More WIPP Fallout: NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90%

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 29, 2014
Contact:  Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay@nukewatch.org

More WIPP Fallout:
NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90%
Watchdogs Say Management Contract Should Be Put Out for Bid

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Los Alamos Lab Director Charles McMillan notified LANL employees that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had slashed FY 2014 management award fees to $6.25 million. Seventeen million dollars were available in fixed fees, and around $40 million in incentive fees, resulting in a 90% cut to potential awards. In addition, NNSA declined to grant a previously pro forma one-year contract extension, and most remarkably rescinded a contract extension from an earlier year (see more below). As justification, the agency invoked a ““First Degree” performance failure… [that] created damage to DOE property or costs for cleaning, decontaminating, renovating, replacing or rehabilitating property that in aggregate exceed $2.5 million.”

This is more fallout from WIPP. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) used unapproved radioactive waste treatment procedures that resulted in a ruptured drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing that multi-billion dollar facility. It will cost an estimated half-billion dollars to reopen WIPP, which will likely double. Additionally, the New Mexico Environment Department has proposed $54 million in fines against LANL and WIPP, and Congress has cut $40 million from cleanup programs at the Lab, while adding $100 million to help reopen WIPP.

LANL is managed by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. LANL Director Charles McMillan is compensated $1.5 million annually, while also acting as president of the for-profit limited liability corporation, a possible conflict of interest.

Because of grossly substandard performance, the Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico had jointly asked the Department of Energy Secretary to cut LANS’ FY 2014 incentive fee at least in half. NNSA’s final decision far exceeds our request. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “We strongly praise NNSA for gutting LANS’ award fees. This sends an unmistakable message to contractors that they will be held accountable, which has been sorely missing to date. However, in light of LANS’ miserable performance, NNSA should take the next big step and put the management contract out to bid. NNSA and Congress should also consider whether for-profit management of the nuclear weapons complex is really in the country’s best interests, when the track record demonstrates that it’s not.”

In addition to the WIPP fiasco, another monumental failure occurred in July 2012 when three elderly protestors broke into a highly secure area, previously thought impregnable, at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, TN. The for-profit contractor had self-appraised its security program management as “excellent” and physical security as “good” in the preceding official “Performance Evaluation Report,” which the NNSA approved and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Concerning LANS’ own substandard performance, LANL has been incapable of conducting major operations at its main plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of serious nuclear criticality safety concerns. This belies the fact that the Lab is the country’s only designated, so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence.” Bechtel has had a particularly troubled performance history with the Department of Energy. Under Bechtel management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers.

Similarly, under Bechtel’s partnership management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR) mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Lab Director McMillan now pushes for a multi-billion dollar “modular” substitute for the CMRR Nuclear Facility, whose mission would be expanded production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, existing nuclear weapons don’t need expanded pit production, implying that it would be for unspecified future nuclear weapons. In any event, LANL has questionable competency to perform any plutonium pit production at all.

On a final related matter, to its credit NNSA posted the LANS FY 2014 Fee Determination Letter and Notice of Reduction. However, the agency did not post the full Performance Evaluation Report upon which they are based. Jay Coghlan commented, “NNSA’s decision to slash LANS’ fees is very welcomed, but far greater transparency is still needed. Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued in the past to make full Performance Evaluation Reports publicly available. We will sue again if our current Freedom of Information Act request for the full FY 2014 Performance Evaluation Report is not soon satisfied.”

LANS received a 68% contractor performance rating for FY 2012, but was given a waiver by the NNSA fee determination officer (who soon thereafter became the NNSA Administrator). That waiver gave LANS additional taxpayer-paid fees and granted it another contract extension, when the required minimum threshold was 80%. Nuclear Watch New Mexico discovered this after litigation that obtained the full FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Report. Congress subsequently required NNSA to report any future waivers to the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, effectively ending that practice. This does, however, demonstrate the importance of public access to NNSA’s full Performance Evaluation Reports, so that taxpayers can know that nuclear weapons contractors are being held accountable.

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References:

1.   NNSA, FY 2014 Performance Evaluation Report, Fee Determination Letter, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/FY14%20LANS%20FDO%20Letter.pdf

2.   NNSA, Contracting Officer’s Notice of Reduction of LANS FY 2014 Fixed Fee and Forfeiture of Previously Earned Award Term, http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/Contracting%20Officer%20Notice%20of%20Reduction%20of%20LANS%20FY14%20Fixed%20Fee%20and%20Incentive%20Fee.pdf

3.   December 3, 2014 joint POGO and Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor. http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/POGO-NukeWatch-Moniz-Sandia-performance-12-19-14.pdf

4.   LANL Director Charles McMillan December 29, 2014 announcement to Lab employees:

To/MS:LANL-ALL
From/MS: Charles F. McMillan, DIR, A100
Phone/Fax:7-5101/7-2997
Symbol:DIR-14-246
Date: December 29, 2014

SUBJECT:  FY2014 NNSA PERFORMANCE REVIEW

NNSA has presented the Laboratory with our annual performance
evaluation report (PER) for FY2014. As expected the overall
results are not, with several notable exceptions, positive.

The fee for Fiscal Year 2014 was reduced to $6.25 million.  Given
the events surrounding our breached drum at WIPP and the severity
of the issue, the Laboratory received a rating of
“unsatisfactory” in operations and infrastructure and a score of
zero in that area which accounted for the significant reduction
in fee.

