Nuclear News Archives – 2019
The message was clear at Wednesday evening’s Environmental Management Cleanup Forum at Fuller Lodge hosted by the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office and legacy cleanup contractor N3B. That message, according to EM-LA manager Doug Hintze was that the Department of Energy is changing its way of doing business as far as community participation.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch NM Director, said about the meeting: “They had too much of an opportunity to control the questions through written submissions and pick and choose what they want. Future meetings should be quite different with open and free discussion,” he said. “I’m fully-prepared to push for the transparency that they claim that they’re operating with.”
“We’re not asking for input – you’ve been giving us input. We’re asking for participation to make sure you understand the risks that we have, the challenges including funding, the cleanup standards and so forth. We’re asking for your participation,” he told a packed room.
Coghlan told the Los Alamos Reporter that EM-LA “have repeated rhetoric for full and complete transparency.
“They’re making the claim that more than half the cleanup is completed. This of course is representative of hidden decisions already made to leave behind the vast majority of waste. So this meeting was just a complete sham and it was carefully controlled really, to make it all look warm and fuzzy when it’s not,” he said.
“An environmental group said it intends to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to determine whether stormwater from Los Alamos County should be regulated by a federal pollution permit under the Clean Water Act.”
Pollutants — including mercury, copper, cyanide, gross alpha radiation and PCB chemicals — have been detected well above human health and state water quality standards in stormwater runoff samples, attorneys for Taos-based Amigos Bravos said in a letter Wednesday to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and David Gray, acting regional administrator.
According to the letter, levels of PCBs, linked to liver and thyroid cancer and reproductive damage, have been detected at levels thousands of times greater than state standards. Runoff from rain or melting snowpack carries metals and chemicals through the finger-like canyons that surround Los Alamos National Laboratory and urban areas of the county.
Amigos Bravos, a water conservation group, petitioned the EPA nearly five years ago to determine whether the water quality violations in Los Alamos County required a federal permit. Such permits are used to enforce water quality standards and keep pollution below certain levels.
Chemical contamination more than four times the state limit was detected late last month at the edge of a plume in the aquifer roughly 1,000 feet below Los Alamos National Laboratory.
It is the closest high-level measurement of hexavalent chromium detected near the well used to pump drinking water to Los Alamos County, roughly a third of a mile away.
“Our drinking water supply is safe, and we are vigilantly working to keep it that way,” said Tim Glasco, utilities manager for Los Alamos County.
Hexavelent chromium, an industrial chemical tied to lung and other cancers, was found pooled below Sandia and Mortandad canyons in 2005, and environmental managers have since been working to define the full scope of the contamination. It spans at least a mile long and half-mile wide, and abuts San Ildefonso Pueblo.
"If a nuclear weapon were to explode right now, what would you choose? Live or die?" Over the course of a brutally honest conversation between two friends, the International Committee of the Red Cross' (ICRC) powerful short film shows the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the psychological trauma which would inevitably result from their use - and why we need to ban them. So powerful, in fact, that it just won a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival, one of the highest recognitions in the creative and advertising industry!
At ICAN works closely with the ICRC and celebrates their work to raise awareness about the unacceptable humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the need for all countries to join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons.
Powerful storytelling like this will help open eyes all over the world. Help us spread this message further:
Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, anti-war activist and former US military analyst famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, joins Joe Cirincione for a rare in-depth interview. Daniel discusses what he learned about US nuclear strategy during his time working at the RAND Corporation and the Pentagon, the use of deterrence theory to justify current nuclear arsenals, and the morality of threatening nuclear war.
Also: Early Warning nuclear news analysis with Ploughshares Fund Deputy Director of Policy Mary Kaszynski and Roger L. Hale Fellow Catherine Killough https://www.ploughshares.org/pressthebutton
Listen and subscribe on libsyn
The incredible unknown story of “nuclear martyr” Nikos Nikiforidis
On March 5, 1951, 22-year-old Nikos Nikiforidis was executed in Greece because he was promoting the Stockholm Antinuclear Appeal (1950). Honoring his death, Greek IPPNW and PADOP organized an event this March in Athens to commemorate him and his courage. Below is an amalgamation of two presentations given about Nikiforidis at that event.
Under present conditions, it seems inconceivable that a 22-year-old fighter for the anti-nuclear movement was arrested, sentenced to death by court martial and executed in Thessaloniki, on a charge of collecting signatures under the Stockholm Appeal for the abolition and prohibition of all nuclear weapons. But Nikos Nikiforidis was the first person (and perhaps also the only one) in the world to suffer such a fate.
At that time, the cold war was at its height on the international stage, and Greece was geographically on the border of the two worlds, the prevailing doctrine of its foreign policy being the “threat from the north”.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says southeastern New Mexico, which is home to one of the world’s most prolific oil and gas basins, is not the right place for storing spent nuclear fuel.
In a letter to Holtec International, she outlined her concerns about plans to build a multibillion-dollar facility that would be capable of temporarily storing tons of high-level radioactive waste from commercial reactors around the U.S.
Nearly 2,500 oil and gas wells and other mineral developments operated by dozens of different businesses are located within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of the proposed site. Garcia Richard contends that storing the waste above active oil, gas and mining operations raises serious safety concerns.
She accused the company of not addressing the potential safety issues and suggested that it hasn’t been forthcoming in its filings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering whether to issue a 40-year license for the facility.
“There is no guarantee that high-level nuclear waste can be safely transported to and through New Mexico. There is no guarantee that there won’t be a hazardous interaction between the storage site and nearby oil, gas and mining activities. There is no guarantee that this site will truly be ‘interim’ and won’t become the permanent dumping ground for our nation’s nuclear waste,” she said in a statement.
Holtec International has argued that the federal government has unmet obligations to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at nuclear power plants and the proposed facility is needed.
The U.S. Department of Energy in 2016 drafted a list of 17 projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory and in the surrounding town to clean up soil and groundwater that remained contaminated decades after the Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear weapons work.
At the time, more than $2 billion had been spent in a decade on environmental cleanup projects. The Department of Energy estimated it would cost another $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion to finish the job — and up to 25 more years.
The work is far from complete.
“Why should we be the ones to take this negative project on and put up with the consequences?” says Rose Gardner, a florist who lives 35 miles from the proposed site. “We know it’s supposed to be consent-based. They’re not getting consent. The actual people aren’t for it. And without community support, it won’t go.”
Thirty-five miles out of Carlsbad, in the pancake-flat desert of southeast New Mexico, there’s a patch of scrub-covered dirt that may offer a fix — albeit temporarily — to one of the nation’s most vexing and expensive environmental problems: What to do with our nuclear waste?
Despite more than 50 years of searching and billions of dollars spent, the federal government still hasn’t been able to identify a permanent repository for nuclear material. No state seems to want it.
So instead, dozens of states are stuck with it. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, a still-radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, is spread across the country at power plants and sites in 35 states.
The issue has dogged politicians for decades. Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently described the situation as a “logjam.” But some hope that this remote, rural corner of New Mexico may present a breakthrough.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) held a public hearing on June 20th at its Washington, DC Headquarters. The DNFSB’s goals for the hearing were (1) to discuss Department of Energy (DOE) actions to strengthen the safety posture of solid waste operations and (2) gather information on safety controls to address the vulnerabilities associated with handling and processing solid nuclear wastes.
The Live Stream of the Hearing can be seen here: http://stream.sparkstreetdigital.com/20190620-dnfsb.html?id=20190620-dnfsb
The Board will hold the hearing record open until the close of business on July 20, 2019.
Members of the public can submit written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org until July 20.
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Multiple concerns were raised by panel members Wednesday June 21, 2019 during a forum on nuclear waste in the state of New Mexico hosted by the Santa Fe Democratic Party Platform and Resolutions Committee at the Center for Progress and Justice in Santa Fe.
Land Commissioner Garcia Richard said her office has direct oversight of mineral leasing at the proposed Holtec site. She made public a letter she sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing her concerns about representations made by Holtec to the NRC and New Mexicans about its control of the proposed site as well as agreements it claims to have secured from the state Land Office. She said while the Eddy-Leah County Energy Alliance LLC privately owns the surface of the proposed site, the State Land Office owns the mineral estate and that has not been disclosed by Holtec.
