NNSA life extension program and Pentagon tail fin kit create new military capabilities

The NNSA press release below reports on a limited drop test of a mocked up B61-12 nuclear bomb from a helicopter, not its slated delivery systems (B-2 bombers and various sophisticated NATO aircraft). But this press release is of course misleading, focusing on replacing radar vacuum tubes in order “to increase the safety and security of the bomb.”

 The real action will begin soon. Note the press release’s phrase “With the incorporation of a new Air Force tail kit assembly…” In its last budget request NNSA marks the following milestone “In FY 2014, NNSA will integrate the nuclear bomb assembly components and the Air Force Tail Kit Assembly into functional Compatibility Test Units (CTUs) for integration testing with Air Force nuclear certified aircraft.” NNSA FY 2014 Congressional Budget Request, page WA-32.

This is a good example of how the NNSA’s ~$10 billion B61 Life Extension Program and the Air Force’s ~$3.2 billion Tail Kit Assembly program are co-joined. Together they will create the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by future super stealthy F-35s (with each bomb costing more than twice their weight in gold). This clearly creates new military capabilities for an existing nuclear weapon, contrary to official U.S. policy declared at the 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference and elsewhere.

National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S. Department of Energy

For Immediate Release
August 29, 2013
Contact: NNSA Public Affairs, (202) 586-7371

B61-12 Life Extension Program Radar Drop Tests Completed Successfully

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of the ongoing effort to refurbish the aging B61 nuclear bomb without resorting to underground nuclear testing, two successful B61-12 radar drop tests were successfully completed at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on Aug. 14 and 15, 2013, by engineers from Sandia National Laboratories.

Current B61s use decades-old vacuum tubes as part of their radar system. The new radar system, which had not been tested outside of a laboratory environment, was assembled in a gravity bomb configuration and successfully functioned as it was dropped from a helicopter.

“The B61 contains the oldest components in the U.S. arsenal,” said Don Cook, National Nuclear Security Administration Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure and effective without the use of underground testing. The B61 has been in service a decade longer than planned, and our refurbishment program is a scientific and engineering challenge. These successful tests have given us confidence in our ability to integrate the new radar design and move forward with our efforts to increase the safety and security of the bomb.”

The Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and Department of Energy/NNSA organization established by Congress, moved the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) from the planning stages to development engineering in February 2012. The scope of this LEP includes refurbishment of both nuclear and non-nuclear components to address aging, ensure extended service life, and improve safety, reliability and security of the bomb. With the incorporation of a new Air Force tail kit assembly, the design will also enable consolidation and replacement of the existing B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs by the B61-12 bomb. The LEP will reuse or remanufacture existing components to the extent possible.

This radar drop test is one of several critical milestones for the B61-12 LEP this year. Radar testing will continue with integration of other B61-12 components, including the weapon and firing control units to demonstrate the arming, fuzing and firing subsystem. The B61-12 LEP is an essential element of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent and of the nation’s commitments to extended deterrence and it ensures the continued vitality of the air-delivered leg of the U.S. nuclear triad.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.energy.gov for more information.

 

Excellence Unfulfilled at the LANL’s Plutonium Facility

A Los Alamos National Laboratory fact sheet touts the Lab as a plutonium “center of excellence”. However, the Laboratory Director paused operations in the Plutonium Facility on June 27, 2013. (The Plutonium Facility, called PF-4, is located at Technical Area 55 at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). PF-4 is home for the Lab’s plutonium work, including nuclear weapons component production.) The pause was based on issues identified during safety reviews and findings from recent assessments. For one, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) performed a review of the Criticality Safety Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in May 2013. (The Board is an independent organization within the executive branch chartered with the responsibility of providing recommendations and advice to the President and the Secretary of Energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy (DOE) defense nuclear facilities.) This review identified significant non-compliances with DOE requirements and industry standards in the Lab’s Criticality Safety Program (CSP). In addition, this review identified criticality safety concerns around operations at the Plutonium Facility. The Board noted that some of these deficiencies are long standing and indicated flaws in federal oversight and contractor assurance. Much plutonium work, especially work with a high potential for criticality, will be stopped through the rest of 2013.