Although the WIPP incident weighed very heavily on our overall
evaluation from NNSA we performed well in the areas of our core
nuclear weapons work, global security, and science. This good
performance prompted written praise from NNSA Field Office
Manager Kim Davis Lebak as well as in the PER. Lebak said, “The
majority of the work performed by the Laboratory met or exceeded
NNSA expectations.”

I want to emphasize that our true value as a Laboratory should be
measured by the contributions we make to national security. This
is something we can all be very proud of. According to the PER
our nuclear weapons mission and global security mission each
“exceeded expectations.”  The PER cited many weapons program
highlights including: assisting Pantex to surpass the recovery
schedule for W76-1 production, execution of the Leda experiment
at Nevada, advances in the plutonium strategy, and excellent
progress in support of B61-12.  In global security, according to
the PER, “The Laboratory’s efforts were high impact and largely
successful, especially in the areas of Nuclear Safeguards and
Security, the Nuclear Counterterrorism Program, the Nuclear Non-
Compliance Verification Program and Non-Proliferation Research
and Development.”

Despite the challenges of fiscal uncertainty during the past
year, the Laboratory has made significant strides in many areas.
Our mission deliverables included multiple activities and studies
that increased our understanding of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

An update to the W78 life expectancy study was delivered, along
with analyses related to the B61, W76, W78, and W88 systems.  In
the broader national security mission the Laboratory was
instrumental in supporting the removal of low-enriched uranium
from Russia, hosting the IAEA non-destructive inspector training
course, and developing USAF satellite-based treaty verification
instruments.

In addition, the PER calls out our science, technology and
engineering missions for advancing the state of research and
utilization of the exceptional scientific resources of the
Laboratory including Laboratory Directed Research and Development
(LDRD).   According to the PER, “The Laboratory has reinforced
its stature as one of the preeminent scientific institutions of
the nation.” Indeed, we pushed the boundaries of science,
technology and engineering with major feats, such as: being
chosen to develop SuperCam for the Mars 2020 mission, supplying
unique RAPTOR telescope data on the birth of a black hole,
leading the development of a “desktop” human surrogate device,
and collaboration on the characterization of the damage to the
Fukushima nuclear plant.

Operationally, despite setbacks and shortcomings, we saw progress
and momentum in key areas:
*             Safety and environmental performance are at historically
positive levels.  Injuries and days away from work due to
safety issues are lower than ever before.  The Laboratory
was named a “Star Site” of the Voluntary Protection Plan
program, the largest site in the DOE complex to earn the
star level;
*             Site-wide energy usage was reduced and water consumption
was reduced by 18 percent over last fiscal year;
*             An upgrade project for plutonium facility security was
completed and seismic and fire protection upgrades at TA-55
were completed; and
*             Significant progress was made on construction projects,
including TA-55 revitalization, the Transuranic Waste
Facility, and the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center.

To position the Laboratory to deliver on our future national
security missions we made significant progress with NNSA on
plutonium strategy including the “modular” approach to
infrastructure that will reduce risk associated with the
construction of targeted facilities while meeting mission needs,
safety and security, and regulatory requirements.  We also
awarded a contract to Cray Inc. to build the next-generation
supercomputer, Trinity.  Trinity will play a key role in
assessing future issues, both known and unknown, in the U.S.
nuclear deterrent.

Although this was a very tough year for the Laboratory I am
optimistic that next year will be better. I am determined to do
all that I can to make it so. My personal priorities will be to
continue to make progress on getting PF-4 fully restarted,
continuing collaboration with DOE on an effective and efficient
transition of the Environmental Management program scope, and
enhancing our management and leadership capabilities by filling
key vacancies and correcting operational deficiencies.

I would like to personally thank each of you for the hard work
and wish you and your family members a safe and happy holiday
season. Enjoy your well-deserved break and come back in the New
Year rededicated to serving the national security needs of this
country.

Watchdogs Urge Big Cut to Contractor Fees at the Sandia Labs

Watchdogs Urge Big Cut to Contractor Fees at the Sandia Labs

December 19, 2014 – The Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent the Department of Energy Secretary a letter urging that the FY 2014 contractor incentive award fee for the Sandia National Laboratories be completely denied. The two watchdog organizations wrote to the Secretary earlier this month to urge him to cut performance incentive award fees at least in half for the Los Alamos Lab contractor because of substandard performance that led to the contamination of 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and the indefinite closure of that multi-billion facility. As deplorable as the Los Alamos situation is, the Sandia case is arguably worse because it involves direct violations of federal law that prohibit contractor use of taxpayers’ dollars to lobby the government for further work.

The Sandia Labs are run by the for-profit Sandia Corporation, wholly owned by the country’s largest contractor, the Lockheed Martin Corporation. According to its current contract with the federal government, the Sandia Corporation could earn up to $9.8 million in FY 2014 performance incentive award fees (it also stands to receive $18.3 million in fixed fees). In addition, Lockheed Martin could receive $2.8 million for “Home Office And Other Corporate Support,” which includes the subcategory “Provision of Corporate Ethics.” The Department of Energy should refuse to pay both because of improper lobbying of Congress and federal officials and Lockheed Martin’s ethical failure while doing so.

The Sandia Corporation’s unlawful lobbying has been well documented in two recent Department of Energy Inspector General reports. The first report concluded that Sandia had improperly paid ex-Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R.-NM) around $226,000 in consulting fees to lobby for additional work for the Sandia Labs. This began in January 2009, the day after she stepped down from office representing the congressional district in which Sandia is located. The DOE IG investigation forced the Sandia Corporation to reimburse the government the monies it had received to pay Wilson.

