New Mexico Members of Congress Vote for Exorbitant Nuclear Bomb While State Is Ranked as the Worst for Children

Yesterday all three House members of the New Mexican congressional delegation voted against an amendment that would cut money added to a wasteful nuclear weapons program. In April the Obama Administration asked for $537 million in fiscal year 2014 for a “Life Extension Program” for the B61 Cold War nuclear bomb, 45% above the 2013 level. The House Appropriations Committee added $23.7 million to that bloated request, which the amendment would have cut. Overall, the B61 Life Extension Program has exploded in estimated costs to where each warhead will cost twice their weight in gold just to “refurbish” (which does not include original production and ongoing maintenance costs).

 The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., testified during floor debate:

At a time when we are slashing funds for disease research at the NIH [National Institute of Health], failing to fund our crumbling infrastructure, and underinvesting in our children¹s education, we are increasing funding to keep hundreds of nuclear bombs in operation that we will never use. The Cold War is over.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.,

…supported the full $551 million for the B61 Life Extension Program because it is a national security priority. “This funding is important for Los Alamos and Sandia labs’ effort to ensure the safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile, and cuts to that funding impact the ability to keep it secure,” Luján said.

Rather just ensuring safety and security the program will radically improve the bomb, giving it new military capabilities by turning it into a precisely targeted smart bomb and mating it to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery. Currently the main mission of B61 bombs is as tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War. Improved B61’s fly in the face of Obama’s newly declared goal of reducing the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, even as he proposes to negotiate with the Russians for further arms reductions. Moreover, if security is really the issue, the sure solution that saves taxpayers money and encourages nonproliferation is to withdraw the nuclear bombs from forward deployment in Europe, where a few years ago protesting peace activists were able to infiltrate within a few hundred yards of them.

Ironically, the B61 Life Extension Program may actually undermine our own national security by introducing major changes to existing bombs. Our stockpile has been extensively full-scale tested, and repeated studies have found our nuclear weapons to be even more reliable than previously believed. The Los Alamos and Sandia Labs propose to create a “frankenbomb” by mixing and matching four variants of the B61 bomb into a single new modification. Common sense dictates that the last thing we should do while seeking to maintain confidence in our reliable nuclear weapons stockpile is to introduce major changes that can’t be tested.

Our New Mexican congressional delegation represents a state that was just ranked as the worst of all fifty for the well-being of its children, where more than 25% live in poverty. In stark contrast, Los Alamos County, dominated by the lab, is the second richest county in the entire USA. Nuclear weapons programs are a poor producer of jobs, where for example according to the government’s own documents a new $6 billion plutonium facility was not going to produce a single new permanent job at Los Alamos Lab.

Contrary to the claimed economic benefits of the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, New Mexico as a whole continues to fall from 37th in per capita personal income in 1959 to 44th in 2011. Nevertheless, the Labs have always had inordinate influence over New Mexican politicians. One extreme example is the recent starling revelation that in between unsuccessful Senate campaigns former Rep. Heather Wilson was paid more than $450,000 by the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs for “consulting” contracts that had no written work requirements.

The nuclear weapons labs have voracious appetites for federal funding, with their directors simultaneously acting as the presidents of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs (those private LLCs pay 2/3’s of the directors’ annual compensation of around one million dollars). Business will boom with never-ending Life Extension Programs, and Sandia and Los Alamos are not satisfied with just one Life Extension Program for the B61. They already plan yet another one 20 years from now that initial figures indicate would be even more expensive. In fact, the labs plan a never-ending cycle of Life Extension Programs that intentionally seek to implement major design changes for all existing types of nuclear weapons in our stockpile, costing at least $60 billion (while the doubling of costs has so far been the rule).

Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Congressman Ben Ray Luján should ask himself the question what good does a Cold War nuclear bomb that the for-profit labs want to endlessly tinker with do for New Mexican children? Pork for the labs should not drive nuclear weapons policies, especially when it’s of little if any tangible benefit to average New Mexicans. Luján should, instead, dedicate himself to boosting funding for programs that would really help our children but are facing painful sequester cuts, such as education, medical care and food assistance. Those investments would really brighten their future, and help raise New Mexico from its shameful position as the worst state for kids.”

# # # 

See House rejects effort to trim $23.7M in funding for B61, Michael Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, July 11, 2013.

For New Mexico’s ranking as the worst state for kids see Kids Count Data Center http://datacenter.kidscount.org/updates/show/20-2013-data-book-rankings
For the scope and schedule of perpetual Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons see NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan
http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf

Senate Appropriations Cuts Nuclear Bomb Life Extension Program; NM’s Tom Udall Tries to Restore Funding to Bloated Program

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee reported that it cut funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program (LEP). This is a significant victory for good governance, and it could positively influence future nuclear arms control.  The Obama Administration’s request for the B61 LEP was $537 million for FY 2014, a 45% increase above FY 2013. Senate Energy and Water cut it by $168 million to $369 million, and directed NNSA to look at alternatives since the full-blown program is experiencing massive cost overruns.

Senator Tom Udall opposed this cut since most of the B61 work will take place at the Los Alamos and Sandia nuclear weapons labs in New Mexico. Udall now sits on Senate Energy and Water, and successfully engineered a provision that would restore B61 LEP funding if certain cost and schedule requirements are met. Meanwhile House appropriators have added $23 million to the already bloated program, which sets up a sharp difference that must be reconciled in conference. This is where “deals” tend to be cut, and Tom Udall’s position on the B61 LEP could be critical.

In the past few years Senator Tom Udall actively supported a Walmart-sized “CMRR-Nuclear Facility” at Los Alamos that exploded in costs from $600 million to ~$6 billion, which for fiscal reasons the Obama Administration prudently decided to delay.  The CMRR’s main mission is to quadruple LANL’s production of plutonium cores (or “pits”) for nuclear weapons. Expanded pit production is necessary only for new-design nuclear weapons or heavily modified existing weapons.

If the full Life Extension Program that Tom Udall currently supports goes forward the estimated 400 B61 nuclear bombs will literally cost more than their weight in gold to refurbish (and that does not include original production costs). Moreover, the program will radically improve the bomb, giving it new military capabilities by turning it into a precisely targeted smart bomb and mating it to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery. Currently the main mission of B61’s is as tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War. Improved B61’s fly in the face of Obama’s just declared goal of reducing the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, even as he proposes to negotiate with the Russians for further arms reductions.

The nuclear weapons labs’ have voracious appetites for federal funding, with their directors simultaneously acting as the presidents of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs (those private LLCs pay 2/3’s of the directors’ annual compensation of around one million dollars). Business will boom with never-ending Life Extension Programs, and Sandia and Los Alamos are not satisfied with just one Life Extension Program for the B61. They already plan yet another one 20 years from now that initial figures indicate would be even more expensive.

In fact, the labs plan a never-ending cycle of Life Extension Programs that intentionally seek to implement major design changes for all existing types of nuclear weapons in our stockpile, costing at least $60 billion (while the doubling of costs has so far been the rule). Further, these major changes may undermine our own national security by eroding confidence in performance reliability when major modifications cannot be full-scale tested. We should instead stick to proven existing nuclear weapons designs, and avoid serious changes which arguably profit only nuclear weapons contractors.  Genuine maintenance of our nuclear weapons stockpile, such as the well-understood replacement of limited life components, would be prudent, technically sound and relatively inexpensive.