How hypersonic missiles — which travel at more than 15 times the speed of sound — are touching off a new global arms race that threatens to change the nature of warfare.
[T]he new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”. – Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who downloaded and publicized the new policy document before the Pentagon pulled it from the internet.
On March 6, 2018, the grand ballroom at the Sphinx Club in Washington was packed with aerospace-industry executives waiting to hear from Michael D. Griffin. Weeks earlier, Secretary of Defense James Mattis named the 69-year-old Maryland native as the Pentagon’s under secretary for research and engineering, a job that comes with an annual budget of more than $17 billion. So the dark-suited attendees at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference were eager to learn what type of work he would favor.
US joint chiefs of staff posted then removed paper that suggests nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results’
[T]he new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”. – Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who downloaded and publicized the new policy document before the Pentagon pulled it from the internet.
theguardian.com | The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability”, according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted by the US joint chiefs of staff last week.
The document, entitled Nuclear Operations, was published on 11 June, and was the first such doctrine paper for 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in US military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war – which they believe is a highly dangerous mindset.
“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the joint chiefs’ document says. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”
WASHINGTON — The U.S. agency responsible for making explosive materials used in nuclear weapons is facing challenges that could impact the country’s planned modernization of its nuclear arsenal, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, is facing three main challenges, according to the report: a dwindling supply of explosive materials, aging and deteriorating infrastructure, and difficulty in recruiting and training qualified staff.
This report comes amid congressional debate over the cost of modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, an effort driven by President Donald Trump.
NNSA’s supply of materials, which are “highly specialized” with specific chemical and physical characteristics, are in low supply, the report says. Furthermore, the NNSA is lacking the knowledge base to produce the materials, as the recipes to make them were not well-documented, or the processes themselves infrequently practiced, the report notes.
Washington, D.C.—Today, during a briefing on Capitol Hill, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, which was established by the Washington-based Center for International Policy and includes ex-military officers, former Pentagon officials, and former White House and Congressional budget analysts, released a new report on how the Pentagon can save taxpayer dollars while at the same time improving security for our nation. The report, A Sustainable Defense: More Security, Less Spending, details how the U.S. can cut over $1.2 trillion in projected Pentagon spending over the next decade while at the same time improving national security. (A link to the full report is above, and a summary can be found here and a two-page fact sheet is here).
“There needs to be a fresh approach to defense strategy that makes America more secure while consuming fewer resources,” stated William Hartung, co-editor of the report. He continued, “A new strategy must be more restrained than the military-led approach adopted in this century, replacing a policy of perpetual war with one that uses military force only as a last resort when vital security interests are at stake.”
The Sustainable Defense Task Force produced the report to counter the January 2018 National Defense Strategy and the 2019 National Defense Strategy Commission. “The National Defense Strategy Commission report is an exercise in threat inflation that exaggerates the military threats posed by Russia and China while ignoring urgent, non-military challenges to our security,” said report co-editor Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy.
A coalition of nuclear watchers and environmental groups on Friday night hosted a public forum in Aiken, during which speakers unloaded on the proposed plutonium pit production expansion at both the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The get-together, held at the Aiken Municipal Building, was largely led by Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements. He was backed by Marylia Kelley, the executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, and Jay Coghlan, who leads Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
Together, the three called into question the actual need for more pits, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s ability to successfully produce them, and discussed at length the environmental and health repercussions that could come with such a significant weapons-oriented mission.
The public “can be effective against bad Department of Energy ideas, like the pit production one,” Clements said early in his remarks.
At least 80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading nuclear policy document. Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.
“They keep coming up with this number, 80, and I don’t know where they get this from,” Clements said. “They haven’t justified it.”
AIKEN — A forum regarding the Department of Energy’s proposed expanded production of plutonium pits at Savannah River Site was held Friday evening.
About 70 people gathered in the auditorium of the Aiken Municipal Building to hear speakers present information against the proposal and encourage the public to write to their representatives in opposition to the plan.
The Department of Energy has proposed to use the former Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility as the location to produce about 50 plutonium pits per year. The pits make up the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons.
Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch, said the department should not rush into a new project at the MOX plant, which was shut down in October.
Anti-nuclear activists fired away Friday at what they said is a dangerous and little known plan to produce deadly atomic weapons components at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.
The federal government has proposed a multibillion dollar plutonium pit factory that could create as many as 1,700 jobs as part of an effort to make fresh plutonium, a major ingredient in atomic bombs.
But the proposed factory is raising concerns about its risk to the environment and the public, in addition to how it would be viewed by world leaders. Critics say the government may use the pits in a new type of nuclear weapon, instead of only replenishing the existing stockpile with fresh plutonium.
Savannah River Site Watch, a nuclear watchdog organization that tracks SRS, held a public meeting Friday night in Aiken County to brief people on the government’s plan at SRS, a 310-square-mile complex in western South Carolina.
“We don’t think people are really aware of what is going on: that this new mission is fraught with risk that could come to SRS,’’ Savannah River Site Watch director Tom Clements told The State.
Nuclear watchdog groups from New Mexico and California joined SRS Watch for the forum in Aiken County, where many SRS workers live. Before the Friday meeting, the groups held a news conference to voice concerns. The U.S. Department of Energy plans its own forum on the proposal June 27 in North Augusta.
Anti-nuclear activists fired away Friday at what they said is a dangerous and little known plan to produce deadly atomic weapons components at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.
The federal government has proposed a multibillion dollar plutonium pit factory that could create as many as 1,700 jobs as part of an effort to make fresh plutonium, a major ingredient in atomic bombs.
Pro-nuclear groups say the pit plant is a good replacement for the mixed oxide fuel facility, commonly known as MOX. Not only will it provide jobs, but it will help keep the United States safe, they say.
Clements and Jay Coghlan, who directs Nuclear Watch New Mexico, don’t see it that way.
“It will be a great waste of taxpayer’s money,’’ Coghlan said. “There also is a long history of chronic safety problems and environmental or waste problems associated with pit production.’’
The proposed factory is raising concerns about its risk to the environment and the public, in addition to how it would be viewed by world leaders. Critics say the government may use the pits in a new type of nuclear weapon, instead of only replenishing the existing stockpile with fresh plutonium.
mynorthwest.com June 7, 2019
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s governor said Friday she’s opposed to plans by a New Jersey-based company to build a multibillion-dollar facility in her state to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors around the U.S.
In a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the interim storage of high-level radioactive waste poses significant and unacceptable risks to residents, the environment and the region’s economy.
She cited the ongoing oil boom in the Permian Basin, which spans parts of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, as well as million-dollar agricultural interests that help drive the state’s economy.
Any disruption of agricultural or oil and gas activities as a result of a perceived or actual incident would be catastrophic, she said, adding that such a project could discourage future investment in the area.
“Establishing an interim storage facility in this region would be economic malpractice,” she wrote.
Holtec International has defended its plans, citing unmet obligations by the federal government to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at nuclear power plants.
Hear his remarkable analysis of rising tensions with Iran, Trump’s flaws, and his ideas for a saner nuclear policy: https://www.ploughshares.org/pressthebutton
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The loading of 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel has been indefinitely halted at the San Onofre independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI), operated by Southern California Edison and designed by Holtec International.
Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fined Southern California Edison an unprecedented $116,000 for failing to report the near drop of an 54 ton canister of radioactive waste, and is delaying giving the go-ahead to further loading operations until serious questions raised by the incident have been resolved.
Critics have long been pointing out that locating a dump for tons of waste, lethal for millions of years, in a densely populated area, adjacent to I-5 and the LA-to-San Diego rail corridor, just above a popular surfing beach, in an earthquake and tsunami zone, inches above the water table, and yards from the rising sea doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense from a public safety standpoint.
The near drop incident last August, revealed by a whistleblower, has drawn further attention to the many defects in the Holtec-designed and manufactured facility. It has been discovered that the stainless steel canisters, only five-eights inches thick, are being damaged as they are lowered into the site’s concrete silos. Experts have warned that the scratching or gouging that is occurring makes the thin-walled canisters even more susceptible to corrosion-induced cracking in the salty sea air, risking release of their deadly contents into the environment and even of hydrogen explosions.
