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

Click to access SSMP-FY2014.pdf

NNSA Releases Expanded 2012 Performance Evaluation Reports

In response to a request from Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the National Nuclear Security Administration has released to us expanded versions of the 2012 Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs) for seven nuclear weapons complex sites. (The report for the Savannah River Site was not given to us.) The reports are used by NNSA to decide how much Award Fee it will give its nuclear weapons site contractors each year.

Design issues for the proposed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) cost taxpayers over a 1/2 billion dollars. A statement from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) sheds light on the FY2012 Y-12 Performance Evaluation Report

NNSA admitted publicly in October, five months after it first learned about it, that it had run into a “space/fit issue” with the UPF design. The building, as it approached 80% design completion, would not hold all the equipment it needs to hold…
“The engineering plan delivered on October 19, reported a TPC cost impact of $539M and 13 month impact to the overall project schedule as a result of the Space/Fit issue, effectively using 45% of the NNSA contingency established during CD-1 Reaffirmation in April.” (Performance Evaluation Report for Babcock and Wilcox Y-12 Technical Services, LLC, Evaluation Period: October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012, p.7)

…more soon…

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.

GOVERNMENT MEMO SLAMS BECHTEL FOR MALFEASANCE, SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE

This is from our friends at Hanford Challenge (www.hanfordchallenge.org). Bechtel is the major operator of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Press Release
Immediate Release
For more information contact: Tom Carpenter, 206-419-5829 tomc@hanfordchallenge.org
August 28, 2012

GOVERNMENT MEMO SLAMS BECHTEL FOR MALFEASANCE, SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE

Memo Urges DOE to Remove Bechtel as the Design Authority, Warning Bechtel “is not competent to complete their role”

Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge today released a high-ranking Director’s memorandum that urges termination of the key duties of government contractor, Bechtel National, Inc. (“Bechtel”; “BNI”). A litany of charges question whether Bechtel should continue its role at the Hanford nuclear site, including a long history of incompetence, misleading the government, overcharging, and unsafe designs.

The memo states, “[t]he number and significance of these issues indicate that Bechtel National Inc. is not competent to complete their role as the Design Authority for the WTP [Waste Treatment Plant], and it is questionable that BNI can provide a contract-compliant design as Design Agent.”

The memo continues, noting that “[t]he behavior and performance of Bechtel Engineering places unnecessarily high risk that the WTP design will not be effectively completed. . .”

The August 23, 2012 memo was prepared by the Department of Energy’s WTP Engineering Division Director who oversees the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. It is titled “Summary of Actions and Design Outcomes that Erode Confidence in the ability of Bechtel National Inc. to complete their assigned role as Design Authority for the WTP,” it includes a 19- page attachment, and it is addressed to the Hanford Site Manager. The memo begins:
“This memorandum documents 34 instances and technical issues in which Bechtel National Inc., acting as Design Authority for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) has provided design solutions and technical advice to the Department of Energy which either:
• was determined to be factually incorrect,
• provided a design solution that was not technically defensible, technically viable, or was technically flawed considering identified requirements,
• provided a design solution that was not safe for the WTP operators, or designs that did not comply with the safety basis,
• provided a design solution that represented higher River Protection Project life cycle operating costs compared to other alternatives,
• provided a design solution that was difficult and costly to verify considering other alternatives. thereby increasing WTP completion costs and extending the WTP completion schedule,
• provided a design that was new and unique and does not clearly provide benefits compared to existing technologies and which required special qualification testing,
• provided an installed equipment system that did not meet safety requirements or was not adequately inspected following installation even when defects became known, or
• did not represent best value to the Government in terms of design costs, operating costs or completion schedule.”
The Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is one of the world’s largest and most expensive environmental remediation projects. The current plant is the fourth attempt to build a treatment facility to convert radioactive waste into glass at Hanford, it is a decade behind schedule and with a price tag of approximately at $13 billion, it is at least 250% over budget. The Department of Energy (“DOE”) recently suspended much of the project’s design and construction activities, pending resolution of outstanding safety and technical concerns.
The memo further states, “DOE Engineering Staff have uncovered findings at a nearly constant rate since 2008. The rate of identification is constant, indicating systemic problems in the WTP design process and in BNI’s role as Design Authority. The number and rate of problems identified is indicative that issues are not being resolved.”
Hanford Challenge Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, posits: “the leaked memo puts the Waste Treatment Plant’s woes into sharp relief. This memo details exhaustive and disturbing evidence of why Bechtel should be terminated from this project and subject to an independent investigation. We already knew of Bechtel’s record of suppressing its own engineers’ concerns and retaliating against whistleblowers, and now we see evidence that exhibits a shocking and inexcusable lack of attention to safety for both workers and the public.”
The Engineering Director’s memo recommends, “the role of the WTP Design Authority should be immediately removed from BNI. The DOE should evaluate and select a preferred option to establish an Independent Design Authority for the WTP that will represent the interests of the DOE and the DOE operator.”
+++++++++++++++++++
DOE Memo can be found at www.hanfordchallenge.org