New Mexico, the state that Tom Udall represents, was just ranked as the worst state of all fifty for the well-being of its children, where more than 25% live in poverty. In sharp contrast, Los Alamos County, dominated by the lab, is the second richest county in the entire USA.

Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Tom Udall could better serve all New Mexicans if he focused more on improving the lives of our children instead of the nuclear weapons labs and the service life of an archaic Cold War nuclear bomb. Specifically, he should drop his opposition to the cut in funding for the exorbitant and unneeded B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program, and make that clear in House-Senate conference. He should, instead, seek to boost funding for programs that really benefit New Mexican children but are facing painful sequester cuts, such as education, medical care and food assistance. And given our state’s increasingly crippling drought, Tom Udall could better serve all New Mexicans while sitting on the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee by expanding water conservation and wildfire prevention programs, instead of favoring the labs through so-called Energy appropriations with increased funding for worse than useless nuclear weapons programs.”

# # #

Obama Calls For Further Nuclear Weapons Reductions While Increased Production and New Facilities at Los Alamos Are Still On the Table

Obama Calls For Further Nuclear Weapons Reductions
While Increased Production and New Facilities at Los Alamos Are Still On the Table

On June 19, in Berlin, President Barack Obama declared that, in concert with Russia, he plans to seek to cut the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third. He also said he will pursue significant bilateral cuts in tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. In contrast, Obama’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently released plans for unneeded upgrades and dangerous improvements to existing nuclear weapons, which could force expanded nuclear component production and construction of new facilities at Los Alamos.

In the just released “FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” (SSMP), NNSA proposes perpetual Life Extension Programs for nuclear warheads that will result in three types of ballistic missile warheads and two types of nuclear air bombs. Although it’s still vague, the three so-called interoperable warheads would replace four types of existing warheads, which make little sense given the staggering estimated costs. These radical upgrades, if implemented, could not be full-scale tested, which would undermine confidence in their reliability. Our existing nuclear weapons designs have been extensively tested and subsequent studies have found them to be even more reliable and long-lived than originally thought.

The President’s speech is also incongruous with the SSMP in the area of plutonium pit production, and states “Preliminary plans call for pit production of potentially up to 80 pits per year starting as early as FY 2030.” (SSMP Pg. 62) With Obama’s further proposed arsenal reductions, any planned increase in weapons production is only a concession the nuclear weapons contractors profits. The alleged need for more plutonium pits cascades into a misplaced call for more production facilities. NNSA is “…evaluating the feasibility of constructing small laboratory modules connected to existing nuclear facilities…” (SSMP Pg. 8) to meet future claimed plutonium-manufacturing requirements. The SSMP states that Los Alamos can produce up to 30 pits per year without new facilities.

The need for increased pit production has never been explained adequately to the public, but the claim likely is centered on one of the interoperable warhead plans – the W78/88. In a May 7, 2013 testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Dr. Penrose C. Albright, Director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claimed that the W78/88 would require increased pit production at Los Alamos. He goes on to try to scare the Committee by saying that without construction funding for new pit facilities now, the W78/88 warhead upgrade could cost even more. He stated, “without going into the detail, the most likely option for the primary on the 78/88 does require the stand-up and operation of plutonium pit production capabilities at Los Alamos. And so any delay by the Government—any delay in funding to get that stood up—and that really has to start now—is going to add significant schedule risks to the program.” (Hearing Pg. 17)

The President should adopt the more fiscally prudent and technically sound alternative of replacing limited life components while he actually works to eliminate nukes altogether. This unending cycle of proposed Life Extension Program will waste huge sums of taxpayers money and is in direct conflict with the President’s own long-term goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.

The full text of President’s Obama’s speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/19/remarks-president-obam

NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf

Hearing To Receive Testimony On National Nuclear Security Administration Management Of Its National Security Laboratories In Review Of The Defense Authorization Request For Fiscal Year 2014 And The Future Years Defense Program, Tuesday, May 7, 2013, U.S. Senate Subcommittee On Strategic Forces, Committee On Armed Services, Washington, DC.
http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/Transcripts/2013/05%20May/13-36%20-%205-7-13.pdf

Obama Announces Up to One-Third Cut in Nuclear Arms; In Contrast U.S. Nuclear Agency Plans ~$60 Billion In Weapons Upgrades and Improvements

Santa Fe, NM  – Today, standing in front of the historic Brandenburg gate in Berlin, President Barack Obama declared that he will seek to cut the arsenal of deployed strategic nuclear arms by up to one-third in concert with Russia. He also said he will pursue significant bilateral cuts in tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. In contrast, just two days ago, Obama’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released it plans for over 60 billion dollars in upgrades and improvements to existing nuclear weapons, beginning with a $10 billion upgrade to the B61 tactical bomb based in Europe.

In its just released “FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,” the NNSA proposes perpetual Life Extension Programs that will result in three types of ballistic missile warheads, two types of nuclear bombs (including the refurbished B61), and one redeployed cruise missile warhead (which is not currently active). Much of the drive for this comes from the Directors of the nuclear weapons labs, who simultaneously act as the presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs. According to the Directors and the NNSA, the three modified ballistic missile warheads would be “interoperable” between delivery platforms. However, these warheads can never be truly interoperable between land and sub-based missiles, but at most will have some interchangeable components.

Further, although it’s still vague, the three so-called interoperable warheads would replace only four types of existing warheads, which other than profits for the labs makes little sense given their staggering estimated costs. Moreover, these proposals will also require untold sums of taxpayers money for facility upgrades and new construction and then production by 2030 of 80 new plutonium pits at Los Alamos, NM and uranium secondaries at Oak Ridge, TN. Finally, these radical modifications, if implemented, cannot be full-scale tested, therefore perhaps undermining confidence in reliability. In contrast, our existing nuclear weapons designs have been extensively tested, and subsequent studies have found them to be even more reliable and long-lived than originally thought.

NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan also claims that new military capabilities for existing nuclear weapons will never be pursued through improvements, echoing previous claims made internationally at the highest levels of government (for example by the Secretary of State at the United Nations’ 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review conference). But past and planned modifications and Life Extension Programs contradict that claim. In 1997 the U.S. rushed a B61 bomb modified as an earth-penetrator to the stockpile. This significantly changed weapon, with an estimated yield of 350 kilotons, assumed the mission of the 9 megaton surface-burst B53 bomb to destroy hardened, deeply buried targets.

The U.S. is currently conducting a Life Extension Program for the sub-launched W76 warhead. This is extending its service life by three decades or more, and giving it a new fuze that is likely capable of more precise heights of burst. As far back as 1997 the head of the Navy’s Strategic Systems pointed out that the combination of increased accuracy and a changed fuze could transform the 100 kiloton W76 from a weapon of deterrence targeting soft targets such as cities into a hard target killer of missile silos and command centers.

NNSA now proposes an overly ambitious Life Extension Program for the existing battlefield variants of the B61 gravity bomb, an estimated 180 of which are forward deployed in NATO countries as a relic of the Cold War. This, of course, seems to contradict Obama’s newly declared goal of reducing the presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. While future numbers may be lowered, the government’s plans will radically improve the B61, which the Russians will be keenly aware of.