Furthermore, critics point out, these thin-walled canisters are welded shut and cannot be inspected, maintained, monitored or repaired.
Some key arms control agreements could be on the chopping block.
If President Donald Trump doesn’t act quickly, the nuclear arms race, which has been fairly dormant for decades, might break into a gallop.
Trump is famously hostile toward international treaties, especially those that constrain America’s actions, even if they’re actions that no one is particularly keen to take. The Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty are all commitments that Trump has ripped up for no good reason.
The scuttling of that last accord, often abbreviated as the INF Treaty, which was signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev (and eliminated all U.S. and Soviet missiles having a range between 500 and 5,000 kilometers), marked the first time Trump abrogated a nuclear arms agreement between the United States and Russia, the two major nuclear powers.
Bob Peurifoy worked at the Sandia Labs for 39 years, serving as director of nuclear weapon development and retiring as a vice president. He was the driving force behind many safety improvements to U.S. nuclear weapons and a strong believer in conservative maintenance of the stockpile. Bob was also a strong critic of aggressive Life Extension Programs that further diverged the stockpile from its tested pedigree and wasted taxpayers’ money. As Bob’s friend and colleague Gordon Moe puts it, “Bob’s family and I hope that Bob’s wisdom and reason as reflected in the Tribute will continue to benefit humanity for many more years through its use as a reference by researchers in the field of nuclear weaponry.”
VIEW FULL TRIBUTE – PDF
The Energy Department’s most environmentally important and technically ambitious project to clean up Cold War nuclear weapons waste has stalled, putting at jeopardy an already long-delayed effort to protect the Columbia River in central Washington.
In a terse letter last week, state officials said the environmental project is at risk of violating key federal court orders that established deadlines after past ones were repeatedly missed.
Two multibillion-dollar industrial facilities intended to turn highly radioactive sludge into solid glass at the Hanford nuclear site have been essentially mothballed. Construction was halted in 2012 because of design flaws and Energy Department managers have foundered in finding alternatives, according to the letter that threatens new litigation.
The department has stored 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge left over from the production of plutonium in 177 leaky underground tanks on a desert plateau a few miles from the Columbia River, raising concerns that the material has migrated into groundwater and eventually will reach the largest river in the West.
Listen to the latest episode of Ploughshares Fund’s new podcast, Press the Button, featuring Eric Schlosser, filmmaker and author of several publications, including Command and Control. This is a particularly powerful episode to share. Eric is clear and compelling about the inherent risks of our deterrence strategy, the fallibility of the US nuclear command and control and the horrors from the use of just one nuclear weapon. He is one of the most compelling advocates on our issues in the country today. It’s worth a listen!
The Department of Energy would no longer have to make 80 plutonium pits a year by the end of the next decade, if legislation unveiled Monday in the Democrat-controlled House becomes law.
EXCHANGE MONITOR | June 4, 2019
The legislation, due for a vote Tuesday by House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee “would repeal the requirement for the Secretary of Energy to demonstrate the capability to produce war reserve plutonium pits at a rate sufficient to produce 80 pits per year by 2027,” according to the subcommittee’s portion of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The NDAA is the annual policy bill that sets funding limits for defense programs including those managed by the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The full House Armed Services Committee is set to vote on the entire House NDAA on June 12.
Congress should use the new defense authorization bill to bar the deployment of new, dangerous, and redundant nuclear weapons.
The United States has the world’s most powerful military ever. It spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined and has developed many of the most destructive conventional weapons ever created to ensure that America can address any threat. Congress consistently authorizes investments in innovative technology and weaponry to protect our country and our allies. We also possess a strong nuclear deterrent.
These are insanely destructive weapons with an unparalleled ability to kill and destroy, both instantly and for years afterward from the nuclear fallout. Nuclear weapons should never, ever be used first and new nuclear weapons must not be designed to be more usable.
Yet last year, the Trump Administration came to Congress with just such a request to develop a new “low-yield” nuclear warhead for our submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Trident D5. Congress foolishly authorized the development of this warhead on a party-line vote, but there is still time to correct course.
Re: The need to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in connection with plans to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
They are not because of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which is responsible for shutting down nuclear testing by major and regional powers for more than two decades. Walking away from the CTBT would be extraordinarily dumb and dangerous, but the Trump administration has taken a step in this direction.
The CTBT was negotiated in 1996, but it isn’t solidly in place. While Russia has signed and ratified it, Senate Republicans rejected it in 1999. China, like the United States, has signed but not ratified. There are other holdouts, including India and Pakistan. And yet none of these states has tested nuclear weapons since 1998. When a treaty is negotiated, it’s common diplomatic practice not to undercut its objectives while awaiting its entry into force. Hence the two-decades-long moratorium on testing by every nuclear-armed state except North Korea.
SANTA FE – A building at Los Alamos National Laboratory with a price pegged at more than $1 billion apparently has some bad plumbing.
A federal safety oversight board recently reported that the operations staff at the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building found a leak in the building’s radioactive liquid waste system.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a frequent LANL critic who called attention to the recent safety board report, said the plumbing problem is symptomatic of the lab’s history of safety issues, which has included using the wrong kind of cat litter as a desiccant when packing a radioactive waste drum. A reaction in the drum caused it to breach in 2014 and contaminate the nation’s nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad.
Thirty years ago, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square became the focus for large-scale protests, which were crushed by China’s Communist rulers.
In the 1980s, China was going through huge changes. The ruling Communist Party began to allow some private companies and foreign investment. Leader Deng Xiaoping hoped to boost the economy and raise living standards. However, the move brought with it corruption, while at the same time raising hopes for greater political openness. The Communist Party was divided between those urging more rapid change and hardliners wanting to maintain strict state control. In the mid-1980s, student-led protests started, and in spring 1989, the protests grew, with demands for greater political freedom. On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops were sent to crush pro-democracy student protests in the famous square in central Beijing, leaving at least hundreds—and possibly thousands—of people dead.
The casualties included soldiers, but were overwhelmingly unarmed demonstrators who had been protesting in the square for six weeks, turning the site into the hub for protests in 400 other cities nationwide. Millions of people took part in the demonstrations, with more than 1 million people descending on Tiananmen Square.
As part of an ongoing brutal crackdown of internal dissent, Chinese authorities have carried out a harsh policy of history suppression, forbidding on-line or other discussions of the events at Tiananmen Square. In light of that it is worth recalling what U.S. government officials learned at the time and how they assessed Beijing’s response to internal dissent.
To mark an event that decisively shaped contemporary China, the National Security Archive is republishing three documentary E-books that appeared on previous anniversaries, in 1999, 2001, and 2015. The declassified documents demonstrate that U.S. embassy officials realized very quickly that the Chinese military had carried out a massacre ordered by top officials who feared the public expression of dissent could threaten Communist Party rule. VIEW HERE
Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A building at Los Alamos National Laboratory with a price pegged at more than $1 billion apparently has some bad plumbing.
A federal safety oversight board recently reported that the operations staff at the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building found a leak in the building’s radioactive liquid waste system.
Lab watchdogs have labeled RLUOB, which got the green light for construction in 2011, as the most expensive building in New Mexico. The lab’s website says it’s part of a capital project to replace aging Cold War-era facilities.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a frequent LANL critic who called attention to the recent safety board report, said the plumbing problem is symptomatic of the lab’s history of safety issues, which has included using the wrong kind of cat litter as a desiccant when packing a radioactive waste drum. A reaction in the drum caused it to breach in 2014 and contaminate the nation’s nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad.
“Remember, this is the gang that couldn’t get it straight between organic and inorganic cat litter, sending a radioactive waste drum that ruptured and closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for three years, costing the American taxpayer three billion dollars to reopen,” Coghlan said in a statement. “Now we learn that they don’t know elementary plumbing for liquid radioactive wastes lines, and we’re supposed to trust them while they unjustifiably expand plutonium pit production?”
LANL is in the process of ramping up for a congressional mandate to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation’s weapons complex, for production of “pits,” the plutonium cores of nuclear weapons as part of a huge plan to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
The baffling non-answers from the senior administration officials strongly suggest that the president’s impulse for a grand U.S.-Chinese-Russian arms control bargain is not backed up with a realistic plan.
