Nuclear News Archive

Los Alamos National Laboratory's Technical Area 3

Lab Fire Highlights Ongoing LANL Waste Problems

The incident highlighted, once again, a pattern of consistent mismanagement in the maintenance and cleanup of some of the most dangerous materials on Earth.

This pattern of problems also has prompted the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to question whether the facility should continue to operate and handle increasing quantities of plutonium in coming years. On Friday, the board said it will hold a June 7 hearing in Santa Fe to question a number of experts about the lab’s ability to safely carry out future nuclear missions at PF-4 (the “plutonium building”)…

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Sec. Perry, Lab Dir. McMillan, PU Sciences' Yarbrough

Energy Secretary Perry Visits LANL, Promises Cleanup of Nuclear Wastes

Perry said the US can

‘No longer continue to kick the can down the road’ when it comes to cleaning up long-term radioactive and hazardous waste at the nation’s nuclear labs, and that he wants to send a clear message to Americans that ‘their families are not going to live in fear of a country that’s got waste scattered around places it doesn’t need to be….’ There are too many places where ‘the lives and health of our citizens are in jeopardy, because the federal government has failed to respond appropriately by removing this waste in a timely way…’ He wants to send a clear message to Americans that ‘their families are not going to live in fear of a country that’s got waste scattered around places it doesn’t need to be… I want to get things done. I’m a realist, and I realize we’re not going to clean it up overnight. We’re going to make progress.’

From the ABQ Journal 

Lockheed Martin-Funded Missile

Lockheed Martin-Funded Experts Agree: South Korea Needs More Lockheed Martin Missiles 

Adam Johnson writes: “As tensions between the United States and North Korea continue to rise, one think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has become a ubiquitous voice on the topic of missile defense, providing Official-Sounding Quotes to dozens of reporters in Western media outlets. All of these quotes speak to the urgent threat of North Korea and how important the United States’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system is to South Korea…

“In the past year, FAIR has noted 30 media mentions of CSIS pushing the THAAD missile system or its underlying value proposition in US media, most of them in the past two months. Business Insider was the most eager venue for the think tank’s analysts, routinely copying and pasting CSIS talking points in stories warning of the North Korean menace.
Last August (8/8/16), the New York Times revealed internal documents of CSIS (and the Brookings Institution) showing how the think tanks acted as undisclosed lobbyists for weapons manufacturers…

**Note that the top 10 corporate donors to CSIS include 5 top defense contractors: Lockheed, Northrup-Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics and Leonardo-Finmeccanica. see CSIS

Read More…

Detonation Spread: Conventional Ballistic Missile Fuse

How US Nuclear Force Modernization is Undermining Strategic Stability: The Burst-Height Compensating Super-Fuze

The US nuclear forces modernization program has been portrayed to the public as an effort to ensure the reliability and safety of warheads in the US nuclear arsenal, rather than to enhance their military capabilities. In reality, however, that program has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing- boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three- and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.

The revolutionary increase in the lethality of submarine-borne US nuclear forces comes from a ‘super-fuze’ device that since 2009 has been incorporated into the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead as part of a decade-long life-extension program. We estimate that all warheads deployed on US ballistic missile submarines now have this fuzing capability. Because the innovations in the super-fuze appear, to the non-technical eye, to be minor, policymakers outside of the US government (and probably inside the government as well) have completely missed its revolutionary impact on military capabilities and its important implications for global security…

The W76 upgrade reflects a 25-year shift of the focus of US hard-target kill capability from land-based to sea-based ballistic missiles. Moreover, by shifting the capability to submarines that can move to missile launch positions much closer to their targets than land-based missiles, the US military has achieved a significantly greater capacity to conduct a surprise first strike against Russian ICBM silos…

In spite of its severe limitations, this growing defense system could appear to both Russia and China as a US attempt to reduce the consequences of a ragged Russian or Chinese retaliation to a US first strike against them.

Operations Associated With Assessing the Circumstances Associated with a Possible Nuclear Attack
Operations Associated With Assessing the Circumstances Associated with a Possible Nuclear Attack From the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

We cannot foresee a situation in which a competent and properly informed US president would order a surprise first strike against Russia or China. But our conclusion makes the increased sea-based offensive and defensive capabilities we have described seem all the more bizarre as a strategy for reducing the chances of nuclear war with either Russia or China…”

-Hans M. Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie, Theodore A. Postol from The Bulliten of Atomic Scientists 

 

Republic F-84G Thunderjets of the 55th Fighter Bomber Squadron cruise over the Atlantic Ocean enroute to England in 1952. In a few months, the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing had developed tactics for a nuclear strike mission, the first USAF fighter unit to pick up a nuclear role.

Defense Science Board Recommends “A More Flexible Nuclear Enterprise”

Sometimes, maybe, the status quo is something we need to safeguard, not disrupt. That may be the case when it comes to a new push to abandon the US-Russian mutual prohibition on the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapon systems as part of theater warfighting doctrine.

Since the late 1980s both US and Soviet, now Russian, policy has been to not develop and deploy ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, including theater-range missiles, because it was agreed that it would be very difficult to prevent a ‘tactical’ exchange in a regional conflict from progressing rapidly to a civilization-ending ‘strategic’ exchange.

