Nuclear News Archive
The modern nuclear arsenal: A nuclear weapons expert describes a new kind of Cold War
Nuclear Knowledge: The modern nuclear arsenal
Secrecy, bombastic threats and doomsday talk abound when talking about nuclear weapons, so The Post sat down with expert Hans Kristensen to clear the air. (Jenny Starrs /The Washington Post)
By Jenny Starrs
August 24 at 7:00 AM
With the flurry of talks with North Korea and the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, nuclear weapons have become a major topic of discussion in recent months. But secrecy abounds: Who has what weapons? How many? How much damage could they do?
Hans Kristensen tries to answer those questions. As the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, Kristensen and his colleagues delve into open source data, analyze satellite imagery and file requests under the Freedom of Information Act to get the most accurate picture of the world’s nuclear-armed countries. The initiative produces reports on nuclear weapons, arms control and other nuclear matters, and gives recommendations on how to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide.
Kristensen sat down with The Washington Post to discuss how the United States’s nuclear capabilities stack up with the rest of the world, and potential problems down the road. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
New Los Alamos lab manager Triad will pay GRT, official says
By Andy Stiny | email@example.com
Aug 22, 2018 Updated 16 hrs ago
A representative of Triad National Security LLC, which takes over management of Los Alamos National Laboratory in November, said Wednesday the consortium will pay gross receipts taxes, easing concerns of local officials about losing millions of dollars in revenue.
Scott Sudduth, assistant vice chancellor with the Office of Federal Relations for the Texas A&M University system, told an audience of about 50 community members during a meeting in Los Alamos that the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department responded to a recent inquiry from Triad by saying that “it is their view that the gross receipts tax does apply to Triad.”
Los Alamos County officials had said previously that if Triad were deemed to have nonprofit status, the county estimated it could lose $21 million annually and the state $23 million in gross receipts tax revenues, according to published reports.
State lawmakers maintained they will have a say in a proposed facility to store high-level nuclear waste near Carlsbad and Hobbs, despite an opinion issued by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas suggesting New Mexico will have a limited role in licensing the project.
New Mexico Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-36), who chairs the New Mexico Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee said Balderas’ opinion was informative but did not preclude lawmakers from preventing the facility from operating.
The committee convened in May to study the project proposed by New Jersey-based Holtec International, and held its third meeting on Wednesday at University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
Opposed to the project, Steinborn said state lawmakers owe their constituents a full review of the proposal.
“I think it’s kind of a troubling deficiency in the government if the state doesn’t have to give consent to have something like this foisted upon it,” he said. “The State of New Mexico owes it to the people to look at every aspect of it.”
ALBUQUERQUE — A long-anticipated study into the cancer risks of New Mexico residents living near the site of the world’s first atomic bomb test likely will be published in 2019, the National Cancer Institute announced.
Institute spokesman Michael Levin told the Associated Press that researchers are examining data on diet and radiation exposure on residents who lived near the World War II-era Trinity test site, and scientists expect to finish the study by early next year.
The federal government confirms some people in the St. Louis area may have a higher risk of getting cancer. A recent health report found some residents who grew up in areas contaminated by radioactive waste decades ago may have increased risk for bone and lung cancers, among other types of the disease. The assessment was conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reports, the situation is not unique to St. Louis because it’s connected to America’s development of its nuclear weapons program decades ago. Radioactive wastes persist in soils, and many believe that’s why they or a loved one developed cancer. Now for the first time, federal health officials agree, on the record, that’s a real possibility.
In an example of Now-You-See-It-Now-You-Don’t, the NM Environment Department (NMED) is proposing to change their method of measuring waste emplaced into the underground at WIPP. This would would allow 30% more waste into WIPP than is currently allowed. This sleight of hand would be accomplished by not counting the outer-most container of waste packages in the future. This proposal is one piece of a larger plan to bring more waste to WIPP. New Mexicans have already taken enough of the nation”s radioactive waste. More waste increases the the chance of serious accidents leading to dangerous contamination.
Comments are currently due September 20, 2018 at 5pm, but this deadline ridiculously short. Please join us when we ask for an extension.
We will soon post some sample comments and will give updates as soon as NMED posts the Permit Modification online.
See the Notice here – WIPP Class 3 VOR Notice
The U.S. Department of Labor has announced 12 appointees to the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).
Construction on a new complex has been authorized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration to replace 25 aged and dilapidated buildings currently located near Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories.
The University of California will continue to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory alongside two new partners.
“In a letter to the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee last month, the Project On Government Oversight was joined by Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Savannah River Site Watch in requesting justification for this expanded capacity. NNSA has over 14,000 plutonium cores already constructed and in storage, many of them specifically designated for potential reuse in new nuclear weapons as part of a ‘strategic reserve.’
If the interoperable warhead is not needed or wanted by the Defense Department, then new pit production is not needed, and the MOX facility can be terminated once and for all. If it is, Congress should ensure that any path forward will be appropriately sized and scoped to meet that mission need. Either way, if all of these interlocking parts are not matched up as part of an overall strategy then there’s only going to be more waste, fraud, and abuse and it is the average American taxpayer who will pay the price.”
-Lydia Dennett, POGO investigator See her full report at POGO)
Russian military: incoming missiles will be shot down if they threaten Russian personnel. Trump: “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and smart!” Read More…
A BBC production, 2016.
“To achieve DoD’s 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This two-prong approach with at least 50 pits per year produced at Savannah River and at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking.”
-Joint Statement from Ellen M. Lord and Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty on Recapitalization of Plutonium Pit Production
NB: Lisa Gordon-Hagerty is the Administrator of the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration); Ellen Lord is a DOD Under-secretary and Chair of the Nuclear Weapons Council (Gordon-Hagerty is also an NWC member).
After a historic summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have pledged to pursue “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and to work towards “a permanent and solid peace regime.”
Read the recent articles linked below to get a feel for how alarmed some in the know are at this time. These concerns are not heard much on US mass media. You may find some alarmist, but the general drift is unmistakeable. And lets’ not forget that those who know, such as Former Defense Secretary William Perry, have been saying we are not alarmed enough, nowhere near enough. Perry: “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than during the Cold War. Our public is blissfully unaware.” (ref)
– Foreign Policy: On the Verge of Nuclear War
– Time: Mikhail Gorbachev: The U.S. and Russia Must Stop the Race to Nuclear War
– The Nation: Unproven Allegations Against Trump and Putin Are Risking Nuclear War
– Counterpunch: The Skripal Poisonings and the Ongoing Vilification of Putin
– Salon: Behind this week’s Russia headlines:
A mystery, a leap to conclusions and a fateful turn
How did we get to this point? Here’s some background:
– Andrew Lichterman: U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Racing: Still Crazy After All These Years
– Austin Long: Red Glare: The Origin and Implications of Russia’s ‘New’ Nuclear Weapons
USA Today reported on an unreleased federal study blaming fallout from worldwide nuclear bomb testing for at least 15,000 cancer-related deaths and more than 20,000 non-fatal cancers in U.S. residents born since 1951.
President Donald Trump agrees to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a significant development in the decades-long effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
“Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached,” Trump tweeted Thursday.
- Trump’s decision bypasses the traditional negotiation process in favor of a top-level face-to-face meeting.
The worrisome aspects of Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review represented the arguments of the “Second Nuclear Age” hawks, i.e. that the world is no longer bi-polar, that the US needs more small nukes widely deployed so as not to be caught with either no response or a strategic response in regional conflicts, where the adversary might doubt we would go strategic. Thus US ‘deterrence’ had weakened. In this view, numerous smaller, widely deployed nukes are meant to sustain ‘deterrence’ into the more chaotic “Second Nuclear Age”.
On the other hand, the Russian response is framed by their overriding anxiety that the US, with its missile defense systems surrounding Russia, and NATO troops on Russian borders, is intent on developing the ability to win a nuclear war with Russia. Russia is afraid of the destabilization of the Cold War strategic equilibrium model, wherein neither side sought an advantage so great that it might consider a surprise attack. ABMs – anti-ballistic missile systems- were banned so that neither side could hope to launch a first strike and take out the remaining retaliatory missiles with a missile defense system.
The Russian high command stated last year that they in fact did now think the US was working to develop this capability (ref). The Trump Nuclear Posture Review, with its emphasis on war-fighting nukes, only reinforced Russian command fears that the US could be preparing for a fight. The weapons systems Putin announced last week were all noted for their ability to defeat missile defenses and thus, in the Russian view, to preserve ‘MAD’- mutually assured destruction- the Cold War’s solution to preventing a nuclear war. To understand better the Russian view, it’s worth remembering what Yuri Andropov said in 1981:
“The US is preparing for war but it is not willing to start a war… They strive for military superiority in order to ‘check’ us and then declare ‘checkmate’ against us without starting a war.” (ref)
Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly March 1, 2018:
“Back in 2001, the US announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia was categorically against this. We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international security system…
Together with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defense systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.
We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty. All in vain. The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002…
Despite our numerous protests and pleas, the American machine has been set into motion, the conveyer belt is moving forward. There are new missile defense systems installed in Alaska and California; as a result of NATO’s expansion to the east, two new missile defense areas were created in Western Europe: one has already been created in Romania, while the deployment of the system in Poland is now almost complete…”
Defeating missile defenses, from Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly, March 1:
– The Sarmat ICBM “is untroubled by even the most advanced missile defense systems.”
– A nuclear-powered, nuclear-capable cruise missile: “invincible against all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.”
– A high-speed, deep ocean nuclear drone “There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.”
– The RS-26 “Avangard” (aka YU-71) A nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that can travel at 20 times the speed of sound. “It flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire”
The intersection of these two contrasting frames of reference could see misunderstandings, confusion, and conflict. Putin seemed to feel obliged to make a clear warning.
“We are greatly concerned by certain provisions of the revised Nuclear Posture Review, which… reduce the threshold for use of nuclear arms… in response to conventional arms attacks and even to a cyber-threat.”
As such, I see it as my duty to announce the following.
Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium or any range at all, will be considered a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences.”
But he continued:
“There should be no doubt about this whatsoever. There is no need to create more threats to the world. Instead, let us sit down at the negotiating table and devise together a new and relevant system of international security and sustainable development for human civilization. We have been saying this all along. All these proposals are still valid. Russia is ready for this.
And in closing,
“I hope that everything that was said today would make any potential aggressor think twice, since unfriendly steps against Russia such as deploying missile defenses and bringing NATO infrastructure closer to the Russian border become ineffective in military terms and entail unjustified costs, making them useless for those promoting these initiatives.
It was our duty to inform our partners of what I said here today under the international commitments Russia had subscribed to. When the time comes, foreign and defense ministry experts will have many opportunities to discuss all these matters with them, if of course our partners so desire.”
“The potential increase would mark a $79 million boost in WIPP’s funding compared with enacted spending in FY 2017, while several infrastructure projects are ongoing at the site to increase airflow and continue to expand the facility’s underground nuclear waste repository.”
“We’re modernizing and creating a brand new nuclear force. And frankly, we have to do it because others are doing it. If they stop, we’ll stop. But they’re not stopping. So, if they’re not gonna stop, we’re gonna be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before. And I hope they stop. And if they do, we’ll stop in two minutes. And frankly, I’d like to get rid of a lot of ’em. And if they want to do that, we’ll go along with them. We won’t lead the way, we’ll go along with them…
But we will always be number one in that category, certainly as long as I’m president. We’re going to be far, far in excess of anybody else.”
For more see Politico
Experts have been saying for some time that there is no good military solution to the Korea crisis. The best way to see the crisis defused would, of course, start with a rapprochement of the two Koreas. In fact the State Dept. recently said that the US would have no objection to a unified Korea as long as it was de-nuclearized. So that path was in the wind, but when the two Koreas initiated a peace and reconciliation effort at the Olympics, US Vice President Pence refused to go along.
Pence spent the days leading up to Friday’s opening ceremonies warning that the North was trying to ‘hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games’ with its ‘propaganda.’
But the North was still welcomed with open arms to what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called ‘Olympic games of peace’ and the U.S. appeared to be the one left out in the cold.
Pence sat stone-faced in his seat as Moon and North Koreans officials stood together with much of the stadium to applaud their joint team of athletes. White House officials stressed that Pence had applauded only for the American team, but Asia experts said the vice president’s refusal to stand could be seen as disrespectful to the hosts.
While South Korean President Moon did not hesitate to shake hands and smile with his North Korean visitors, Pence didn’t appear to even look in the direction of the North Korean delegation during the Friday event.
Seems the Trump administration would rather threaten than talk.
We often hear these days that the North Korean nuclear weapons program is a failure of deterrence. It is not. DPRK’s nuke forces were developed for the same reasons ours exist: to deter another state from attacking it. (In particular, the US.) DPRK’s program is a confirmation of the concept of deterrence.
The concept of deterrence means a state has nuclear weapons so other states dare not attack. As such all states might aspire to develop a deterrent. Our ‘deterrence’ was never meant to prevent states form going nuclear, only to prevent them from attacking us.
Preventing other states from going nuclear was the purpose of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT deal was that non-nuclear weapons states would abstain from developing nuclear arsenals in exchange for a promise from the nuclear weapons states to negotiate in good faith to achieve genuine reductions and eventual abolition of nuclear arsenals. The nuclear weapons states have not done that. They still have 15000 nukes. That is the failure.
DPRK’s nuclear development isn’t down to a failure of deterrence but rather a failure of the nuclear weapons states to abide in good faith by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Massive gamble”, “risk of mass casualties and utter devastation”… Urges diplomatic efforts…
- 6.36 – Address of Nobel Committee leader Berit Reiss-Andersen on the choice of ICAN for the 2017 Peace Prize (view transcript)
- 35.12 – Presentation of the award to ICAN’s Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow
- 44.22 – ICAN Director Beatrice Fihn address (view transcript)
- 1.03.55 – Setsuko Thurlow address (view transcript)
The presidential authority to launch a nuclear strike alone stems from the Cold War, when the US feared a Soviet missile strike against US ICBM silos; our missiles had to be launched before theirs hit, and Soviet missiles would reach targets in the US in 20-30 minutes, so there would be no time to consult a larger circle.