NNSA’s proposed B61 Life Extension Program has exploded in costs from an estimated $4 billion to more than $10 billion. Among other things it will mate the bomb to the future F35 Joint Strike Fighter (which itself is estimated to have life cycle costs of more than $1 trillion). Separately, a ~$1.2 billion Pentagon program will upgrade the B61 with a new tailfin guidance kit. This combination of an improved nuclear “smart” bomb delivered by highly stealthy supersonic aircraft will create a lower yield nuclear weapon that can assume the mission of existing higher yield B61’s.

Together, these three examples firmly establish that the U.S. creates new military capabilities through modifications and improvements of existing nuclear weapons. In Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s opinion, an arguably more usable lower-yield nuclear weapon substituting for a higher-yield weapon is clearly and inherently a new military capability.

In contrast to his rhetoric today, in April President Obama requested an unprecedented $537 million for the B61 Life Extension Program in FY 2014. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NNSA programs, has expressed increasing concern over exploding costs. She has indicated in media reports that a reasonable alternative would be to fund a significantly reduced program that replaces limited life components. In our view, this would also have the benefit of not creating new military capabilities.

Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “We naturally welcome President Obama’s declared goal to reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons and battlefield weapons in Europe. However, as a real disarmament step, he should take a time out on the full B61 Life Extension Program. He should instead adopt the more fiscally prudent and technically sound alternative of replacing limited life components while the ultimate future of B61 forward deployment in Europe is being determined. This unending cycle of proposed Life Extension Program will waste huge sums of taxpayers money and is  in direct conflict with the President’s own long-term goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.”

# # #

 The full text of President’s Obama’s speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/19/remarks-president-obam

NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf

For more on the W76 and B61 Life Extension Programs, in particular their new military capabilities, see the Federation of American Scientists blogs at http://blogs.fas.org/security/2007/08/us_tripples_submarine_warhead/ and

http://blogs.fas.org/security/2011/06/b61-12/

 

Nuclear Weapons Labs Made Improper Payments to Heather Wilson; She Should Resign from NNSA Council Determining Their Future

 June 11, 2013

Santa Fe, NM  – The Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General has found that the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories made improper payments of approximately $450,000 to ex.-NM Rep. Heather Wilson from January 2009 to March 2011. This last February House Speaker John Boehner appointed Wilson to a congressional advisory council that will recommend how the nuclear weapons laboratories will be managed and operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The stated purpose of this NNSA Council is “to examine options and make recommendations for revising the governance structure, mission, and management of the nuclear security enterprise.” Heather Wilson should resign from the NNSA Council because of her clear conflict-of interest.

 

Wilson was a protégé of the powerful ex-New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici who protected the nuclear weapons labs and engineered lavish appropriations for them. Upon Domenici’s retirement Wilson unsuccessfully ran for his seat, promoting herself as a staunch champion of the labs. For example, during her 2012 campaign she strongly denounced a NNSA decision to delay a controversial nuclear weapons plutonium facility at Los Alamos, playing on employment fears while inaccurately claiming that the delay would cost a thousand jobs (which the government’s own documents contradicted). At the time it was unknown how much she had been paid for her own consulting jobs for Los Alamos and Sandia.

 

The DOE Inspector General report identified a number of issues concerning payments made by the labs to Heather Wilson and Company, LLC (HWC). It found: “• 23 payments totaling $226,378 made by Sandia between January 2009 and March 2011;

• 19 payments totaling $195,718 made by Los Alamos between August 2009 and February 2011; and • Payments totaling approximately $30,000 made by Nevada and Oak Ridge.”

 

The DOE IG report went on to find “[n]one of the 23 invoices submitted by HWC contained details as to the time expended and nature of the actual services provided as required.” Wilson’s billing justifications did “not meet even minimum standards” for federal payments. There was also an “absence of detailed evidence of the actual services provided” and that the Sandia Corporation (a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin) “developed an after-the-fact schedule of activities.”

 

The four management contractors at Los Alamos, Sandia, Nevada and Oak Ridge were required to pay the government back $442,000 for their irregular payments to Heather Wilson. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “The question now becomes whether Wilson should personally be paying the government back. In any event, these new findings on the depth of her conflict-of-interest should bury her political future in New Mexico for once and for all. Further, she should resign from the NNSA Council on the future of the nuclear weapons labs, or replaced by congressional leadership if she doesn’t go voluntarily.”

 

# # #

The DOE IG Report (DOE/IG-0889) is available at

http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/inspection-report-doeig-0889

NukeWatch NM’s compilation of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s FY 2014 budget request

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s FY 2014 budget request includes a 13% increase for nuclear weapons programs above FY 2013 sequester levels.

NukeWatch NM’s compilation of the NNSA FY 2014 budget request is available at
http://nukewatch.org/economics/FY2014_NNSA_Budget_4-10-13_Print.pdf

Further analysis by us will follow.

Jay

Why the appointment of ex-NM Rep. Heather Wilson to security panel is not a good thing

Reportedly House Speaker Boehner has appointed former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) to the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise. Other appointments have not been yet announced.

That is not good. Wilson (a former protégé of Sen. Pete Domenici) is a self-interested advocate for the Labs. According to an October 16, 2012 Santa Fe Reporter article she has had numerous consulting contracts with defense contractors, including Sandia Labs beginning in 2009 and up to her Senate campaign in 2012 (see .http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-7028-this-is-heather-wils.htm). Moreover, in the past her congressional staff has included Sandia Labs personnel.

She also incorrectly and repeatedly argued in her Senate campaign against Martin Heinrich that the deferral of the CMRR-Nuclear Facility would cost 1,000 jobs at the Los Alamos Lab (my repeated attempts to contact her campaign and correct her had no apparent effect).

The provision in the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act that enabled the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise was largely written by a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee who is a former Sandia Labs employee. Its purpose is to create greater autonomy for the nuclear weapons labs with less federal oversight. (See “Governance, Management, and Oversight of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, ” House Report 112–479, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, H.R. 4310, page 329).

Given the long string of chronic cost overruns and security infractions, diminished federal oversight and greater autonomy for privatized corporate nuclear weapons contractors is not the way to go. Don’t expect Heather Wilson to help the American taxpayer correct that wrong direction.

On a final note, this Panel should be subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  A 2008 Government Accountability Office report on the Act states “Because advisory committees provide input to federal decision makers on significant national issues, it is essential that their membership be, and be perceived as being, free from conflicts of interest and balanced as a whole.” http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-611T

This should apply to Wilson if she still has consulting jobs with the nuclear weapons labs.

LANL Regional Coalition Exaggerates Sequester Cuts

Northern New Mexico Needs to Wean Itself From Nuclear Weapons

Santa Fe, NM Today the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities issued a press statement supporting a state House memorial that “recognizes the critical importance of New Mexico’s National Laboratories and DOE facilities to the state’s economic welfare and the dramatic negative effects that sequestration will have on New Mexico’s economy.” Its statement also “recognizes that Northern New Mexico is highly dependent on federal spending in the area of nuclear technology and sequestration may cause tens of thousands of New Mexicans to lose their jobs through direct and indirect job losses at Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

Staffing levels at LANL vary from year to year and up-to-date information is hard to find.  Given those qualifiers there are approximately 10,500 people directly employed by the Lab or its contractors, and perhaps the same amount of people in lesser-paid indirect jobs. Specific impacts of the sequester are nearly impossible to pinpoint in advance, but if general cuts of 10% to military programs are applied to the number of LANL employees and subcontractors and indirect jobs that would be a loss of ~2,000 positions. While not good, it is still a far cry from the “tens of thousands” of lost jobs that the Regional Coalition cries wolf about. Using the Coalition’s own language, sequester cuts could include all of LANL’s direct and indirect jobs, which is simply impossible. In Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s view policy should be based on sound and proven facts, not scare tactics. [As a footnote, according to a February 14 Albuquerque Journal article LANL Director Charlie McMillan said job cuts would not be likely as a result of sequestration.]