But new doubts are arising about the credibility of a strategic deterrent in the case of a local or regional conflict: one which, for example, the US could be involved in, even though the stakes may not put essential US security at risk. In such cases, some US warfighters would like to have the option of threatening counterforce and intermediate range strikes using low-yield nukes. Or, they argue, what if an adversary uses a tactical nuke to “escalate to de-escalate”? Some want to be able to respond in kind. These doubts about classical deterrence, along with a ‘multipolar’ landscape of nuclear-armed states, are the basis for the nuclear boosters’ meme of “The Second Nuclear Age”).

See Pentagon Panel Urges Trump Team to Expand Nuclear Options

“Astoundingly High” Radiation Levels Detected at Fukushima Unit 2

The radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor two has reached as high as 530 sieverts per hour, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco as it’s known, said last week.

Are levels rising? 

Azby Brown reporting on Safecast’s website, February 4th:

No, radiation levels at Fukushima Daiichi are not rising

“It must be stressed that radiation in this area has not been measured before, and it was expected to be extremely high. While 530 Sv/hr is the highest measured so far at Fukushima Daiichi, it does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured. Similar remote investigations are being planned for Daiichi Units 1 and 3. We should not be surprised if even higher radiation levels are found there, but only actual measurements will tell.” (see more at Safecast)

Feb. 8, Denver Post: Could the radiation level be even higher? Possibly. The 530 sievert reading was recorded some distance from the melted fuel, so in reality it could be 10 times higher than recorded, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Obama Administration Announces Unilateral Nuclear Weapon Cuts

Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Obama administration had cut 553 warheads from the US nuclear weapons stockpile since September 2015. The cuts bring the total number of reductions during the last 8 years to 1,255; the current number of nuclear warheads in the stockpile is now at 4,018. These were not, however, “deployed” nuclear weapons.

FAS stated, “We estimate that the warheads were taken from the inactive reserve of non-deployed warheads that are stored to provide a ‘hedge’ against the technical failure of a warhead type or to respond to geopolitical surprises.”

Hans Kristensen noted, “The cut adds significantly to the large inventory of retired (but still intact) warheads that are awaiting dismantlement.” That number was estimated by VP Biden to be now 2,800. Most, if not all, of these weapons awaiting dismantlement, are stored at the Kirtland AFB storage site in Albuquerque. (Also stored there are some number of “hedge” weapons, so it is possible that these 553 warheads just received a modified designation, but otherwise have not even been moved.) The warheads are meant to be dismantled at the Pantex Plant; however, at the current average rate of 278 per year, it will take to 2026 to dismantle the current backlog.

Kristensen notes, “Even so, the Obama administration still holds the position of being the administration that has cut the least warheads from the stockpile compared with other post-Cold War presidencies.”

From the Federation of American Scientists 

A sign informs visitors of prohibited items on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington in July 2014. from Ted S. Warren/AP

Another nuclear weapons contractor pays millions to settle charges of illegally diverting federal funds

Allegations of illegally spending federal funds to lobby for new funds now encompass contractors working at six of the eight U.S. nuclear weapons sites. 

By Patrick Malone, Center for Public Integrity

This time it’s Bechtel and URS Corp

The latest settlement involves work by Bechtel National Inc. and its parent Bechtel Corp., and URS Corp. and its subsidiary URS Energy and Construction Inc., which together have been trying to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, in Washington state, the most toxic site in the country. The settlement is part of an emerging pattern.

Lockheed Martin Corp., which operates one of three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories – Sandia, agreed in August 2015 to pay $4.7 million to settle a complaint by the Justice Department that it used federal funds to lobby for a no-bid contract extension. In December of 2016, Department of Energy selected a different contractor team, led by Honeywell International, to run Sandia for up to a decade, beginning next year.)
Meanwhile, Fluor Corp. paid $1.1 million in April 2013 to settle accusations that it used federal funds to lobby government agencies for more business at its Hanford training facility.

(Read more at PublicIntegrity.org)

Caution Radiation Area

Area G – Brief Backgrounder

For more than 70 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory dug thousands of deep and shallow graves across mesas and filled them with the radioactive waste, chemicals, and solvents used to make nuclear weapons.
Workers disposed of the waste in these unlined pits before the widespread contamination that would follow was fully understood or governed by environmental laws. Radioactive particles that live longer than some civilizations mixed freely with the red soil.

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WIPP plans will go on even if Russia quits plutonium deal

The Albuquerque Journal reports:

“At Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, the breakdown in the bilateral agreement may deal a decisive blow to already deteriorated relationships between scientists at New Mexico’s national laboratories and their Russian counterparts, who had been working together to iron out the technical aspects of plutonium disposition under the deal, according to Don Hancock with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque.”

Ed Lyman of Union of Concerned Scientists said “Even until last week, the U.S. was optimistic that this was one area that Russia and the U.S. could cooperate.”

Read More…

UN council urges all to ratify security ban

Security Council Urges All to Ratify Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

“Reaffirming that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery, threatens international peace and security, the United Nations Security Council today adopted a resolution urging all States who haven’t done so to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty”

-From UN News

“A world free of nuclear of weapons goes by stopping testing too, and then taking steps that will reinforce the agreements that are already here, and then leading us towards what we all want: a world free of nuclear weapons; a world free of any attempt of modernization that some are talking about today.”

-Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of CTBTO:

NTI Launches the William J. Perry Project

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has just published a new book, a memoir titled “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink”. At the same time, NTI has launched the online William J. Perry Project, to “educate and engage the public on the dangers of nuclear weapons in the 21st century”.

“I hope to encourage young people to take the baton I am trying to pass to them. My generation created this existential problem- their generation must find a way to solve it.”

– William Perry.

70th Anniversary of the Trinity Test

The first atomic detonation. Oppenheimer recalls his impressions of the moment for an interview on NBC in 1965.

The first nuclear weapon test was carried out by the United States at the Trinity site on July 16, 1945, with a yield approximately equivalent to 20 kilotons. The first hydrogen bomb, codenamed “Ivy Mike”, was tested at the Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands in November 1952, also by the United States. The largest nuclear weapon ever tested was the “Tsar Bomba” of the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya on October 30, 1961, with an estimated yield of around 50 megatons.

In 1963, many (but not all) nuclear and many non-nuclear states signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, pledging to refrain from testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space. The treaty permitted underground nuclear testing. France continued atmospheric testing until 1974, China continued up until 1980. Neither has ever signed the treaty.[1]

The United States conducted its last underground test in 1992, the Soviet Union in 1990, the U.K. in 1991, and both China and France in 1996. After signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 (which has as of 2012 not yet entered into force), all these states have pledged to discontinue all nuclear testing. Non-signatories India and Pakistan last tested nuclear weapons in 1998. The most recent nuclear test was by North Korea on Feb. 12, 2013.

For a more detailed resource on the history of Nuclear testing, see this United Nations guide,released August 29, 2012, the official ‘International Day Against Nuclear Tests’.

Cooperation of US and Russian scientists helped avoid nuclear catastrophe at Cold War’s end

Former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker recounts the epic story of how American and Russian scientists joined forces to avert some of the greatest post-Cold War nuclear dangers.

Hecker is currently a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and a research professor of Management Science and Engineering.

Flawed Pentagon Nuclear Cruise Missile Advocacy

Hans Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, writes:

“The Pentagon’s arguments for why the LRSO is needed and why the amendments [to strip funding] are unacceptable are amazingly shallow – some of them even plain wrong.”

Here is a particularly disturbing argument:

“The Kendall letter from March also defends the LRSO because it gives the Pentagon the ability to rapidly increase the number of deployed warheads significantly on its strategic launchers. He does so by bluntly describing it as a means to exploit the fake bomber weapon counting rule (one bomber one bomb no matter what they can actually carry) of the New START Treaty to essentially break out from the treaty limit without formally violating it:

Additionally, cruise missiles provide added leverage to the U.S. nuclear deterrent under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The accounting rules for nuclear weapons carried on aircraft are such that the aircraft only counts as one weapon, even if the aircraft carries multiple cruise missiles.

It is disappointing to see a DOD official justifying the LRSO as a means to take advantage of a loophole in the treaty to increase the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons above 1,550 warheads. Not least because the 2013 Nuclear Employment Strategy determined that the Pentagon, even when the New START Treaty is implemented in 2018, will still have up to one-third more nuclear weapons deployed than are needed to meet US national and international security commitments. (more at FAS)

See the DOD letter circulated to Congress in May.

U.S. Had Plans for “Full Nuclear Response” In Event President Killed or Disappeared during an Attack on the United States.

From the Nukevault

Newly declassified document expands limited public record on nuclear “pre-delegation”.

Both USSR and China were to be targeted simultaneously, even if attack were conventional or accidental, and regardless of who was responsible.

LBJ ordered a change in instructions in 1968 to permit more limited response, avert “dangerous” situation.

See: Electronic Briefing Book No. 406

How A War Game Brought The World To The Brink Of Nuclear Disaster

1983: Once-classified documents show how close Soviet Union came to launching nuclear war

“Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war… Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Archer, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility…”

(Jamie Doward, The Observer, 10/02/13)

Vladimir Putin

Russia Has Pulled Out Of The Troubled MOX Project

Russia has given many expliantions for their recent exit from the MOX pact. Overall it is clear that MOX is a “good idea gone bad”. For more see the links below.

Citing “the threat to strategic stability posed by US hostile actions against Russia”. ref

Russia’s Lavrov: Russia’s MOX pact exit is a signal to Washington that: “speaking in the language of sanctions & ultimatums won’t work

The Russian Non-Proliferation Department’s official reason: The US did not officially inform on planned change of PU disposal method (from MOX plant to WIPP disposal) as required in 2000 pact.

Distribution of Fallout Soviet Total Attack Low Force

Studies by Once Top Secret Government Entity Portrayed Terrible Costs of Nuclear War

NESC reports included both Soviet and US first strike scenarios

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 480. Posted July 22, 2014.