This is one of the reasons Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and General James Cartwright, former Commander of the US Strategic Command, cited in a letter to President Trump on October 31, urging him to abandon the ICBM leg of the triad, rather than forging ahead with an expensive full replacement ICBM arsenal. Because of the ‘use them or lose them’ logic, plus the fact that ICBMs cannot be recalled once launched, their letter identifies this leg of the triad as the most susceptible to an unintended or accidental nuclear war.
The Air Force hasn’t waited for the Nuclear Posture Review to be released this winter, already awarding contracts to Northrup Grumman and Boeing for the ‘modernized’ ICBM force, called Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD. (Lockheed is also in the competition – the Air Force will ‘down-select’ from three companies to two for the next phase of the program.) (ref)
“Ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads are enablers of the apocalypse.”
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The organization is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons. We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea. Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth.”
The award was the lead story this morning on Germany’s Deutsche Welle with a video interview with Yanthe Hall of ICAN Germany.
Democracy Now, Oct. 6: Amy Goodman interviews Tim Wright, Asia-Pacific director of ICAN on the Nobel award and the ban treaty. (watch segment).
A startling headline, but alas, true. Precautionary measures no doubt, in case the angry war of words goes to military violence and a possible nuclear exchange. It’s unlikely Kim would fire a first strike at the US mainland; but in response to a US strike on North Korea, well maybe. Apparently, some people are seeing America’s ‘military option’ becoming more likely.
“The state will begin testing a siren warning system, a wailing sound, in November. It would give people about 12 to 15 minutes to get to safety, after which they would be required to stay indoors for 48 to 72 hours.”
“The threat of a nuclear attack on California is real enough that a regional task force circulated a document to help the state prepare for a ‘catastrophic’ strike.”
See also October 10, 2017:
-University of Hawaii sent an email to students Monday with tips on how to prepare for a nuclear attack
When asked by Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Rebeccah L. Heinrichs whether the LRSO is a weapon the US military truly needs for nuclear deterrence, Hyten said there was a “million reasons” for the program, most of which are classified.
The editor-in-chief of Russia’s National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko, warned that the second test of the B61-12 could indicate that the US is speeding up its rearmament program while “both Washington and Brussels are considering the scenario of a limited nuclear war in Europe.” He added that NATO forces have already conducted drills in the Baltic Sea, including mock nuclear strikes on Russia. “During regular exercises, including those in the Baltic Sea, the air forces of NATO countries have repeatedly carried out combat training tasks involving tactical nuclear strikes on targets located in the northwest of our country,” Korotchenko told RIA Novosti (ref).
NNSA press release on the B61-12 tests: (view/download PDF)
There are an estimated 180 B61 nuclear bombs stored at NATO bases in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey.
Hans Nichols, NBC Pentagon correspondent, tweeted:
Mattis just dropped by Pentagon bullpen; “There are many military options, in concert with our allies”
Mattis confirms military options against N Korea that do not put Seoul at risk: “Yes there are, but I will not go into details.”
Russian President Putin made the announcement at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Sept 7.
“Officials say the decommissioning of the wrecked Fukushima reactors will take several decades, and according to some estimates, the cost could reach $200 billion.”
Sunday morning North Korea set off what is thought to have been a 120 kiloton hydrogen bomb, a day after press pictures were released showing Kim Jong Un and staff with what was said to be a miniaturized thermonuclear warhead ready to load in an ICBM nose cone. [Note Sept 14: 38North has revised the estimated yield to 250 kilotons.
“Based on the seismic signature, the yield of this test definitely is an order of magnitude higher than the yields of the previous tests…”
In China, the blast was felt as a strong tremor (USGS: 6.3 mags.) shaking windows. Chinese officials said they were carrying out emergency radiation testing along the border with North Korea.
North Korea’s brief period of “restraint”, what Secretary Tillerson called a possible “pathway” to dialogue, is over, following the launch of a missile over Japan on August 28, and now it’s most powerful nuclear test to date. Pres. Trump had said only last week that his threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea was working and that Kim was “starting to respect us”. Well, apparently not. Kim probably feels like he’s on a run, and might just as well go full speed ahead; he may well believe he has outplayed the US and won’t be stopped. Some have suggested that when Kim feels he has an effective enough arsenal to deter the US, he may be ready for a freeze or suspension and negotiations toward a peace treaty. On the other hand, one can imagine that he may see no need of that, and just keeps growing his nuclear forces. (Note that at some point he will also be a threat to China.)
The test was rather irritating for China, as Premier Xi is hosting the BRICS Conference this week, an important element of China’s foreign policy agenda, and he will not like being upstaged by Mr Kim’s latest feat.
Regarding the Hwasong-12 missile launch on August 28:
In “North Korea’s Hwasong-12 Launch: A Disturbing Development” Michael Elleman, 38North.org wrote: “An alternative disturbing hypothesis is that tests of the missile have included a small post-boost vehicle (PBV) to provide extra boost to the payload after the main stage is discarded…” read more…
Recommended: End the 67-year war by Robert Alvarez, at the Bulletin. “It’s time to find a path to end the 67-year-long Korean war. As the threat of military conflict looms, the American public is largely unaware of the sobering facts about America’s longest unresolved war and one of the world’s bloodiest.” read more…
September 13: DPRK launches another missile over Japan, with greatest range yet, enough to hit Guam.
“So here is a question for all of us to think about: how will it change the global conversation when a treaty is affirmed by so many countries from all over the world? What will it feel like to know the clock is ticking down to nuclear weapons abolition . . . instead of worrying that the clock is ticking down to nuclear war? What will be different about the way people talk about the behavior of the states that still stubbornly hold on to nuclear weapons (and threaten each other with them)? In what light will it cast the countries that rely on the “nuclear umbrella” of countries like the US?”
Families of five Navy service members who died after responding to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown have sued Tokyo Electric Power Co., blaming the deaths on radiation illnesses contracted from the March 2011 disaster.
The families will join a lawsuit from 152 other members or survivors of members of the 7th Fleet who performed humanitarian response from March 11, 2011 until March 14, when the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was moved away from Fukushima due to detection of nuclear radiation in the air and on helicopters returning to the ship.
The Air Force is on track to replace the aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile with modernized weapon capabilities designed for its nuclear bomber fleet, to include the B-21.
Today, the Air Force awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin Corporation and Raytheon Company to mature design concepts and prove developmental technologies for the new Long Range Standoff weapon.
“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air,
the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
“They will be met with fire and fury the likes of which this world has never seen before…”
Within hours of Trump’s “fire and fury” warning, North Korea announced it was “carefully examining” plans to launch 4 missiles toward Guam.
Could we be seeing the confluence of events that bookends a 72-year hiatus with another nuclear bombing in Asia?
August 8: The Washington Post is reporting that a ‘confidential assessment’ by the “intelligence community” that Kim has already miniaturized his bombs, that he has as many as 60 nukes, that he’s scaling up his ICBM missile production… in other words, red lines crossed.
Senator Lindsay Graham, Aug 1, 2017: Trump has “got to choose between homeland security and regional stability… If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And [Trump’s] told me that to my face. That may be provocative, but not really. When you’re president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States.” Read More…
So here we stand on the brink of nuclear hostilities. Note that the nuclear weapons state with the smallest arsenal and a barely functioning ICBM is still an existential threat, even to the country with the largest arsenal and the most advanced delivery systems on the planet.
It seems that the nuclear weapon is most useful to the smallest power, transforming it from a military gnat into a lethal danger to even the most powerful states.
One would think that it would be in the interest of the powerful country to seek the complete removal of nuclear weapons from the picture. ASAP. But in fact, given the opportunity- of the Ban Treaty negotiations for example- the US has refused to have anything to do with any such effort. (“We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”) Instead, a trillion dollar renewal and ‘modernization’ of our nuclear forces are planned.
Where does that road lead?
Union of Concerned Scientists Reports that, like the previous test on July 8, North Korea launched its missile on a highly lofted trajectory; a standard intercontinental trajectory, accounting for the Earth’s rotation, would give it range to hit New York City, and only 100 kilometers short of Washington DC.
In the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this was the day Vasily Arkhipov did not use the nuclear torpedo against the US ship dropping depth charges on it. It was also the day a US U2 was shot down over Cuba, killing the pilot. It was also the day this happened.
On May 27, 1957, 5 miles south of the Albuquerque airport, a Mark 17 H-bomb (pictured at left) was accidentally dropped from a B-36 Peacemaker on it’s way to Kirtland AFB. The plutonium pit was not on board, but the fissile ‘spark plug’ detonated. Bits of the bomb, the biggest ever deployed by the US at 15-20 megatons, could still be found in the area (see picture below). But the authors of this 2010 report urged the collecting public to hurry, as the area would soon be covered over by a development called “Mesa del Sol”. And so it now is.(source: Carl Willis, “Albuquerque, Ground Zero”)
TEPCO plans to decide on the procedure for removing the melted fuel from each unit this summer; it will confirm the procedure for the first reactor during fiscal 2018 ending in March 2019, with removal slated to begin in 2021. Decommissioning the reactors will cost $72 billion.
“The next process is going to be signing on to the treaty. It’ll open for signature at the U.N. in New York on the 20th of September. And after that, they’ll have to go through a national ratification process in order for it to enter into force. But that should all happen within the next year or two, and then it will be international law that is binding on all of the countries that have adhered to it, which means, in some cases, they’re going to have to change their practices and policies that may enable or facilitate the use or the possession of nuclear weapons.
“There could be economic divestment, for example, from nuclear weapon-producing companies. There could be changes of national law that currently permit transit of nuclear weapons through territorial waters. There could be different shifts in policies and practices around military training exercises that currently involve the preparation to use nuclear weapons. And it will also be an iterative process of building up the stigmatization and the norm against nuclear weapons through the public policy, through parliaments and through national discourse.”
Ray Acheson is director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; she represents WILPF on the steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“I think one of the most exciting things about this treaty process is the very deep and meaningful involvement of civil society, of my group, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Many of us were under the umbrella of an international campaign called the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. This voice really was unstoppable, but I also want to mention, to the credit of the nations that participated in this UN process, they gave civil society a big voice. It was really unlike any other UN process that I have been a part of before. I think that this, in many ways, revolutionized the way that international diplomacy and international treaties are made, so I’m very excited about that and very hopeful for the future.”
“The nuclear weapons states did not participate in this process and that’s been the root of the problem. They have not wanted to honor their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. The rest of the world has finally lost patience. They’re concerned by the overwhelming medical evidence that even a very limited nuclear war would be a worldwide catastrophe. The rest of the international community has issued a real challenge saying that they will no longer accept a situation in which nine countries hold the entire world, including their own people, hostage to these terribly dangerous nuclear arsenals.”
Read the full interview at The RealNews.com
Rick Wayman is the Director of Programs and Operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, and is Co-Chair of the ‘Amplify: Generation of Change’ network for nuclear abolition.
Ira Helfand is a co-Founder and Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-President of PSR’s global federation the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
The “dilute and dispose” process would package and dispose of the plutonium as waste rather than processing it for use as nuclear reactor fuel. The disposal processes consists of mixing plutonium oxide with “stardust,” a secret inert material, into small containers that are then placed in drums for geologic disposal.
The treaty prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of those activities. In addition, nations must not allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on their territory. (See FAQs on the treaty provisions at ICAN)
ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn: “We hope that today marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age. It is beyond question that nuclear weapons violate the laws of war and pose a clear danger to global security… No one believes that indiscriminately killing millions of civilians is acceptable- no matter the circumstance- yet that is what nuclear weapons are designed to do. Today the international community rejected nuclear weapons and made it clear they are unacceptable.” (ref: ICAN)
Ray Acheson, director of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom disarmament program, ‘Reaching Critical Will’: “This is a treaty made by people. By diplomats who got inspired by an idea and went home to change their government’s positions. By activists writing, thinking, and convening, bringing together governments and civil society groups to figure out how to make things happen. By survivors who give their testimony despite the personal trauma of reliving their experiences… By campaigners who mobilize nationally to raise awareness and pressure their governments. By politicians who truly represent the will of their people and speak the truth in parliaments…” (Nuclear Ban Daily July 8)
Perry Project statement: UN Adopts New Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Arms Control Assoc: New Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty Marks a Turning Point
Union of Concerned Scientists: Historic Treaty Makes Nuclear Weapons Illegal
Ploughshares Fund: A Stunning Rebuke To The Nuclear-Armed States
US, UK, France joint statement: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
777,000 tons stored in 580 tanks at the Fukushima plant, which is quickly running out of space… Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, has been urging Tepco to release the water. Tepco chief Kawamura says he feels emboldened to have the support of the NRA chairman.
Despite the objections of local fishermen, the tritium-tainted water stored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be dumped into the sea, a top official at Tokyo Electric says.
“As with most of North Korea’s recent long-range missile tests, this one used a so-called “lofted” trajectory to keep the missile from overflying neighboring countries while still demonstrating high performance. If the data is correct, preliminary trajectory reconstructions indicate that if the missile were fired on a more efficient trajectory it would reach a range of anywhere from 6,700 to 8,000 km. David Wright, who provided the 6,700 km figure, acknowledges that his early analysis did not include the effect of the Earth’s rotation and the performance would probably be higher if the missile were launched in an easterly direction. The United States, of course, is to the east of North Korea. By any standard, this is the performance of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Fired from North Korea, it probably couldn’t reach the contiguous United States, but Hawaii and Alaska would be within reach.”
