, Gore testified before the Senate Environment & Public Works committee during the afternoon. Democratic leaders in Congress, including Presidential candidates (and Senators) Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have said that passing legislation to address the threat of global warming is a top priority. Five bills in Congress currently call for a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions, which is now mandated in a handful of states and U.S. cities. On Mar. 20, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) used his moment at the mike to introduce the Safe Climate Act, which calls for 80% cuts from 1990 emissions levels by 2050.

Meanwhile, Gore's time in the spotlight isn't likely to end soon. He's now helping plan a number of worldwide rock concerts to be held on July 7 to raise public awareness of climate change. The question remains as to how effectively he can exploit his status as a politician-turned-celebrity to convince more American consumers, business leaders, and politicians that sacrifices today will mean great benefits in the future.

Herbst is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com in New York.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

 

Nuke Lab Workers' SOS to Congress

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nuke Lab Workers' SOS to Congress

There's a "culture of mismanagement" at Los Alamos National Laboratory, current and former nuclear security specialists there are saying. And they want Congress to investigate the birthplace of the atomic bomb -- again -- for "health, safety, security and management concerns."

Lanl_nm"We have never in our careers, either in public service or the private sector, witnessed such gross mismanagement," these workers, from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Los Alamos Site Office, say in a letter to Congress, obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

No names are attached to the note. "While whistleblower protection is afforded," the workers write, "we fear DOE [Department of Energy] management retaliation." But the employees claim they have "a sum of more that 100 years of experience" in the Energy Department.

In a press release, POGO notes that the University of California last year won a questionable competition to continue managing Los Alamos -- despite a torrent of scandals. "The NNSA then initiated a 'pilot program' that allows the contractor to oversee itself." That's a major no-no. " This program rendered the Site Office virtually powerless to correct problems," notes one poster to a Los Alamos blog.

"Why select a site that is-known to have had a history of serious management problems and serious problems with business systems?" the letter adds.


 

Beware of 'News' on the Internet

And here's the 'quality' of the 'story' by the 'reporter':

"The drug dealer was a former employee of KSL, a subcontractor with a
Los Alamos contract. How he could walk out of one of the world's most
secure nuclear weapons laboratories with highly secret information on
USB memory sticks is near unbelievable."

A. The person who worked for KSL was a woman.
B. She wasn't accused of being a drug dealer.
C. The drug dealer was her renter (maybe not even a boyfriend).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

 

DOE Employees Request Congressional Investigation

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has received a letter addressed to Congress from “current and former DOE employees” (pdf) calling for an investigation into persistent mismanagement at the NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office (LASO). Their concerns include understaffing, cronyism, constant and haphazard reorganizations, and inadequate training of employees. The letter draws from a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the issues raised deserve to be taken seriously:

The "we" who have authored this letter constitute a group of current and former employees of the Los Alamos Site Office (LASO) and the New Mexico DOE Complex. As a group our personnel have a sum of more that 100 years of experience. We can say with confidence that we have never in our careers, either in public service or the private sector witnessed such gross mismanagement as seen at the Los Alamos Site Office.

Last year, the University of California won, along with Bechtel, a questionable competition to continue their mismanagement of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) with the stated purpose of correcting the problems that they, in part, created. The NNSA initiated a “pilot program” shortly thereafter that handed over contract oversight responsibility to the contractor itself. This program rendered the Site Office virtually powerless to correct problems and it’s at the root of many of the issues discussed in the letter to Congress.

The "pilot program" makes little sense considering the track records of the contractors. The University of California already had a proven history of mismanagement at Los Alamos before the DOE decided to open their contract to competitive bidding. Bechtel, UC’s current partner, not only has its own checkered contract history, but has often used its political clout to actively dodge accountability.

Thus it's no surprise that safety and security debacles continue unabated: the partial blinding of an employee with a laser, incidents of losing classified information (e.g., CREM DE METH), americium contamination in four states that cost the governement $1 million in clean-up costs, and a nine-month shutdown of the lab due to lax security and safety that cost taxpayers roughly $500 million.

The employee letter states:

Given past problems, one must question why the LASO was thought to be the appropriate site for implementation of a pilot of reduced contractor oversight as a way of doing business. Why select a site that is-known to have had a history of serious management problems and serious problems with business systems. Audits and review of other documentation will verify the lack of a viable business system at LANL.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman last fall, POGO also addressed the Site Office’s “pilot program.”

The problem is clear: the lack of qualified safety basis experts in the Site Offices; the fact that DOE does not verify whether the safety directions created by the federal DOE overseers have been implemented by the contractor; and the decision-makers at DOE Headquarters do not support their people in the field when there is a conflict between the contractor and DOE. For instance, Headquarters assured the Los Alamos site office that it would get additional staff to work on safety verification. However, that additional staff was never provided. Furthermore, former Los Alamos safety director Chris Steele was transferred because of complaints from the contractor, who said he was being too tough on them. The solution is not self-policing by the contractor: it is to have a sufficient number of adequately-qualified safety experts, and the support for those experts from DOE Headquarters. Oversight of contractors is an inherently governmental function.

On January 30 of this year, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian testified before a House subcommittee once again reiterating that the situation has yet to improve. She stated, “In fact, I fear things may actually be getting worse. Not only has NNSA has failed to correct security issues, but the agency has determined that it wants even less oversight of Los Alamos and has implemented a new pilot program in which oversight has been handed over to the contractor itself.”

Many of the DOE employees’ concerns are widely known and pre-date the “pilot program.” Retired Admiral Henry Chiles, presiding over a Security Workforce Panel, released a report in 2004 (pdf) that documented personnel problems within NNSA, particularly those related to understaffing. The following year, retired Admiral Richard Mies led an independent review of NNSA security operations at the national laboratories. His subsequent report (pdf) also detailed an extensive lack of proper training, oversight, and accountability.

Yet while paying lip-service to these and other reports’ recommendations, the DOE and NNSA have failed to correct the underlying problems. At the same hearing where POGO’s Brian noted that the situations may be getting worse, NNSA Acting Administrator Thomas D’Agostino persisted in the belief (pdf) that improvements were already underway. His conclusion:

We have received a number of reports from the Government Accountability Office, the DOE Inspector General, and the DOE Office of Independent Oversight. Like the Chiles and Mies studies, we have addressed the recommendations in these reports and have made major improvements.

The recent letter from “current and former DOE employees” proves D’Agostino’s conclusion to be false. POGO supports their request for a congressional investigation into the matter. The “pilot program” has been a disaster and should be terminated immediately. The entire senior management staff should also be held accountable for LANL and LASO's failures.

-- John Pruett


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!

Sincerely,
--A nuclear weapons scientist

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