“The NESC reports on nuclear war were multi-volume, highly classified studies and none has ever been declassified in their entirety. The summaries published here today- for the annual reports from 1957 to 1963- provide a glimpse of the full reports, although important elements remain classified. Besides the summaries and fuller reports for 1962 and 1963, today’s posting includes a number of special studies prepared by the NESC, including an especially secret report requested by President Eisenhower that led to the production of the comprehensive U.S. nuclear war plan in 1960, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP)…”

(read more)

Cranes over the Fukushima Daiichi plant in February 2016. The decommissioning process is expected to take about four decades

High Radiation Forcing a Rethink of Robot Strategy

TEPCO and its network of partner companies at Fukushima Daiichi have yet to identify the location and condition of melted fuel in the three most seriously damaged reactors. Removing it safely represents a challenge unprecedented in the history of nuclear power. Quantities of melted fuel are believed to have accumulated at the bottom of the damaged reactors’ containment vessels, but dangerously high radiation has prevented engineers from accurately gauging the state of the fuel deposits.

TEPCO is now worried that the scorpion robot will not be able to reach the space beneath the pressure vessel, and like its predecessor, will not be able to work for very long in the damaged plant (the scorpion is designed to handle 1,000 total sieverts). The high level of radiation may force TEPCO, a nationally-owned company, to rethink its robot-based strategy for locating the molten fuel. The firm is currently in the early stages of a cleanup that’s expected to last decades. Until TEPCO knows the precise location of the melted fuel, and until it’s able to ascertain the structural damage in each of the three reactors affected, the company won’t be able to decommission the plant and remove the fuel.

Read more at The Guardian

New Cruise Missile Capability Debated

By Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association, January/February 2016

“The United States is planning to purchase a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that will be far more advanced than the ones they are slated to replace, according to members of Congress and other sources, raising questions about the plan’s consistency with a pledge made by the Obama administration not to provide nuclear weapons with new capabilities.
“The development of the new missile also has sparked a debate about whether it could be more ‘usable’ than the existing ALCM, thereby lowering the threshold for when the United States might consider using nuclear weapons.

In a Dec. 15 letter to President Barack Obama urging him to cancel the new cruise missile, also known as the long-range standoff weapon, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and seven other senators wrote that the ‘proposed missile is a significantly altered version’ of the existing ALCM. The letter did not say what specific capabilities the new missile would provide, but claimed the proposal contradicts the policy statement from the 2010 ‘Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report’ that efforts to sustain U.S. nuclear weapons ‘will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.’

Advocates of the new missile argue that it provides a continuing ability to quickly add missiles to bombers. They note that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty does not cap the number of weapons that can be carried on each bomber.

The source said the technical characteristics of the new missile are still being defined because the program is still in the early development stage but that the goal is to increase the range and accuracy of the missile. The source said another goal is to incorporate the latest stealth features, making the missile much more difficult for adversary air defense systems to detect.

Regarding the proposed life extension program for the ALCM warhead, known as the W80-4, the source who has been briefed said a goal of that program is to permit ‘greater flexibility in actually picking’ the desired yield. The ALCM warhead is believed have a built-in option to allow detonation at lower or higher yields.

According to the source, increasing the accuracy of the missile allows for more flexibility in the warhead yield, thus enhancing the overall capability of the weapons system.

The source said the briefings made it clear that the Pentagon is envisioning potential uses for the new cruise missile that go beyond ‘the original mission space’ of the ALCM.

For example, the source said that, in the event of a major conflict with China, the Pentagon has talked about using the new missile to destroy Chinese air defenses as a warning to Beijing against escalating the conflict further.”

(Read more: New Cruise Missile Capability Debated

The US Airforce

Cruise Control

“Franklin Miller, a veteran nuclear strategist now at the Scowcroft Group, points out that Mr Obama would never have persuaded the Senate to ratify the New START treaty in 2010 had he not pledged to renew America’s nuclear weapons on land, sea and in the air. That agreement allows for what is known as the ‘bomber discount’, which counts an aircraft carrying several bombs as a single warhead. The LRS-B (the upcoming Long-Range Strike Bomber) will be able to carry internally a payload of cruise missiles, the new B61-12 bombs or a smaller stand-off missile with a conventional warhead. It is improbable that any president would forgo that option while Russia retains it.”

Read more at The Economist

Two weeks ago, Lockheed Martin Corp. closed a deal to sell 40 AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) to Poland’s Ministry of Defense.

The Case of Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin manages the Nevada National Security Site, Sandia National Laboratories, together with Bechtel The Y-12 National Security Site, and the Pantex Plant in Texas.

Last fall, Washington Business Journal reported that

“if anyone is benefitting from the unease between Russia and the rest of the world, it would have to be Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT). The company is positioned to make large profits off what could very well be an international military spending spree by Russia’s neighbors.”

 

Mr. President, Kill the New Cruise Missile

The open letter that kick-started the debate:

Former Secretary of Defense Perry and Former Ass’t Secretary of Defense Weber to Obama:

“Because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants, cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon.

Two years ago, when Britain decided not to pursue a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile, Philip Hammond, then-British defense secretary and now-foreign secretary, explained the problem well: ‘A cruise-based deterrent would carry significant risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation. At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead. Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.

One of us (William J. Perry) led the Defense Department’s development and procurement of the current air-launched cruise missile and the B-2 stealth bomber in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that time, the United States needed the cruise missile to keep the aging B-52, which is quite vulnerable to enemy air defense systems, in the nuclear mission until the more effective B-2 replaced it. The B-52 could safely launch the long-range cruise missile far from Soviet air defenses. We needed large numbers of air-launched nuclear cruise missiles to be able to overwhelm Soviet air defenses and thus help offset NATO’s conventional-force inferiority in Europe, but such a posture no longer reflects the reality of today’s U.S. conventional military dominance.