Draft Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty View/download PDF
The International Association Of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms is calling for a a prohibition on “threat of use”. (ref)
Unfold Zero, the World Future Council, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and the Basel Peace Office are calling for a prohibition on the financing of nuclear weapons production. (ref)
We have a dossier on the background and trajectory of this initiative, and we’ll keep it up to date with news and developments: Ban Treaty dossier.
Selected Press Items
Budget Deal Mixed Bag for Nuclear Weapons Programs
Planned Long-Term Trend Not Sustainable
Following December’s budget deal Congressional appropriators have completed a one trillion dollar omnibus appropriations bill for this fiscal year, expected to pass given that neither political party wants another shutdown. The federal government has been running on a Continuing Resolution since October 1, and the omnibus bill now provides funding levels for the entire fiscal year 2014. Concerning the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons programs, the appropriators made a slight cut to Obama’s requested $7.87 billion, funding “Total Weapons Activities” at $7.78 billion.
All of this, of course, takes place within a larger context. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a study entitled Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will cost $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.
As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars. This is simply not sustainable, given the nation’s continuing budget constraints.
The new omnibus appropriations bill has fully funded the most controversial program, the B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program (LEP), at the president’s request of $537 million. This overrode a proposed cut by Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations, a key subcommittee that Senator Tom Udall sits on. Udall vigorously opposed that cut, saying that he wanted to save a few hundred jobs in New Mexico.
The B61 LEP has exploded in costs from an original $4 billion dollars to $12 billion, including a program synchronized with the Pentagon to give the bomb a new tail fin guidance kit that would transform it into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb. Its main mission is forward deployment in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War, contradicting Obama’s rhetoric of lowering the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe.
But this is not a clear-cut victory for NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs. The appropriators cut funding for the B83 nuclear bomb that NNSA claims the B61 LEP will enable it to retire (leaving aside the fact that it was already planned for retirement). The appropriators made clear that they wanted to hold NNSA to its word. Moreover, the appropriators demanded detailed reporting on major warhead refurbishments, which they applied retroactively to the B61 LEP, and cut the requested amount for the tail fin guidance kit in half. Finally, the fight over the B61 LEP will soon start all over again with the release of the proposed FY 2015 federal budget, expected in late February or early March.
So whereas the NNSA and the labs have won an ambiguous victory in the B61 LEP, the rest of the omnibus appropriations bill demonstrates how deeply troubled their nuclear weapons programs are. Foremost amongst these is a planned Life Extension Program for the W78 ICBM warhead, proposed to be “interoperable” with the W88 sub-launched warhead. This is the first of three proposed interoperable warheads, which the NNSA and labs want to use to transform both the nuclear weapons stockpile and the research and production complex that supports it, with requisite exorbitant appropriations to fund them. In a serious blow to this scheme, the appropriators funded only $38 million out of $72.69 million requested for paper studies. Although not yet officially reported, conventional wisdom in Washington, DC is that the Nuclear Weapons Council (composed of senior officials from both NNSA and the Pentagon) has already canceled the interoperable warhead.
The appropriators also require NNSA to submit a report by May 1 explaining the costs and benefits of stress testing plutonium pits at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. These radioactive nuclear weapons cores would have to be transported back and forth from the Los Alamos Lab. This is significant because Livermore’s continuing future in nuclear weapons programs is becoming increasingly questionable, given the failure of its flagship National Ignition Facility to initiate fusion, its loss of security status to handle large amounts of plutonium, and now the doubtful future of interoperable warheads, which it was banking on.
Concerning the proposed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) near Oak Ridge, TN, the appropriators provided $309 out of $325.8 million requested, but noted that it is an adjustment caused by the necessity to consider additional alternatives. The UPF has been under increasing fire after a half-billion dollar design mistake and a recent Pentagon estimate that it would cost $12 to $19 billion, up from $6 billion. Conspicuous in its absence is any mention of follow-on to the deferred plutonium facility at LANL (the “CMRR-Nuclear Facility”) whose mission is to expand plutonium pit production, or NNSA’s “alternative plutonium strategy.”
The appropriators also provided $343.5 million for the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, adding to the $320 million requested. However, they directed NNSA to identify the root causes of cost increases and prioritize recommended solutions and corrective measures, showing that this program too is in serious jeopardy.
The appropriators funded $224.79 million for “cleanup” at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which primarily consists of removing radioactive transuranic wastes that were suppose to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant a decade ago. In contrast, LANL is planning to “cap and cover” around one million cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill, creating a de facto permanent, unlined nuclear waste dump above groundwater and the Rio Grande.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers have won for now the battle over funding for the gold-plated B61 bomb Life Extension Program, but we look forward to the coming fight over next year’s budget. The rest of their plans are falling apart because they are so often their own worst enemy with constant cost overruns and lack of clear need. We are confident that given the trillion dollar cost for future nuclear weapons, subs, bombers, and missiles, the public will increasingly demand cleanup and related jobs, not more nuclear bombs.”
# # #
The omnibus appropriations bill can be viewed at http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140113/113-HR3547-JSOM-D-F.pdf
The NNSA section begins at p. 34 or PDF p. 70.
Nuclear Weapons “Modernization” Will Cost One Trillion Dollars Over Thirty Years;
Locally, Los Alamos Lab Cleanup and Job Creation Are Imperiled
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released its study Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that estimated costs for maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will total $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.
As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars.
Approximately two-thirds of the modernization costs will be for new submarines, bombers and missiles that could be operational for the rest of this century, contrary to the Obama Administration’s rhetoric of a future world free of nuclear weapons. The remaining third will be for the Department of Energy’s research and production complex, which includes the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia nuclear weapons labs.
While the American public at large is experiencing growing income inequality and limited economic opportunity, nuclear weapons contractors are experiencing increasing profits and decreasing federal oversight. The for-profit corporations running the labs, comprised of Lockheed Martin (the world’s biggest defense contractor), Bechtel, and the University of California, plan a never-ending cycle of exorbitantly expensive “Life Extension Programs.” These programs will not only extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons for decades, but also give them new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. international policy. Ironically, the contractors’ drive for profits may undermine national security, as confidence in our nuclear weapons could be eroded by planned massive changes to an extensively tested stockpile that has been proven to be reliable.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had planned to “modernize” with a new facility to support expanded production of plutonium pit cores (or “primaries”) for nuclear weapons. Because of budget constraints, the Obama Administration decided to defer it in favor of the Uranium Processing Facility near Oak Ridge, TN, for production of nuclear weapons “secondaries.” The LANL plutonium project, known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR)-Nuclear Facility, had grown from an original estimate of $600 million to around $6 billion, for which it would not have created a single new permanent job (it would have merely relocating existing Lab jobs). But the Uranium Processing Facility has now grown from a similarly estimated $600 million to an astounding worse case $19 billion, in part due to a simple design error that cost a half-billion dollars just to correct on paper.
So-called nuclear weapons modernization at these costs is clearly not sustainable, especially when they create few if any new permanent jobs. Moreover, they exist for a product that must never be used (i.e. nuclear weapons). Therefore, they are of little economic benefit to society outside of the privileged enclaves that benefit from nuclear weapons research and production (for example, Los Alamos County is the second richest county out of 3,077 counties in the USA).
Funding for nuclear weapons modernization programs will rob taxpayers’ dollars for programs that local citizens really need. For example, the Los Alamos Lab plans to “cap and cover” its largest waste dump (called “Area G”), leaving up to one million cubic meters of poorly characterized radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill permanently buried in unlined pits and shafts. This will create a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump above the Rio Grande, and most importantly above a sole source groundwater aquifer that supplies 270,000 people in the arid Southwest.
The Cities of Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, oppose LANL’s plans to create a permanent nuclear waste dump, passing resolutions demanding full characterization of the wastes and offsite disposal. The resolutions note that, “full cleanup of Area G would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our precious groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating 100’s of high paying jobs for twenty years or more.” The costs for full cleanup of Area G would be about the same as four to five years’ worth of the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM Director, commented, “We simply can’t afford to squander precious taxpayers’ money on programs that enrich contractors while introducing radical changes to fully tested nuclear weapons. This may harm national security by undermining confidence in stockpile reliability. Instead, New Mexicans should demand that their elected officials invest taxpayers’ money in programs that create real security for citizens, such as creating jobs that protect diminishing water resources, rather than their habitual support for unneeded, mismanaged and exorbitantly expensive nuclear weapons programs.”
# # #
The Congressional Budget Office report Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023 is available at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf
The Santa Fe City press release announcing passage of its resolution opposing “cap and cover’ of Los Alamos Lab’s largest radioactive and toxic waste dump is available at http://www.santafenm.gov/news/detail/santa_fe_city_council_unanimously_passed_resolution
For a comparative estimate of cleaning up LANL’s Area G radioactive and toxic waste dump see http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Area_G_Comparison_Costs-11-14-12.pdf
For a history of successful citizen activism against expanded plutonium pit production see http://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Pit-Production-History.pdf
Nuclear Watch New Mexico is almost broke. When we say it, we mean it- it’s not a figure of speech.
Too bad we’re not paid by merit; then we’d be rich. But support from foundations is steadily decreasing, as if there are more important things to fight against than nuclear weapons (which we don’t think there are). We’re left with no choice but to increasingly rely on citizens like you.
Why should you support us? Check out 25 years of NukeWatch achievements
There you will also see the unsung story of successful citizen activism against repeated government attempts to expand the production of plutonium pit cores, which has always been the choke point of resumed U.S. nuclear weapons production. This history is a critical part of the march toward a future world free of nuclear weapons.
We are most proud of our successful battles against the expanded production of plutonium pit cores for nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NukeWatch has been central to beating back four successive attempts by the federal government to expand pit production, from a Cold-War-like level of 450 pits per year proposed a decade ago, to today when no pits are scheduled for manufacture.
This was no accident. It’s the result of sustained citizen activism, including beating back a new $6 billion plutonium facility at LANL. To keep stockpile production at zero will require strong future activism that will have to quash proposed “Life Extension Programs,” slated to cost something like 100 billion dollars over the next quarter-century.
They will not only indefinitely extend the life of existing nuclear weapons, but also give them new military capabilities, a shift which overtly contradicts declared U.S. international policy.
We advocate strongly for comprehensive cleanup at the Lab, a true win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting the Rio Grande and groundwater while creating 100’s of high-paying jobs. LANL wants to “cap and cover” nearly one million cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill, leaving it forever buried in unlined pits and shafts. To combat this, NukeWatch drafted a resolution adopted and passed by the Cities of Santa Fe and Taos that calls on the New Mexico Environment Department not to approve a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump at LANL. This resolution- which we hope other local governments will soon pass- instead calls for full characterization of the poorly recorded wastes, and their offsite disposal.
To support us, please send a check to “Nuclear Watch NM” at 903 W. Alameda, #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Or donate by credit card on our donations page. All donations are tax deductible, and all are appreciated.
Thank you! We hope you and your loved ones have a great holiday season and new year.
P.S. Please forward this mail, using the link at the bottom of the page, to friends who may be interested- thanks!
Jay Coghlan,Executive Director
Scott Kovac, Operations Director
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501
Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
The first iteration of the draft City resolution on Area G cleanup called for reburial of low-level wastes in a modern landfill, while specifically calling for any high level and transuranic wastes to be disposed offsite. Most low-level wastes are mixed with hazardous wastes, which legally would have to be disposed offsite. Unfortunately DOE has sole regulatory authority over “purely” radioactive low-level wastes.
The resolution has now gone through several iterations, and the final draft that will presented to the Council does not have reburial. See http://www.santafenm.gov/index.aspx?NID=2887
and scroll down.
Rather than being fast tracked this resolution has gone through 2 City committees and a 3rd today, before being presented to the full council on Wednesday.
FYI, two back-to-back events:
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6:00-6:45 pm, Santa FePublic info session presented by Nuclear Watch NM and others (TBD) on Santa Fe City resolution calling for comprehensive cleanup of LANL’s largest radioactive waste dump (see below). First Presbyterian Church, 208 Grant Ave. From there we’ll walk two blocks to City Hall.
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 7:00 pm.
Santa Fe Santa Fe City Council hearing and public comment on a resolution introduced by Mayor Coss calling on LANL to examine alternatives to planned “cap and cover” of radioactive wastes at TA-54 Area G. This will be followed by the City Council’s yes or no vote to adopt. We are encouraging citizens to come and show their support for comprehensive cleanup of the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump! Council Chambers, Santa Fe City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave.
Reader View: City resolution on waste doesn’t do enough
By ShannYn Sollitt | 0 comments
On Dec. 2, the Finance Committee of the Santa Fe City Council considered a resolution requesting a consideration of the alternatives to Los Alamos National Laboratory’s current plan to deal with their highly radioactive legacy nuclear waste by leaving it buried in illegal landfills.
The laboratory’s only plan is to leave it in place and cover it. The highly toxic waste dumps in Los Alamos at the top of the watershed are leaking deadly contaminants into the Rio Grande, directly upstream from the city’s new water source — posing serious health threats to Santa Feans.
Thank you, Mayor David Coss, for your awareness, concern and willingness to bring this issue to the forefront, and for your foresight and compassion for the future generations of our community. However, if the intent is to assure a secure and potable water supply for the coming generations, the resolution falls short.
It relies on a cleanup proposal to rebury the low-level, yet still highly radioactive, waste in lined landfills. This approach postpones the problem for the coming generations while solutions to remediate it are available and being utilized now. American scientists are currently effectively remediating the nuclear devastation of land around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
For 55 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has known of the serious health threats presented by the seepage of radionuclides into the groundwater and has done nothing more than “study” the problem — costing taxpayers billions. Clearly, the laboratory scientists have neither the environmental intelligence nor the will to cope with this problem. Sadly, the resolution is being fast-tracked through the council before the members of the community with considered solutions have been given the opportunity to present their ideas.