The second DOE IG report concluded: We believe that the use of federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition was inexplicable and unjustified… The evidence indicated that SNL and LMC [Lockheed Martin Corp.] officials had conversations with members of Congress and federal officials to convince the department, NNSA and Congress of the merits of contract extension without competition.

Peter Stockton, POGO’s senior investigator, commented, “This blatant attempt to pass along lobbying costs to taxpayers is revolting. Another example of catch me if you can. Reimbursement isn’t enough; DOE must punish Sandia for violating the law.”

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The for-profit Sandia Corporation has made no public acknowledgment of responsibility or remorse. The Department of Energy must seriously cut Sandia’s award fees to make sure contractors get the message that business as usual corrupted by unlawful lobbying will no longer be tolerated. There should be no more contract extensions. Instead the management contract should be put out to bid as previously planned, until it was short-circuited by the Sandia Corporation’s illegal actions.”

# # #

The POGO/Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Sandia Labs contractor is here.

For the DOE IG reports, see:

Concerns with Consulting Contract Administration at Various Department Sites, Inspection Report: DOE/IG-0889, June 7, 2013, and

Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension, Special Inquiry: DOE/IG-0927, November 2014

 

GAO Seeks Broader Analysis For Proposed Liquid Waste Facility at LANL

GAO Seeks Broader Analysis For Proposed Liquid Waste Facility at LANL

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) was mandated to review the  “analysis of alternatives” (AOA) process applied by NNSA. The process entails identifying, analyzing, and selecting a preferred alternative to best meet the mission need by comparing the operational effectiveness, costs, and risks of potential alternatives. GAO developed a set of practices by reviewing AOA policies and guidance used by seven public and private-sector entities with experience in the AOA process. GAO’s review of DOE’s requirements for AOAs found that they conform to only 1 of the 24 best practices: the practice of defining functional requirements based on mission need.

DOE and NNSA officials acknowledge that unreliable AOAs are a risk factor for major cost increases and schedule delays for NNSA projects. As GAO has previously reported, NNSA has spent billions of dollars designing and partially constructing projects with an estimated cost of $750 million or more, only to later reassess alternatives. NNSA may continue on this path and continue to have limited assurance that it is selecting alternatives that best meet its mission needs and will not result in major cost increases and schedule delays in the future.

Overall, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) analysis of alternatives (AOA) conducted for the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF) project only partially met best AOA practices. The mission need for this project—to replace the current, aging facility—was approved in October 2004. NNSA approved an initial AOA for this project in 2006, and after substantial cost increases, conducted a second AOA (analyzed here) in 2013. NNSA currently estimates the project will cost between $168 million and $220 million.

The GAO compared the AOA conducted at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility at LANL with AOA best practices in 24 areas.

For instance in best practices, the team or the decision maker defines selection criteria based on the mission need. What LANL actually did only partially met best practices because the Lab included in the project documentation brief summaries of the selection criteria used but did not describe how these were based on the mission need. LANL included only one of these selection criteria—the scope—in the mission need statement.

In another case, the team or the decision maker is supposed to weigh the selection criteria to reflect the relative importance of each criterion. Here best practices were not met because LANL did not include weighting selection criteria in project documentation.

The ailing facility is still operating.

During 2013, all treated water from the RLWTF was fed to the effluent evaporator. The evaporator was operated 3654 hours on 201 days during 2013, in both one-burner and two-burner mode. A total of 2.64 million liters of treated water were fed to the evaporator, and 2.55 million liters were discharged to the environment as steam from the evaporator stack.

Curies of radioactive materials fed to the effluent evaporator during 2013 were calculated by multiplying the evaporator feed volume (2,638,330 liters) times the flow-weighted average concentration of each radionuclide. Feed to the effluent evaporator in 2013 contained approximately 4.9E-04 curie alpha radioactivity, 3.35E-04 curie beta radioactivity, and 1.7E-02 curie of tritium.

This RLWTF is vital to nuclear weapons production operations at the Lab. But equipment failures could pose a risk to facility workers.

 

DOE AND NNSA PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Analysis of Alternatives Could Be Improved by Incorporating Best Practices

GAO-15-37: Published: Dec 11, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2014.

 

Authors: Del Signore, John C. [Los Alamos National Laboratory]

2014-11-25, LA-UR-14-29097

Comments to DOE Re: Transition of Legacy Clean-up Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory

December 10, 2014

Jack R. Craig, Jr.

DOE EM

Re: Transition of Legacy Clean-up Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Mr. Craig,

Please consider these preliminary comments and requests concerning the transition of legacy clean-up work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

First, we request that alternatives to the current Department of Energy contract process be considered. The privatization of the nuclear weapons complex may be failing the U.S. taxpayer. Cost overruns plague the current system. Different variations of the same contractors still continue to line up for different variations of the same contracts. Yet, with a few exceptions, cleanup only crawls along. Many of the sites are still contaminated decades after the work was completed.  And now, WIPP is shut down.

We ask that alternatives such as looking to governmental agencies instead of private contractors be tasked with cleanup at Los Alamos. For instance, could the Army Corp. of Engineers do the job?

We also strongly request that alternatives to “No-Bid” and “Cost-Plus” contracts be considered first. Recently, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain spoke to prohibit the Pentagon from awarding cost-plus contracts, arguing such deals encourage nefariousness. (DefenseNews.com, December 5, 2014)

Second, if a conventional contract is used, we request that the following specific items be included in the proposed new EM contract at LANL. We also ask that these items be included in the ‘bridge’ contract:

  • Must be tied to LANL Consent Order and LANL RCRA permit.
  • Any “campaigns” must be legally binding, and not used as justification to miss Consent Order milestones.
  • Should be more incentive based – less fixed.
  • Should be more transparent like ARRA, including public availability of Performance Evaluations.
  • Should have dramatically lower overhead costs, for example lower security and no LDRD costs. These overhead costs should be made public just as the old Functional Support Costs were available to the public.
  • Must include public update meetings semi-annually.
  • Should favor local/regional economic development.
  • Must have public update meetings at least semi-annually.