With the updated B-2 and B61 expected to remain in service for many decades, and the planned deployment of new B-3 penetrating bombers with B61 bombs starting in 2025, there is scant justification for spending tens of billions of dollars on a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile and related warhead life-extension program.

We therefore urge President Obama to cancel the current plan to develop and buy 1,000 to 1,100 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles. Such strong U.S. leadership, coupled with a challenge to the other major nuclear powers to eliminate or, in the cases of China and India, forgo deployment of this extremely destabilizing class of weapons, would reduce the risk of nuclear weapons use and be a historic practical step in the direction of a world without nuclear weapons.”

– William J. Perry and Andy Weber from Mr. President, Kill the New Cruise Missile

William J. Perry was U.S. secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. Andy Weber was assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs from 2009 to 2014.

The Pope and the Bomb: Bishop Oscar Cantú Remarks

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman, Committee on International Justice & Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at “The Pope and the Bomb: New Nuclear Dangers and Moral Dilemmas” event on September 17, 2015, with moderator E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post columnist, former Sen. Sam Nunn, NTI Co-Chairman and CEO, and Prof. Maryann Cusimano Love, Associate Professor of International Relations, The Catholic University of America.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, left, examines coatings at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012.

The 10 Worst Things About Lockheed Martin’s Alleged Lobbying Fraud

Note that five of the ten “Worst Things” directly involve New Mexico’s ex-Congresswoman Heather Wilson. (read more)

Nukewatch’s Jay Coghlan adds these remarks in regard to Heather Wilson:

Ex-Congresswoman Heather Wilson was appointed by John Boehner to be on the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise. In December 2014 the Panel came out with its long awaited report, “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise”, which benefited the contractors. For example, it argued for diminished federal oversight over contractors, which flies in the face of reality (e.g., constant cost overruns, WIPP, Y-12 security incident, etc., etc.)

Perhaps most alarmingly, the Panel recommended that congressional oversight be strengthened by having the DOE Secretary report to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees, and to the House Energy and Commerce and Armed Services Committees. This would likely have the opposite effect, as it seems to preclude the traditional jurisdiction of the House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittees, which have provided key oversight in the past, and have often cut certain nuclear weapons programs.

I publicly called on Heather Wilson to resign from that Panel because of her conflict-of-interests. She did not. To add insult to injury, the co-chair of the Panel is Norm Augustine, ex-CEO of Lockheed Martin. LM’s tentacles are very widespread.

  • Lockheed Martin had $32 billion in federal contracts in 2014 (classified projects unknown). (ref) and (API)
  • This included $28 million for IRS data management. (ref)
  • In the nuclear weapons complex, in addition to Sandia Labs it runs the combined Y12-Pantex nuclear weapons production contract ($2 billion requested in FY 2016) with Bechtel, as Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.
  • Between 2008 and 2015 Lockheed Martin had 169,345 contracts with the US government, worth $293 billion. (ref)

See more at Charles Tiefer’s outstanding article at Forbes

Watchdogs Denounce Slap on Wrist for Illegal Lobbying Activities By the World’s Biggest Defense Contractor- and Demand Real Accountability by Barring Lockheed Martin From Future Sandia Labs Contract

Nuclear Watch New Mexico denounces the $4.7 million settlement agreement as a slap on the wrist for the world’s biggest defense contractor. Lockheed Martin clearly broke the law by engaging in illegal lobbying activities to extend its Sandia contract without competition, and engaged in deep and systemic corruption, including paying Congresswoman Heather Wilson $10,000 a month starting the day after she left office for so-called consulting services that had no written work requirements. There should be criminal prosecutions for clear violations of federal anti-lobbying laws, and Lockheed Marin should be barred from future competition for the Sandia Labs contract, expected next year.

View full press release (PDF)
View Department of Justice’s settlement agreement (PDF)
View Rep. Heather Wilson’s contract and invoices pursuant to our FOIA request (PDF)

More on the New Nuclear Cruise Missile

Russia is Proving Why Nuclear-Tipped Cruise Missiles Are a Very Bad Idea

“Those four cruise missiles that crashed in Iran could’ve been carrying nuclear warheads- which is why the US should ban them, not renew them.”

…inherently ambiguous… can add major risks to a crisis… In 2007, six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 bomber and flown across the United States. Because nuclear-armed cruise missiles are virtually indistinguishable from conventional ones, the error went undetected for 36 hours..”

-Tom Collina and William Saetren, Ploughshares Fund. 

Jan. 13: Just How New is the New, Nuclear-armed Cruise Missile?