The resolution will come before the full City Council on Wednesday. Please help us broaden the discourse by contacting the mayor. Concerned citizens are asking for a seat at the table to share views of the viable alternatives to protect our bioregion from the scourge of the nuclear industry.
ShannYn Sollitt is founder and director of NetWorks Productions, a nonprofit communication arts production company dedicated to creating and disseminating media designed to inspire a peaceful and sustainable world.
Mayor’s Resolution Makes Sense
The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…
The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.
The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.
The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.
Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”
I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.
Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos
Santa Fe, NM – Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds the demand by the Mayor of Santa Fe that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) not rule out alternatives to their so-called “cleanup” plan for Area G, the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump. LANL plans to “cap and cover” and permanently leave one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried forever.
Mayor David Coss will ask the Santa Fe City Council to approve his resolution to seek real cleanup alternatives at their December 11th meeting. Mayor Coss is also chairman of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that lobbies Congress for increased Lab funding. Yesterday he introduced his resolution to the Regional Coalition as well.
LANL is relying on their own outrageous estimate of $29 billion for removal of the waste at Area G as a rationale to leave the waste in place. Nuclear Watch has performed a cost comparison that compares the Lab’s estimate on a recent cleanup actually performed by the Lab and also to another Laboratory estimate. Our cost comparison shows that removal of the waste could actually cost less than $6 billion. The Lab’s preference is to cap and cover and leave the waste in place at Area G.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit playing games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.”
# # #
Heather Wilson Finalized Contract with Sandia Labs While in Congress;
Payments Started the First Day She Left Congress;
Wilson Should Resign from Council Determining Labs’ Futures
Santa Fe, NM – Today, The Albuquerque Journal reported that former Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R. – New Mexico) finalized her first contract with the Sandia National Laboratories on December 19, 2008, while she was still representing the district that includes that nuclear weapons facility. Moreover, her first invoice documents that she began to be paid $10,000 a month for “Consultant/Advisory Services” that had no written work requirements on January 4, 2009, her very first day out of office. A few months later she was also being paid $10,000 a month by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for a similar contract.
The Albuquerque Journal article builds upon a Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General investigation, which determined that the Sandia and Los Alamos Labs had made approximately $450,000 in improper payments to Wilson up until March 2011, when she began to campaign for the Senate. The DOE IG report said that the facts indicate that federal funds were used for prohibited lobbying activities, which that office is still investigating. The Labs were forced to return that money to the government, but not Wilson.
The Albuquerque Journal received the new information concerning the dates of Wilson’s contract with Sandia from Nuclear Watch New Mexico. The watchdog organization obtained the documents by appealing an initially rejected federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
During her unsuccessful 2012 Senate campaign Wilson repeatedly attacked her opponent Martin Heinrich for not supporting the labs strongly enough. In particular, while invoking a jobs argument, she repeatedly criticized the Obama Administration for delaying a controversial facility at LANL for expanded production of plutonium pit cores for nuclear weapons. However, despite its estimated $6 billion cost to the taxpayer, the government’s own documents clearly disclosed that the facility would not create a single new permanent job because it would merely relocate existing Lab jobs. In contrast, during her entire Senate campaign, Wilson did not disclose the full extent of her financial ties to the nuclear weapons labs.
In February 2013, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Wilson to a congressional advisory council that will recommend how the nuclear weapons laboratories should be managed and operated in the future. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Heather Wilson should resign from this advisory council immediately because of her clear conflict-of interest. If she does not step down voluntarily, congressional leaders must replace her.”
“Other Members of Congress should take heed of Heather Wilson’s highly questionable ethical behavior,” Coghlan continued. “They should remember that they were elected to represent their constituents, not the for-profit corporations running the labs. Our politicians should avoid even the appearance of favoring the interests of the nuclear weapons labs above the public’s best interests, which Wilson so clearly failed to do.”
# # #
Ex-Congresswoman Wilson’s contract with Sandia and invoices obtained through Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act request are available at
The Nov. 3, 2013 Albuquerque Journal article From Congress to contract: Heather Wilson says 10K per month Sandia Labs deal met ethics rules is available at
(a paid subscription is necessary for the full article).
The June 2013 DOE IG Report Concerns with Consulting Contract Administration at Various Department Sites (DOE/IG-0889) that focuses on Heather Wilson’s contracts with the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories is available at http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/inspection-report-doeig-0889
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
firstname.lastname@example.org • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
The New Mexican has just published “New ideas, technologies from LANL could boost region’s economy” on how the Lab wants to “rebrand” itself. I posted the following response on the newspaper’s web site:
This is more of The New Mexican’s sycophantic reporting on the Los Alamos Lab. It’s a long tradition, going back to the early 1990’s when the newspaper’s previous owner (and ex-member of the Department of Energy’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission) fired two reporters who wrote the groundbreaking series “Fouling the Nest” critical of the Lab. Further, he paid off his managing editor to stay quiet about it. Nevertheless, the Columbia University School of Journalism wrote a scathing review on the whole affair decrying “the nuclear meltdown at The New Mexican.”
Or how about in the same period of time when The New Mexican wrote a glowing editorial praising the executive summary of a 1992 LANL Strategic Plan that crowed about the potential for regional economic development through tech transfer from the Lab (sound familiar?).
There were only two problems: 1) those “Cooperative Research and Development Agreements” between LANL and the private sector never did produce significant local economic development; and 2) the Lab had bamboozled The New Mexican because the main body of its 1992 Strategic Plan explicitly said that nuclear weapons are and always will be the LANL’s “raison d’etre.” That remains true to this day, when just under 2/3’s of the Lab’s budget is for core nuclear weapons research, testing and production programs. Moreover, the for–profit corporation (including war-profiteer Bechtel and the University of California) running LANL plans on a never ending cycle of “Life Extension Programs” that will extend the service lives of nuclear weapons for decades while giving them new military capabilities.
This article’s implied claim that the labs’ national security missions are significantly moving away from nuclear weapons is baloney. In addition, show me the money that will make this pipedream of regional economic development through Lab tech transfer happen (especially when it has failed before). It won’t come from the federal government in this fiscal environment, and the quote that “you’d see private investments pouring in” is empty economic propaganda.
Business at LANL makes no sense because doing business at LANL simply costs too much, when each program dollar also costs an overhead dollar (which historically has been used in part to subsidize nuclear weapons programs). And the examples cited, partnerships with oversized corporations such as Chevron and Proctor and Gamble, please show me what that has done for Main Street Española.
Maybe one of these days the New Mexican could again do some groundbreaking critical investigative reporting on the Lab without firing its reporters. I look forward to that day.
House Armed Services Hearing on the B61 Life Extension Program
October 29, 2013
As expected, this was a rah rah session for the B61 Life Extension Program. My opposing comments are mostly in response to the testimonies of witnesses. Their prepared statements are available at
Unless otherwise indicated the quotes herein are from their prepared statements.
Two background notes:
Cost: The estimated weight of individual B61 bombs is ~700 lbs. Gold is currentlly priced at $1,353 per troy ounce. Up to 500 B61s will be refurbished, costing ~$11.8 billion (including DoD tail fin kit). Therefore each bomb will cost more than twice its weight in gold.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) proposes a “3+2” strategy for the future stockpile of three ballistic missile warheads and two air-delivered warheads (one gravity bomb and one air-launched cruise missile warhead). All four witnesses claimed the 3+2 strategy will lead to stockpile reductions. However, a comparison of NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (in which the 3+2 strategy is first introduced) to previous years’ plans shows no further reductions to the stockpile than what is already incrementally planned. Despite their testimony there is no demonstrable link between 3+2 and stockpile reductions. In fact stockpile size may be bumped up while keeping old warheads as a hedge while seeing how the new warheads work out.
Donald Cook, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration
Cook touted the virtues of “interoperable” warheads, the first on deck being for the Air Force’s W78 ICBM warhead and the Navy’s sub-launched W88 warhead. However, a recent GAO report has noted that “the Navy has not fully engaged in the effort because (1) other, ongoing modernization programs are higher Navy priorities, and (2) it has concerns about changing the design of the warhead.”  This understates the Navy’s concerns, when the service actually seems very skeptical about so-called interoperable warheads. The Navy’s lack of keen endorsement can be enough to kill this concept, especially in combination with inevitably exorbitant costs.
“…let me be clear that the resulting decision supported the lowest cost option that meets threshold military requirements.” With that Cook is pushing back against the Senate Appropriations Committee, which cut $168 million from the Obama Administration’s FY 2014 request of $537 million for the B61 LEP, while stating:
The Committee is concerned that NNSA’s proposed scope of work for extending the life of the B61 bomb is not the lowest cost, lowest risk option that meets military requirements and replaces aging components before they affect weapon performance. 
The question of military requirements is key, and whether that may be synonymous with new military capabilities. NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs chose Option 3b for the B61 LEP. As Cook testified, “…Option 3B architecture allows for consolidation of existing B61 variants (B61-3/4/7/10) with the integration of an Air Force provided tail kit assembly.” That tailfin kit will dramatically increase targeting accuracy, functionally melding tactical and strategic variants. The NNSA LEP itself will transform a dumb analogue bomb into a digital nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by future super stealthy aircraft (the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter). In my view, this combination clearly creates new military capabilities.
Senate Appropriations favors Option 1E, a non-nuclear LEP. The difference in House and Senate funding levels represents a struggle over new military capabilities or not.
Cook stated that sequester cuts made the B61 LEP slip 6 months, so NNSA added $244 million to “management reserve” to offset potential increased costs and risks.
“The B61-12 LEP is making great progress. We are in the second year of full scale engineering development. The program has met its development milestones, it is on schedule and it is on budget.” That is laughable. On budget? Really?
“…cascading effect on the integrated schedule of LEP work….” The likely failure of the B61 LEP will have cascading impact on subsequent LEPs.
“Sustained support for the completion of the B61-12 will enable the retirement of the B83…” Not so, the B83 was already planned for retirement (B83-0s are already being dismantled as per the Pantex Ten-Year Site Plan). The proof is the absence of any proposed LEP for the B83-1 in NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.
Right at the end of Q&A Cook made the outrageous statement that to descope the LEP and do anything else would cost more than the LEP itself. He gave no supporting evidence or justification for that.
Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, Department of Defense
She said 3+2 will save money. Where is the proof? The track record suggests otherwise. Simple maintenance (“curatorship”) is what would save money while not risking reliability through major changes.
General C. Robert Kehler, USAF Commander, US Strategic Command
“Through a series of synchronized life extension programs like the B61-12, we plan to improve confidence in the reliability, safety and intrinsic security of our nuclear weapons.” To the contrary, introducing major changes that can’t be tested to a stockpile that has been extensively tested could be exactly what undermines confidence in reliability.
Paul Hommert, Sandia Labs Director
Bear in mind that Hommert wears two hats: the first as Sandia Labs Director, the second as president of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporation that runs Sandia. Sandia Corporation, LLC stands to make a lot of money off of perpetual Life Extension Programs.
“…it is our technical judgment that we must complete the life extension program currently being executed.” Ditto to the above.
LANL Finds a Way to Very Efficiently Waste $400,000
The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released an Audit Report on “The Department’s Fleet Vehicle Sustainability Initiatives at Selected Locations”. One of the locations investigated was Los Alamos National Laboratory. The report states that LANL leased 522 flex-fuel vehicles that were routinely fueled with regular gasoline instead of alternative fuels such as E-85. Sadly, DOE paid a premium of about $427,900 to acquire these flex-fuel vehicles rather than purchasing conventionally-fueled vehicles. (The report stated that $700,000 was spent for 854 flex-fuel vehicles, which was for 522 at LANL and 332 at Bonneville. I had use a simple ratio to arrive at the $427,900 average split for LANL because the DOE IG would not give the actual breakouts.)
By acquiring flex-fuel vehicles but continuing to fuel these vehicles with petroleum at LANL and Bonneville, the Department is not maximizing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. DOE paid at least $427,900 for flex-fuel vehicles at LANL; however, failed to obtain the environmental benefits or further Departmental goals of increasing alternative fuel use and reducing petroleum use.
As of September 2012, LANL’s overall fleet had decreased by 9 vehicles, while the number of flex-fuel vehicles had grown to 587. According to LANL officials, LANL used a tanker truck to bring fuel to LANL to fill approximately 65 security vehicles with ethanol fuel. The tanker truck operated approximately 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, and the weekly labor costs to operate the truck were $1,200. Additionally, LANL spent $3,760 on maintenance and repair of the truck in calendar year 2012. The total cost of maintaining and operating the truck, excluding fuel costs, was approximately $66,000 for calendar year 2012. But this tanker truck, or one like it was never used for the regular flex-fuel vehicles.
In addition, the Lab had trouble letting go of unneeded vehicles. LANL retained about 25 percent of their fleets (269) and other mobile equipment even though they did not meet minimum utilization standards. Despite retaining underutilized vehicles, LANL actually increased its inventory of other motorized equipment (small motorized equipment not suitable for use on public roadways).
To be considered fully utilized at LANL, a vehicle must travel an average of 205 miles per month or make 6 trips per working day. According to documents provided by LANL officials, a utilization rate of less than 93 percent, meaning that less than 93 percent of fleet vehicles meet these utilization standards, is considered “unsatisfactory.” During FYs 2009 through 2011, LANL’s utilization rate was between 75 and 77 percent. For example, in FY 2011, LANL had a utilization rate of 76 percent meaning that 269 of 1,115 vehicles, or approximately 24 percent, were retained even though those vehicles did not meet the local utilization objectives.