The Regional Coalition, composed of politicians from eight northern New Mexico counties and municipalities, lobbies Congress to support LANL’s budget. It is currently funded with $100,000 from the Department of Energy and $150,000 from Los Alamos County. Just under two-thirds of the Lab’s annual ~$2.2 billion institutional budget is for core research, testing and production programs for nuclear weapons, the most destructive class of weapons of mass destruction ever known. Due to the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs Los Alamos County is the 2nd richest county in the USA.

In contrast, despite the claimed economic benefits of the nuclear weapons industry, New Mexico as a whole has slipped from 37th in per capita income in 1959 to 44th now, while 25% of our children remained mired in poverty. There is limited economic benefit from LANL’s nuclear weapons programs outside the privileged enclave of Los Alamos County. Moreover, contractor profits have soared 10-fold since Lab management was privatized in 2006 with co-manager Bechtel.

What the Los Alamos Lab has failed to do is to profoundly diversify its mission to meet 21st century threats (in part because of its prohibitive overhead support costs of just under 50%). For example, in its fiscal year 2013 Congressional Budget Request the Lab asked for only $2.1 million for renewable energies R&D, or a pathetic 00.1% of its total projected budget. New Mexico is one of the leading states in renewable energies production with potential job growth in the tens of thousands, but the Los Alamos National Laboratory has had little if anything to do with that. Similarly, while LANL has advertised itself as having “the world’s greatest science,” but it asked for only $78 million in the budget category of non-nuclear weapons “Science” (only 3.5% of its total budget).

The Lab asked for $235 million in FY 2013 for cleanup (or 10.7% of its total projected budget), but is planning to merely “cap and cover” an estimated ~6 million cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous contaminants at its largest waste dump (known as “Area G”). In contrast, comprehensive cleanup would be a real win-win for New Mexicans, one that permanently protects the environment and our precious groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of high paying jobs (for more, see below).

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director commented, “It’s past time for New Mexican politicians to show bold leadership that lessens dependence on nuclear weapons programs and helps to stimulate local economic growth through cleanup at LANL and the encouragement of sustainable green industries independent of the federal budget. In the interests of their own constituents this is what local counties and municipalities should be pushing for, instead of lobbying for the continued benefit of the Los Alamos Lab and County. But if the Regional Coalition is going to continue to directly lobby for the Lab it should at least use sound facts and figures instead of distorting data to indulge in scare tactics.”

# # #

Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s argument for comprehensive cleanup of Area G while creating hundreds of job is available at http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Cleanup-Jobs-9-9-12.pdf

 

903 W. Alameda, #325 • Santa Fe, NM 87501 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342

info@nukewatch.org • www.nukewatch.org  • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/

http://www.facebook.com/NukeWatch.NM

 


How Do You Spell PASSWORD? LANL Gets Bad Cyber Report

How Do You Spell PASSWORD? LANL Gets Bad Cyber Report

It turns out that cyber security for running supercomputing networks at a national nuclear weapons laboratory may not be much different than cyber security for the rest of us emailing, social networking, and watching kitten videos. All of us need to reasonably vigilant with passwords and software updates. The difference is that when you and I use lame passwords and don’t update our software, we don’t put national security at risk.

The DOE Investigator General (DOE IG) released a report that identified continuing concerns in LANL cyber security program. These concerns have been going on for years. A 2006 report revealed that critical cyber security internal controls and safeguards were not functioning as intended and monitoring by both laboratory and Federal officials was not adequate. Weaknesses with LANL’s cyber security program were also identified at least as far back as 2002.

A temporary shutdown of the Lab for nearly seven months (July 2004 to January 2005) because of a security flap might have cost as much as $370 million, but the exact amount can’t be calculated because of the way the lab recorded its activities according to General Accounting Office congressional investigators in 2005. Apparently, exact amounts are hard for the Lab to come up with. The DOE IG, for its cyber report, said, “Although LANL spends a significant amount of funds on information technology (IT) activities, we were unable to obtain an accurate amount due to the Laboratory’s limited ability to track its IT spending.”

How do you spell PASSWORD?
The DOE IG found that, “Network servers and devices were configured with default or easily guessed login credentials or required no authentication. For example, 15 web applications and 5 servers were configured with default or blank passwords.” Additionally, two network servers had the possibility to accept connections from anybody without the use of authentication or similar access controls. Also, 10 network servers could have allowed unauthorized remote control.

Those pesky software updates –
And, “LANL had not fully implemented existing security patch management and vulnerability management procedures. Specifically, tests of 191 network servers supporting LANL’s financial applications and data or providing core network services revealed that 73 (38 percent) were running operating systems and client applications without current security patches…” The DOE IG also found that LANL continued to maintain a significant number of operating systems, client applications and other various software that was no longer supported.

To be fair, the DOE IG reported that LANL “improved the protection of national security systems and data through the elimination or disablement of data ports on machines containing classified information.” This partially refers to the Lab’s low-tech program of injecting a popular two-stage epoxy into USB ports. I’m not sure that qualifies as an IT solution.

No passwords. No updates. How does this happen at nuclear weapons laboratory? Two things – First, the Lab contractor does not perform. Second, oversight is lacking. The DOE IG stated that, “The issues identified occurred, in part, because of a lack of effective monitoring and oversight of LANL’s cyber security program by the Los Alamos Site Office, including approval of practices that were less rigorous than those required by Federal directives. “ The Los Alamos Site Office is a DOE office and is tasked with providing immediate federal oversight of the Lab and making sure that our taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely.

Unfortunately, DOE continues to relax its grip of oversight of the Labs. Continuing cyber security issues are only one manifestation of this letting go. We need a strong DOE Secretary, a strong NNSA administrator, and strong Congressional oversight as we head towards zero nukes if we hope to hold the nuclear weapons complex contractor accountable.

Read the Global Security Newswire Article here.

The Lab’s New, $400 million, Plutonium Laboratory Springs Its First Leak

The Lab’s New, $400 million, Plutonium Laboratory Springs Its First Leak

On January 22, 2013 representatives of the Los Alamos National Laboratory discovered the presence of a diesel spill from an above ground storage tank system at the LANL Technical Area 55. The spill was from the new Radiological Laboratory Utilities Office Building’s (RLUOB’s) 12,000-gallon emergency generator diesel storage tank. The RLUOB is the recently completed first phase of the CMRR project. The main phase of the project, the CMRR Nuclear Facility (estimated at #6 billion), has been deferred for at least 5 years and will probably next be proposed next as a smaller project, if at all.

From the reports, it is unclear how long the sump pump union had been leaking before the spill was noticed. A leak detector alarm first went off in November. The Lab estimates that 350 gallons overflowed out a sump and spilled onto the ground, and workers have removed 5 cubic yards of contaminated soil. LANL and the State Environment Department Petroleum Storage TOppie greenank Bureau are working to figure out if more soil needs to be removed.