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.

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.

 

The Corporate Folly of Nuclear Power

Meltdowns at the reactors are not the biggest threat, as horrific as they are. Instead the biggest threat is the spent fuel rod pools if they lose circulating water.

The reactors at Fukushima were designed by US General Electric, whose corporate slogan is “bringing good things to life.” The Fukushima reactors had their back up diesel generators at ground level, hence a few feet above sea level, and their spent fuel pools on the “top deck” of the reactor buildings, the equivalent of 3-4 stories up. When the earthquake knocked out the electric power required to circulate absolutely essential liquid coolant the diesel generators kicked in as designed. So far so good.

But then the diesel generators were wiped out 55 minutes later by the tsunami (duh!, the Fukushima nuclear power complex is right on the coast – didn’t the “experts” think of that?). The resulting lack of circulating water has precipitated this crisis that is now on the verge of being an unprecedented catastrophe. A spent fuel rod fire can release far more radioactivity than Chernobyl (see below).

The pathetic irony is that to prevent this catastrophe Tokyo Electric MUST get circulating water UP to the spent fuel rod pools because the diesel generators were swamped DOWN below. The placement of the generators and the waste pools relative to each other was exactly and tragically back *sswards. Do not trust “EXPERTS!,” meaning that citizen activism is always required. IT IS A MUST!

I shun hysteria, but this situation is way serious, it could really get out of control. Pray for the Japanese people, already the victims of history’s only two (so far) atomic attacks. If the fuel rods go count this as the 3rd attack, albeit self-inflicted. Nuclear operations require perfect human operation 24/7/eternity (i.e., as long as we run them). Humans are fallible, and nature can shrug us off like flies.

Get rid of nukes, period (except medicine). It takes only once on the balance sheet to wipe out any potential benefits, and indebt seven future generations environmentally, economically, politically and genetically all at the same time. It’s NOT worth it.

To end on a cheery note (not!): “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” Shakespeare’s King Lear, 4. 1. The gods may do what they want, but don’t let international corporate nuclear power interests kill us. Fight back!

Mother Earth Gives Nuclear Renaissance a Black Eye

Our hearts and prayers go out go out to the people of Japan.

As Japan is faced with the possibility of nuclear meltdowns in five earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors, the U.S. and other countries are re-considering nuclear plans. While it is unlikely that radiation that has leaked or will leak from the Japanese reactor accidents will reach the United States.  This could change if there is an explosion and/or fire affecting one or more of the reactor cores or spent fuel pools. The accident at Chernobyl (25th anniversary is April 26th) affected the entire Northern Hemisphere because of a massive explosion in the core, and an out-of-control fire that burned for days.  This same scenario is unlikely in Japan. But reactors have been damaged beyond repair and old questions are being raised again.