Nuclear criticality safety is defined as “protection against the consequences of an inadvertent nuclear chain reaction, preferably by prevention of the reaction.” The most potentially dangerous aspect of a criticality accident is the release of nuclear radiation if it maintains a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

To date, the only thing self-sustaining is the Lab’s inability to address its criticality issues and yet still convince Congress to keep funding plutonium work there. To prevent bad things from happening, DOE’s regulations and directives require contractors to evaluate potential accident conditions and put in place appropriate controls and safety measures. History shows that the Los Alamos Laboratory just cannot do this, even though much of the work is performed on plutonium pits, the primaries of nuclear weapons. Even though actual need for this work has not been proven, the Lab has entrenched itself as the only place in the country where plutonium pits can be made, developed, and tested.

For fiscal year 2014, the budget request for nuclear ‘weapons activities’ at LANL was $1.4 billion. The exact amount that is spent on plutonium operations in PF-4 is unknown to us, but the budget request for 2014 for Directed Stockpile Work, which is where major parts of the plutonium operations are located, was $460 million. This is a 23% increase over last year’s budget. The funding pours into the Lab regardless of whether the Lab is actually doing any work, which is frequently stopped.

Here’s history of criticality problems and work stoppages at Los Alamos Laboratory:
In 2005, an assessment determined that LANL’s expert-based Criticality Safety Program (CSP) was not compliant with applicable DOE requirements and industry standards.

In 2006, LANS developed a Nuclear Criticality Safety Program Improvement Plan.

In 2007, in response to concerns raised by the Board’s staff, LANL determined that the authorized loading of vault storage rooms in PF-4 could lead to a critical configuration.

In 2008, the Government Accountability Office reported concerns about nuclear safety at LANL are long-standing. Problems included 19 occasions since 2003 where criticality safety requirements were violated, such as storing materials in quantities higher than safety limits allow, 17 of 19 of the site’s nuclear facilities operating without proper safety documentation, reported inadequacies in safety systems, radiological releases, and four enforcement actions for significant violations of nuclear safety rules.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending April 3, 2009
LANL management placed the facility in stand-by mode until roughly 125 safety evaluations could be re-evaluated.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending October 2, 2009
The Plutonium Facility was placed in standby mode because management declared the fire suppression system inoperable based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system was not able to achieve the water coverage required. LANL had performed a system adequacy analysis in 2008. The hydraulic calculation completed for the system identified that 13 of approximately 100 hydraulic areas did not meet the requirement.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending October 16, 2009
A general evacuation alarm was caused by a Criticality Alarm System signal because of a loss of all facility ventilation and failure of the Facility Control System at the Plutonium Facility. The facility was in standby mode during this event due to previously identified issues with the fire suppression system and, therefore, limited personnel were in the facility.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending September 10, 2010
Operations in Plutonium Facility were suspended because potentially explosive ammonium nitrate was discovered in two filter ducts.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 3, 2010
It was revealed that greater than 1000 items, or about 20%, of the total vault holdings are items packaged in potentially vulnerable containers with taped slip-top lids rather than in robust safety-significant containers that include a HEPA-filtered vent. The presence of these slip-top containers requires respirator use whenever operators access the vault. In FY10, LANL made meaningful progress in addressing these legacy materials.

In 2011, an event occurred at PF-4 in which fissile material handlers violated procedural requirements and criticality safety controls while moving and photographing plutonium rods.

Beginning in 2012, LANS experienced an 18-month exodus of criticality safety professionals from its criticality safety group. LANS currently employs 2 full-time and 2 part-time qualified criticality safety analysts, in addition to 3 part-time subcontractors—far fewer than the 17 criticality safety analysts it has determined to be necessary to support operations, meet mission goals, and maintain the CSP.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending April 20, 2012
Plutonium Facility personnel use a software program called MAR Tracker to track plutonium that is used in the facility. A system engineer discovered an error in
MAR Tracker that caused only a small subset of applicable facility containers (roughly 1700 out of 13000 containers) to be checked during the required annual MAR surveillance. The Plutonium Facility was placed in Standby Mode.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending June 15, 2012
LANL identified a number of fuel rods in TA-35 Building 27 that were not consistent with the criticality safety evaluation for the facility. Operations at this building had previously been suspended in late-May due to the discovery of three fuel rods that were not in the facility or institutional tracking systems.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 14, 2012
LANL identified that the Criticality Safety Evaluations (CSEs) for two rooms did not adequately address the potential for interaction effects between storage locations. Plutonium Facility management suspended operations in these two vault rooms.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending February 15, 2013
LANL began a focused training program (“boot camp”) to provide an intensive learning environment for new criticality safety staff. The program consisted of nine modules including: nuclear theory; criticality safety calculation methods; ANSI/ANS, DOE and LANL criticality safety standards and requirements; criticality safety evaluations; and criticality alarm and detection systems. This program along with on-the-job training and performance demonstrations was to provide a mechanism for achieving full qualification as a LANL criticality safety analyst. Conduct of the boot camp was part of the LANL corrective action plan for improving the nuclear criticality safety program.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending May 3, 2013
The laboratory completed criticality safety assessments at LANL nuclear facilities. The review teams identified 3, 4, and 6 findings for TA-55, CMR, and Area G, respectively. In all cases, the assessments concluded adequate implementation of the Criticality Safety Program with the exception of identified findings. Notably, one of the findings at Area G identified that supervisors and operations center personnel did not have an adequate understanding of criticality safety requirements. Area G management paused operations based on this finding and conducted appropriate training to resolve this issue.