Third, for the new bridge contract and any final contract we ask:

  • Cleanup must continue at current pace during transition.
  • There must be a new lifecycle baseline – with the range with assumptions spelled out. Comprehensive cleanup must be considered, not just cap and cover.
  • Corrective Measures Evaluations must be completed on all areas as one of the priorities.

Finally, concerning the new bridge contract, the synopsis doesn’t address the issue of how much LANS will be paid under the to-be-finalized bridge contract in relation to how much it would have been paid under the existing contract. It also doesn’t state which of the tasks mentioned are different than under the existing contract. We request that costs and tasks be fully described in the to-be-finalized bridge contract.

Thank you for your consideration in these matters and please call if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Jay Coghlan                                                            Scott Kovac

Executive Director                                                Research Director

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) believes that the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing (RANT) Shipping Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory must resolve safety issues prior to resuming operations. The DNFSB staff review team identified “significant flaws” in hazard and accident analyses.

The RANT Shipping Facility is used to load transuranic (TRU) waste, typically either waste drums or standard waste boxes, into TRUPACT shipping containers. This facility supports the LANL TRU program and will be used long-term. The RANT Shipping Facility is currently in standby with no TRU waste present, pending the resumption of TRU waste shipments.

In November 2013, the contractor, LANS, submitted a new safety analysis, called a Documented Safety Analysis (DSA), to DOE oversight officials at the Los Alamos Field Office (LAFO) for approval. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down due to a radiation leak in the underground. It is believed that wheat-based kitty litter was mixed with nitrate salts in a transuranic waste drum as it was processed at Los Alamos that potentially caused the reaction that breached the container. In July 2014, LAFO completed its review of the RANT DSA and noted only four actions needed.

The DNFSB staff reviewed the DSA and identified significant weaknesses in the hazard analysis (HA), accident analysis, and safety controls. The review revealed inadequate identification and implementation of safety controls to protect the public and workers.

The DNFSB report found that LANS and LAFO underestimated consequences from potential crane failure accidents, seismic events, and fires. Underestimating possible consequences like these can lead to increased radiologic releases to the environment.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Staff Issue Report September 29, 2014

Below is a Google Earth image of the RANT facility. Notice the 8 TRUPACT trailers with three round TRUPACT containers each on them.

NNSA Governance Advisory Panel Condones Diminishing Federal Oversight Of Failing Contractors

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday, the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise released its long awaited report, entitled “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise.” According to enabling language in the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act, “The purpose of the advisory panel is to examine options and make recommendations for revising the governance structure, mission, and management of the nuclear security enterprise.” This means the nuclear weapons complex owned by the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and run by its contractors. In an attempt to give increased prominence to nuclear weapons programs, the Panel goes so far as to recommend that the Department of Energy be renamed the Department of Energy and Nuclear Security.

The Panel itself is full of conflicts-of-interest. It is co-chaired by Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, which is the sole manager of the Sandia Labs and runs the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons production plants in partnership with the Bechtel Corp. The other co-chair, Admiral Robert Mies, sits on the Board of Governors of both for-profit contractors that run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Labs, as do former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and Michael Anastasio, former director of both labs. Yet another panel member, Franklin C. Miller, sits on the Sandia Corporation Board of Directors.

But the most questionable panel member is former Congresswoman Heather Wilson (ex.-R-NM). While still in office she signed a contract for “consulting” services with the Sandia National Laboratories that had no written work requirements. The day after she stepped down from office she started being paid $10,000 a month, and went on to secure a similar contract from the Los Alamos Lab for the same amount of money. The DOE Inspector General has recently found that the Sandia contractor (wholly owned by Lockheed Martin) had engaged in highly improper, if not illegal, lobbying of Congress for contract extensions, in which Heather Wilson was “deeply, deeply involved.” Both Sandia and LANL were forced to return to the government the $450,000 they had paid to Wilson, but she has not returned any money.

The Panel’s report laments the dysfunctional relationship between NNSA and its contractors, and deplores the loss of mutual trust. But while profits are rising, contractors are being held to fewer and fewer performance benchmarks, which the Panel does little if anything to fix. Performance benchmarks were previously codified in annual Performance Evaluation Plans (PEPs), but have been subsequently stripped. As a case in point, the FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Plan for the Los Alamos Lab contractor was 89 pages long, full of concrete performance benchmarks. The restructured FY 2013 Plan was nine pages long, with vague performance benchmarks.

This diminishing federal oversight flies in the face of a long history of project delays and immense cost increases for which contractors are responsible, but not held accountable. For example, the former contractor for the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant committed a half-billion dollar design mistake for the Uranium Processing Facility, but has not been publicly disciplined. Y-12’s new contractor just awarded Bechtel a no-bid UPF construction contract, which in effect awards itself since the contractor is principally composed of Lockheed Martin and Bechtel. This is despite the fact that under Bechtel management the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos exploded in costs from ~$600 million to ~$.6.5 billion, and the Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford from ~$3.5 billion to ~$13.5 billion.

Contractors have also committed very serious operational mistakes. The LANL contractor used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, causing estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which will no doubt increase) and $54 million in New Mexico state fines.