In the U.S., Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts have made statements – “But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put, the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line,” Lieberman stated. “Any plant that is being considered for a seismically vulnerable area in the United States should be reconsidered right now,” Markey said, adding that the Japanese earthquake registering 8.9 in magnitude was “a hundred times greater in intensity” than the level that U.S. plants are built to withstand.

Countries in Europe are pausing to re-consider, also. Japan’s nuclear emergency Monday prompted Germany and Switzerland to halt nuclear programmes as anxious Europe scrambled to review cross-border safety while safeguarding the powerful industry. More

Why were the Fukushima reactors at sea level? Japan’s nuclear accident exposes the dilemma of whether to build power plants on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are unreliable, a problem likely to be aggravated by climate change, experts say. (More from Reuters)

What happened at the Fukushima plant? “Three of its six reactors were in operation when the earthquake hit. The reactors — which went into service between 1970 and 1979 — are designed to shut down automatically when a quake strikes, and emergency diesel generators began the task of pumping water around the reactors to cool them down. However, these stopped about an hour later. The failure of the back-up generators has been blamed on tsunami flooding by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).” More –

This event shows how Mother Earth can have her way with the best-made plans. The power company said that that 7.9 was the highest magnitude for which they tested the safety for their No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants in Fukushima. The original magnitude was estimated to be 8.9, which would have been 10 ten times the magnitude 7.9 that the structures were tested for. The Japan Meteorological Agency up-rated Friday’s earthquake to 9.0 on the Richter scale, meaning that it was twice as powerful as initially thought. More

Here at home, we have no commercial reactors in New Mexico, but there are national nuclear weapons facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, which currently has plans for a $5 billion addition to the Lab’s plutonium weapons production complex. This addition, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) is being designed to survive a 7.0 magnitude earthquake without releasing plutonium.  Much of the estimated cost is to seismically qualify the CMRR-NF to be built on the fault-ridden Pajarito Plateau. The plans call for a storage vault with the capacity of six metric tons of radioactive materials, such as plutonium.

Now would be a good time to re-consider any plans that make us feel invincible.

 

Weight Restrictions for Weapons Workers?

Question: What is the tripping-man impact scenario for a nuclear weapons production technician?

Answer: A 280 lb production technician traveling 2 .5 miles per hour.

We are all familiar with the horrible impacts that nuclear weapons have on humans, but now we have an Analysis of Human Impacts on Weapons. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) recently reviewed the Hazard Analysis Reports (HARs) for several nuclear explosive operations at the Pantex Plant and found that Plant could have a weight problem with its production technicians (PTs).

Of concern is that the weapons design agency supplies data on weapons responses for “tripping-man impact scenarios” based on the energy imparted by a 280 lb PT traveling 2.5 miles per hour. Tools and parts could break if someone larger tripped into a warhead while going faster that 2.5 mph. And Pantex has no controls in place to limit these human impact energies.

The DNFSB concluded that the “maximum PT impact energy does not represent an uncontrolled environment, such as lightning, earthquake, or meteorological conditions.” Pantex imposes other physical qualifications for PTs (such as age, sight, speech), as well as other limitations specified by the Human Reliability Program. They believe that weapon responses should be reevaluated for higher impact energies, or that Pantex should limit PT weights.

Revised Estimates for Safer Gloveboxes Hurt Budget

On the heels of a GAO report made public Monday, which stated that accounting procedures used by various branches of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex are preventing NNSA from pinpointing the exact total cost of maintaining its nuclear deterrent, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) has released a weekly report also showing LANL’s inability to accurately estimate even the tiniest of specific costs.

In the June 4th weekly report for Los Alamos Lab, the DNFSB stated that the Lab underestimated the cost of seismically upgrading gloveboxes at its plutonium pit production complex by an order of magnitude. The DNFSB stated, “…the expected cost of seismic upgrades to individual gloveboxes has risen from an original estimate of about $80,000 per glovebox to a current estimate of approximately $850,000.” In addition, the Lab also ended up doubling the number of gloveboxes that need the upgrades as a priority up to 157.