In May 2013, the staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) performed a review of the Criticality Safety Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory. This review identified significant non-compliances with applicable Department of Energy requirements and industry standards in the implementation of the Criticality Safety Program. The Board’s staff identified the following non-compliances during its review:
• Most criticality safety controls are not incorporated into operating procedures.
• Operators typically do not utilize written procedures when performing work.
• Fissile material labels do not list parameters relevant to criticality safety (e.g., mass).
• Some fissile material operations lack Criticality Safety Evaluations (CSEs).
• Some CSEs do not analyze all credible abnormal conditions.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending June 28, 2013
The Laboratory Director paused programmatic activities at the Plutonium Facility. The pause was directed based on issues identified during procedural and criticality safety reviews and findings from recent assessments. Reviews at PF-4 have identified a number of procedural issues and the need for clarification and improvement of criticality safety controls.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending July 26, 2013
Plutonium Facility personnel identified several criticality safety issues associated with recent construction activity. Even though plutonium work was paused, the Laboratory Director and the Facility Operations Director (FOD) approved construction activities that had the potential to affect nuclear materials.

For more information, please read the LAMonitor article By John Severance
Safety board visits LANL

Nuclear weapons are “the world’s most heinous weapons”

Secretary of State John Kerry correctly condemned the Syrian regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons, but he’s wrong calling them “the world’s most heinous weapons.” Instead that awful distinction belongs to nuclear weapons, a class of weapons far above any other. If ever used again nuclear weapons would indiscriminately kill far more people, including women, children and non-combatants, than chemical weapons ever could, and poison the planet with radioactive fallout. Nevertheless our country is planning repeating cycles of “Life Extension Programs” costing $100 billion or more, giving existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities. This is directly contrary to what Kerry’s predecessor ex-Secretary Hillary Clinton declared as official U.S. policy at the 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference.

The cost of the mismanaged Los Alamos and Sandia Labs’ Life Extension Program for the B61 nuclear bomb has more than doubled from $4 billion to $10 billion. A related $3.2 billion Pentagon program will produce a new tail fin guidance kit. Together these programs will create the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by future super stealthy aircraft, while each bomb will cost more than twice their weight in gold.

The U.S. should review its own moral authority while preparing for military action in Syria. In particular our New Mexican congressional delegation must stop automatically supporting expanded nuclear weapons programs without deeply questioning their own consciences. Our politicians’  justifications to date have been to protect a few hundred jobs at the Labs, which don’t really trickle down to average New Mexicans anyway.

As evidence of the lack of broad benefit to New Mexicans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau our state was 37th in per capita income in 1959. In 2010 we were 44th, despite the vaunted economic presence of the nuclear weapons industry in New Mexico, and in 2013 we were rated dead last for the well being of our children by the KIDS COUNT Data Center. Our politicians should be striving mightily that New Mexicans increasingly benefit from our vast renewable solar, wind, biomass and geothermal resources that would employ far more citizens, instead of pandering to nuclear weapons programs that produce a commodity that we can only hope will never be used.

 

 

 

On my soap box about Sandia Labs

John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal had an article today entitled “Sandia Labs manager gets 6 more months,”  describing Lockheed Martin’s half year contract extension. John knows all three nuclear weapons labs well, and I won’t be telling him things that he doesn’t already know. But I’ll use his article as an excuse to stand on my soap box about Sandia Labs.