As another example, the former Y-12 contractor self-appraised its security management program as “excellent” and its physical security as “good,” which the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) approved while awarding management fees. Both were shaken to their cores when an 82-year old nun and two elderly colleagues cut through three security fences to protest nuclear weapons in a very sensitive area previously thought impregnable.

Despite all this, the Panel makes no specific recommendations to put performance benchmarks back into management contracts. Instead, it proposes that the number of budget line items be reduced, which could further erode transparency, accountability, and congressional oversight, and increase the ability of NNSA and its contractors to move money around.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the Panel recommends that congressional oversight be strengthened by having the DOE Secretary report to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees, and to the House Energy and Commerce and Armed Services Committees. This would likely have the opposite effect, as it seems to preclude the traditional jurisdiction of the House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittees, which have provided key oversight in the past, and have often cut certain nuclear weapons programs. Indeed, later in the report, the Panel suggests (short of a formal recommendation) that funding authority for NNSA nuclear weapons programs be invested in the Defense Subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Again, this appears to exclude Energy and Water Appropriations, which could have profound implications by weakening congressional fiscal constraints on the nuclear weapons complex.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The Panel’s self-interested premise that the Nuclear Security Enterprise needs a new foundation is wrong. First, call it what it is, not some kind of innocuous sounding “enterprise,” but rather a massive research and production complex that is pushing an unaffordable trillion dollar modernization program for nuclear warheads, missiles, subs and bombers. This will divert taxpayers’ dollars from meeting the real national security threats of nuclear weapons proliferation and climate change. The Panel failed by not arguing for prudent maintenance of the stockpile, instead supporting a perpetual work program of risky life extension programs for existing nuclear weapons that will enrich contractors.”

# # #


“A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise” by the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise is available at
http://cdn.knoxblogs.com/atomiccity/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2014/12/Governance.pdf?_ga=1.136311025.1198700939.1418359009

The DOE Inspector General “Special Inquiry: Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension” is available at
http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/11/f19/IG-0927.pdf

The DOE’s Inspector General’s quote of Heather Wilson’s deep involvement in improper lobbying on behalf of the Sandia Labs is from
http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/mines-president-named-in-doe-inspector-general-s-probe/article_b984ab84-d593-5578-8007-e70e7c9e986f.html

NukeWatch Urges Increasing DOE Accountability in Wake of Fines

On December 6, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declared multiple violations at both the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NMED plans to fine WIPP $17.7 million and LANL $36.6 million due to major procedural problems related to the handling of radioactive transuranic (TRU) wastes that contributed to two significant incidents at WIPP earlier this year.

In addition to “failure to adequately characterize waste” and other violations, LANL was cited for the processing of nitrate-bearing wastes and adding neutralizing agents to that waste stream. LANL treated this procedure as if it was outside the state hazardous waste permit, but NMED determined that these operations were not exempt. LANL treated 100s of waste drums without a permit, and one of these was apparently the cause of the February 14, 2014 radioactive release at WIPP that contaminated 21 workers.

WIPP was cited for, among other violations, not notifying NMED in a timely fashion of the February 14 radioactive release.

The $36.6 million fine at LANL is based on up to $10,000 per day per non-compliance, but still represents less than 2% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget. The contractor that runs the Lab, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, is eligible to earn $57 million in bonus award fees for the fiscal year that ended last September 30th. The fines should be taken out of the bonuses.

NMED stipulated that the penalties couldn’t be paid for out of designated funding for environmental cleanup or operational needs at LANL and WIPP.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds these efforts to hold the Department of Energy accountable in New Mexico and we urge NMED to not negotiate these relatively modest fines down, as is typically the case. These fines should be paid out of the contractor’s profits. The Lab had this waste for over 20 years and still could not get it right. We hope these NMED fines are a wake up call for safe, comprehensive cleanup of all the wastes left from the Cold War at the Los Alamos Lab.”

NMED information is available here.

FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act cuts Safety Board employees

The House Armed Services Committee has tried repeatedly to cripple the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, realizing that the Board slows down what the nuclear weaponeers want to do (and causes the estimated costs of new nuclear facilities to explode because of safety concerns).

The Board’s enabling legislation authorized a staff of up to 150 personnel. HASC tried to cut it down to 120. The final House-Senate agreement on the FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act cuts it to 130. Remember, the Board covers the entire active nuclear weapons complex and then some, and is often the only adult in the room when it comes to nuclear safety issues. For example, the Los Alamos Lab’s plutonium pit production facility has not conducted major operations since the end of June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues that the Board raised.

The relevant FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act Agreement language is as follows, page 350, http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/download/fy2015-ndaa-conference-jes

Number of employees of Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board(sec. 3203)

The House bill contained a provision (sec. 3203) that would amend section 313(b)(1)(A) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2286b(b)(1)(A)) to limit the number of full-time employees of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to 120. The Senate committee-reported bill contained no similar provision. The agreement includes the House provision with an amendment that would limit the number of employees to 130. – end of quote –

The Board deserves our ongoing support. In Nuclear Watch NM’s view, the Board should be expanded, not cut, especially in light of the govermnent’s plans to spend more than a trillion dollars over the next 30 years on nuclear weapons modernization.

 

 

Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab

 

 

Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab

Washington, DC and Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent the Secretary of the Department of Energy a letter urging that the contractor award fee for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) be slashed. The total possible fee that can be earned for FY 2014, which ended September 30, is $17.1 million in fixed fee and up to $40 million in incentive fee.  The watchdog organizations argue that the incentive fee award should be cut at least in half because of grossly substandard contractor performance.