Read the report there.

Trinity Day — a good day to get money from the Fed?

Please check out Stephanie’s blog

Particle Beams
“Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…” dispelling the nuclear delusion

Trinity Day — a good day to get money from the Fed?

Batter my heart, three-person’d God.   — John Donne, “Trinity”

Yesterday was the 67th anniversary of the very first atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert, and alas for us, it was a success.

Across the globe, we still have 20,000 bombs ready to go, many of them on high alert.

Commemorating this event and its consequences were three different developments in New Mexico.

The first and most incongruous was news of a delegation embarking on that very day and heading to Washington, DC, to sell someone (not specified in the Los Alamos Post story) how much it means to the state of New Mexico to have the Labs here.

Nice way to celebrate the anniversary, que no? Drinks afterwards at the Capitol?

The delegation was composed of nearly 20 members of the business community accompanied by a representative from Governor Martinez’ office. We might have expected the head of the Chamber of Commerce, Simon Brackley, to be there, but it was a bit of a surprise to see Lilian Montoya Rael, a Board member from Christus St. Vincent’s Hospital.

But I suppose that the Labs, being so detrimental to health, are an indispensable asset to the Hospital.

Speaking of health, the second event, in marked contrast to the humble fundraising efforts of a few of our respected citizens, addressed the reality — the real impact of the bomb test on the lives of citizens, in this case the citizens of Tularosa, a small village that exists outside the presumed boundary of fallout that was expected from that event. These men, women and children have experienced a disproportionately higher-than-ever rate of cancers and other disabling conditions. July 16 was named Nuclear Disasters Day in Tularosa. They celebrated with luminarias at the town baseball field!

Last but not least, July 16 marks the first day of the Los Alamos Hunger Strike initiated by Alaric Balibreras. Thirty strikers have joined him in his plea to have a conversation with Those in Charge of the Lab’s affairs about coming up with a Plan to actually change the Lab’s Mission, currently the production of a-bombs (as posted on the Lab’s website), to production of Things that are Good for Us. (Remember “Better Living through Chemistry?” Such were the slogans that set off the hippie resistance of the 60s, and I’m told that the planets are aligned in a similar pattern today!!)

And which way will it go? Will the delegation of business people receive more money from Washington to produce more bombs, an activity so lucrative to the state that they can’t bear to let it go… or will this year be the year of The Rise of the Little People demanding an end to this profligacy and waste? Stay tuned. Alaric plans to fast until Nagasaki Day, August 9, anniversary of the day in 1945 when the US used the first plutonium bomb against the residents of that city, killing 130,000 on site and more later.

Enough, he says, and we say with him: Let’s have a Change of Heart, For a World of Beauty! Raise an empty glass with 30 hunger strikers and join them if you wish: you’ll find them on Facebook, at Los Alamos Hunger Strike.

We will be following the strike throughout the 21 days with updates and interviews. Here’s one newsflash from yesterday:

Los Alamos, July 16, 2012

STANDING AT THE GATES OF THE LAB some 20 protestors, most of them from Trinity Abolition, an Albuquerque group which protests at the Lab on a regular basis, as well as members of the hunger strike, joined hands outside the gates of the lab. “Lab people came down and took our pictures and got our names,” reports Ellie Voutselas of Pax Christi, one of the fasters.

Alaric then moved over to Ashley Pond, the original site of the Lab and now a public park, where he was joined by a young striker whose dog set up a howl for the duration. Guess that puppy has a few things to say about nuclear weapons, but the canine may provide an unneeded distraction if this keeps up.

Lab lacks ability to estimate emergency response as it also underestimates risk

Lab lacks ability to estimate emergency response as it also underestimates risk

There has been much in the recent news about Los Alamos National Laboratory underestimating how much radiation could leak from the nuclear weapons production plutonium lab after a major earthquake and fire. Read the POGO article here.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Report is here.

Among other problems, LANL computer models credited sheetrock walls with surviving an earthquake.

In a recently released May report, the Department of Energy’s very own oversight Department finished a separate review titled, “Independent Oversight Review of Site Preparedness for Severe Natural Phenomena Events at the Los Alamos National Laboratory”, that also questions the Lab’s safety procedures.

The Health Safety and Security Office (HSS) of Safety and Emergency Management Evaluations performed this independent review to evaluate emergency response capabilities at the Lab and how the Lab maintained them in a state of readiness in case of a severe natural phenomena event. The review showed that LANL would have trouble responding quickly with the appropriate emergency response in the case of a serious natural event.

As one of the conclusions states – “LANL does not have an adequate means for determining quickly whether an event occurring at the CMR facility, a criticality event at TA-55 PF-4 facility, or a severe natural phenomena event at either facility involves a significant quantity of HAZMAT and requires implementation of corresponding onsite protective actions or issuance of appropriate offsite protective action recommendations.” (Pg. 38)

For example, the Emergency Action Levels currently in the Lab’s Emergency Plan Procedure:

•            Do not reflect the CMR Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment isolation and downwind protective action distances for the majority of the events

•            Do not provide Emergency Action Levels for two severe natural phenomena events (earthquake and wildland fire) in the CMR Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment

•            Use a criticality alarm system as an Emergency Action Level entry indicator for a criticality event at CMR, even though CMR is not equipped with a criticality alarm system

•            Do not use the PF-4 criticality alarm system as an Emergency Action Level entry indicator for the criticality event analyzed in the TA-55 Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment.

 

In addition, the Lab’s generic natural disaster Emergency Action Levels do not provide sufficient information to accurately categorize and/or classify a severe natural phenomena event.

And LANL’s planning for onsite protective actions and offsite protective action recommendations provided in the Emergency Action Levels did not fully consider facility or site conditions for the analyzed events.

The report continues. The Independent Oversight observed outdated and incorrect information in the current set of CMR and TA-55 PF-4 Emergency Action Levels. Further, the generic Emergency Action Levels for severe natural phenomena events were not based on the potential for or an actual uncontrolled release of HAZMAT and are not linked to protective actions or protective action recommendations.

Additionally, the pre-planned protective actions for a TA-55 PF-4 seismic event are limited to shelter-in-place when there could be high radiation levels, and no effective shelters are available.

So, we have two different government agencies questioning safety after the Lab received a record $83 million in award bonuses.

These reports are another example of why the Lab must shut down plutonium operations now.

LANL loses track of nuclear materials

LANL loses track of nuclear materials

Plutonium operations placed in standby mode

 

In an April 20, 2012 report, the Safety Board charged with oversight of defense nuclear facilities reported that the system used to track nuclear materials in the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory was operating erroneously. The system apparently only kept track of 1,700 out of 13,000 containers of nuclear “materials at risk” (MAR). This omission caused the facility to exceed its limits for MAR located in individual containers and outside of gloveboxes at least 15 times.

If one is operating a facility with large quantities of fissionable nuclear materials it is very important to know where the materials are at all times because stacking too much plutonium in one place can cause a criticality event or worse. After the error was noticed, the Lab manually started to verify container MAR amounts manually.  “To date, fifteen containers, all housed in the facility’s vault, have been identified with contents that exceed the MAR limit of 7500 g WG-Pu [Weapons Grade Plutonium] equivalent.” That’s a lot to lose track of because these limits help the facility to comply with the seismic requirements of operations in the Lab’s earthquake fault zone.