To my taste, John’s article makes Sandia sound a little too benign with phrases like “the nuclear weapons research center” and “Sandia is one of the nation’s three nuclear weapons design and maintenance laboratories.” What is left unreported is that Sandia is a major production site that, for example, manufactured 850 neutron generators for nuclear weapons in 2010, and loads them with radioactive tritium. In addition to design responsibility for non-nuclear components, Sandia’s secondary mission has long been “weapons effects” research for making sure nuclear weapons continue to work in lethal radiation environments. This enables multi-strike nuclear warfighting rather than the simple deterrence sold as doctrine to the American public.

Further, instead of mere “maintenance,” all three nuclear weapons labs (Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore) are lobbying for a never-ending cycle of so-called Life Extension Programs that will intentionally introduce profound changes to existing nuclear weapons. Major changes are the last thing we should do to a stockpile that has been extensively tested and proven to be even more reliable than previously thought, when we can no longer full-scale test. All of this will be of enormous expense to the American taxpayer, where for example the currently proposed Life Extension Program for the B61 bomb has exploded in costs from $4 billion to more than $10 billion, resulting in each bomb costing twice its weight in gold. Added to this is a related $3.2 billion Pentagon program giving the B61 a new tail fin guidance kit, transforming it into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by planned super stealthy aircraft.

In addition to prolonging their service lives for 30 years or more, these Life Extension Programs have and will create new military capabilities for existing nuclear weapons, despite denials at the highest levels of the U.S. government to the world at large (for example, at the United Nations’ 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference). The lab directors wear two hats, the first as directors who are required to annually certify to the president and Congress that the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe, secure and reliable. The second hat is that as presidents of the executive board of the for-profit corporations running the labs, which will directly benefit from never-ending Life Extension Programs that may actually undermine stockpile reliability. So far from mere “research” and “maintenance” we have a deep seated conflict-of-interest driven by profit that will stymie our global leadership toward getting rid of nuclear weapons while continuing to fleece the American taxpayer.

Foremost in this is the Sandia National Laboratories, which amongst the three labs now has the largest nuclear weapons budget. In the past, Sandia has been singled out as a model of lab mission diversification, with its total annual institutional budget falling below 50% nuclear weapons. That is no longer true given recent large increases to its nuclear weapons research and production programs, which now comprise ~55% of Sandia’s total budget.

 

 

Nuclear weapon research at the universities

A July 5th article in the Deseret News reported on an NNSA program that gives millions of dollars to universities for “predictive science”, which is defined as:

Predictive science is the application of verified and validated computational simulations to predict the behavior of complex systems where routine experiments are not feasible. The selected PSAAP II centers will focus on unclassified applications of interest to NNSA and its national laboratories — Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

Funny, nuclear weapons are not mentioned.
The good news, and few know this better than Utah, is that testing nuclear weapons no longer requires full-scale explosions. The bad news is that predictive science, to the NNSA, is the “science” of predicting whether nuclear warheads will work after they have been refurbished, modernized, and given new military characteristics. We know that the old versions work. Do the students know that they helping to prolong the nuclear menace by testing newly designed versions of the old weapons on their computers?
It should be called nuclear weapons perpetuating science 101.

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

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.

Click to access 13-36%20-%205-7-13.pdf

The NNSA/DoD “3+2” strategy – hold on to your wallets

John Harvey is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, where “he advises on plans, policy and oversight of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.” See his full bio at http://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/bio_harvey.htm

On June 13 he made some comments that offer some good insights into the relationship between the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on nuclear weapons, and their current “3+2” strategy for the “end state” stockpile. See http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/JRH-remarks-NDUF-breakfast-13Jun.pdf

According to Harvey that future stockpile will consist of not one, but three “interoperable” ballistic missile warheads, one gravity bomb (the B61) and one air-launched cruise missile warhead (which could be yet another variant of the B61). For details, see the just released NNSA FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf

The costs will be astronomical, which the FY14 SSMP projects at ~$60 billion (and that’s without the usual cost overruns). And all this strategy does is take 4+3, the existing 4 ballistic missile warheads (W76, W78, W87, W88) and three air delivered bombs/warheads (B61, W80, B83) down to 3+2, but it includes bringing back deployed air-launched cruise missile warheads (which are currently declining in numbers). The gravity bomb that would be retired is the B83, but how useful is that at 1.2 megatons?