On May 14, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Sochi, Russia to discuss what the State Department called a “new era” in “arms control to address new and emerging threats” with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin.
The trip follows reports that Donald Trump has directed his administration to seek a new arms control agreement with Russia and China that should include: “all the weapons, all the warheads, and all the missiles.”
U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) because it only limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons and does not cover Russia’s stockpile of sub-strategic warheads in central storage inside Russia.
New START, which caps each side’s enormous and devastating long-range nuclear weapons to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed strategic missiles and bombers, will expire in February 2021 if Trump and Putin don’t agree to an extension.
Democrats warn Trump may use ’emergency’ loophole to sell missiles to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.
Washington, DC – Democrats in the United States Senate have warned that the Trump administration is preparing to approve a major new arms sale to Saudi Arabia, using an “emergency” loophole to bypass Congress.
“I am expecting that the administration is going to notice a major arms sale through emergency powers,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, told Al Jazeera on Thursday, after he said an administration official gave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “informal notice” of the forthcoming announcement.
US arms control law allows Congress to reject weapons sales to foreign countries but an exemption in the law allows the president to waive the need for congressional approval by declaring a national security emergency.
Last week, Nuclear Watch New Mexico was in Washington participating in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s 31st annual DC Days. As a recent addition to the NukeWatch NM staff, this was my first time attending DC Days. The week consisted of a Sunday training day followed by three days straight of lobbying meetings with congress and other government departments that have a huge say in new nuclear weapons or energy developments. When the meeting days concluded, I also attended ANA’s Spring Meeting, which is a two-day debriefing and planning session to discuss thoughts on the week and new plans for the year ahead. This week was not only informative but enlightening, in terms of how I learned the ins-and outs of congress and the true functioning (or lack thereof, occasionally) of government. A large part of why I learned as much as I did and why I did feel so engaged, was due to being surrounded by the most genuine and helpful set of people. I would not have felt as comfortable in this world of politics (which is completely foreign to me) if it was not for the other members of ANA organizations that treated me as an equal contributor, despite my lack of knowledge in certain areas. This is a brief introduction to my time in DC, but there are more technical issues to discuss! A following post will contain the specific details of the issues ANA, and NukeWatch specifically, tackled during the week, including: Lobbying for No New Bomb Plants, Reducing proposed plutonium pit production, fighting Yucca mountain & consolidated interim storage – proposing alternatives to these, supporting a No First Use Policy, and much, much more.
Face-to-face mediation is expected in June between public interest groups and the New Mexico Environment Department over changes to the way waste volume is calculated underground at the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
exchangemonitor.com | May 23, 2019
The New Mexico Court of Appeals often encourages mediation in cases involving state agencies in hopes parties can bridge their differences outside the courtroom, officials say.
A lawsuit filed in January by Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), which challenged a change to the state hazardous waste permit for WIPP, has been stayed pending the talks.
New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Linda Vanzi issued the stay May 2 and called for the parties to file a status report on the mediation by July 31.
The mediation itself should occur in late June, SRIC Administrator Don Hancock said by email.
Then-state Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate in December authorized a permit modification allowing DOE to stop counting empty spaces between container drums as transuranic waste. The order adopted the findings of state hearing officer, who recommended waste volume counted against the disposal cap set by the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act should cover only the actual waste inside containers.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico said the report “makes clear that DOE is blowing smoke when it says that it will produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 for new unneeded nuclear weapons. … They need to slow down, do it right and for sure do it safely. Above all the feds must concretely demonstrate a real need for expanded pit production before they fleece the American taxpayer of tens of billions of dollars.”
SANTA FE – A recent study casts serious doubts on the potential success of any of the options considered by the U.S. Department of Energy for meeting mandates on the manufacture of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons – most of them involving Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The congressionally funded study also says that it would be “very high risk” to try to meet the nation’s ambitious goals for making bomb “pits” by installing more equipment and adding an extra work shift for a production “surge” at LANL’s existing plutonium facility, an idea that has been discussed.
Some of the risks cited in the report include whether there is the ability to stage, store and ship waste, and “the transport/transfer complexity of radioactive material.”
The study goes further and questions the overall plan to ramp up U.S. pit production, which is estimated to cost $14 billion to $28 billion, saying that “eventual success of the strategy to reconstitute plutonium pit production is far from certain.”
Part 2 of NCR’s look at the toxic legacy of one nuclear weapons plant
Editor’s note: As the government invests in the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, while weakening environmental regulations and federal laws protecting worker safety, National Catholic Reporter looks at the toxic legacy of one shuttered weapons plant in Kansas City, Missouri.
In a three-part series about the Kansas City Plant on Bannister Road and its successor eight miles south, NCR reviews hundreds of pages of government reports and environmental summaries, and interviews more than two dozen sources, including five plant workers and their families, three former federal employees who worked nearby, nuclear industry and government officials, health experts, business sources, state environmental regulators and a former city councilman. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.
If the Kansas City Plant was not a “dirty” site, then why were its workers getting sick and dying prematurely? The question haunted television reporter Russ Ptacek. In November 2009, he began investigating the Bannister Federal Complex, a 300-acre property that housed the post-war nuclear components plant as well as various federal offices leased by the General Services Administration (GSA). Ptacek began his inquiry after he was shown a list of nearly 100 sick and dying workers compiled by Barbara Rice, a retired data analyst, who worked for 31 years on the GSA side of the complex.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico & other members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability with Congresswoman Deb Haaland at #DCdays this evening. Thank you @RepDebHaaland for taking the time to meet with us! pic.twitter.com/vDyJmj07l9
— Nuclear Watch NM (@NuclearWatchNM) May 21, 2019
— Nuclear Watch NM (@NuclearWatchNM) May 21, 2019
“This report makes clear that DOE is blowing smoke when it says that it will produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 for new unneeded nuclear weapons. After all, this is the gang that can’t shoot straight. They need to slow down, do it right and for sure do it safely. Above all the feds must concretely demonstrate a real need for expanded pit production before they fleece the American taxpayer of tens of billions of dollars.” — Jay Coghlan, Director – Nuclear Watch New Mexico
“It’s so scary that my child has been exposed to this because I have no idea how it’s going to affect him,” one mother said.
Ashley Day has always worried about the health risks of living a few miles from a defunct nuclear power plant in Piketon, Ohio. So, when her son Kendon came home Monday and told her school had been canceled for the rest of the year, she had a sinking feeling there was a connection.
A few hours later, her fears were confirmed: The Scioto Valley Local School District declared in a letter that Zahn’s Corner Middle School would be shut down for the remainder of the school year because of possible radioactive contamination from the nearby Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which the federal Department of Energy is in the process of decommissioning.
“I felt anxiety, anger, and paranoia all at once,” she said. “It’s so scary that my child has been exposed to this because I have no idea how it’s going to affect him.”
“Falling short of the bare minimum in the eyes of the DOE is a far cry from where the public expects or needs LANL to be.”
A new lab manager, a new mission to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal with 30 plutonium “pits” for nuclear bombs, and the same old lackadaisical approach to safety.
Welcome to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a company town where the culture is apparently so ingrained, even tough Department of Energy criticisms are unable to penetrate. At a time when saber-rattling is de rigueur, when concerns over North Korea’s arsenal and a nuclear Iran are high, when HBO is airing “Chernobyl,” that does nothing to instill public trust.
LANL got dinged last year after it mistakenly used a commercial air cargo service for a cross-country radioactive plutonium shipment. In 2014, LANL’s use of the wrong kitty litter burst a storage barrel and prompted a nearly three-year shutdown of the nation’s one-and-only nuclear waste repository, WIPP in Carlsbad. And the year before, a general slate of safety issues at the lab prompted a moratorium on plutonium work.
The latest weaknesses “if uncorrected, can allow layers of defense for nuclear safety to degrade to the extent they did leading to the pause in July 2013 of key fissile material operations in the Plutonium Facility at LANL for over four years,” the DOE audit says.
And that is a huge issue considering the lab is ramping up production on the devices that act as nuclear bomb triggers. The 30-pit order is expected to be met in six years, and there’s no other facility in the country that can fill it.
(CNN) Are we safe? That’s the concern that’s been in the back of neighbors’ minds when they look at the looming Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Pike County, Ohio, Jennifer Chandler said.