The Los Alamos Lab is run by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. As recently reported by The Albuquerque Journal, LANL Director Charlie McMillan makes $1.5 million annually while also acting as president of LANS, which is a possible conflict of interest.

LANS’ contract performance in FY 2014 was demonstrably worse than other years. The best, well-publicized evidence is that the Lab used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, with estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which will no doubt increase). Moreover, the New Mexico Environment Department now threatens to levy substantial fines against LANL because of its missed deadline to send transuranic wastes to WIPP.

Less well known, the Lab is the nation’s only so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence,” but has been unable to conduct major operations at its plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. The two watchdog organizations do not support plutonium operations at LANL, much of which is geared towards the unnecessary production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, at the same time, contractors should not be paid for work they don’t do.

Peter Stockton, POGO’s senior investigator, commented, “It’s time for some tough love! LANS screws up the WIPP facility, costing the government at least $500 million, and had to stop operations at its plutonium facility for over a year because of nuclear safety concerns. In the face of these debacles, DOE should be seeking restitution, not providing a performance bonus.”

Bechtel has had a particularly troubling contracting history with DOE. Under its management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous whistleblower complaints. Similarly, under LANS’ management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Now, in effect, Bechtel has awarded itself the construction contract to build the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 production plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Under a previous contractor estimated costs for the UPF exploded from around $600 million to as high as $19 billion. To help fix that, the UPF’s mission has been recently narrowed to nuclear weapons components production only (eliminating dismantlements) in order to hold to a budget cap of $6.5 billion. That means the American taxpayer is paying more for less, and arguably for the wrong priorities. Lockheed Martin and Bechtel run the new Y-12 management contract.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The Department of Energy’s cozy relationships with its contractors must end, given their repeated failures and massive cost overruns. Substandard performance by the Los Alamos Lab contractor is costing the taxpayer dearly, and therefore DOE should slash its incentive performance fee award at least in half. From there, DOE should consider booting Los Alamos National Security, LLC for another contractor entirely.”

# # #

 

The POGO/Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor is available at

http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/POGO-NukeWatch-Moniz-LANS-performance-12-3-14.pdf


 

 

 

 

Highlights of National Nuclear Security Administration Issues in the House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act

Highlights of National Nuclear Security Administration Issues

In the House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act

 

Sources: House FY 2015 NDAA, pages 1516 – 1555 and budget tables beginning page 1643.

http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20141201/CPRT-113-HPRT-RU00-S1847.pdf

Compiled by Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Any comments by me are italicized.

 

The House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $8.2 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) nuclear weapons programs, in contrast to the Obama Administration’s request of $8.3 billion.

It meets the Administration’s $643 million request for the B61 Life Extension Program, and raises the $9.4 million request for the Long-Range Stand-Off (AKA air-launched cruise missile) nuclear warhead to $17 million.

It raises the $30 million request for dismantlements to $40 million.

It meets the $335 million request for the Uranium Capabilities Replacement Project (AKA the Uranium Processing Facility).

It raises the $196 million request for construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to $341 million.

It cuts the $410.8 million request for the NNSA Office of the Administrator to $386.9 million.

SEC. 3111. DESIGN AND USE OF PROTOTYPES OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS FOR INTELLIGENCE PURPOSES requires the lab directors to “develop a multiyear plan to design and build prototypes of nuclear weapons to further intelligence estimates with respect to foreign nuclear weapons activities and capabilities.” This effort “emphasizes the competencies of the national security laboratories with respect to designing and building prototypes of nuclear weapons.”

This could possibly be abused by U.S. designers to design new nuclear weapons under the rubric of gathering foreign intelligence.

SEC. 3112. PLUTONIUM PIT PRODUCTION CAPACITY declares that the “production of plutonium pits and other nuclear weapons components must be driven by the requirement to hedge against technical and geopolitical risk and not solely by the needs of life extension programs.” It goes on to require the actual production of not less than 10 plutonium war reserve pits during 2024, 20 during 2025, 30 during 2026, and demonstration of the capability to produce 80 pits per year by 2027.

How convenient to delink plutonium pit production from the actual needs of Life Extension Programs, since the only LEP that required new pit production has been indefinitely delayed. This was for the so-called Interoperable Warhead, which faced exorbitant costs and lack of support by the Navy. Nevertheless, the House Armed Services Committee now mandates expensive and provocative expanded plutonium pit production for which there is no clear need. Ironically, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has been unable to conduct plutonium operations at its pit production facility since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues.

SEC. 3118. COST CONTAINMENT FOR URANIUM CAPABILITIES REPLACEMENT PROJECT limits Phase 1 of construction of the Uranium Processing Facility to $4.2 billion. That cap could be adjusted if the DOE Secretary submits a detailed justification, including “a detailed description of the actions taken to hold appropriate contractors, employees of contractors, and employees of the Federal Government accountable for the repeated failures within the project.” It also requires that uranium operations in Building 9212 cease by 2025.

Notably, the House NDAA does NOT contain a definitional change that NNSA shopped to key congressional committees that would have narrowed the Uranium Processing Facility’s mission, thereby helping to contain its costs (which was previously capped at $6.5 billion). Thus the Uranium Processing Facility could soon be headed for another budget crisis.

SEC. 3119. PRODUCTION OF NUCLEAR WARHEAD FOR LONG-RANGE STANDOFF WEAPON requires that “The Secretary of Energy shall deliver a first production unit for a nuclear warhead for the long-range standoff weapon by not later than September 30, 2025.”