Moreover, NNSA and DoD were probably going to get rid of W80 cruise missile warheads anyway. Bush Sr. withdrew many W80’s from active deployment circa 1992 following the break up of the Soviet Union. The W80 life extension program was canceled ~5 years ago, all W80-0’s have already been dismantled, but now the entire class of W80’s might be retired. However, the W80 design was based on the B61 to begin with, so all of this is kind of a distinction without a difference anyway.

The overall trend is lower-yield, more accurate nuclear weapons substituting for higher yield weapons, which I contend on the face of it are new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Reducing the number of the types of nuclear weapons is a smoke screen.

Harvey notes that the ballistic missile warheads will be “interoperable” because they could share the same nuclear explosives package, but that does not a truly swappable warhead make. And at what point do heavily modified nuclear weapon become “new,” and at what point are original designs so changed that confidence in reliability is eroded without full-scale testing?

With respect to the NNSA/DoD relationship, I continue to think that it is largely the tail wagging the dog, that is the nuclear weapons labs wagging both NNSA and the Pentagon. Related, my concerns increase over the congressional panel on the future of the NNSA because of heavy representation on it by the labs and their contractors. Two examples are former LLNL/LANL Director Mike Anatasio and ex.-NM Rep. Heather Wilson. Regarding Wilson, the DOE Inspector General recently reported how she was the recipient of $450,000 in open-ended consulting agreements that lacked deliverables with Sandia and Los Alamos Labs. They had to pay the government back for these unallowable costs, but in turn Wilson should be barred from the panel.

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

NNSA Penalizes Sandia; In Response Labs Director Says the Needs of the Nuclear Weapons Stockpile May Not Be Met

May 17, 2013

Santa Fe, NM – Albuquerque’s KRQE TV Channel 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker has found that “[a]fter calling employee safety standards “inexcusable,” the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration recently withheld more than $6 million in incentive fees from Sandia [National Laboratories] as punishment… Lab director, Dr. Paul Hommert, defended Sandia’s handling of the Alaskan incident to the federal government. But, in a strongly-worded rebuke, NNSA Acting Director Neile Miller called Hommert’s version of the Kodiak events “disingenuous,” characterized Sandia’s response to the accident as “minimal” and said she was disturbed that no disciplinary action was ever taken against the employees involved.”

In last night’s broadcast Mr. Barker interviewed New Mexico’s senior senator Tom Udall and Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan. Both called for Sandia Labs to openly acknowledge and discuss a tragic vehicle accident in Alaska that resulted in the permanent paralysis of two employees. Sandia Labs Director Paul Hommert refused Mr. Barker’s repeated requests to be interviewed.

However, Mr. Barker did manage to comprehensively document NNSA’s process of fee determination that resulted in the penalty. Included is a 7-page letter by Sandia Director Paul Hommert defending the Labs and arguing that Sandia should not be docked for its negligent performance. He concludes by writing”

“…these actions [to penalize Sandia] are interpreted by me and my leadership as intended (whether rightly or wrongly) to send us a message that our broader national security work is not supported by the NNSA… the impact of such a message will impact our ability to support the nation’s national security challenges. First and foremost among these challenges are the needs of our nation’s nuclear deterrent, which we cannot meet without our broader work.”

Paul Hommert wears two hats, the first as Sandia Labs Director, the second as president of the executive board of the for-profit Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s largest defense contractor, the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Hommert’s salary has not been publicly revealed, but his predecessor Tom Hunter received $1.7 million in total annual compensation.

Sandia’s budget for nuclear weapons now exceeds Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. It is the lead lab for a Life Extension Program that will radically change the existing B61 nuclear bomb, whose estimated costs have exploded to over $10 billion. Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor for the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose estimated service life cycle will cost more than one trillion dollars. The future mission of the stealthy F-35 will be in large part to deliver precision-guided B61 bombs forward deployed in Europe (against what threat?), refurbished under Sandia’s leadership.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “In response to NNSA’s criticism and proposed penalty, in effect Sandia Labs Director Paul Hommert tells the federal government to give us the money or the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile is at risk. There is an inherent conflict of interest in having the nuclear weapons labs directors also acting as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs. As part of badly need reform and strengthening of federal oversight, these two positions should be strictly separated so that the American public can be fully confident that profoundly serious nuclear weapons policy decisions are not being influenced by private for-profit motives.”