LANL submitted written justification for retaining only 35 of the 269 underutilized vehicles. However, some of the justifications were very vague and did not sufficiently explain why the user needed to retain the vehicles instead of downsizing their fleet. One justification for retaining two underutilized vehicles stated, “because of the amount of employees and locations of employees, they would like to keep both vehicles. The plan is to switch them every 6 months to make sure we put enough mileage on both vehicles.” When addressing underutilized vehicles, the DOE IG noted the emphasis was often on increasing utilization as opposed to downsizing the fleet and, therefore, reducing costs. In regard to eight other underutilized vehicles, the justification stated, “all managers have devised a plan to increase the utilization of their vehicles and do not plan to turn any in at this time.”
Managing a fleet of vehicles is not rocket science. Hopefully this wasted money will be reimbursed by the operating contractor.
The over budget costs of near everything that the National Nuclear Security Administration touches is growing increasingly controversial. Of particular interest now is the Life Extension Program for some 400 B61 nuclear bombs. That program was originally going to cost $4 billion, but is now estimated at ~$10.4 billion. At this point each 700 lb. bomb will cost more than twice its weight in gold. And this doesn’t include original production costs and ongoing support costs since they were first produced in the late 1960’s (which under “Stockpile Systems” is currently ~$80 million annually). And of course it doesn’t include the cost of the bombers over the years that were designed to deliver them.
In lockstep with NNSA’s Life Extension Program, a synchronized Pentagon program will provide new tail fin guidance kits that will transform the B61 into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb, for delivery by future super stealthy (and exorbitantly expensive) F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. That clearly constitutes new military capabilities, despite policy declarations at the highest levels of government (for example at the 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference) that the U.S. would never endow existing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities. An unarmed prototype of the refurbished bomb, designated the B61-12, is to be “flight tested” and dropped with the new tail fin kit in this FY 2014.
Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists recently made available an August 2012 JASON Report on the B61 Life Extension Program while providing his own excellent analysis http://allthingsnuclear.org/jason-on-the-b61/ [The JASONs are pretigious scientists periodically consulted with by the government on nuclear weapons issues.] Among their findings the JASONs reported “In implementing important and desirable, but not essential, elements in the 3B program [the 2nd most expensive B61 LEP option picked by the NNSA], there should be a clear understanding of their cost and impact on the schedule. These elements should be prioritized in the event that unanticipated program delays or cost overruns are encountered that could threaten meeting the FPU [first production unit] deadline.” The JASONs also noted “the Pentagon’s already strongly expressed displeasure at the inability to complete the W76 as scheduled.”
The W76 is one of two warheads for the Navy’s sub-launched Trident missiles, and is the single most common nuclear warhead in the U.S. stockpile. This got me wondering how much the W76 Life Extension Programs will cost, which I tracked down as follows:
In millions of dollars
Original appropriation NNSA data source Inflation adjustment
2003 $72 FY 2005 budget request $91.52
2004 $139 FY 2006 budget request $172.10
2005 $181 FY 2006 budget request $216.75
2006 $182 FY 2008 budget request $211.14
2007 $152 FY 2008 budget request $171.45
2008 $190 FY 2010 budget request $206.39
2009 $203 FY 2010 budget request $221.30
2010 $232 FY 2012 budget request $248.83
2011 $249 FY 2012 budget request $258.89
2012 $254 FY 2012 budget request $258.74
2013 $198 FY 2014 budget request $198
2014 $235 FY 2014 budget request $235
2015 $242 Future Years Nuclear Security Plan in NNSA’s FY 14 request
2016 $237 ditto $237
2017 $235 ditto $235
2018 $230 ditto $230
2019 $200 NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan
2020 $60 ditto $60
Total (adjusted for inflation) $3.694 billion
The number of W76’s to be refurbished is classified, but is believed to be around 1,600. [In 2007 Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists estimated ~2,000 (http://blogs.fas.org/security/2007/08/us_tripples_submarine_warhead/), but told me that number has since been scaled down.] Using 1,600, then each W76 warhead will cost ~$2.31 million to refurbish. This is in contrast to the B61, more than ten times that at $26 million per warhead ($10.4 billion/400), or more than twice its weigh in gold.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has cut the NNSA’s FY 2014 budget request of $537 million for the B61 LEP (that request is a 45% increase above FY 2013) by $168 million. Its report said:
The Committee is concerned that NNSA’s proposed scope of work for extending the life of the B61 bomb is not the lowest cost, lowest risk option that meets military requirements and replaces aging components before they affect weapon performance.
According to the budget figures that I have compiled the W76 LEP is a 17-year program start to finish. In its FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan NNSA claims that the much more complex (and hence much more expensive) B61 LEP will be completed in 10 years by 2024. Granted we’re talking about 4 times fewer nuclear weapons being refurbished, but the work is much more aggressive and involves 100’s of parts, all of which cannot be full-scale tested as a weapon (thank God!). And NNSA’s track record of staying on budget and on schedule is becoming a matter of scorn even amongst congressional staff.
The take away lesson is that NNSA and the labs should simplify. For the sake of stockpile maintenance limited life components such as neutron generators and tritium reservoirs should be replaced as needed, which is a near routine practice, and perhaps the B61’s radar needs replacement as well (which NNSA is fond of pointing out uses old style vacuum tubes). All of that would bring the costs down somewhere along the lines of the W76 LEP. It would also be better aligned with declared nonproliferation policy by not introducing new military capabilities, and better align with national security concerns by not possibly eroding confidence in stockpile reliability through major changes that can’t be full-scale tested. In addition, Congress should require NNSA to disclose in its budget requests annual costs per warhead type, as once was the practice, so that the public can be fully appreciate just how much each warhead costs for arguably archaic missions.
Finally, New Mexico’s Tom Udall sits on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. He opposed the cut to the B61 LEP, among other things saying that he wanted to save 200 in-state jobs. That is no way to formulate nuclear weapons policy, especially given that the B61 Life Extension Program far exceeds mere maintenance. Tom Udall should support his own committee’s cut.
A well-placed source says the B61 Life Extension Program is in increasing trouble because:
• In the just ended Fiscal year 2013 the sequester caused a $30 million cut to the program, resulting in a 6 month slip to the schedule and therefore added $230 million to the total cost of the program. [My comment: only in government can you cut 10’s of millions and end up adding 100’s of millions.]
• If the current government shut down lasts more than 2 weeks, B61 activities will be curtailed, causing additional delays and therefore increasing costs.
• Regardless of the present difference in House and Senate appropriations, the B61 LEP faces a $60 million cut in FY 2014 from sequestration and management efficiencies that cut 5% from the needed budget request.
• Under the Continuing Resolution, since nuclear weapons activities did not get an anomaly, the B61 program cannot spend beyond FY 13 levels because of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill.
• At this point an omnibus appropriations bill is unlikely. But if House and Senate Appropriations were to go to conference (which is also unlikely) then there will be a battle over the different levels of funding for the B61 LEP.
• There is already infighting within the Air Force about the future of the B61 and whether the cruise missile is more important to them. [My comment: this point is completely new to me and strikes as very exploitable, roughly analogous to the Navy’s fiscal predicament of new strategic subs vs. the rest of its fleet.]
• As a subset to the point above, there is some talk about making the B61-12 the warhead for the new cruise missile, but that is very preliminary and wishful thinking. The B61 is not well suited for the environmental conditions and loads of a cruise missile and there needs to be sufficient diversity in the stockpile — you can’t make everything a B61.
The bottom line is that given opposition from both Senate Energy and Water and Defense Appropriations, which zeroed out the tail kit for the B61, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense may be finally realizing that they need to find alternatives to the full B61 Life Extension Program.
The Oct 2013 Department of Energy Inspector General (DOE IG) audit report “The Resumption of Criticality Experiments Facility Operations at the Nevada National Security Site” informs us that a move from Technical Area 18 (TA-18) at Los Alamos to the Nevada National Security Site, like many other DOE projects, is taking longer than planned. The report didn’t mention it but it, but the move is, no doubt, costing us more, too.
The move centers on relocating four criticality assemblies. Criticality experiments use “assemblies” of enriched uranium and/or plutonium to create self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions. These assemblies differ from nuclear reactors in that the nuclear reaction is not sustained (assuming there are no accidents). Another significant difference is that the critical assemblies have no containment or shielding.
A DOE fact sheet tells us that:
[National Criticality Experiments Research Center] NCERC contains the largest collection of nuclear critical mass assembly machines in the western hemisphere. These assemblies can be broadly categorized as benchmark critical assemblies, general-purpose assemblies, and fast- burst assemblies that were designed to accommodate a broad range of experiments. Godiva is a bare metal uranium fast burst assembly designed to provide an intense burst of neutrons during an extremely short pulse. Flattop is a unique fast-spectrum assembly used for cross section testing and training. Planet and Comet are general purpose vertical assembly machines that are designed to accommodate experiments in which neutron multiplication is measured as a function of separation distance between experimental components. Fuel materials include uranium, plutonium, and neptunium.
Clearly, safety and careful planning would be of the utmost importance with these operations, which include conducting nuclear criticality experiments along with hands-on, criticality safety, and emergency response training.
The fact sheet gives the reason for the move as, “As a result of the extensive inventory of SNM and the resulting requirements for physical security and operational safety, it was decided to relocate…”
The DOE IG report also explains that criticality experiments at Los Alamos were halted and moved to Nevada “Citing safety and security concerns in 2004…”
But both of these accounts leave out some interesting history. A Project On Government Oversight (POGO) article gives an account of a security training exercise at TA-18 at Los Alamos –
In 1997, a special unit of the U.S. Army Special Forces was the adversary during a force-on-force exercise. The normal theft scenario is to “steal” enough SNM for a crude nuclear weapon that would fit in rucksacks. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, this exercise required that they “steal” more HEU than a person can carry. Not to be outmaneuvered, the Army Special Forces commandos went to Home Depot and bought a garden cart. They attacked TA-18, loaded the garden cart with nuclear materials, and left the facility. “[T]he invaders reached the simulated objective of the game: enough nuclear material to make an atom bomb.”
And they did so with relative ease. As the Wall Street Journal reported,
“The Garden Cart attackers. . .used snipers hidden in the hills to “kill” the first guards [protective forces] who arrived. Because they happened to be the commanders of the guard force, the rest of the force was thrown into disarray. Many of them also were “killed” as they arrived in small groups down a narrow road leading to TA-18. ‘[The Special Forces] took them out piecemeal as they came in,’ says one participant in the game, whose account wasn’t challenged by DOE or lab officials.”
As the Wall Street Journal further noted, “The 1997 mock invasion succeeded despite months of guard [protective forces] training and dozens of computerized battle simulations showing that newly beefed-up defenders of the facility would win.”
In April 2000, then DOE Secretary Bill Richardson ordered that TA-18 be shut down and all the nuclear materials be completely removed by 2004. So instead of completing the move the 2004, DOE and Los Alamos Lab had only started the move by 2004. Nuclear Watch NM voiced our concerns many times, including when we learned that a Federal Safety Board concluded fatal doses were possible if there was an accident.
As far as operational safety goes, neither the fact sheet nor the DOE IG Report mentioned that TA-18 was intentionally located at the bottom of Parajito Canyon so that the 200-foot canyon walls could provide some natural radiation shielding. This meant that TA-18, with its estimated three tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, sat in a flood plain.
The results of the DOE IG audit states that many of the former capabilities of the were restored in Nevada. However, several problems resulted in delays in restoring the full array of experimental capabilities. NNSA was unable to authorize operations until May 2011, approximately 1 year after the planned date. The program experienced further delays in the start-up activities of each criticality machine, with completion of all planned startup activities for one machine delayed about 2 years.
DOE has not been able to restore full capability to perform plutonium-based criticality experiments.
The Report results state that delays occurred because contractors had not developed adequate procedures for correcting concerns identified during the process to authorize the start-ups. Also, procured safety equipment did not meet standards. Additionally, the Report claimed that DOE had not ensured effective management of the multiple contractors involved and had struggled to successfully integrate and resolve issues between the multiple contractors. Which is odd, because there were only four contractors mentioned in the report – Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Security Technology, LLC, Wackenhut Services International. Exactly what Wackenhut (which provides security, fire rescue and aviation services) did for the move was not stated.
We do appreciate the focus on safety, but if these operations are so important, DOE must emphasize completing the job to avoid wasting any more taxpayers’ money. Once again the Department of Energy proves that its contractors cannot juggle safety, schedule, and cost without dropping as least two. And apparently DOE has trouble efficiently juggling contractors, which is too bad because contractors attempt to perform over 90% of DOE’s work.
LANL Community Support Is Contract Requirement
A recent press release from Los Alamos National Laboratory stated that the LANL “Board of Governors last week approved a $3.1 million extension to the company’s plan supporting education, economic development and charitable giving in Northern New Mexico.”
This, like most LANL statements, could use a little decoding.
1. The Lab’s contract with DOE requires community support. The LANL Conformed Contract (Conformed to Mod 215, 01/25/2013) tells us:
H-24 NNSA AND CONTRACTOR COMMUNITY COMMITMENTS
(a) The Contractor shall perform the activities described in the Contract’s Section J Appendices entitled “Regional Initiatives”, “Regional Purchasing Program” and “Technology Commercialization”, which sets forth the NNSA’s commitments to support the community…
(b) The Contract’s Section J Appendix entitled “Contractor and Parent Organization Commitments, Agreements, and Understandings” sets forth the Contractor’s Community Commitment plan that describes its planned activities as to how the Contractor will be a constructive partner to the communities in northern New Mexico, the eight northern pueblos, and to citizens of the State of New Mexico who should all benefit from the Contractor’s management and operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory…
2. For 2014, the Press release states the Plan will provide “$1 million for economic development such as financial and technical assistance to start and grow regional businesses. ” However, the contract states that the Lab receives a $1.8 million tax credit (per year) from the State of New Mexico for providing technical services assistance to small business. It is unclear to us what the Lab does with the other $.8 million.