“Deploying the planned new nuclear-armed cruise missile will actually make the United States less secure. Known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, or LRSO, it will be significantly more capable than the existing nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). And for just that reason, by demonstrating that the United States sees this weapon as a valuable military tool, it will undermine higher priority U.S. security goals. Specifically, pursuing the LRSO ignores the reality that nuclear weapons are no longer a security asset for the United States, but a liability that should be constrained.” Stephen Young, Sr. Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists 

Dec. 15: Eight Senate Democrats, including three members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to terminate the Air Force’s plans for its next-generation air-launched cruise missile. Read More

LRSO: The Nuclear Cruise Missile Mission

“It seems clear from many of these statements that the LRSO is not merely a retaliatory capability but very much seen as an offensive nuclear strike weapon that is intended for use in the early phases of a conflict even before long-range ballistic missiles are used.” – Analysis by FAS/Hans Kristensen

Freeze The Arms Race

New York City, 1982: One Million Rally for Nuclear Freeze

On June 12, 1982, one-million concerned citizens gathered in Central Park in New York in an unprecedented call for “the United States and the Soviet Union . . . to adopt a mutual freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.” A few months later, Freeze referenda were on the ballots in 9 states and dozens of major cities. Across the nation some 18 million Americans voted on the Freeze in the fall of 1982, with some 10.7 million, or 60 percent, voting in favor.

As Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said years later:

“It was the closest our country has ever come to a national plebiscite on nuclear arms control. Within a very brief time the freeze had taken education at the grassroots and translated it into political muscle at the ballot box, delivering to the White House a resounding vote of no confidence in its nuclear buildup.”

The Sandia National Laboratory campus.

Busted: Lockheed’s Sandia Corp Illegally Lobbied Key Congress Members With Federal Funds to Block Competition For Lucrative Contract

The complete DOE IG November 2014 investigation report has now been released to The Center for Public Integrity following their FOIA request.

CPI has come out with a hard-hitting article about illegal lobbying by the world’s biggest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, to extend its management contract of the Sandia Labs.
This report peels back part of the veil surrounding a defense corporation’s “capture strategy” for the Obama administration.

Last November Inspector General Gregory Friedman issued his report on the Special Inquiry into “Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension”. The full report was designated “For Official Use Only” and given exclusively to the contractor; but a summary was released which outlined the case against Lockheed and Sandia Corp, including the payments made from public funds to then just-retired Congresswoman Heather Wilson for ‘consulting services’.

Now, The Center for Public Integrity has obtained the full report through a FOIA request. In it, Inspector General Friedman writes:

“We recognize that Lockheed Martin Corporation, as a for-profit entity, has a corporate interest in the future of the Sandia Corporation contract. However, the use of Federal funds to advance that interest through actions designed to result in a noncompetitive contract extension was, in our view, prohibited by Sandia Corporation’s contract and Federal law and regulations.”
“Given the specific prohibitions against such activity, we could not comprehend the logic of using Federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition.”

And in a phrase that did not appear in the November public summary:

“Perhaps [Sandia National Laboratories] felt empowered because it had improperly directed Federal funds to similar activities in the past.”

See Center for Public Integrity

A flight test body of a B61-12 is a semi-operational copy of the nuclear weapon but without the "physics package" (nuclear bomb) or functional tail fins.

How to Disrupt the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog, July 5, 2015

“Ever since the Supreme Court’s shameful Citizens United decision, big corporations have been funneling large amounts of cash into American politics, often secretly. Bad enough. But when big government contractors do the funneling, American taxpayers foot the bill twice over: We pay their lobbying and campaign expenses. And when those efforts nab another contract, we pay for stuff we often don’t need.”

A case in point is America’s largest contractor- Lockheed Martin. More than 80 percent of Lockheed’s revenues come from the U.S. government, mostly from the Defense Department.

Follow the money behind the money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics,

  • Lockheed’s Political Action Committee spent over $4 million on the 2014 election cycle,
    and has already donated over $1 million to candidates for 2016.
  • The top congressional recipient of Lockheed’s largesse is Mac Thornberry (R-Texas),
    Chairman of the House Armed Services committee.
  • Second-highest is Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey),
    Chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
  • Third is Kay Granger, the Subcommittee’s Vice-Chair.
  • Lockheed also maintains a squadron of Washington lawyers and lobbyists dedicated to
    keeping and getting even more federal contracts. The firm spent over $14 million lobbying
    Congress last year.

Remarkably, 73 out of Lockheed’s 109 lobbyists are former Pentagon officials, congressional staffers, White House aides, and former members of Congress. You and I and other taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay Lockheed’s lobbying expenses, but these costs are built into the overhead Lockheed charges the government in its federal contracts.

And we shouldn’t foot the bill for Lockheed’s campaign contributions, but these are also covered in the overhead the firm charges- including the salaries of executives expected to donate to Lockheed’s Political Action Committee.

The ten largest federal contractors are all defense contractors, and we’re indirectly paying all of them to lobby Congress and buy off politicians. To state it another way, we’re paying them to hire former government officials to lobby current government officials, and we’re also paying them to bribe current politicians- all in order to keep or get fat government contracts that often turn out to be lousy deals for us.

Now it’s a military-industrial-congressional complex

President Obama is said to be considering an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending. He should sign it immediately. But he should go further and ban all political spending by federal contractors that receive more than half their revenues from government. That includes Lockheed and every other big defense contractor.

Robert Reich: “How to Disrupt the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex”

“Pay-to-play is for real.”- POGO’s General Counsel Scott Amey, in a blog post on Monday.
A report released last year by the Sunlight Foundation detailed how 200 corporations spent a total of $5.8 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2007 to 2012. During the same period, the same companies received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support, the report found. Amey: “In other words, for every $1 the companies spent on political influence and access, they got $760 from the federal government.”