So, in effect, the Labs original estimate for this glovebox work was $6.4 million (80 gloveboxes at $80,000 each), but the revised estimate is now $133.4 million (157 gloveboxes at $850,000 each). It’s hard to understand how new bracing and bolts to upgrade the legs of these gloveboxes could cost $80,000 each, much less $850,000. It’s not rocket science. Maybe the private corporation running the Lab underestimated the profits that they wanted to make for this much-needed work.  Make no mistake, there will be performance- based incentive award fees  for the work, as well as for the design and even the estimates.

In safety documents, the Lab originally stated that these upgrades would be done by 2011 to mitigate the possible off-site dose of plutonium to the public in the event of a large earthquake and subsequent facility fire. Guess what? The Lab will be behind schedule as well as way over budget. But LANL is already using its commitment for future glovebox seismic upgrades to reduce the mitigated dose consequence for a seismically-induced event in its dose calculations. So the public will be safe, only on paper, until the Lab finds the time and the money to upgrade those glovebox legs.

The Lab should focus on upgrading existing facilities and equipment and prove its ability and desire to protect the public before embarking on unneeded new construction, such as the CMRR – Nuclear Facility.

Update – Lab Shipment Scare at Sunport

Phil Parker at the Journal gives an update.

The package was labeled “explosives” on the inside, so the cargo handlers were rightfully concerned when their alarms went off. The cargo facility was closed for about four hours during the incident.

It was reported  that , “The containers are usually shipped via ground transportation but sometimes, he [LANL spokesperson] said, they’re sent by air.” I’m guessing that it costs more to send it by air, not to mention the extra cost of wasting time of the Albuquerque Police Department bomb squad, the cargo handlers, and Lab personnel.

The Journal reported, “Security at the airport didn’t know about the arrangement. “Apparently it was just a misunderstanding,” said airport spokesperson Daniel Jiron.” Once again, the Lab deflects any responsibility.

Lab Tries To Ship Explosives on Commercial Airline

KOB TV 4 broke the story and is still has the only account as best as I can tell. Read report and see video here.

Los Alamos National Laboratory sent an 8’ package labeled “explosives” to the Sunport to be flown to California on Southwest Airlines (where bags fly free). A sensor alarm alerted the cargo handlers to “a small amount of trace explosives” and the package never made it to the plane. It was reported that no flights were delayed and there was no danger. It was also reported that the Lab meant to ship the package by ground.

The danger here is that the Lab which is entrusted with the nation’s nuclear secrets cannot ship a package correctly. It was an 8’ package labeled “explosives.” It’s not like it got accidently mixed in with other packages and put on the wrong truck.

The public deserves all the facts. How did the “mix-up” occur? Has the Lab shipped similar packages before? What type of “explosive” label did the package have on it? Did it meet all shipping standards for explosives? Did the explosives pose a detonation hazard? Could the package really have been shipped by ground? How does an 8’ package labeled “explosives” even get unloaded into the air cargo building?

Operations at Plutonium Facility stood down due to fire suppression system

In the latest of a string of fire system deficiencies on Wednesday September 30th, LANL management declared the fire suppression system inoperable in PF-4 at TA-55. Facility activities were placed in stand-by mode, which were still stood down as of three weeks later on Oct. 23rd.

DNFSB explained that the stand down was based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system does not achieve the water density coverage required. Basically, the sprinklers in 13 of approximately 100 fire suppression areas at PF-4 cannot meet the current required gallons per minute estimated to effectively extinguish a fire. (Read the Oct. 2nd-23rd DNFSB reports)

One has to wonder – What is the cost to the taxpayer of PF-4 being stood down for nearly a month?