Normal operations have been terminated in the 150,000 square foot Plutonium Facility and the facility has been placed in “Standby Mode.” How much does a shutdown cost taxpayers?

How long has the Lab violated these limits? The report states that the tracking error was introduced during software development, apparently due to a “miscommunication” between the software developers and the security personnel. The MAR tracker program performs other required MAR limit surveillances in the facility. Are these other surveillances reliable? This incident also calls into question other Lab software, such as programs that model contaminant transport.

It is unclear if the plutonium facility has restarted operations. The Safety Board reports usually are released about a month after they are written.new green atom

 

 

 

 

 

The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board Report is here.

It is still annual compensation paid for by the taxpayers

I’d like to respond to the news stories out lately concerning the Director’s salary at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Following our press release Wednesday, the Lab released their reply. It was reported by both the Albuquerque Journal North and the LAMonitor.

LANL Says Pension Boosted Director’s Compensation By Mark Oswald / Albuquerque Journal on Fri, Apr 20, 2012

Nuke Watch assails lab salary increase By John Severance, LA Monitor, Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm (Updated: April 20, 9:08 am)

From the monitor article –

“According to its computations, Charlie McMillan, the LANL director, had a salary of $1,081,059 in 2011. In 2009, the salary was $800,348 and in 2005, the year before the management of the lab was awarded to Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a corporation including the University of California, Bechtel Corporation, URS and B&W, the salary was $348,000.”

BTW, it’s not our “computations.” The compensation levels we quote come from federal reporting on economic stimulus funding.

In response, the Lab states, “The majority of the figure reported under DOE stimulus funding guidelines is an increase in pension value.” Can anyone explain what this means? Our economic experts are at a loss. Until I am straightened out, which I eagerly await, the statement will mean to me that the increases of the Director/President’s annual compensation are mostly due to increased pension contributions.

Whatever it is, it is still annual compensation.

The Lab response continues – “Also included are salary, life insurance, health benefits, and other total compensation.” I repeat, whatever the “increase in pension value” is, it is still annual compensation.

The Lab response continues – “The portion of the director’s annual salary reimbursable by the government is about 35 percent of the reported figure and is comparable to previous director salaries, adjusted for inflation.” That may be true, but the remaining 65% of the $1M annually going to the LANL Director/LANS President is coming from the contractor Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), of which he is president of the executive committee of the board of directors. The statement continues –  “Any amount above the federal maximum comes from LANS performance fees and is not reimbursable by the government.” But the LANS performance fees are paid by the federal government, so ultimately it is still the taxpayer that is paying the LANL’s Director’s total salary.

It is still annual compensation paid for by the taxpayers.

Before the LANL management contract was privatized and became for-profit in June 2006 the LANL Directors were getting just that salary directly reimbursable by the government.  Now they get that plus the larger LANS amount on top of it.

 

Two Upcoming Events

Two upcoming events

Sunday Mornings @ The Travel Bug
April 22, Sunday, 11 am
839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director Of Nuclear Watch New Mexico
in Conversation with Michelle Victoria – NukeFreeNow on the work Jay has
done over the last 22 years on nuclear safety and what Michelle is planning
for the NukeFreeNow.
http://www.journeysantafe.com/travelbug.php
Travel Bug is an independent travel specialty store in Santa Fe, NM,
839 Paseo de Peralta 505-474-1457

And

CMRR Public Meeting
Wednesday, April 25 from 6:30 – 8:30
Fuller Lodge, Los Alamos

The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMMR) Project is the
Lab’s $6 billion dream facility that would enable expanded production
capabilities for plutonium nuclear weapons components. The Obama
Administration has recently proposed deferring the project for 5 years,
which will likely lead to its termination.

This will be the 13th semi-annual public meeting required as part of a 2005
settlement between DOE/LANL and an network of community groups:
• Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
• Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group
• Loretto Community
• New Mexico Environmental Law Center
• Nuclear Watch New Mexico
• Peace Action New Mexico
• Tewa Women United

You are invited to come and be inspired as LANL CMRR project personnel give
updates on the project while our network of community groups give updates of
our concerns.

Defense Dept. Memo Criticizes Cost of Nuclear Weapons Labs While Los Alamos Director’s Salary Nearly Triples

Our colleagues and friends at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have released an explosive report based on a leaked Department of Defense memo concluding that “The Department of Energy’s network of privately-operated nuclear weapons laboratories are riddled with waste, redundancies and lackluster scientific standards.” POGO also found that “that seven of the top 15 officials at the three DOE nuclear labs make more than $700,000 per year, with one earning $1.7 million—more than the president of the United States and many government executives.”

Coincidentally, Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been independently compiling data on the salaries of the three laboratory directors, as presented in the table below. It shows that the salary of the Los Alamos Director has nearly tripled since for-profit management began in June 2006, even as the Lab is cutting some 600 jobs. As seen below, privatization of the nuclear weapons labs’ management contracts has resulted in directors’ salaries far above average in both the federal government and the private sector.

 

 

The DoD memo leaked by POGO contains the following admirable passage on good governance:
Diminishing Public Accountability. Without a strong yardstick, our government cannot govern well — not even if it retains the best and brightest on contract. The government’s own assets must capably bear the responsibility for decisions that affect national interests, and they must maintain public confidence by the manner in which those decisions are made.

In contrast, the directors of the three nuclear weapons labs (the Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories) wear two hats, first as lab directors, but secondly as the presidents of the board of directors of the for-profit limited liability corporations (LLCs) that run the labs. That may be a questionable conflict of interests, in which the LLCs are enjoying record profits from issues that deeply “affect national interests” (i.e., nuclear weapons) while the salaries of their “CEOs” (the lab directors) are exploding.

Arguably the lab directors have not maintained public confidence in the decisions they make because of the general trend of increasingly withholding crucial public information. One example is the Performance Evaluation Reports that rate contractors’ performance and determines the amount of taxpayers’ money awarded to them. Those reports were publicly available until 2009 when the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) began to withhold them, and became recently available again only after NukeWatch NM sued for them under the Freedom of Information Act.

NNSA awarded the limited liability corporation that runs Los Alamos Lab $74.2 million for FY 2010, followed by $83.7 million in profit for FY 2011, a 13% increase in one year, and 10 times more than what the University of California (UC) use to be awarded when it was LANL’s sole nonprofit manager. Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Director, commented, “In today’s political and economic climate citizens need to remain vigilant that for-profit corporate interests don’t corrupt serious national issues. This very much applies to how our nuclear weapons labs are run as well. We specifically call upon Los Alamos Lab to fully explain to northern New Mexicans why it needs to cut some 600 jobs while at the same time the for-profit management corporation is enjoying record profits and the Director’s salary has nearly tripled in six years.”