“It looks like they make clouds there,” the Piketon village councilwoman thought as a child, seeing steam coming out of the stacks. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have any idea what they did.”
The US Department of Energy plant was built to produce enriched uranium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during the Cold War and, in later years, supported commercial nuclear reactors. One of three such plants in the United States, it operated from 1954 to 2001, when it commenced decontamination and decommissioning, which continues today.
In the past five years, five students in the nearby Scioto Valley Local School District have been diagnosed with cancer; three of them have died, Chandler said.
NPT Looks Ahead to 2020 Review Conference Without Consensus Recommendations
NPT states-parties failed to adopt a common set of recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference on the final day of the two week-long 2019 PrepCom on Friday, May 10. Nevertheless, most states expressed optimism in concluding statements about prospects for next year’s review conference and underlined the importance of action in the intervening 12 months on key NPT-related commitments.
The recommendations drafted by the chair, Syed Hussin of Malaysia, failed to garner consensus especially after a round of revisions that sought to take into account the suggestions of the majority of NPT states-parties led several nuclear-weapon states and some of their allies to express their displeasure and their support for the earlier draft. Since NPT states did not adopt the revised draft recommendations by consensus, the document will be issued instead as a working paper submitted by the PrepCom chair. The chair also issued an 8-paragraph reflection on the PrepCom.
In his closing remarks, the incoming president-designate of the 2020 Review Conference, Rafael Mariono Grossi of Argentina promised to “begin work on Monday” on an ambitious plan for consultations with states-parties.
He later tweeted: “As #NPT2019 closes work starts to prepare a successful Review of Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2020. I will consult extensively reach out to all. Everybody’s goal is success. No less.
As #NPT2019 closes work starts to prepare a successful Review of Non Proliferation Treaty in 2020. I will consult extensively reach out to all. Everybody’s goal is success. No less. @UN_Disarmament @CancilleriaARG @ArmsControlNow @NTI_WMD pic.twitter.com/pbaWHq2rsN
— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) May 10, 2019
WASHINGTON — The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will be late with initial deliveries to the Pentagon of two refurbished nuclear weapons, the head of the semiautonomous nuclear-weapons agency said here Wednesday.
The Air Force was supposed to get its refurbished B61, to be called B61-12, in 2020. The Navy was supposed to get its first W88 Alt 370 in December 2019. Because of defects with electrical capacitors needed for both weapons, those those dates are now “expected” to slip, an NNSA spokesperson said. How far is yet to be determined.
After disclosing the slip in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told Weapons Complex Morning Briefing that her agency has been evaluating the bad capacitors for “the last couple of months.”
Capacitors store electric charges. The defective items intended for the B61-12 and W88 Alt 370 are commercial units procured by the NNSA’s Kansas City National Security Campus, which acquires and manufactures the non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons. Gordon-Hagerty said it will take several months to decide what to do about the wonky components.
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Selected Press Items
There are lots of interesting nuggets in the Government Accountability Office’s recent dismantlement report. “Nuclear Weapons: Actions Needed by NNSA to Clarify Dismantlement Performance Goal,” April 2014, GAO-14-449, www.gao.gov/assets/670/662840.pdf
Selected highlights below. Verbatim excerpts follow page numbers (add 5 for PDF page number). General points in italics are mine.
Republican presidents, not Dems, make significant stockpile cuts, and do so unilaterally.
1: …in September 1991, the President announced several unilateral initiatives to reduce the U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons arsenal. The following month, the Soviet President responded that the Soviet Union would reduce its nonstrategic nuclear weapons. In addition, as part of the annual presidential stockpile review process, in 2004, the President directed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced by more than 40 percent by 2012 and, in 2007, he directed an additional reduction of the stockpile, making it roughly one-quarter the size of cold war-era levels.
Dismantlements resulting from New START are being held hostage to construction of the Uranium Processing Facility and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility at LANL.
29: DOD officials told us that the retirement of additional weapons from the stockpile stemming from New START will be predicated on the successful restoration of the NNSA weapons production infrastructure, including the construction and operation of new NNSA facilities supporting nuclear weapons production—the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility at LANL, and the Uranium Production Facility at Y-12—which they did not believe could be achieved until the late 2020s or early 2030s.
Pantex dismantlement workforce could be lost.
29: …this gap in dismantlement workload in the mid-2020s could result in the loss of certified dismantlement personnel because dismantlement technicians at Pantex lose their certifications if they have not worked on a weapon type within the past year. As a result, Pantex may need to retrain and recertify sufficient numbers of new dismantlement personnel in the late 2020s to resume dismantlement efforts to address retired weapons stemming from New START.
NNSA dismantlement rates have plummeted.
21: According to our analysis of dismantlement data, since the early 1990s, NNSA’s dismantlement rates have generally decreased, with NNSA dismantling about 1,000 fewer weapons annually in recent years than it was dismantling in the mid-1990s. In addition, in some years, only one or two types of retired war reserve weapons were dismantled.
NNSA dismantlement reporting is misleading.
23: How NNSA measures progress toward its performance goal of dismantling all weapons retired prior to fiscal year 2009 by the end of fiscal year 2022 is unclear and may make its reported progress misleading, including its practice of not tracking the actual date of retirement of individual dismantled weapons and its plans to reinstate to the stockpile—rather than dismantle—certain weapons retired prior to fiscal year 2009.
Nine percent of “retired” nuclear weapons may go back to the active stockpile.
25: …how NNSA measures progress toward its dismantlement performance goal is also unclear and may be misleading because some weapons retired prior to fiscal year 2009 are reinstated to the stockpile rather than dismantled. Specifically, in our analysis of NNSA’s dismantlement schedule as of March 2013 for weapons retired prior to fiscal year 2009, we found that approximately 9 percent of the weapons retired prior to fiscal year 2009 are scheduled to be reinstated during fiscal year 2013 through fiscal year 2022 or later.
Long retired weapons may come back to active stockpile.
27: The W84-0s and W80-1s currently in managed retirement may not be available to NNSA for dismantlement prior to fiscal year 2022 because both of these systems are being held in managed retirement as candidates for potential reuse as the warhead on a future long-range standoff missile to replace the Air Force’s current ALCM.
Contrary to NNSA claims Life Extension Programs will not decrease total stockpile size, especially when coupled with slower dismantlement rates.
28: As a hedge against technical problems in the life extension program process and in the refurbished warheads, however, the W76-0s are to remain in managed retirement and be unavailable for dismantlement until the life extension program processes and W76-1 unit reliability are “satisfactorily established,” …creating uncertainty as to whether the W76-0s in managed retirement will be released to NNSA in time for dismantlement by the end of fiscal year 2022.
Inconsistent W76-1 production.
28: These officials stated that it would be difficult to predict the completion of the W76-1 life extension program given inconsistent production, and that it was impossible to say whether the W76-0s in managed retirement could be released for dismantlement prior to fiscal year 2019 without additional confidence in NNSA’s production capability.
New START does not change total stockpile numbers, and as previously stated retired weapons can be pulled back to the active stockpile.
29: DOD officials said that the United States will meet the New START ceiling—1,550 operationally deployed nuclear weapons—to be in force by 2018 by transitioning currently deployed nuclear weapons to nondeployed “hedge” status without any significant change in the total stockpile size.
Interesting allusion to the Navy’s lack of support for the interoperable warhead, which could doom it for good.
32: …potential loss of military interest in a future planned common, or interoperable, warhead to replace the W78 and W88
GAO quotes NNSA estimated amounts for accelerated dismantlements, which might be handy for advocacy purposes. However, perhaps as a matter of its timing, the report fails to note the Obama Administration’s proposed 45% cut for dismantlement funding in FY 2015. Separately, the FY 2015 NNSA Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan states that dismantlements are only 1% of funding for Direct Stockpile Work.
33: NNSA estimated at the time that approximately $212 million in additional funding on top of the projected baseline budgets… would be needed to achieve the fiscal year 2018 dismantlement scenario. Alternatively, NNSA estimated that $265 million in additional funding on top of the projected baseline budgets… would be needed to achieve the fiscal year 2020 scenario.
Dismantlements save money!