4. The Press release continues that the Plan will provide “$1.1 million for educational programs and scholarships for New Mexico students and teachers as well as workforce development programs.” One of the scholarship programs that the Lab provides is the Out-of-State Tuition and Fee Waiver program. The contract explains that this program is for any LANS “full-time active employee and/or dependent who is accepted to any University of California undergraduate or graduate program. Based on the past 3 years of data, approximately 100 students will take advantage of this program annually. Out-of-state tuition and fee waiver represents a savings of $17,000 per student each year” or $1.7 million annually.
5. For meeting its community giving contract requirements, the then Lab receives an award fee on top of the regular payments. LANL’s FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Report does not give the public the exact breakout, but we know that Performance Based Initiative 11 (PBI 11: Excellence in Business and Institutional Management), which includes community giving, earned the Lab an additional $3,656,808 for 2012.
6. Not mentioned in the press release was one of the biggest gives, which is to Los Alamos Public Schools. The contract states, “The primary management and operations contractor shall provide $8.0 million in each fiscal year to the Los Alamos Public School District to support public elementary and secondary education.”
Wired Magazine’s alarmist article NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration argues that virgin production of plutonium-238 in nuclear reactors is needed, or U.S. space exploration is dead. Instead the nation’s future Pu-238 needs should be met through accelerated nuclear weapons dismantlements and recycling/scrap recovery efforts.
Processing and encapsulation of Pu-238 currently takes place at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. [Having said that, all plutonium operations at the Lab have been shut down since the end of June because of nuclear criticality safety issues, which is a story in and of itself]. A Pu-238 scrap recovery line capable of recovering 2-8 kilograms per year was slated to start in 2005, but apparently has never become fully operational. In fact, LANL claimed in a 2008 site-wide environmental impact statement that it was capable of recycling/recovering up to 18 kilograms of Pu-238 per year, far more than needed to take care of the nation’s needs.
LANL has a large existing inventory of Pu-238 scrap material. Moreover, the Pantex Plant was supposed to ship radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) from dismantled nuclear weapons to the Lab to harvest Pu-238. That hasn’t happened either, we conjecture because the LANL’s scrap recovery line hasn’t been properly working (or perhaps never really started in the Lab’s troubled Plutonium Facility-4). Indeed, the government estimated that approximately 3,200 RTGs would become available for recycling between 2009 and 2022 through nuclear weapons dismantlements. Significantly, increased dismantlements could also supply sufficient recycled tritium for existing nuclear weapons instead of current military production in civilian reactors, a big nonproliferation no-no. But unfortunately dismantlements at the Pantex Plant are substantially blocked by exorbitant “Life Extension Programs” that extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons by three decades or more while giving them new military capabilities.
Before the U.S. resumes virgin Pu-238 production, the government should make LANL straighten out its Pu-238 recovery operations. Safely that is, because Pu-238 is a very energetic gamma emitter and therefore very dangerous to handle. But the nation’s future Pu-238 needs should be met through accelerated nuclear weapons dismantlements (instead of Life Extension Programs) and recycling/scrap recovery efforts, not new virgin production in nuclear reactors.
The Albuquerque Journal ran a really good editorial on Tuesday, September 17:
Editorial: Time past for coddling bloated nuclear agency
It’s big government on steroids.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, is tasked with securing and maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal. It oversees Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
For years the agency’s MO has included expectations of nearly automatic budget increases, bloated projects that are never finished, duplicative red tape and a bureaucracy that resists efforts to rein it in.
Critics say it has become a massive jobs program.
Ten of its major projects are collectively over budget to the tune of $16 billion and behind schedule by 38 years, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. For instance, at LANL a new $213 million security system to protect sensitive nuclear bomb-making facilities doesn’t work. So, taxpayers are being asked to lay out an additional $41 million to fix it.
The chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees finances and contracts largely blames the agency’s reliance on private contractors – more than 92,000. LANL and Sandia are operated by private contractors, LANL by a consortium led by Bechtel, and Sandia by Lockheed Martin.
Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine told Congress this spring that accountability and internal structure problems pose a national security risk. And there’s no doubt NNSA’s work is critical to U.S. national security, but taxpayers also are tired of watching their money being thrown at an insatiable beast that too often fails to deliver results.
As long as the NNSA remains impervious to calls for improving its culture and tightening up its accountability, the inefficiencies and waste will keep coming.
A congressionally appointed panel recently began studying whether to overhaul the agency. (Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman had said he was open to just getting rid of it.) Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says the review is a chance to “have this dialogue and reach a conclusion.”
It’s way past time for that talk. The panel should come up with a well-thought-out plan to either overhaul NNSA from top to bottom or outright kill it and let the DOE take on its oversight duties.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
Abolish NNSA, but increase federal oversight and independent review
Kudos for the editorial “Time past for coddling bloated nuclear agency.” The money the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has wasted on out-of-control nuclear weapons projects is appalling. Some examples are the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos (estimated costs exploded from $660 million to $5.8 billion), the failed National Ignition Facility at the Livermore Lab in California ($1 billion to $5 billion), the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina ($1 billion to $7 billion), and now the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee ($1 billion to $10 billion).
Despite all this chronic mismanagement NNSA’s proposed budget was increased 17% above FY 2013 sequester levels. That’s right, the guilty were rewarded, while schools, firefighting, environmental protection, etc. were cut.
But while NNSA is truly dysfunctional, its contractors deserve more scrutiny as well. After all, the agency is simply out manned, with some 2,600 (and declining) employees trying to oversee more than 50,000 contractor employees nation-wide. Moreover, these contractors have inherent conflicts-of-interest. For instance, the lab directors wear two hats, first as those responsible for annual certification of the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, which gives them enormous leverage. Their second hat is as presidents of the executive boards of the for-profit corporations running the labs. How can we be sure they are always acting in the best interests of the country while they are pushing a never-ending cycle of extremely costly “Life Extension Programs” for existing nuclear weapons? Ironically, these programs may actually erode confidence in stockpile reliability by intentionally introducing major changes that can’t be full-scale tested.
As your editorial noted a congressionally appointed panel is beginning to study the NNSA’s future. I make some recommendations for that panel:
• The NNSA is a failed experiment and should be abolished. Its nuclear weapons programs should revert back to “Defense Programs” within the Department of Energy, as it was pre-2000.
• As guarantors of the nuclear weapons stockpile, the lab directors should be just lab directors, their jobs institutionally insulated from the for-profit motivations of the private corporations running the labs.
• Duplicative bureaucratic red tape should be eliminated, but federal oversight should be increased, not decreased (witness a protesting 82-year-old nun infiltrating an extremely sensitive area at Y-12 despite contractor security assurances). Concrete benchmarks need to be put back into now toothless annual Performance Evaluation Plans so that contractors are held truly accountable. NNSA’s past practice of granting waivers for poor performance while handing out contract extensions (as was done for the Los Alamos and Livermore Labs) must end.
• DOE should be required to seek concurrence from the congressionally chartered Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board early in the design of nuclear facilities. Past NNSA delays in meeting safety concerns have been a prime driver of exploding project costs.
• Congress should establish a stringent change control process for nuclear weapons, including a requirement for outside review of all proposed major changes. Because the labs lack conservatism in maintaining the pedigree of tested, reliable designs, independent expert review could save 100’s of billion of dollars over the next few decades and help maintain confidence in stockpile reliability. As a past example, a group of eminent independent scientists called the JASONs found that the cores of nuclear weapons, the plutonium pits, have reliable life times of around a century, in contrast to NNSA’s previous claims of 45 years. This helped to convince Congress to delete funding for NNSA’s proposed, enormously expensive new-design nuclear weapons and related expanded plutonium pit production.
• Finally, the congressionally appointed panel deliberating on NNSA’s future should itself be above reproach. One member, former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, pocketed $450,000 in no-bid “consulting” contracts with the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, in between her terms representing New Mexico’s First District and her Senate campaign that largely championed the labs. She should resign from the panel so that its future recommendations are not tainted by her clear conflict-of-interest.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Report Reveals That Little is Known About Lab’s Future Plutonium Needs
Except LANL Contractor Needs Money
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals how the future of expanded nuclear weapon component production at Los Alamos is unknown. The public has had enough of half-baked billion-dollar plans for nuclear facilities that do nothing but line contractors’ pockets. Congress must put away the check book and realize that the Lab’s plutonium future is unknown because it is unneeded.
Let’s get some details out of the way –
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) houses most of the nation’s capabilities for plutonium research and development in support of the nuclear weapons mission. In addition, LANL’s scientists and technicians also perform research on plutonium to support other missions, such as conducting research on recycling plutonium for use as fuel in commercial nuclear reactors (MOX).
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), is responsible for the management of the nation’s nuclear weapons.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of modern nuclear weapons (fissile means capable of sustaining a nuclear reaction). When a nuclear weapon is detonated the pit is explosively compressed into a critical mass that rapidly begins atomic fission. In modern two-stage weapons the plutonium pit acts as the primary (or “trigger”) that initiates fusion in the thermonuclear secondary. Each pit is an atomic bomb in its own right, similar to the Trinity and Nagasaki bombs, both of which were plutonium bombs. In thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs the plutonium pit serves as the trigger that detonates the far more powerful fusion explosion characteristic of hydrogen bombs.
(The need for any more nuclear weapons production ever is actually zero.)
NNSA claims that the need is unknown –
Because of public participation, lack of need, and budget concerns, construction of the Lab’s $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) nuclear facility was deferred for at least five years starting in 2012. The CMRR would have enabled a production capacity of 50-80 pits per year. Theoretically, the Lab is currently capable of producing 10-20 pits per year, maybe. But it produced zero this year.
It is now unclear when or if the CMRR nuclear facility will be built, which the Lab claims may lead to insufficient capabilities to meet LANL’s plutonium research requirements. But no one really can say what these requirements are.
The report states the uncertainty–
The Nuclear Weapons Council is still evaluating specifications for nuclear weapons and their corresponding life extension program schedules, and it may take another year or two before final decisions are made, according to NNSA officials. Since the schedule has not been finalized, the number of pits that will be needed is uncertain as well. (Pg. 10)
Officials have announced that they are seeking alternatives to the CMRR that would provide the capabilities planned for the CMRR nuclear facility using existing facilities. This would be replacing deferred unneeded capabilities with unneeded capabilities. Instead of trying to replace the lacking capabilities of the CMRR, NNSA should first describe the actual pit needs, which are none.
Meanwhile, “NNSA has estimated that it needs to be able to ramp up its capabilities to manufacture about 30 pits each year by 2021” to meet expected life extension program requirements. (Life extension programs are intended to lengthen the lives of existing nuclear weapons by 20 to 30 years by repairing or replacing nuclear weapons components as needed.)
But the 30 number is just a guess “for planning purposes”.
For planning purposes, NNSA is studying the possibility of manufacturing about 30 pits per year… (Pg.10)
“Studying the possibility” is not a need.
NNSA now believes that LANL can support the manufacture of 30 pits per year just by upgrading its radiological laboratory and by repurposing available space in its existing plutonium facility. (Pg. 12)
Costs are unknown –
The cost estimates were characterized as “high-level and a rough order of magnitude and noted that the estimates should be viewed as preliminary and preconceptual that would not be useful for program definition or scoping.” (pg.15)
Staffing is unknown.
NNSA and LANL officials told us that recruiting additional staff for plutonium-related research necessarily takes years of advance planning, but that the uncertainty of where the new capabilities will be located or what the level of capacity is needed has complicated planning efforts. (Pg. 17)
What is know is the public is a problem –
Plans for transporting plutonium or other radioactive materials from LANL to facilities at other sites could also spur public opposition that may cause schedule delays or create other impediments…
Like speaking up?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Thanks to everyone’s work, the NM Environment Department has decided to get more information before allowing any leaky Hanford high-level tank waste to come to New Mexico!
NMED issued its determination to reclassify the DOE request as a class 3 – which requires a public hearing – “because there is significant public interest.”
Public comments made the difference!
There will be much more to do.
See http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/?p=1503 for background.
From the NMED release –
July 2, 2013
RE: ELEVATION OF CLASS 2 MODIFICATION TO REMOVE EXCLUDED WASTE PROHIBITION WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT
The New Mexico Environment Department (Department) received a permit modification
request dated April 8,2013 from the U.S. Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office and
Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC (the Permittees) on April 9,2013. The Permittees seek to
modify the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Hazardous Waste Facility Permit (Permit) and
request that the Department process the request as a Class 2 modification under the
regulations at 126.96.36.1990 NMAC, incorporating 40 CFR § 270.42(b).
The request modifies the prohibition of excluded waste from the WIPP Permit.
Under 40 CFR § 270.42(b)(6)(i)(C), the Secretary may determine that the modification
request must follow the procedures in § 270.42(c) for Class 3 modifications for the following
reasons: (1) There is significant public concern about the proposed modification; or (2) The
complex nature of the change requires the more extensive procedures of Class 3.
In this matter, I have determined that it is appropriate for the Department to process the
modification request as a Class 3 modification under 40 CFR § 270.42( c) because there is
significant public interest.
If you have questions regarding this matter please address them to Trais Kliphuis, of the
Hazardous Waste Bureau, at 476-6051 or email@example.com.
Immediate Action Required
The House of Representatives Energy & Water Appropriations bill is coming up for a vote this week of July 8, 2013. It will come up tomorrow, with votes on amendments as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday. Rep. Quigley (D-IL) will be offering a floor amendment cutting the increase that the Energy & Water subcommittee added to the B61 Life Extension Program.