# # #

All data on nuclear weapons labs directors’ salaries are from:
http://www.recovery.gov/Transparency/RecipientReportedData/pages/RecipientProjectSummary508.aspx?AwardIdSur=74953
http://www.recovery.gov/Transparency/RecipientReportedData/pages/RecipientProjectSummary508.aspx?AwardIDSUR=115066&qtr=2011Q1
http://www.upte.org/LosAlamos/salaries/salaries.html

POGO’s press release “Leaked Defense Memo Criticizes the Department of Energy’s Push to Expand Nuclear Weapons Laboratories” is at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/alerts/nuclear-security-safety/nss-nwc-20110418-nuclear-waste-dept-of-energy.html

POGO’s detailed letter to congressional committees on these issues is at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/letters/nuclear-security-safety/nss-nwc-20120418-nuclear-weapons-labs.html

To read the leaked DoD memo, click here http://pogoarchives.org/m/nss/new-missions-for-the-nuclear-weapons-labs-11-16-2011.pdf

551 W. Cordova Rd., #808, Santa Fe, NM 87505-4100 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
info@nukewatch.org • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
http://www.facebook.com/NukeWatch.NM

Love and Loss in the Jemez

We’re lucky in that it appears Los Alamos Lab has dodged the bullet with respect to the Las Conchas Fire, but I do want to say something about 100,000 acres of some of the most beautiful land in New Mexico burning up in the Jemez Mountains. I know it fairly well.

Back in the early 1980’s I would take my kids out on a full moon night in the winter after it snowed on Highway 4 near the Valle Grande and pull them on an upside down car hood chained to my pickup (not recommended, but they loved it). I use to rock climb a lot at the Las Conchas Canyon on the east fork of the Jemez River (near where the fire broke out), and down at the southern end of the fire at Cochiti Mesa and Eagle Canyon (the erosion in Eagle Canyon after the 1996 Dome Fire was shocking, a harbinger of what is to come with this fire). I remember taking my kids to the beautiful Santa Clara Canyon to the north, which the fire is now devastating (my heartfelt condolences to the Pueblo). My parents took photos of me and my two brothers when we were small in the late 1950’s sitting in a Bandelier National Monument “cavate” (a hole in the canyon volcanic tuff further carved out by the Anasazi to live in), posing as the three little monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

As an adult I’ve been back country many times in Bandelier (now half burned), where on a map it looks like you walk say 5 miles but it will actually be eight by the time you climb up and down canyons. I know of a ponderosa pine in the Jemez where a buddy bigger than me (and I’m six feet) and I could not touch our fingers together while hugging its girth. I’m a tree hugger, but I also had chain saw thinning contracts all over the Jemez, including one on the south rim of the Frijoles Canyon above Bandelier (where thinning is sorely needed). I would occasionally run across unexcavated Anasazi pueblos and walls.

I’ve seen acres of trees in the Jemez covered with monarch butterflies during their migration to Mexico.

All this burned area is beautiful, beautiful country – beautiful forests, hoodoo rocks, clear streams, elk, bear, deer, eagles, hawks, peregrine falcons, ponderosa, pinon, alligator juniper in the south, blue spruce up high, New Mexico turquoise skies, deep snows in winter (in a good year) and hot springs.  These beautiful Jemez Mountains (not really peaks, but the more you know this land the more it grows on you). Are typically wetter than most of New Mexico, but this year so dry, and burning.

I pray that the trees, animals and the rains come back. But we humans must do our part, in the near term taking preventative measures against what could be devastating erosion now that the trees and grasses are gone. We need better forest management practices that allow fire to periodically sweep the forests (ponderosa pine evolved to adapt to and benefit from these low intensity fires), instead of suppressing them to the point where catastrophic crown fires break out. Longer term we need to begin to grapple effectively with global climate change, otherwise we may never get our Jemez forests back.

And we should comprehensively clean up Los Alamos Lab, because while it dodged the bullet this time, it may not the next time.

Beautiful, beautiful Jemez land, much of it gone – I love it and now I’m deeply missing it.

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico

 

Still Time to Comment on LANL’s Burning Desire for Expanded Weapons Production

Ironically today (June 28) is the deadline for public comment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for concerned citizens to comment on a proposed ~$5 billion facility at the Los Alamos Lab ponderously called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project- Nuclear Facility. In short, it is a huge new plutonium facility that will provide materials characterization and analytical chemistry in direct support of production of the atomic cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons, commonly called the plutonium pits. The Nuclear Facility will be the keystone to an expanded complex at LANL’s Technical Area-55 that will quadruple production capacity from 20 to 80 pits per year.

I say ironically because of the fire that is now threatening the Lab. We need to begin questioning whether expanded nuclear weapons production at Los Alamos is feasible in a possibly long-term drought and climate warming punctuated with catastrophic forest fires. More broadly, as we face increasing budget and resource constraints, we need to decide whether our money and water go into expanded nuclear weapons production, or do they go into repairing schools and infrastructure for the common good of society?

 

The Risk to Waste Stored at Area G

We pride ourselves here at Nuclear Watch New Mexico on trying to stick to the facts as we best we know them and not being alarmist. That said, the Las Conchas Fire that has now crossed the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) southwestern boundary is a real threat. For starters is the mind-blowing fact that in just 30 hours this fire has grown bigger than the notorious 2000 Cerro Grande Fire which burned ~48,000 acres (~5,000 acres within Lab boundaries), and traveled in a beeline 12 miles to get to the Lab. With forecasted days of strong winds and gusts and high temperatures it’s hard to say where this fire might go and what it might do. Pray for rain.

We are not so concerned about the hardened facilities at the Lab constructed of concrete and cleared of combustible materials (i.e., trees and brush) around their perimeters. We doubt that there would be any breech to their containment that would let contaminants escape (with one caveat below). But we do have concerns. One is the fact that over 6 decades the Lab has blown up a lot of uranium and depleted uranium in dynamic high explosives experiments in the general area in front of the fire. We don’t know to what extent the shrapnel or debris has been cleaned up and could possibly be aerosolized.

Another concern, given both the velocity and ferocity of the Las Conchas Fire, is whether any Lab facilities loose their power and back up generators failed to work for whatever reason. In that case containment systems could fail with unknown safety implications.

LANL TA-54 Material Disposal Area G
Domes at LANL's TA-54 Material Disposal Area G

But our biggest concern is whether the fire could reach the fabric buildings (essentially very large tents) at Technical Area-54’s Area G that store some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-contaminated wastes from nuclear weapons research and production. We recommend that the public use satellite-based fire detection data and fire intelligence information published by the US Forest Service to monitor the situation (see related post for instructions on how use it). From that we can “see” that the leading edge of the fire is a little more than three miles from Area G.

The good news is that the fire should slow down if and when it heads toward Area G because it will have to leave the mostly ponderosa forest into pinon and juniper country (which doesn’t crown fire like ponderosa). Also, the Lab has cleared trees and vegetation around Area G, and the fire would have to jump some major canyons just to get there.

So here’s hoping the fire doesn’t get anywhere close to Area G. But watch out if it does. The public should be concerned and really pay close attention. It might be a good time to take a road trip somewhere away from being downwind. This is one fire that cannot be underestimated.

 

Extensive B61 Life Extension Serves Lab’s Self-Interest More than Weapon’s Mission

To add to the uncertainty surrounding the pending B61 Life Extension Program:

The NNSA’s FY 2012 Congressional Budget Request says that among other things the scope of the B61 LEP will include “implementation and maturation of enhanced surety technologies into the nuclear explosive package,” a major rationale for the program to begin with. B61 surety is especially sensitive given their forward deployment in Europe.

During the last few months I have learned the following from anonymous congressional staff:

•           Prestigious consultants to the government (the JASONs) finished a study in January or February on the surety of US nuclear weapons. It is classified with no unclassified summary. One aim of the study (perhaps the aim) was to create baseline criteria for applying surety mechanisms to existing US nuclear weapons.