35: According to Navy officials we interviewed, accelerating dismantlement of retired W76-0 warheads allowed the Navy to avoid constructing new weapon storage facilities, saving the Navy approximately $190 million in estimated construction costs.
41: NNSA is retaining two types of CSAs [Canned Subassemblies, AKA secondaries] as options for reuse in a potential future W78 warhead refurbishment… In addition, NNSA is also retaining four types of CSAs as options for reuse in a warhead on the Air Force’s planned long-range standoff missile… NNSA officials told us that CSAs associated with a certain warhead indicated as excess in the 2012 Production and Planning Directive are being retained in an indeterminate state pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids… the national labs’ retention letter has also characterized the CSA associated with this warhead as an “irreplaceable national asset.”
42: Y-12 is projected to disassemble far fewer CSAs than in NNSA’s 2009 Production and Planning Directive.
45: As of May 2013, Pantex was storing 3 million mark quality nonnuclear components as a contingency inventory for potential reuse in maintaining active stockpile or refurbished weapons.
49: Pantex site contractors told us that some of these boxes may contain parts that are up to 60 years old and that may be radiologically contaminated, which makes them difficult to handle and identify.
After a Failed Campaign, the State Must Return to Enforceable Cleanup At LANL
The June 30 deadline of the “3706 Campaign” to remove 3706 cubic meters of transuranic waste stored on the surface on Los Alamos Lab will be missed due to the radiation release and shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The campaign was part of a non-binding agreement with the NM Environment Department so there are no penalties associated with lack of performance. The problem is that much other cleanup at the Lab was delayed while the 3706 Campaign was prioritized.
The Lab missed the low bar of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste while the cleanup of over 1,000,000 cubic meters of all types of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated backfill buried across the Lab were put on the back burner. These vast amounts of buried wastes, dating back to the Lab’s early days, are covered under a 2005 Consent Order for the “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy waste. The Consent Order is enforceable with stipulated penalties of up to $3000/day for missed deliverables. But NMED has been hesitant to impose fines, because of DOE claims that the fines come out of the cleanup budget. The deadline for the last cleanup under the Consent Order is currently December 2015, which everyone agrees is impossible. But that end date could be extended, and should be extended, especially if the Lab was actually working on the legacy cleanup
NMED, to date, has granted over 95 extensions for Consent Order deliverables in favor of the 3706 Campaign. These extensions allow the Lab to not drill monitoring wells and to not perform cleanup investigations and work plans for sites across the Lab. The Lab claims that there is not enough money to address all the Consent Order deliverables, but the idea behind the Consent Order was that fines and the threat of fines would shake cleanup funding from DOE headquarters in DC. Cleanup without the big stick of possible fines just takes us back to the time when the small budget received annually just gets sprinkled around to where the cleanup “priorities” are perceived to be. Urgency and comprehensiveness go out the window.
The Cold War has been over for twenty years now and we in Northern New Mexico have been patient in removing LANL’s legacy waste.
But now Northern New Mexico has neither a 3706 Campaign that is complete, nor a Consent Order that will be complete by its deadline. NMED officials have stated, upon the successful completion of the 3706 Campaign, that they would consider renegotiating the Consent Order. We are waiting to see how NMED deals with the 3706 failure and we urge NMED to make the Consent Order the priority again. The Campaign approach has now been proven not to work.
In the meantime, we also have contaminated WIPP workers.
We have 707 possibly explosive drums probably created by Los Alamos spread across New Mexico and West Texas.
We have a damaged WIPP, which is shut down for up to three years and missing its deadlines for disposing waste.
We have other impacted DOE sites across the country, which will be missing deadlines for radioactive waste disposal.
We the taxpayers are no doubt going to spend hundreds of millions on this fiasco while the contractors continue to put money in their pockets.
The New Mexico Environment Department is the regulator here. Relying on LANL’s promises and plans to make things better must end. Time to return to the 2005 Consent Order and actually use the enforceable provisions in it.
LANL Management Irregularities Continue
Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the private consortium that runs Los Alamos National Laboratory under contract for the federal government will manage $2.1 billion of our taxpayer dollars this year. LANS should remember that they were hired to represent the nation’s interests, not the interests of the for-profit corporations running the Lab.
Scott Sandlin, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer, reported a $3.64 million judgment against Los Alamos National Laboratory for “breach of implied contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.” The plaintiffs claimed that Los Alamos conducted the federally funded bidding process, procurement and subsequent protest “using secret policies and procedures inimical to a fair and open bidding procedure.” The Journal disclosed that, according to the lawsuit, the contract was worth roughly $395 million over the first five years and almost $800 million over the decade.
Despite the judgment, LANS denied that it had departed from procedures and also denied deviating from its customary practices.
This follows the March resignation of Los Alamos National Laboratory Deputy Director Beth Sellers, the second-highest ranking administrator at the Lab, for failure to properly report a potential conflict of interest when her husband received a lab consulting contract in 2012. This was also from the ABQ Journal.
The Lab determined that the consultant agreement did not conform to prescribed LANL procedures and processes.” The consultant/husband charged two hours “for a discussion on environmental matters that never took place” and which was actually a visit to the Santa Fe Opera. Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the private consortium that runs the lab under contract with the federal government, reimbursed the government for over $23,000 for the improper contract.
This comes after the November 2013 revelation that Ex-Congresswoman Heather Wilson was paid by nuclear weapons labs the day after she left office. An Albuquerque Journal article built upon a Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General investigation, which determined that the Sandia and Los Alamos Labs had made approximately $450,000 in improper payments to Wilson up until March 2011, when she began to campaign for the Senate.
A DOE IG report said that the facts indicate that federal funds were used for prohibited lobbying activities, which that office is still investigating. The Labs were forced to return that money to the government, but not Wilson.
The Albuquerque Journal received the new information concerning the dates of Wilson’s contract with Sandia from Nuclear Watch New Mexico. The watchdog organization obtained the documents by appealing an initially rejected federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Give ¡Grande! New Mexico is Tomorrow!
On Tuesday, May 6th, you have the opportunity to support local nonprofits and generate significant funds for causes in New Mexico. Large and small gifts will combine for big impact that will support local efforts!
Just log onto www.givegrandenm.org and give to the nonprofits of your choice. Make a tax-deductible contribution online, and your gifts will be added to those of others as the whole state comes together to support the causes we all care about.
Also, come celebrate with us on Tuesday in Santa Fe! Join us to celebrate New Mexico’s first “Day of Giving” from 3:00-6:00 pm at San Isidro Plaza on the South Side! Print out and bring your Give ¡Grande! receipt to get 10 % off your meal at the Plaza Cafe Southside, the Capitol Bar & Grill, and Pizza Centro.
At 5 p.m. Plaza Cafe Southside will cut a giant cake shaped like the state of New Mexico. We also have invited TV stations to stop by about 5:00 pm to do broadcasts for their evening news.
98.1 Radio Free Santa Fe and 107.5 Outlaw Country will be broadcasting live throughout the celebration, and computers will be available for you to make donations on-site.
The Community Foundation Coalition of New Mexico (Coalition), comprised of the Albuquerque, Taos, Southern New Mexico, New Mexico and Santa Fe Community Foundations, is proud to host Give Grande NM, the biggest online philanthropic event in New Mexico history! Community members will come together to raise as much money as possible for local nonprofits in 24 hours. Every dollar will go directly to nonprofits! It’s a great way to recognize and support the positive work of these local organizations.
Donations will begin being accepted on May 06, 2014 12:00 AM MDT.
Enabled by your contribution Nuclear Watch will continue to work diligently to:
• Oppose so-called “modernization” of the nuclear weapons complex and directly related expanded capabilities for increased nuclear weapons production.
• Oppose modernization of the nuclear weapons stockpile itself, which we believe is substantially about creating new military capabilities through planned “Life Extension Programs.”
• Stop expansion of WIPP.
• Promote comprehensive cleanup at Los Alamos and all DOE sites.
• Promote mission change at LANL. We will continue to redirect the Lab from core nuclear weapons research, testing and production programs to today’s critical national security challenges, such as preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, promoting clean national energy independence, and studying global climate changes.
• Strive to be your worthy representative locally and in Washington, DC, on nuclear weapons issues that affect our communities, New Mexico, the nation, and the world.