These reports come on the heels of last week’s DNFSB recommendation that the Lab must immediately do something about its risk to the public of a seismically induced fire at PF-4, which was estimated to exceed the DOE guidelines by more than 100 times. In a worst-case situation, an earthquake-induced fire could set free enough breathable plutonium that a person on the perimeter of the facility would receive a lethal dose of radiation.

Speaking of seismically induced fires, I am reminded of a March 2007 LANL report, Seismic Fragility of the LANL Fire Water Distribution System (LA-14325), which explains how numerous valves in the fire water distribution system at the Lab would have to be manually closed to insure proper pressure to facilities on fire after a seismic event.

Granted, these may be low probability events, but they have high consequences. The Lab is playing with fire by not adequately funding upgrades to its existing fire systems now, before embarking construction of any new facilities.

Hikers, dogs found inside the fence

Summary Report of Occurrences Reviewed

From October 26 – 30, 2009
Near Miss –
NA – Los Alamos National Laboratory (Significance Category 3).
On October 22, a Water
Quality sampling crew discovered two hikers with three dogs at Technical Area 68 (TA-68)
during High Explosive (HE) Operations. The hikers were instructed to exit DOE property.
During interviews, the hikers stated they had hiked approximately one mile into TA-15.
During that time, TA-39-6 conducted two HE shots. A third shot scheduled for another shot
site was cancelled because of equipment issues. The hikers did not enter the TA-39-6 shot
Hazard Areas. Had the third shot been conducted, the hikers could have been within the
Hazard C Area with the potential for contamination or HE injury. A radiological control
technician surveyed the hikers and dogs for contamination. The contamination surveys
indicated no detectable activity and the hikers were released.

http://www.hss.energy.gov/csa/analysis/ll/occur/102609-103009.pdf

I’m glad everyone is OK, but I have some questions. The hikers clearly crossed a fence or a gate with one of those warning signs on it. There is no mention of security forces being called. The Lab has been busted for security issues many times in the past and can ill afford any more security problems. Is it possible that the Lab is trying to avoid having this incident count as a security violation? If they found me walking my dogs inside the fence, I’ll bet I would at get to explain my story to the guys in the black SUVs.


Los Alamos – Plutonium Center of Negligence

An October 27 press release from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)
Defense Board Catches Los Alamos Trying to Dodge Plutonium Safety Vulnerability” revolves around a new Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) revelation of public safety vulnerability and seismic issues at TA-55 (The Lab’s plutonium Technical Area).

The DNFSB has been very patient on the safety issues at TA-55. In a September 23, 2005 weekly report, they stated that LANL needed to try to justify a passive confinement strategy, continue plans to reduce radioactive materials, and to seismically upgrade the glove-box supports that have not already been upgraded. These issues are still unaddressed as of the latest DNFSB report.

Seismic issues run deep at Los Alamos. NNSA currently has plans to construct and operate the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement–Nuclear Facility (CMRR–NF) to support plutonium operations as a replacement for portions of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility, a 1950’s structure that faces significant safety and seismic challenges. In 1999, a fault was discovered under the old CMR building, which has been neglected, contaminated, and has several abandoned wings. This fault was the major reason given to build a new facility 1.2 miles away at TA-55.

The Lab has big plans for plutonium. In December 2008, NNSA released a Record of Decision for its Complex Transformation Environmental Impact Statement that keeps manufacturing and research and development involving plutonium at Los Alamos and blesses the building of the CMRR-NF. This decision was a combination of two alternatives – a Distributed Centers of Excellence and a Capability-Based alternative. But to compensate for the nearby fault lines, the CMRR-NF is now being designed with 10-foot thick concrete floors and there are plans being designed to pump grout into a layer of fragile volcanic ash under the proposed facility. Current construction estimates for this facility are $2 billion.

The Lab has been negligent in taking care of its plutonium flagship, TA-55. It has not been a good steward of plutonium missions. Los Alamos is the wrong location, seismically. Congress must seriously consider ending this unnecessary plutonium work.

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