# # #

KRQE Channel 13’s investigative report by Larry Barker is available at

http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/larry_barker/sandia-lab-safety-costs-taxpaers-millions

His compilation of NNSA’s fee determination and Sandia Lab Director Paul Hommert’s letter is available at

http://media2.krqe.com/_local/pdf/SNL%20Fee%20Determination.pdf

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

 


Proposed Nuke Cuts a Step in the Right Direction

Great news about reported further cuts to deployed strategic nuclear weapons. NukeWatch NM is all in favor of that! But we also want a qualitative change rather that just a quantitative change. By that we mean no new nuclear weapons production facilities meant to last for the next half-century and no new military capabilities for our existing weapons. Make no mistake, those new military capabilities are happening now through Life Extension Programs, despite denials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. More in our press release……

NUCLEAR WATCH NEW MEXICO

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 8, 2013   

Contact: Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.692.5854 jay@nukewatch.org

 

Proposed Nuke Cuts a Step in the Right Direction – –

New Nuclear Weapons Production Facilities And Military Capabilities Should Be Cut As Well

Santa Fe, NM – According to a major article published today by the Center for Public Integrity, the Obama Administration is preparing to release a long-awaited “Implementation Study” as a follow on to its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. This study will reportedly lower the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,000 – 1,100 from the 1,550 each pledged to by Russia and the U.S. in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty arms control agreement. In December 2010 the U.S. Senate ratified New START, which Republican senators used to extract funding commitments for “modernization” of both the nuclear weapons stockpile and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s research and production complex.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds further cuts to strategic nuclear weapons as an excellent step in the right direction. But as the Center for Public Integrity points out the Obama Administration considered but rejected a “deterrence only” nuclear posture that would require only some 500 warheads to back up the officially declared policy of deterring others. This is in contrast to the 1,000+ weapons needed for nuclear warfighting and first strike capability (which the U.S. has never renounced).

So-called modernization of the U.S. stockpile involves increasingly aggressive Life Extension Programs (LEPs) that prolong the service lives of existing nuclear weapons 30 years or more. LEPs and/or other modifications also provide existing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities, which generally involve substituting lower yield nuclear weapons for higher yield weapons. Two past examples are: 1) a 1997 modification of the B61 bomb into a 350 kiloton earth-penetrator, taking over the mission of the 9 megaton B53 surface-burst bomb to destroy hardened, deeply buried targets; and 2) the current LEP for the sub-launched W76 Trident warhead, retrofitting it with a new-design fuze that is believed capable of selecting more precise heights-of-burst. In combination with increased warhead accuracy, this gives the 100-kiloton W76 the hard target kill capability of the more powerful 450-kiloton W88 Trident warhead. [For perspective’s sake, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs were ~16 and ~21 kilotons respectively, together instantly killing at least 130,000 people.]

The U.S. has officially and repeatedly declared to the entire world (notably at the United Nations’ 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference) that it will not produce new-design nuclear weapons. Simultaneously high-level government officials also pledged that the U.S. would never give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities.

However Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM Director, points out, “Substituting more usable lower-yield nuclear weapons for higher-yield weapons is undeniably a new military capability in and of itself. At the same time, we are undermining our own national security, first through the bad proliferation example we set for others, and second by possibly lowering confidence in stockpile reliability through the introduction of major changes to our extensively tested nuclear weapons. Further cuts to deployed strategic nuclear weapons are clearly a very good thing. But the next needed step is for all nuclear weapons powers, including the U.S., to adopt a deterrence-only posture that conservatively maintains nuclear arsenals while awaiting negotiated, verified disarmament.”

As a case in point for the need to preserve the tested pedigree of the stockpile, the new-design fuze for the W76 (in part responsible for its new military capability) had initial design problems that delayed start up of its Life Extension Program. Future LEPs could be even more aggressive, with for example a proposed joint warhead replacing both the W78 ICBM warhead and the sub-launched W88 while using the plutonium pit core of yet a third type of warhead. This inevitably raises the question of at what point does a reputedly refurbished nuclear weapon become a “new” weapon, directly contradicting officially declared policy and creating a terrible proliferation example.

Lower stockpile numbers coupled with prudent, conservative maintenance of nuclear weapons creates less need for strategic bombers, subs, missiles and nuclear weapons production facilities, in turn leading to huge, urgently needed taxpayers savings and enhanced national security. Coghlan concluded, “This should be the final straw for the proposed ~$6 billion CMRR facility for expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab, which has been postponed for at least 5 years because of budget pressures. Today’s revelation of lower nuclear stockpile numbers should put a permanent end to this plutonium boondoggle for a shrinking nuclear weapons stockpile, giving some relief to the American taxpayer while promoting a safer world.”