New Report: U.S. Nuclear Weapons Agency Claims Phony Budget Savings;
Misleads Congress and Taxpayers About Real Costs of New Warheads; Nonproliferation and Dismantlement Programs Cut
Santa Fe, NM – The House Armed Services Committee is currently pushing a defense bill that pushes back against the Obama Administration’s plans to delay production of a new air launched cruise missile warhead and new nuclear warheads that would be “interoperable” between land-based ICBMs and sub-launched missiles. Related, the bill also calls for speeding up expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The House Armed Services Committee is objecting to delays, but not the substance, of plans by the Department of Energy (DOE) to heavily modify existing nuclear weapons during “Life Extension Programs” to create the new nuclear warheads. DOE’s FY 2014 “Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” (SSMP), which first introduced these new warheads, caused considerable sticker shock in Congress. Now DOE has released a new FY 2015 SSMP that it claims is “generally affordable and more executable than the program proposed in the FY 2014 SSMP.” However, an analysis by Nuclear Watch New Mexico concludes that DOE’s new sales pitch is based on overly optimistic claims and outright omissions that should alarm Congressional budget hawks.
DOE’s nuclear weapons agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), is notorious for cost overruns. Its FY 2015 plan misrepresents reduced costs by:
• Delaying projects and their costs – which almost always results in higher total costs.
• Lowering budget estimates while claiming undocumented improved cost modeling – when NNSA has an abysmal record in cost estimates.
• Claiming $7.5 to $9.5 billion in savings for NOT doing a Life Extension Program – which in fact was never planned.
• Omitting costs of directly related programs – which may exceed the costs of the Life Extension Programs themselves.
• Depicting costs as gradually tapering off – while failing to disclose that even more expensive follow-on programs are planned 20 years after the first round of Life Extension Programs.
• Perhaps most significantly, assuming the armed services will help pay for heavily modified nuclear weapons – when in fact the U.S. Navy does not want them (see internal memo below).
Missing is justification of why an extensively tested, reliable stockpile needs to be heavily modified during Life Extension Programs. According to a recent DOE Inspector General audit report, NNSA failed to diligently keep original “as-built” designs, when that information “is the foundation upon which the NNSA surveillance program assesses the current stockpile. Without it, NNSA loses confidence in its nuclear weapons stockpile assessments.” Changes could possibly erode confidence in nuclear weapons reliability, especially if original design information is lacking as a baseline.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently reported that NNSA and the Pentagon plan to spend $355 billion over the next decade on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration’s FY 2015 budget request cuts funding for nonproliferation, dismantlement and nuclear safety programs, and keeps cleanup funding flat.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Congress should demand that NNSA rigorously justify any proposed changes to existing reliable nuclear weapons. The antidote to exorbitantly expensive, potentially harmful modifications to the reliable stockpile is genuine stewardship that would preserve original weapons designs. This is far less risky and provocative, and would free up money for critically needed nonproliferation, dismantlement, nuclear safety and cleanup programs.”
Strongly recommended: Nuclear Watch’s detailed analysis of NNSA’s FY 2015 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, including sources and key NNSA excerpts http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/FY2015-SSMP-analysis.pdf
An Executive Summary is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/FY2015-SSMP-analysis-summary.pdf
# # #
The NNSA FYs 2014 and 2015 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plans are available at http://www.nnsa.energy.gov/ourmission/managingthestockpile/ssmp
The Congressional Budget Office report Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023 is available at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf
For U.S. Navy lack of support for heavily modified nuclear warheads see “Navy Perspective of W78/88 LEP Phase 6.2,” September 27, 2012, http://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.pdf
The award for the largest nuclear facility project completed ahead of schedule and under budget by NNSA goes to a project came in only 1% under budget after spending $40 million in contingency.
In an April 2 2014 National Nuclear Security Administration press release titled, NNSA Receives Secretary’s Award for Project Management Excellence, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) Equipment Installation (REI) Project was touted for coming in $2 million under budget.
First, the CMRR is the now-deferred project at Los Alamos, whose third phase Nuclear Facility would have enabled increased plutonium pit production. The RLOUB was the first phase of the CMRR project. The second phase REI is only the “equipment” for the RLOUB.
The press release tells us –
“The REI installed glovebox and other enclosure systems, analytical and test instrumentation equipment, and telecommunications and safeguards/security systems within the RLUOB.”
Also included, but not mentioned in the press release, were a fuel oil storage tank, furniture, and the parking lot.
It looks like NNSA gave the award in part because it could have been worse. With one year left in the 3-year the contract, it was estimated that the project was $8 million over budget. So NNSA put a new team in charge and straightened out their mess-ups and turned it around to a $2 million savings.
The press release tells us –
“The CMRR/RLUOB REI Project is the largest nuclear facility capital asset project completed ahead of schedule and under budget by NNSA.”
The press release also neglects to give the total budget. Our documents show that REI had a total budget $199 million. That makes the $2 million that the REI came in under budget equal to 1% of the total budget.
But our documents also show that there was $41.6 million (26%) contingency included in the $199 total budget. After spending untold millions in design and then estimating the cost of the project, NNSA adds in a large contingency to every project so that it does not go over budget and have to go back to Congress for more money.
Is the REI, which spent $40 million in contingency, really $2 million under budget?
I think not. NNSA must give the public all the facts and figures when it gives glowing appraisals of itself.
Here’s what we have on the REI –
WIPP Continues to Show Signs, Town Hall Webcast tonight, LANL TRU to WCS, More Information
WIPP Underground Continues to Show Signs of Radiological Activity
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials stated that there was another radiological release on March 11. This was outside of the WIPP site exhaust shaft filter. An air sample from the outside of the ventilation exhaust recorded 61 disintegrations per minute of americium on a sample collected the evening of March 11. WIPP stated that, “This is expected given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the February 14 radiation release event. Engineers believe the contamination was from previous deposits on the inner surface of the exhaust ductwork.” The engineers did not state why they expected this and did not mention the LARGE amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system filters. The engineers also did not state why they believed this and not that more contamination was being produced in the underground.
Air sampling results before and after the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters at WIPP are available here. Station A samples air before the filters and Station B samples air after passing through the filters. These samples were analyzed following the detection of airborne radioactivity on February 14, 2014. They are not environmental samples, and are not representative of the public or worker breathing zone air samples.
The 3/11/14 4:19PM increase after the filters is shown here. There were other small releases on 03/02/2014 08:50 AM (38 dpm) and 03/05/2014 08:10 AM (60 dpm, although WIPP claims that the filter was “cross contaminated”)
There was a larger event, before the filters, that occurred 03/13/2014 08:30 AM (368 dpm) that has not been mentioned. All this shows that the underground could still be brewing radiological activity. Perhaps this will be explained better tonight at the Town hall.
Weekly Town Hall Meetings in Carlsbad?
Thursdays at 5:30 – Carlsbad City Council Chambers, City Hall, 101 N. Halagueno St.
Co-hosted by City of Carlsbad and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office
Discuss recovery efforts following WIPP’s fire and radiological events in February.
The Show Goes On
The Department of Energy (DOE), is proposing to ship transuranic waste currently located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists (WCS), located in western Andrews County, Texas. LANL has another ~546 cubic meters remaining out of the original 3706 cubic meters that was agreed to be moved to WIPP by June 2014.
Let’s be clear, there is no technical reason to store the waste temporarily at WSC. DOE and LANL just want to show that they can meet a deadline. The extra cost of this operation has not been released. And don’t get me wrong, no one wants the waste – all the waste – removed from LANL more than me. Let’s hope that DOE and LANL show the same amount of interest and resources when it comes to removing the rest of the waste at Los Alamos, such as the hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried at Area G.
WIPP Informational Meeting in Santa Fe
A WIPP informational meeting will take place in Santa Fe on Monday, March 31st from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Santa Fe Main Library, located at 145 Washington, in downtown Santa Fe. Please note the new location. Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and Sasha Pyle, longtime activist, will give presentations. Opportunities for public involvement will be discussed.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 17, 2014
DOE Nuclear Weapons Budget Surpasses Cold War Record
Bomb with New Military Capabilities up 20%
Dismantlements Cut By Nearly Half
Nonproliferation Programs Down 21%
Cleanup Funding Flat
Santa Fe, NM – The Obama Administration has finally released its detailed budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts October 1. By law the president’s proposed budget is required to be released not later than the first Monday of February.