This is meant to block the Administration’s proposed two year delay. Rushing into the LRSO nuclear warhead makes no sense because it puts the cart before the horse when work on the new air-launched cruise missile has yet to start.

SEC. 3120. DISPOSITION OF WEAPONS-USABLE PLUTONIUM requires another report on possible alternatives to the MOX Program for plutonium disposition, including their life cycle costs.

Nevertheless, as previously stated, the Act increases funding for construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to $341 million.

SEC. 3132. ANALYSIS OF EXISTING FACILITIES AND SENSE OF CONGRESS WITH RESPECT TO PLUTONIUM STRATEGY requires “analysis of using or modifying existing facilities of the nuclear security enterprise… to support [NNSA’s plutonium] strategy, as part of critical decision 1 in the acquisition process for the design and construction of modular structures associated with operations of the PF–4 facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico.” This is to include “plans to construct two modular structures that will achieve full operating capability not later than 2027,” all for the purpose of “meet[ing] the requirements for implementation of a responsive infrastructure, including meeting plutonium pit production requirements.”

But there are no actual pit production requirements. Recall that the Act delinks plutonium pit production from the actual needs of the nuclear weapons stockpile to become a hedge against undefined and indefinite “technical and geopolitical risk.” The Act also requires major expansion of production at LANL, when significant budget, environmental and safety issues for existing plutonium pit production remain unresolved (witness the use of unauthorized waste treatment processes by the Lab that led to the contamination of 21 workers and the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, with initial estimates of $.5 billion dollars to reopen). The House Armed Services Committee’s mandate of expanded plutonium pit production is an ideological statement of nuclear weapons forever, rather than being driven by the technical needs of the stockpile. This is an unnecessary and provocative waste of taxpayer’s money that if enacted is doomed for failure.

 

NNSA Considers Stuffing More Plutonium Into New Facility

Despite the fact that no one has come up with a good reason to increase plutonium pit production for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, officials want to study the possibility of radically increasing the amount of plutonium allowed in a recently completed laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Deputy Administrator for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs, Don Cook, has requested an analysis to increase the radioactive materials inventory in the recently completed Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) to up to 400 grams of plutonium-239, the isotope used in nuclear weapons. The RLUOB, which originally was limited to 8.4 grams of Pu 239, was built as Phase 1 of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at LANL that would have expanded plutonium pit production to 50 – 80 pits per year (pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons). LANL’s current capacity is 20 pits per year. Phase 2 of the CMRR project, the “Nuclear Facility,” was canceled because of lack of clear need and a bulging ten-fold increase in costs.

This RLUOB, along with some floor space in the existing Plutonium Facility (PF-4), will replace the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, which is slated for closure in 2019. The Laboratory was working on a plutonium strategy to move out of CMR and maintain the current plutonium capability.

But NNSA recently increased the maximum amount of radiological materials allowed in the RLOUB, and all “radiological” facilities, from 8.4 grams to 38.6 grams. Internal Lab documents floated plans that could have increased the limit again by two or three times by treating each little laboratory in the RLUOB as its own radiological facility. This could have increased the limit to 115.8 grams of Pu239.

But NNSA apparently wants to go big. The new analysis is to consider the RLUOB as a Hazard Category 3 nuclear facility, which is a huge step up from its current designation as a radiological facility.

Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said, “This turkey of a plan is stuffed with bad ideas – The RLUOB is not seismically qualified for that amount of plutonium. A new supplemental environmental impact statement will be needed. There is no need for more plutonium pits, except for new nuclear weapons, because they last for around 100 years and nuclear weapons stockpiles are decreasing. And apparently LANL can’t safely handle plutonium anyway, as major operations with plutonium have been paused since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. Finally, it was LANL’s improper handling of plutonium waste that contaminated 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, causing it to close with at least a half billion dollars in costs to reopen. We say no to more plutonium at Los Alamos!”

# # #

Read the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report here.

 

Comment on NYT article “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?”

Today’s New York Times article “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” does a public service by pointing out that contrary to his rhetoric, Obama has the lowest nuclear weapons dismantlement rate of any president. In fact, he proposes to cut funding for dismantlements by 45% in FY 2015, along with cutting nonproliferation programs designed to keep nuclear materials safe from terrorists by 20%. This is to help pay for increasing nuclear weapons production.

The U.S. government under Obama is completely rebuilding the nuclear weapons production complex. This includes multi-billion dollar facilities for plutonium components at Los Alamos, NM, and highly enriched uranium at Oak Ridge, TN, both of which have massive cost overruns. It also includes a new Kansas City Plant, built by private investors in a sweetheart deal, for the thousand of nonnuclear components (fuzes, radars, etc.) needed to make nuclear weapons deliverable.

In all, “modernization” of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems is expected to cost more than a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. This will inevitably rob American taxpayers of what they truly need (upgraded public infrastructure, environmental and health protection, public education, etc.), while enriching the usual, unaccountable defense contractors. All of these new production plants are expected to manufacture nuclear weapons until 2075, a far cry from the aspirational future world free of nuclear weapons that President Obama claims to profess.

See “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/sunday-review/which-president-cut-the-most-nukes.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141101&nlid=59407362&tntemail0=y&_r=0

 

 

Scottish Independence and U.K. “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age”

Scots will vote on independence from the United Kingdom on Sept. 18, with polls showing the lead of anti-independence forces narrowing. If independence wins one declared goal of the Scottish National Party is to kick out the only British base for nuclear-armed strategic submarines at Faslane, effectively putting the future of U.K. nuclear forces in grave doubt. Polls show that the majority of Scots favor getting rid of Faslane.