# # #

The Center for Public Integrity’s news article “Obama administration embraces major new nuclear weapons cut” is available at http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/02/08/12156/obama-administration-embraces-major-new-nuclear-weapons-cut

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

 

 


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

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“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

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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?

 

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.

 

Replacement of Neutron Generators is Routine

At a town hall meeting this week in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near the proposed location of the new “UPF” nuclear weapons facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex, the state’s junior senator, Bob Corker quipped:

It’s just about the fact that our nuclear arsenal is absolutely obsolete. I saw neutron generators, literally, out in New Mexico that will quit working in the year 2015, which means it renders the weaponry totally obsolete.

Whew. Stunning.

Neutron generators are “limited life components” (LLCs). The NNSA FY 2012 Congressional Budget Request has this to say: Many age-related changes affecting various nuclear warhead components are predictable and well understood. Limited life component exchanges are performed routinely to replace these components periodically throughout the lifetime of the weapon. Components such as power sources, neutron generators and tritium reservoirs deteriorate predictably and must be replaced before their deterioration adversely affects function or personnel safety. Page 50, emphasis added.

Changing out neutron generators in fact appears so routine that it seems the military changes them out in the field. A July 1995 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (p. 78) mentions “On April 11, [1995] Sandia delivered 36 recertified neutron generators to the Navy…” Emphasis added.

NNSA says under FY 2010 Accomplishments for Stockpile Systems: “Delivered all scheduled LLCs (GTS [gas transfer systems, meaning tritium] reservoirs and neutron generators (NG)) and alteration kits to the DoD and Pantex to maintain the nuclear weapons stockpile.” NNSA FY 2012 Congressional Budget Request (CBR), p. 61, emphasis added.

Also of interest on the same page: “Selected a common NG for the B61 and B83 that will reduce development, production, and maintenance costs.”

Neutron generators are testable, and the testing devices themselves are being improved. “FY 2010 Accomplishments Stockpile Readiness Nonnuclear Readiness… Deployed Neutron Generator (NG) Testers, which assures neutron generator test capability by modernizing testers as required to support NG production and shelf-life programs.” NNSA FY 2012 Congressional Budget Request, p. 135.

A MC4380 Neutron Generator for the W76-1
Neutron Generator, Sandia Lab News, March 2011

In the current Life Extension Program W76-1’s are being outfitted with new-design neutron generators (the MC4380). Corker is seeing neutron generators in New Mexico because Sandia produces them and loads tritium into the neutron target tubes that are a critical part of neutron generators. Production of neutron generators is being both improved and expanded.

This from Sandia Labs “Labs Accomplishments:”

During FY10, Sandia shipped more than twice as many neutron generator assemblies (NGAs) to its NNSA and military customers than in any previous year. This totaled 850 NGAs and 340 packaging requirement kits. Record completion rates were achieved in four different production areas within the neutron generator supply chain, in concert with a shift to a common neutron generator subassembly that improved production efficiency. Sandia established a balanced supply chain capacity approach to help meet future NG directive schedule challenges with a diverse neutron generator product mix supporting numerous weapon systems.

http://www.sandia.gov/LabNews/labs-accomplish/2011/lab_accomp-2011.pdf, p. 5

Neutron generators themselves are being continuously improved, for example:

In the early 1990s Sandia undertook to design a replacement neutron generator for the W76 nuclear warhead on the Mark 4 reentry body of the Navy’s Trident I system. There were several compelling reasons for doing so, including the need to increase the component’s design margins, simplify its manufacturability, augment its resistance to new profiles of hostile environments, and increase its life span.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/w76.htm

In 1999 the MC4380 Neutron Generator and its MC4378 Timer, MC4705 Voltage Bar, MC4148 Rod, MC4437 Current Stack, and MC4277 Neutron Tube were qualified for use in the Navy’s W76 weapon system. This culminated a multi-year development effort which included the transfer of production capability from the Pinellas Plant to Sandia. This is the first weaponized neutron generator to employ a focused ion-beam neutron tube for higher reliability, the first produced at Sandia, and the first Sandia component with radiation hardness requirements to be qualified without underground testing.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/w76.htm

The neutron generator business is very robust, and Corker’s claims of obsolescence are absurd.

 

 

 

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