•           In that study the JASONs raised some concerns that NNSA-proposed enhanced surety technologies could impact nuclear weapons reliability. NNSA is now in the process of responding that its enhanced surety technologies are maturing.

•           Some congressional staff seriously doubts these new surety technologies will be mature enough for inclusion in the B61 LEP if it starts as scheduled in FY 2012 (which begins this October 1). If I understood correctly, these concerns revolve around multi-point safety and optical detonation. It’s not clear to me whether or not the JASONs share these particular concerns.

•           The JASONs are also in the process of preparing a separate cost benefit study on the proposed B61 LEP.

To be clear, I have no way of independently verifying the above, nor do I have a full (or even good) understanding of their implications. It is obvious that the B61 LEP is a very big deal to the nuclear weapons labs. For example, Sandia calls it “the largest effort in more than 30 years, the largest, probably, since the original development of the B61-3, 4, a full-up weapon development effort that began in the late 1970s and entered the stockpile in 1979.” (“Launching the B61 Life Extension Program,” Sandia Lab News, March 25, 2011).

NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs seem anxious to rush the B61 Life Extension Program now before the political momentum of increased nuclear weapons funding as a condition of New START ratification begins to recede. To the contrary, we should hit the pause button on the B61 LEP instead of automatically following the labs’ vested self-interests. In order to prudently conserve taxpayers’ dollars, the B61 LEP should be delayed for a few years while new surety technologies and other issues (such as continuing forward deployment in Europe) are sorted out.

 

CMRR FY2012 Budget Request – Blank Check or Black Budget?

CMRR FY2012 Budget Request – Blank Check or Black Budget?

The FY2012 budget request shows $300 million for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project, which is now estimated to cost a total of $6.22 billion. $29.9 million is requested for equipment in the recently completed first building, the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB). But exactly how will the remaining $270 million be spent? That’s literally “TBD” (To Be Determined). What a great deal – receive $270 million and then decide what to do with it. How lucky the Lab must feel to get a blank check in this era of fiscal restraint.

Is the Lab planning to use some of the $270 million to begin construction of the huge “Nuclear Facility”? Because there is a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) now underway for the NF, any construction funding now could prejudice any decision, or at least would smell like prejudice. A more likely scenario is that the Lab figures that it might be able to stash funds away in some black budget to use on construction later, in effect creating a slush fund that would insulate it from and possible future budget cuts.

Perhaps going back to last year will offer some clues. The FY2011 Congressional Budget Request projected that LANL would ask for a total of $322.1 million for FY2012.

The FY2011 breakout estimated for FY2012 was:

$29.9 million RLUOB Equipment Installation (REI) [This turned out to be exactly the amount requested for FY2012.]

$3 million for Other Project Costs (OPC) [This turned out to be “TBD” for FY 2012.]

$102.8 million for NF design [This turned out to be “TBD” for FY 2012. Not counting any FY2012 funding, $419 million has been spent to date on design of the NF.]

$186.4 million for NF construction [FY2012 was to be the first year that construction funds were to be requested for the NF. This turned out to be “TBD” for FY 2012. But it really should be “0” because there is a SEIS underway.]

If all of the $270 million requested for FY2012 is not for NF design, we deserve to know what it’s for.

Regarding NNSA’s Defense Nonproliferation Programs and MOX

I think it would be a big mistake to give unqualified support to restoring funds for NNSA’s Defense Nonproliferation Programs. In my view the best thing that could be done for those programs would be to kill the Mixed Oxide reactor fuel (MOX) program and revive immobilization for ultimate plutonium disposition.

I endorse the strategy of cutting MOX so that the other nonproliferation programs could be spared cuts. I suspect that may be more politically feasible rather than trying to persuade Congress to transfer money from nuclear weapons programs to nonproliferation. [Having said that, I will be trying to cut weapons $$$ regardless.]

I am actually somewhat impressed by the House proposed cuts, after they did propose a 12.8% cut to the requested FY11 NNSA Total Weapons Activities, so apparently there are no sacred cows. I think a cost benefit argument could be made in that the other nonproliferation programs save us money in the long run by discouraging/suppressing nuclear weapons proliferation, whereas there is no economic benefit that I am aware coming from the MOX program (which will probably become a heavy economic liability anyway).

The FY 2011 request for total Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation was $2,687,167,000. In the on-deck continuing resolution to fund the remainder of FY 2011 the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee wants to cut it to $2,085,200,000.  A full 27% of the FY11 Nonproliferation request is dedicated to the MOX program under Fissile Materials Disposition. MOX is arguably a proliferating program instead of a nonproliferation program (never mind potential safety problem and taxpayer giveaways to the nuclear industry).

FY 2011 Request for Fissile Materials Disposition:
Irradiation, Feedstock, and Transportation = 107,787,000
MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site = 475,788,000
Waste Solidification Building (SRS) = 57,000,000
Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility Construction  (SRS) = 80,000,000
Total = 720,575,000

There is nearly 3/4 billion dollars for MOX in the FY11 request. In contrast there is only $29,985,000 in the FY11 request for Uranium Disposition, which is mostly  down blending of the immense stores of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium at

Y-12 (the Project on Government Oversight estimates 200-300 metric tons). As far as Fissile Materials Disposition goes that should really be prioritized.

Maybe MOX could be low hanging fruit now, but beware that the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) is now something like more than 50% constructed. Further, the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) at LANL’s Plutonium Facility-4 is lined up to provide the first two metric tons of feedstock. If something is to be done about MOX it should be done in the near term.

LANL Gestures to Gas Shortage

In response to statewide natural gas outages across New Mexico, LANL closed February 4th. The gesture may reflect that LANL gas use is roughly the equivalent[1] of 22,310 people, nearly the same as the 25,000 people that media reports are without recent service.

Although shutting down LANL would almost make up for the shortage in gas affecting northern New Mexico, it is not quite that equitable. LANL and the Los Alamos town site have their own dedicated gas pipeline coming from the NW San Juan Basin, in New Mexico. Whereas Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Espanola, Taos etc are fed natural gas from the Permian Basin gas fields in Texas. Therefore it is questionable that curtailing operations (which cost taxpayers ~$6 million/per day) at LANL helps to relieve gas supplies in northern New Mexican communities.

It also begs the question of why aren’t Northern New Mexico gas supplies coming from the plentiful San Juan basin, one of the largest reserves in the nation, which is geographically closer? Espanola and Taos are reportedly suffering in recent subzero temperatures because they are at the “end of the line” of gas coming from Texas. But the privileged Lab and Los Alamos town site would not be subject to the same short supply.


[1] According to the 2006 LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement the Lab uses an average of 37.4 million cubic meters of natural gas annually, or 1.32 billion cubic feet (1 cubic meter = 35.31 cubic feet). Wikipedia says Americans use 18.4 trillion cubic feet per year. U.S. population is around 311 million people, hence per person use = 59,164 cubic ft/yr. Population of Espanola = ~10,000, hence uses ~ 591,640,000 cubic ft/yr. Population of Taos = 5,550, hence uses ~ 328,360,200 cubic ft/yr. Therefore, LANL uses twice as natural gas as Espanola, 4 times as much as Taos. TA-55 (site of plutonium pit production) alone uses 45 million cubic ft per year.

Scroll to top