References:

Related:

Regarding the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contract:

In 2001, Lockheed landed the biggest defense contract in history when it was named the main contractor for the Joint Strike Fighter (est. $400 billion). 14 years on, in April of 2015, the GAO reported that:

“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program had to make unexpected changes to its development and test plans over the last year, largely in response to a structural failure on a durability test aircraft, an engine failure, and software challenges. At the same time, engine reliability is poor and has a long way to go to meet program goals. With nearly 2 years and 40 percent of developmental testing to go, more technical problems are likely. Addressing new problems and improving engine reliability may require additional design changes and retrofits.” 

From the GAO

“An army of lobbyists is great. But an army of insiders who know how to navigate the halls of power, can socialize with politicians on weekends and ultimately play the system like a violin is so much better.”

-From Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in “Obama Pledged to Reduce Nuclear Arsenal, Then Came This Weapon”.

Long Range Standoff Bomber

Long Range Standoff Bomber Update

Shrouded In Mystery, New Bomber Makes Waves

“The program is targeting a production line of 80-100 planes. It will replace the fleet of B-52 and B-1 bombers. It will be stealthy, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and optional manning has been discussed. A down-selection will be made this spring or early summer, with initial operating capability planned for the mid-2020s. Nuclear certification will follow two years after that.

The target price, set by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is $550 million a copy. To keep the price down, the Air Force is looking to use mature technologies that are available now, rather than launching new developments… ”

From Defense News 

B-2 Stealth Bomber

Massive Upgrade For B-2 Stealth

Air Force officials have started planning a ten billion dollar modernization of the B-2 stealth bomber fleet to include a new receiver using VLF waveform technology that allows the bomber to receive messages in the event of a high altitude electromagnetic pulse, and outfitting the aircraft for next-generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with the new tail kit, and Long Range Stand-Off weapons- (air-launched nuclear cruise missiles).

From Military.com

U.S. Nuclear Weapon Plans to Cost $355 Billion Over a Decade

“The Obama administration’s plans for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including modernization of bombs, delivery systems, and laboratories, will cost the country about $355 billion over the next decade, nearly $150 billion more than the administration’s $208.5 billion estimates in a report to Congress last year; since the modernization effort is just beginning, costs are expected to greatly increase after 2023.”

-From Reuters 

See also Are New Nuclear Weapons Affordable?

 

Selected Press Items

Koreas agree to work toward peace and 'complete denuclearization'

Trump's strike on Syria is exactly why North Korea wants nuclear weapons

The Trump-Kim Summit and North Korean Denuclearization: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Pence's Anti-North Korea PR Campaign Bombs

US Vice-President Mike Pence rains on Olympic parade with Korea team snub

S. Korea, U.S. agree to work toward opening denuclearization talks with N. Korea

Could a false alarm like Hawaii trigger a war?

Japan public TV sends mistaken North Korean missile alert

Hawaii's Nuclear Wakeup Call (and Why We Should Take MLK's Advice)

What the Hell Happened in Hawaii?

Hawaii Panics After Alert About Incoming Missile Is Sent in Error

University of Hawaii emailed students tips on how to prepare for a nuclear attack

The New Hwasong-15 ICBM: A Significant Improvement That May be Ready as Early as 2018

North Korea signals intent to 'complete' its nuclear force

How U.S. Intelligence Agencies Underestimated North Korea

Preemptive or preventative strikes: The Dangerous Misunderstanding at the Core of the North Korea Debate

North Korea: Hawaii residents told to prepare for nuclear attack as tensions reach new high

California's plans for North Korean nuclear attack revealed

The Memo: Fears escalate over North Korea

Trump at UN threatens to 'totally destroy' North Korea

North Korea's Threat Pushes Japan to Reassess Its Might and Rights

North Korea responds to latest U.N. sanctions with second missile over Japan

North Korea's nuclear plans are actually very clear. It's far less obvious what Donald Trump will do

Hwasong 14: Not an ICBM? Still an open question

Analysis: North Korea's "not quite" ICBM can't hit the lower 48 states

UCS: North Korean ICBM Appears Able to Reach Major US Cities, incl. New York

North Korea Finally Tests an ICBM

How to Deal With North Korea: There are no good options

Detailed report on Nth Korea missile and nuclear weapons programs

Thinking the Unthinkable With North Korea

A Quick Technical Analysis of the Hwasong-12

North Korea's Latest Missile Test: Advancing towards an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) While Avoiding US Military Action

North Korea Missile Test Appears to Tiptoe Over a U.S. Tripwire

Comments on House Armed Services Hearing on the B61 Life Extension Program

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

http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/hearings-display?ContentRecord_id=a186ee67-acf8-45fd-9364-f907f967c1d3&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_id=41030bc2-0d05-4138-841f-90b0fbaa0f88&MonthDisplay=10&YearDisplay=2013

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.” [1] 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. [2]

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.


[1]     “ICBM Modernization: Approaches to Basing Options and Interoperable Warhead Designs Need Better Planning and Synchronization,” GAO-13-831, Sep 20, 2013.

[2]       Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2014, June 27, 2013, Senate Report 113–47, page 102.

LANL Finds a Way to Very Efficiently Waste $400,000

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.