Please call urging your Representative to vote yes on the Quigley amendment to cut funding on the B61 nuclear warhead program. Please call rather than email at this point, to DC offices, as the timeline is very short.
Over the last few years, spending on nuclear weapons and nuclear bomb plants has continued to grow despite massive cost overruns. Especially wasteful is the plan to overhaul the B61 nuclear bomb, with an eventual total cost of $10 billion by 2019. This is way too much money for a bomb that is dangerous and outdated, and it is urgent that we slow down the spending before it is too late.
Cutting nukes spending in the Republican-controlled House can be an uphill battle. But we have been working with allies in Congress to stop this program that would overhaul 400 B61 nuclear bombs at a total price tag of $25 million each (almost double their weight in gold). We can see some wins, if our representatives feel the pressure.
Call your representative now at (202) 224-3121 to vote for the Quigley amendment to cut funds for the B61 nuclear bomb. [Direct phone numbers for the New Mexican delegation below.]
Subject Line: Budget Cut for Nuclear Bombs
Call your representative at (202) 224-3121 right now. To look up your representative click here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Use this sample message and add your own words:
“My name is [your name] and I live in [your city]. I am calling to tell Rep. [your rep’s name] to vote for the Quigley amendment to the Appropriations bill to cut excess funds for the B61 nuclear bomb.”
This is an important chance to cut wasteful spending on dangerous and outdated nuclear weapons. You can convince Congress to make this a priority.
New Mexico Representatives
Rep. Ben Ray Luján
Washington D.C. Office • Ph: (202) 225-6190
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Washington, DC Office?•?Phone: 202-225-6316?
Rep. Steve Pearce
Washington, DC Office • Phone: 855-4-PEARCE (732723) or (202) 225-2365
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
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.
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.
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
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
Dear Fellow Travelers on the Long Road to Safety at WIPP:
I am writing to you as a battle-weary compatriot. For so many New Mexicans, the merest mention of WIPP induces a glazed-over, burned-out feeling associated with the “done deal,” the “one that got away.”
Incredibly, safeguards we originally fought for at WIPP are being stealthily erased behind closed doors right now—a potential disaster for our state’s natural resources and inhabitants. What’s going on? Some of us pessimists predicted this long ago: the attempt to sneak high-level waste into a repository that was never designed for it.
Leaking liquid waste from Hanford, Washington is about to be “re-classified” so its true origin as high-level waste can be disguised long enough to drag it into our state and down to WIPP. This stuff is “Superhot,” so thermally AND radioactively hot that it poses an entirely different set of environmental risks than the plutonium-contaminated “gloves and booties” long used to exemplify WIPP waste. Yes, plutonium lasts an unimaginably long time, but it doesn’t generate as much volatile activity as this liquid waste. The new high-level waste from Hanford is hot enough–both kinds of hot–to blast bigger, faster escape pathways out of the WIPP site that the longer-lasting waste could then travel along. The result? The Rustler Aquifer, Pecos River, Rio Grande and Gulf of Mexico hit by a nasty soup of chemical and radioactive debris that could last almost forever.
If the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, designed from day one to hold high-level waste, couldn’t even attain certification, why should we get stuck with waste for which our dump was never intended? Especially when we got so many promises over the years from politicians that this scenario was illegal and could never come to pass?
I am asking you to consider the written comments I have prepared for our state Environment Department and, if you agree, to add your name to them. I’m asking this because I bet you don’t all have time to write your own lengthy treatises on the subject. We all see that it’s disgraceful for our elected officials to look the other way, clear their throats, hum and whistle a jaunty tune as decades of promises are broken and centuries of pollution recklessly set in motion. Shouldn’t we have public hearings when a change of this magnitude is being considered?
If you agree with me, please co-sign my comments below, and add anything else you’d like at the bottom…
(Fill in your name and contact info, then copy into an email)
…and submit before 5 p.m. on June 10 (yes, next Monday, sorry)
Thanks. Sasha Pyle, Santa Fe (WIPP gadfly since the 1980’s with CCNS, NukeWatch and ANA)
SHOULD THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT IN NEW MEXICO RECEIVE RE-NAMED HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE?
Written Comment Submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department
New Mexico Environment Department
2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1
Santa Fe, NM 87505
WIPP has been controversial for nearly three decades already, among scientists and citizens concerned about its safety. Now, long after the initial public outcry, it seems that the facility is quietly on the verge of seeing its mission and its risks expanded significantly, but this time with quite limited opportunities for public comment. WIPP opened against a substantial tide of opposition. But that does not mean it has carte blanche today to alter its course in ways that substantially increase its potential to taint New Mexico’s resources and future inhabitants. Any change to its operations that renders it more dangerous should be accompanied by at least the same level of scrutiny as its original mission. The fact that it is already receiving waste does not mean it is suddenly appropriate for any radwaste that anyone in the rest of the country wants to get rid of.
It is interesting to note that if WIPP were proposed today, it likely would never get the green light to begin operations. Discussion of appropriate nuclear waste disposal technologies has largely shifted over the last quarter-century to above-ground retrievable and monitored storage of dangerous nuclear materials, hence away from deep geologic repositories–much less those that are designed explicitly to render the waste invisible and irretrievable, an environmentally irresponsible approach at best–and one that only WIPP employs. Promoted as a “Pilot Plant,” WIPP is now destined to be the only one of its kind. There is literally nowhere else to build the dozens of equally large repositories that would be required to solve the nation’s nuclear waste backlog. WIPP is an idea whose time has come and gone.
A crisis of leaking tanks of liquid high-level Cold War waste at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Reservation in Washington State has provided the impetus for the current push to redefine WIPP’s mission. Anyone knowledgeable in nuclear waste issues knows that the Hanford crisis is very real. A perennial nuclear contractor, Bechtel Corporation, is working on a 13 billion dollar contract (triple the original estimate) of taxpayer money to complete a waste treatment plant that would address the Hanford waste, and they have failed to do so. The question facing us now is: should New Mexico be punished for Bechtel’s (and DOE’s) failure?
Equally importantly, if WIPP cannot solve more than a minute fraction of the Hanford crisis, is it worth exponentially increasing long-term environmental hazards at the WIPP site–only to leave Hanford still polluted as well?
If the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, which was expressly configured for high-level waste, could not attain certification, doesn’t that mean there are clear standards that must be met for disposal of these very dangerous materials? How is it possible that a completely different type of facility could be magically re-designated for this purpose when its very design and construction are not appropriate to meet those standards?
It is a matter of record that New Mexicans have been repeatedly promised that this use of WIPP would never come to pass. The 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Bill, reflecting input from New Mexico’s Legislature, Congressional delegation, Governor, Attorney General, and Environment Department (at the public’s insistence) clearly protects New Mexicans from such weakening of the WIPP permit. EPA containment standards, mandating a 10,000 year period of non-migration; an upper limit on the quantities of waste that would come to WIPP; and a stringent adherence to acceptance of only transuranic waste are all stipulated in the Land Withdrawal Bill and carry the force of law.
Additionally, in 2004, the excluded waste prohibition (agreed upon by NMED, EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy) amended the final language of the WIPP permit to specifically exclude from disposal at WIPP: tank waste and any waste “previously managed as high level waste.” Alteration of this would require a Class 3 Permit Modification request, thus allowing hearings for public input. DOE’s own language makes clear that undoing the waste exclusion would be a modification requiring a full public comment cycle.
According to the EPA, Class 1 and Class 2 modifications do not substantially alter existing permit conditions or significantly affect the overall operation of the facility. Class 3 modifications cover major changes that substantially alter the facility or its operations.
The current attempt to re-classify high-level waste so as to bring it to WIPP, and the designation of this change in policy as a Class 2 modification, patently violate this prohibition.
Waste that is not allowed into our state by one name cannot be allowed to enter under another name. Re-naming the high-level waste “transuranic” when it hits our border in no way addresses the major scientific concerns about its safe disposal. The attempt to run this major change through as a Class 2 modification is deceptive and illegal. Violating the Land Withdrawal Bill and the 2004 waste exclusion would be legally actionable at once.
If New Mexicans have been promised repeatedly, with the force of law, in 1992 and 2004 and many other points over the last 30 years, that high level waste would not come to WIPP, what has changed—besides the Administration?
This raises the question: is WIPP regulated according to the physical reality of what will actually happen to nuclear waste underground, or by the artifice of paper-shuffling and magic language, mere words on paper that happen above ground–and have no relation to the site itself, its toxic contents, and its containment performance over the very long future? And it also raises the question: was WIPP’s purpose truly to solve some fraction of our nation’s nuclear waste crisis, or merely to give the appearance of doing so, to keep tax dollars flowing into nuclear weapons (and hence, waste) production?
The site and the science of WIPP have always been shaky, and widely contested. It is likely the repository will be unable to safely contain even the waste for which it was built. Introducing a new “Superhot” waste stream—both thermally and radioactively much hotter than plutonium-dusted “gloves and booties” (a famous DOE description of WIPP waste)–could greatly accelerate the formation of a hot radioactive slurry that will force escape pathways open from the site. The long-lasting plutonium-contaminated waste for which WIPP was originally built could thus find its way into the biosphere much more quickly and widely once the “Superhot” waste has spurred the formation of waste migration pathways. WIPP has always run the risk of eventually polluting the Rustler Aquifer, the Pecos River, the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. Do we really want that to happen on a larger scale, with a wider variety of radioactive and chemical pollutants, with greatly increased radioactivity, and much sooner? Is that to be our gift to the region’s inhabitants in the future?
We already have to live with the facility’s unknown and unquantifiable risks. Expanding the mission augments these risks unacceptably.
Would allowing one kind of high-level waste to be buried at WIPP open the door to the specter of spent fuel rods coming our way? Are we supposed to solve every nuclear crisis in the country, to become our nation’s nuclear outhouse? This shift in mission is no minor technicality; it represents an enormous turnaround in national waste disposal policy.
If scientific consensus was divided on WIPP’s original mission, it is not divided on the dangers of using a salt repository to contain high-level waste. The hydrophilic (water-attracting) nature of salt as a disposal medium, already extremely dubious as a choice for transuranic waste, is even more inappropriate for waste streams with the heat and radioactivity of high-level waste. This change does not have support from the technical community, only from people who hope to profit from expanding WIPP’s mission.
Here in New Mexico we have a sizeable community of people who are quite familiar with the process of speaking at public hearings on nuclear issues. Many dozens of organizations, and hundreds (indeed, thousands) of individual citizens have testified at NEPA hearings over the years on nuclear issues relating to mission alterations at Los Alamos, specific proposed facilities, cleanup, DOE “Modernization,” and so on. Although the National Environmental Policy Act is not the dominant governing legislation for this permit modification, NEPA has conditioned citizens to expect their “day in court” when they can speak about the nuclear industries that loom so large in our state history and landscape. People expect to present oral commentary and back it up with written submissions. NMED should expect no less from the public.
Now NMED must fulfill its Constitutional obligation to protect New Mexico from risky abuses of natural resources necessary for life and survival in this region. NMED’s job is to regulate. Political arguments and pressure for jobs will always form a large part of the chatter any time nuclear projects are proposed. Boosters will predictably focus on the jobs side of the equation. It is not NMED’s mandate to promote these boom-and-bust jobs that will be long forgotten while the radioactive and chemical materials are still threatening our descendants, 100, 1000, 10,000 years from now. It is NMED’s job to prevent contamination of our land and its inhabitants, no matter which Administration sits in the Roundhouse.
No matter how many closed-door meetings are held, no matter how hidden this process is from public view, no matter how many attempts are made to minimize public awareness and input, we are watching very closely to see what NMED’s legacy will be. We believe the regulatory framework for WIPP should be bedrock, not shifting sands of expediency that erode and eventually collapse public confidence in government. NMED must deny the permit modification request, and it must deny its viability as a Class 2 request.
We also know that if you learn of significant public demand for real hearings, you are obligated to provide them. Consider this a statement of public demand, please. Thank you for your consideration.
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
His compilation of NNSA’s fee determination and Sandia Lab Director Paul Hommert’s letter is available at
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
Further analysis by us will follow.
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.
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
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firstname.lastname@example.org • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
In response to a request from Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the National Nuclear Security Administration has released to us expanded versions of the 2012 Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs) for seven nuclear weapons complex sites. (The report for the Savannah River Site was not given to us.) The reports are used by NNSA to decide how much Award Fee it will give its nuclear weapons site contractors each year.
Design issues for the proposed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) cost taxpayers over a 1/2 billion dollars. A statement from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) sheds light on the FY2012 Y-12 Performance Evaluation Report –
NNSA admitted publicly in October, five months after it first learned about it, that it had run into a “space/fit issue” with the UPF design. The building, as it approached 80% design completion, would not hold all the equipment it needs to hold…
“The engineering plan delivered on October 19, reported a TPC cost impact of $539M and 13 month impact to the overall project schedule as a result of the Space/Fit issue, effectively using 45% of the NNSA contingency established during CD-1 Reaffirmation in April.” (Performance Evaluation Report for Babcock and Wilcox Y-12 Technical Services, LLC, Evaluation Period: October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012, p.7)
How Do You Spell PASSWORD? LANL Gets Bad Cyber Report
It turns out that cyber security for running supercomputing networks at a national nuclear weapons laboratory may not be much different than cyber security for the rest of us emailing, social networking, and watching kitten videos. All of us need to reasonably vigilant with passwords and software updates. The difference is that when you and I use lame passwords and don’t update our software, we don’t put national security at risk.
The DOE Investigator General (DOE IG) released a report that identified continuing concerns in LANL cyber security program. These concerns have been going on for years. A 2006 report revealed that critical cyber security internal controls and safeguards were not functioning as intended and monitoring by both laboratory and Federal officials was not adequate. Weaknesses with LANL’s cyber security program were also identified at least as far back as 2002.