In addition, a Review Conference of the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) will be held at the United Nations in May 2015. Non-weapons state are growing increasingly impatient with the weapons states’ failure to abide by the NPT Article VI mandate “… to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…” In fact, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has sued the UK and others in the World Court over that failure.

NPT Article I also requires that “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other explosive devices directly, or indirectly…” Given the interdependence of their nuclear weapons programs, the U.S. and U.K. violate this as well, as explained below.

The late Martin White, former head of Strategic Technologies for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the United Kingdom, made clear that the UK will not be honoring NPT Articles I and VI for the foreseeable future. The Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) July issue of National Security Science features an article by White entitled “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age.” http://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/national-security-science/2014-july/UK-is-modernizing-for-the-second-nuclear-age.php

Some excerpts:

•           You may know that we are in a period of major investment at AWE [Atomic Weapons Establishment] in terms of workforce, facilities, and programs. In the past decade, the workforce has grown from a low of 3,000to the current 4,500.

•           By the end of this decade, we will have new uranium, high explosives, and assembly facilities. Just as crucial, we will have a state-of-the-art high-power laser, supercomputing, and new hydrodynamic experimental capabilities.

•           In all this, our interactions with the United States have been and remain pivotal in shaping the U.K. deterrent program. And our continuing collaborations with Los Alamos National Laboratory touch the very core of our technical capability.

But the title itself contains my main point, “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age.” Indeed, the cover page page of the article has a dramatic picture of a U.K. strategic submarine, whose home port can only be Faslane.

This “Second Nuclear Age” is already a common theme with American nuclear weaponeers, See, for example, “The challenges facing stockpile stewardship in the Second Nuclear Age”, LANL Director Charlie McMillan, http://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/national-security-science/2014-february/challenges-facing-stockpile-stewardship

Or “The Second Nuclear Age”, http://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/national-security-science/2014-february/the-second-nuclear-age.php

The U.S. and UK nuclear weapons programs are very close and always have been. For example, the now head of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons programs, NNSA Dep. Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook, is an American from the Sandia Labs. Until a few years ago he was the manager of the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment as well. Also, the biggest U.S. defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, is one part of a three-part consortium running AWE.

Contrary to NPT Article I the U.S. is manufacturing neutron generators for the U.K. Neutron generators are crucial nuclear weapons components that introduce neutrons at the instant of detonation to begin the cascading chain reaction of a nuclear weapons explosion. For example, “…we noted that SNL had not established a costing methodology that consistently included a fair share of infrastructure costs to ensure full cost recovery for NG units to be built for the United Kingdom (UK). Reference: “The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Neutron Generator Activities, DOE Inspector General Audit report, page 2, http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/audit-report-oas-l-14-11

I conclude by asking questions: If they knew about it, how would the Scots feel about a “Second Nuclear Age”? Would that have any effect in their vote for independence? And how will  the increasingly impatient non-weapons states feel about a “Second Nuclear Age” at the May 2015 NPT Review Conference?

Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach for Congress, August 15, 2014 attempts to present the amount of space needed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Lab to produce 80 plutonium pits per year. CRS has to do this estimating task because the Lab has never done this calculation.

It is unclear to us why the Lab has yet to do this calculation. The Lab claims to be the “Plutonium Center of Excellence for the Nation”  yet the CRS report explains that no one knows whether existing buildings, without modifications, could manufacture 80 plutonium pits per year (ppy); or if modest upgrades would suffice; or if major construction would be needed to augment the current capacity of about 10 ppy.

A plutonium pit is a nuclear weapon component that is a hollow plutonium shell that is imploded with conventional explosives to create a nuclear explosion that triggers the rest of the weapon. Some argue that the capacity to manufacture new pits may be needed to extend the service life of unneeded weapons, to replace broken pits (which never happens), and to hedge against possible unnamed geopolitical surprises where only more nukes will solve the problem. How many pits that the country actually needs to produce annually is beyond the scope of the CRS report. We believe it is zero.

Along with the unknown space requirements, the Lab also does not know how much Material At Risk (MAR a.k.a. plutonium) would be needed in the building to produce 80 ppy. “…these data have never been calculated rigorously.”

CRS created some charts for this report to show what they believe to be current usage of the Lab’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4). But what this looks like for 80 ppy is still a guess.

We at NukeWatch have been demanding that LANL produce this information — most recently in our 2011 comments on the Draft CMRR-NF Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

We think two things a probably happening. There is still not a need for 80 pits per year (or any). And if the Lab were to finally do a pit production study, Congress would find out that LANL has enough space now.

The money should be used to clean up the Lab’s legacy Cold War waste.

Doyle Entangled in Anti-Nuclear Classification

On July 23, 2014, Los Alamos National Laboratory approved for public release an article titled Rethinking the Unthinkable, written by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Houston T. Hawkins, with the intention of being used for public presentations.

This article argues for an increase in nuclear weapons production and expanding stockpiles. Hawkins stresses the importance nuclear weapons has for the stability of U.S. foreign policy, arguing “the march toward disarmament would take us backwards into an even more unstable and dangerous world.” This stability, therefore, is generated by nuclear stockpiles.

In addition, nuclear deterrence according to the article is an important cornerstone of national security in that it serves as “strategic parity” between states. It also yields confidence not only in the functioning of domestic stockpiles, but in the intelligence capability of U.S. decision makers in assessing foreign nuclear advancements and curtailing surprises.

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