 

Each B61 nuclear warhead will cost ten times W76 warhead to refurbish

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.

 

The B61 Life Extension Program is in increasing trouble

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.

 

Audit Cites Lack of Contractor Integration For Delay in Reestablishing Criticality Capability

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

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.”

Plutonium-238 needs should be met through accelerated nuclear weapons dismantlements

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.

 

Abolish NNSA, but increase federal oversight and independent review

The Albuquerque Journal ran a really good editorial on Tuesday, September 17:

 

Editorial: Time past for coddling bloated nuclear agency

By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board |

 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.

 

My response:

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.

Jay Coghlan

Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Report Reveals That Little is Known About Lab’s Future Plutonium Needs

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)

Also,
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…

Other impediments?
Like speaking up?

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

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

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

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

National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S. Department of Energy

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

B61-12 Life Extension Program Radar Drop Tests Completed Successfully

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

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

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

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

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

Follow NNSA News on our Blog and on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Flickr.

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

 

Excellence Unfulfilled at the LANL’s Plutonium Facility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

On my soap box about Sandia Labs

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nuclear weapon research at the universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # # 

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

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

NM Environment Department Reclassifies WIPP Request!

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 20.4.1.900 NMAC, incorporating 40 CFR § 270.42(b).
The request modifies the prohibition of excluded waste from the WIPP Permit.

Page 2
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 trais.kliphuis@state.nm.us.
Sincerely,
Ryan Flynn
Cabinet Secretary-Designate

Help Stop Increased Nuclear Weapons Funding

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

Dear [Name],

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.

Thank you,

Your name

New Mexico Representatives
Rep. Ben Ray Luján
http://lujan.house.gov/
Washington D.C. Office • Ph: (202) 225-6190

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
http://lujangrisham.house.gov/
Washington, DC Office?•?Phone: 202-225-6316?

Rep. Steve Pearce
http://pearce.house.gov/
Washington, DC Office • Phone: 855-4-PEARCE (732723) or (202) 225-2365

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

 

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

 June 11, 2013

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

# # #

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

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

please co-sign my WIPP comments!

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)
to:
trais.kliphuis@state.nm.us

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
June 2013

Trais Kliphuis
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.

_________________________
name
_________________________
city
_________________________
state

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

May 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further analysis by us will follow.

Jay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LANL Regional Coalition Exaggerates Sequester Cuts

Northern New Mexico Needs to Wean Itself From Nuclear Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

 

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

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

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NNSA Releases Expanded 2012 Performance Evaluation Reports

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

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

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

…more soon…

How Do You Spell PASSWORD? LANL Gets Bad Cyber Report

How Do You Spell PASSWORD? LANL Gets Bad Cyber Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the Global Security Newswire Article here.

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

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

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

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

Read the report there.

WIPP Proposes to Eliminate Waste Sampling – Comments Needed!

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).
Tell 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
E-mail: trais.kliphuis@state.nm.us
The complete 301-page permit modification request (13 MB) can be found at:
http://www.wipp.energy.gov/rcradox/rfc/Class_2_PMR.pdf

Proposed Nuke Cuts a Step in the Right Direction

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

NUCLEAR WATCH NEW MEXICO

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 8, 2013   

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

 

Proposed Nuke Cuts a Step in the Right Direction – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please check out Stephanie’s blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Alamos, July 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Report is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

LANL loses track of nuclear materials

LANL loses track of nuclear materials

Plutonium operations placed in standby mode

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board Report is here.

It is still annual compensation paid for by the taxpayers

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

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

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

From the monitor article –

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

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

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

Whatever it is, it is still annual compensation.

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

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

It is still annual compensation paid for by the taxpayers.

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

 

Two Upcoming Events

Two upcoming events

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

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Love and Loss in the Jemez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The Risk to Waste Stored at Area G

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Replacement of Neutron Generators is Routine

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

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

Whew. Stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This from Sandia Labs “Labs Accomplishments:”

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

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

Neutron generators themselves are being continuously improved, for example:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Big Money for the B61’s New Ride

In a mid April report to Congress, the Pentagon stated lifetime cycle costs of the dual [nuclear] capable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter  will exceed $1 trillion. The F-35 will have a lot to do with future forward deployment in Europe (or not) of the proposed heavily modified B61-12 tactical nuclear bomb.

According to Inside Defense, problems with development and production aspects of the F-35 program will delay the deployment of the aircraft another two years and require an additional $7.2 to complete the development phase.

Ironically, Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor for the F-35. It is also the contractor that runs the Sandia National Laboratories, which is the lead lab for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP). One of the main purposes of that LEP is transform the B61 “analog controlled” bomb into a “digitally controlled” bomb that mates with the advanced electronics and avionics of the F-35.

The B61 LEP will begin in FY 2012 with $223.6 million in funding. Total cost is currently estimated at ~$5 billion

The Corporate Folly of Nuclear Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother Earth Gives Nuclear Renaissance a Black Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CMRR FY2012 Budget Request – Blank Check or Black Budget?

CMRR FY2012 Budget Request – Blank Check or Black Budget?

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

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

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

The FY2011 breakout estimated for FY2012 was:

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding NNSA’s Defense Nonproliferation Programs and MOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LANL Gestures to Gas Shortage

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

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

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


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