A temporary shutdown of the Lab for nearly seven months (July 2004 to January 2005) because of a security flap might have cost as much as $370 million, but the exact amount can’t be calculated because of the way the lab recorded its activities according to General Accounting Office congressional investigators in 2005. Apparently, exact amounts are hard for the Lab to come up with. The DOE IG, for its cyber report, said, “Although LANL spends a significant amount of funds on information technology (IT) activities, we were unable to obtain an accurate amount due to the Laboratory’s limited ability to track its IT spending.”
How do you spell PASSWORD?
The DOE IG found that, “Network servers and devices were configured with default or easily guessed login credentials or required no authentication. For example, 15 web applications and 5 servers were configured with default or blank passwords.” Additionally, two network servers had the possibility to accept connections from anybody without the use of authentication or similar access controls. Also, 10 network servers could have allowed unauthorized remote control.
Those pesky software updates –
And, “LANL had not fully implemented existing security patch management and vulnerability management procedures. Specifically, tests of 191 network servers supporting LANL’s financial applications and data or providing core network services revealed that 73 (38 percent) were running operating systems and client applications without current security patches…” The DOE IG also found that LANL continued to maintain a significant number of operating systems, client applications and other various software that was no longer supported.
To be fair, the DOE IG reported that LANL “improved the protection of national security systems and data through the elimination or disablement of data ports on machines containing classified information.” This partially refers to the Lab’s low-tech program of injecting a popular two-stage epoxy into USB ports. I’m not sure that qualifies as an IT solution.
No passwords. No updates. How does this happen at nuclear weapons laboratory? Two things – First, the Lab contractor does not perform. Second, oversight is lacking. The DOE IG stated that, “The issues identified occurred, in part, because of a lack of effective monitoring and oversight of LANL’s cyber security program by the Los Alamos Site Office, including approval of practices that were less rigorous than those required by Federal directives. “ The Los Alamos Site Office is a DOE office and is tasked with providing immediate federal oversight of the Lab and making sure that our taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely.
Unfortunately, DOE continues to relax its grip of oversight of the Labs. Continuing cyber security issues are only one manifestation of this letting go. We need a strong DOE Secretary, a strong NNSA administrator, and strong Congressional oversight as we head towards zero nukes if we hope to hold the nuclear weapons complex contractor accountable.
The Lab’s New, $400 million, Plutonium Laboratory Springs Its First Leak
On January 22, 2013 representatives of the Los Alamos National Laboratory discovered the presence of a diesel spill from an above ground storage tank system at the LANL Technical Area 55. The spill was from the new Radiological Laboratory Utilities Office Building’s (RLUOB’s) 12,000-gallon emergency generator diesel storage tank. The RLUOB is the recently completed first phase of the CMRR project. The main phase of the project, the CMRR Nuclear Facility (estimated at #6 billion), has been deferred for at least 5 years and will probably next be proposed next as a smaller project, if at all.
From the reports, it is unclear how long the sump pump union had been leaking before the spill was noticed. A leak detector alarm first went off in November. The Lab estimates that 350 gallons overflowed out a sump and spilled onto the ground, and workers have removed 5 cubic yards of contaminated soil. LANL and the State Environment Department Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau are working to figure out if more soil needs to be removed.
WIPP Proposes to Eliminate Waste Sampling – Speak Out!
Since the Department of Energy (DOE) opened the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in 1999, the transuranic (TRU-plutonium-contaminated) waste has been subjected to chemical sampling and laboratory analysis to determine what toxic chemicals are present before the waste can be shipped to WIPP. The WIPP operating permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has required headspace gas sampling of non-solidified waste and coring of solidified waste to help determine toxic chemicals and their concentrations. DOE now wants to eliminate all requirements for headspace gas and solids sampling from the WIPP permit. But people can speak out about DOE’s plans!
Read the fact sheet here.
Submit written comments to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).
I am very concerned that eliminating sampling of waste bound for WIPP would reduce health and safety protections because such analysis is still needed, including for the many waste streams that have not yet been sampled. NMED should deny the request. Any future requests to reduce or eliminate sampling should only be made after the kind of systematic approach recommended by the National Academy of Sciences is carried out and made public and after representative sampling is done for waste streams that have not yet been shipped to WIPP.
The deadline for written comments to NMED is February 18, 2013. Submit to:
Trais Kliphuis, New Mexico Environment Department, 2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1, Santa Fe, NM 87505, or
The complete 301-page permit modification request (13 MB) can be found at:
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 email@example.com
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
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This is from our friends at Hanford Challenge (www.hanfordchallenge.org). Bechtel is the major operator of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
For more information contact: Tom Carpenter, 206-419-5829 email@example.com
August 28, 2012
GOVERNMENT MEMO SLAMS BECHTEL FOR MALFEASANCE, SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE
Memo Urges DOE to Remove Bechtel as the Design Authority, Warning Bechtel “is not competent to complete their role”
Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge today released a high-ranking Director’s memorandum that urges termination of the key duties of government contractor, Bechtel National, Inc. (“Bechtel”; “BNI”). A litany of charges question whether Bechtel should continue its role at the Hanford nuclear site, including a long history of incompetence, misleading the government, overcharging, and unsafe designs.
The memo states, “[t]he number and significance of these issues indicate that Bechtel National Inc. is not competent to complete their role as the Design Authority for the WTP [Waste Treatment Plant], and it is questionable that BNI can provide a contract-compliant design as Design Agent.”
The memo continues, noting that “[t]he behavior and performance of Bechtel Engineering places unnecessarily high risk that the WTP design will not be effectively completed. . .”
The August 23, 2012 memo was prepared by the Department of Energy’s WTP Engineering Division Director who oversees the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. It is titled “Summary of Actions and Design Outcomes that Erode Confidence in the ability of Bechtel National Inc. to complete their assigned role as Design Authority for the WTP,” it includes a 19- page attachment, and it is addressed to the Hanford Site Manager. The memo begins:
“This memorandum documents 34 instances and technical issues in which Bechtel National Inc., acting as Design Authority for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) has provided design solutions and technical advice to the Department of Energy which either:
• was determined to be factually incorrect,
• provided a design solution that was not technically defensible, technically viable, or was technically flawed considering identified requirements,
• provided a design solution that was not safe for the WTP operators, or designs that did not comply with the safety basis,
• provided a design solution that represented higher River Protection Project life cycle operating costs compared to other alternatives,
• provided a design solution that was difficult and costly to verify considering other alternatives. thereby increasing WTP completion costs and extending the WTP completion schedule,
• provided a design that was new and unique and does not clearly provide benefits compared to existing technologies and which required special qualification testing,
• provided an installed equipment system that did not meet safety requirements or was not adequately inspected following installation even when defects became known, or
• did not represent best value to the Government in terms of design costs, operating costs or completion schedule.”
The Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is one of the world’s largest and most expensive environmental remediation projects. The current plant is the fourth attempt to build a treatment facility to convert radioactive waste into glass at Hanford, it is a decade behind schedule and with a price tag of approximately at $13 billion, it is at least 250% over budget. The Department of Energy (“DOE”) recently suspended much of the project’s design and construction activities, pending resolution of outstanding safety and technical concerns.
The memo further states, “DOE Engineering Staff have uncovered findings at a nearly constant rate since 2008. The rate of identification is constant, indicating systemic problems in the WTP design process and in BNI’s role as Design Authority. The number and rate of problems identified is indicative that issues are not being resolved.”
Hanford Challenge Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, posits: “the leaked memo puts the Waste Treatment Plant’s woes into sharp relief. This memo details exhaustive and disturbing evidence of why Bechtel should be terminated from this project and subject to an independent investigation. We already knew of Bechtel’s record of suppressing its own engineers’ concerns and retaliating against whistleblowers, and now we see evidence that exhibits a shocking and inexcusable lack of attention to safety for both workers and the public.”
The Engineering Director’s memo recommends, “the role of the WTP Design Authority should be immediately removed from BNI. The DOE should evaluate and select a preferred option to establish an Independent Design Authority for the WTP that will represent the interests of the DOE and the DOE operator.”
DOE Memo can be found at www.hanfordchallenge.org
“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
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.
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
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.
The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board Report is here.
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
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.
Travel Bug is an independent travel specialty store in Santa Fe, NM,
839 Paseo de Peralta 505-474-1457
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 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:
POGO’s press release “Leaked Defense Memo Criticizes the Department of Energy’s Push to Expand Nuclear Weapons Laboratories” is at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/alerts/nuclear-security-safety/nss-nwc-20110418-nuclear-waste-dept-of-energy.html
POGO’s detailed letter to congressional committees on these issues is at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/letters/nuclear-security-safety/nss-nwc-20120418-nuclear-weapons-labs.html
To read the leaked DoD memo, click here http://pogoarchives.org/m/nss/new-missions-for-the-nuclear-weapons-labs-11-16-2011.pdf
551 W. Cordova Rd., #808, Santa Fe, NM 87505-4100 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
firstname.lastname@example.org • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
We’re lucky in that it appears Los Alamos Lab has dodged the bullet with respect to the Las Conchas Fire, but I do want to say something about 100,000 acres of some of the most beautiful land in New Mexico burning up in the Jemez Mountains. I know it fairly well.
Back in the early 1980’s I would take my kids out on a full moon night in the winter after it snowed on Highway 4 near the Valle Grande and pull them on an upside down car hood chained to my pickup (not recommended, but they loved it). I use to rock climb a lot at the Las Conchas Canyon on the east fork of the Jemez River (near where the fire broke out), and down at the southern end of the fire at Cochiti Mesa and Eagle Canyon (the erosion in Eagle Canyon after the 1996 Dome Fire was shocking, a harbinger of what is to come with this fire). I remember taking my kids to the beautiful Santa Clara Canyon to the north, which the fire is now devastating (my heartfelt condolences to the Pueblo). My parents took photos of me and my two brothers when we were small in the late 1950’s sitting in a Bandelier National Monument “cavate” (a hole in the canyon volcanic tuff further carved out by the Anasazi to live in), posing as the three little monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
As an adult I’ve been back country many times in Bandelier (now half burned), where on a map it looks like you walk say 5 miles but it will actually be eight by the time you climb up and down canyons. I know of a ponderosa pine in the Jemez where a buddy bigger than me (and I’m six feet) and I could not touch our fingers together while hugging its girth. I’m a tree hugger, but I also had chain saw thinning contracts all over the Jemez, including one on the south rim of the Frijoles Canyon above Bandelier (where thinning is sorely needed). I would occasionally run across unexcavated Anasazi pueblos and walls.
I’ve seen acres of trees in the Jemez covered with monarch butterflies during their migration to Mexico.
All this burned area is beautiful, beautiful country – beautiful forests, hoodoo rocks, clear streams, elk, bear, deer, eagles, hawks, peregrine falcons, ponderosa, pinon, alligator juniper in the south, blue spruce up high, New Mexico turquoise skies, deep snows in winter (in a good year) and hot springs. These beautiful Jemez Mountains (not really peaks, but the more you know this land the more it grows on you). Are typically wetter than most of New Mexico, but this year so dry, and burning.
I pray that the trees, animals and the rains come back. But we humans must do our part, in the near term taking preventative measures against what could be devastating erosion now that the trees and grasses are gone. We need better forest management practices that allow fire to periodically sweep the forests (ponderosa pine evolved to adapt to and benefit from these low intensity fires), instead of suppressing them to the point where catastrophic crown fires break out. Longer term we need to begin to grapple effectively with global climate change, otherwise we may never get our Jemez forests back.
And we should comprehensively clean up Los Alamos Lab, because while it dodged the bullet this time, it may not the next time.
Beautiful, beautiful Jemez land, much of it gone – I love it and now I’m deeply missing it.
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?
We pride ourselves here at Nuclear Watch New Mexico on trying to stick to the facts as we best we know them and not being alarmist. That said, the Las Conchas Fire that has now crossed the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) southwestern boundary is a real threat. For starters is the mind-blowing fact that in just 30 hours this fire has grown bigger than the notorious 2000 Cerro Grande Fire which burned ~48,000 acres (~5,000 acres within Lab boundaries), and traveled in a beeline 12 miles to get to the Lab. With forecasted days of strong winds and gusts and high temperatures it’s hard to say where this fire might go and what it might do. Pray for rain.
We are not so concerned about the hardened facilities at the Lab constructed of concrete and cleared of combustible materials (i.e., trees and brush) around their perimeters. We doubt that there would be any breech to their containment that would let contaminants escape (with one caveat below). But we do have concerns. One is the fact that over 6 decades the Lab has blown up a lot of uranium and depleted uranium in dynamic high explosives experiments in the general area in front of the fire. We don’t know to what extent the shrapnel or debris has been cleaned up and could possibly be aerosolized.
Another concern, given both the velocity and ferocity of the Las Conchas Fire, is whether any Lab facilities loose their power and back up generators failed to work for whatever reason. In that case containment systems could fail with unknown safety implications.
But our biggest concern is whether the fire could reach the fabric buildings (essentially very large tents) at Technical Area-54’s Area G that store some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-contaminated wastes from nuclear weapons research and production. We recommend that the public use satellite-based fire detection data and fire intelligence information published by the US Forest Service to monitor the situation (see related post for instructions on how use it). From that we can “see” that the leading edge of the fire is a little more than three miles from Area G.
The good news is that the fire should slow down if and when it heads toward Area G because it will have to leave the mostly ponderosa forest into pinon and juniper country (which doesn’t crown fire like ponderosa). Also, the Lab has cleared trees and vegetation around Area G, and the fire would have to jump some major canyons just to get there.
So here’s hoping the fire doesn’t get anywhere close to Area G. But watch out if it does. The public should be concerned and really pay close attention. It might be a good time to take a road trip somewhere away from being downwind. This is one fire that cannot be underestimated.