Contrary to President Obama’s rhetoric about a future world free of nuclear weapons, most famously expressed in his April 2009 speech in Prague, the President asks for a 7% increase for nuclear weapons research and production programs under the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). NNSA’s “Total Weapons Activities” are slated to rise to $8.3 billion in FY 2015, and to an astounding $9.7 billion by FY 2019, 24% above this current fiscal year 2014. Obama FY 2015 budget request sets a new record for DOE nuclear weapons spending, even exceeding the Cold War high point in 1985 under President Reagan’s military buildup.
Of particular interest is the hands-on nuclear weapons work in the budget category “Directed Stockpile Work,” increased by $305 million (or 12.5% above FY 2014), whose overwhelming focus is Life Extension Programs (LEPs). President Obama wants $634 million (+20%) for the B61 nuclear bomb LEP, which has already exploded in costs from an originally estimated $4 billion to more than $10 billion. Each bomb will end up costing more than twice its weight in gold.
In addition to extending the service life of the bomb by decades, this Life Extension Program will combine three tactical or “battlefield” variants and one strategic variant together into one all-purpose nuclear bomb. The LEP will also transform the B61 from a simple analogue bomb into a digital bomb that interfaces with future super-stealthy fighter aircraft, which themselves will cost an astronomical $1 trillion (although not all will be assigned to a nuclear mission). A separate $1.8 billion Defense Department program for a new tail fin guidance kit will transform the B61 into the world’s first nuclear smart bomb. Despite all this, the U.S. government denies that it would ever endow existing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities.
While rebuilding nuclear weapons at exorbitant expense, the Obama Administration proposes to slash dismantlements by nearly half (45%), from an already paltry $54.2 million to $30 million. Dismantlement work at the Pantex Plant will be cut by 40%. Ironically, much of the dismantlement work that remains is “to provide parts for the life extension programs (B61 and W80-1).” Dismantlements will continue at the same rate at the Y-12 Plant, but its primary aim is to produce “feedstock [highly enriched uranium] for internal and external customers (e.g. Naval Reactors).” Dismantlements are described as a “a workload leveler across all programs,” indicating that instead of being a prioritized step toward a future world free of nuclear weapons, it is merely filler work in between rebuilding nuclear weapons during Life Extension Programs. NNSA FY15 budget, PDF page 109. [All following page numbers are in the same format.]
The construction of the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 plant is capped at $6.5 billion. A recent study by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Project Evaluation predicted that this exorbitant facility, originally estimated by NNSA at ~$600 million, would cost between $12 to 19 billion. To bring it in at $6.5 billion NNSA has cut out all dismantlement and HEU downblending operations, making it a production-only nuclear weapons plant (pp. 319-323).
NNSA’s budget “Defer[s] the W78/88-1 LEP to some date beyond FY 2019” (p. 84), effectively meaning its cancellation. The W78/88-1 LEP was to produce a proposed “interoperable warhead,” using the plutonium pit from a third warhead, the W87. Nevertheless, the Los Alamos National Laboratory plans to “Build W87-design developmental pits each year to sustaining [sic] fabrication capability” (p. 117). The controversial Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project for expanded plutonium pit production remains abandoned, but NNSA plans to raise the amount of plutonium used in the already constructed Rad Lab and pursue “pre-conceptual design efforts for the modular acquisition concept” to substitute for the CMRR (p. 219). NNSA still plans to “Execute a plutonium strategy [at LANL] that achieves a 30 pit per year capacity by 2026,” (p. 70) for which it gives no clear requirement or reason.
Key nonproliferation programs designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons have been slashed by $300 million (-21%), even though nuclear weapons are recognized as the greatest existential threat to the United States. “Defense Environmental Cleanup”, the nation-wide program to clean up the Cold War legacy of radioactive and toxic contamination, is being cut from $5.8 billion to $5.6 billion, despite the fact that estimated costs keep climbing.
All of this is evidence of a pattern where the U.S. will spend massive amounts on nuclear weapons “modernization,” while nonmilitary domestic services are cut or flat lined. In December 2013 the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its study Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion was that estimated costs for maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex would total $355 billion over the next decade. The CBO also reported that costs after 2023 would increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report did not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars.
In one piece of good news the NNSA is finally putting the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina in “cold standby.” The MOX program is a failed attempt in the laudable goal of disposing of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The MOX Program’s life cycle costs have exploded to an estimated $30 billion, and NNSA is now studying cheaper alternatives. This has major positive impacts on the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which was slated to process 2.5 metric tons of plutonium every year as feedstock for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility. It also further undermines the need to build massive new plutonium facilities at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “Increased budgets for nuclear weapons are being paid off the back of dismantlements, nonproliferation and cleanup programs, which is just plain wrong. It’s common knowledge that NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs have a staggering track record of cost overruns, schedule delays and security breaches. It’s less well known that these programs may undermine stockpile reliability by introducing unneeded, incredibly expensive changes to existing nuclear weapons that have been extensively tested and are known to be even more reliable than originally thought. Clearly, NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs should be cut to help pay for the expansion of nonproliferation programs that actually enhance national security, cleanup programs that protect the environment while creating jobs, and dismantlement programs that get of nuclear weapons forever.”
# # #
For budget release requirement not later than the first Monday of February see U.S. Code, Title 31, Subtitle II, Chapter 11, § 1105, “Budget contents and submission to Congress.”
The FY 2015 DOE nuclear weapons request is calculated as the highest ever using data from Atomic Audit, Brookings Institute, 1998, Stephen Schwartz editor, Table A-2. It gives 5.494 billion in 1996 dollars as the cost for DOE nuclear weapons research, production and testing programs in 1985. Adjusted for inflation that is $8.259 billion in 2014 dollars.
The NNSA’s FY 2015 budget is available at http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/03/f12/Volume_1_NNSA.pdf
The Congressional Budget Office report Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023 is available at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf
WIPP Underground Fire Investigation Summary Report of Accident on February 5, 2014
The salt haul truck that caught fire was approximately 29 years old.
The investigation of the truck fire did not reveal exactly what started the blaze but did find:
•Maintenance program was ineffective
•Fire protection program was less than adequate
•Emergency management/preparedness and response program were ineffective
3/13/14 Town Hall Meeting Webcast from Carsbad
Weekly Town Hall Meeting Scheduled for Thursday March 13 2014
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway and DOE will co?host weekly town hall meetings to update the community on recovery activities at WIPP. The meetings will be held every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Carlsbad City Council Chambers, 101 N. Halagueno Street. If you can’t attend, you can view the meeting on line at http://new.livestream.com/rrv/wipptownhall.
This model is based on three air samplers, and no samplers to the Northeast. There are still many questions, including:
What caused this release in the first place?
How contaminated is the underground?
Are soil samples being collected? From where?
Modeling has been done to estimate onsite worker and offsite public dose that may have resulted from the February 14, 2014, event. The results of the modeling indicate that all potential doses were well below the applicable regulatory limits (see results below). The modeling results are consistent with actual worker bioassay results. For modeling data see: (http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/Modeling Results.pdf)
Estimated Dose Maximum estimated worker dose 10 mrem Maximum estimated public dose 0.1 < 1 mrem
Natural Background 310 mrem
Applicable Regulatory Limit
5000 mrem per year
DOE all?paths limit (adults) 100 mrem per year
DOE all?paths limit for children/pregnant women 25 mrem per year
EPA Air (NESHAPs) Standard for inhalation is 10 mrem per year
In a March 9th press release, the Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the management and operations contractor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), stated their plans to reenter the ailing salt mine/nuclear waste repository after a radiological release shut down operations over three weeks ago.
The press release tells us that, on March 7 and 8, radiological and air quality instruments were lowered down the Salt Handling and the Air Intake Shafts. The preliminary findings indicated that no “detectable radioactive contamination” in the air or on the equipment. The press release claims that these results were expected because the shafts that were sampled were not in the air flow path coming from the area where the radiation release originated.
But, there are 4 shafts to underground – the Salt Handling, the Air Intake, the Waste Handling, and the Exhaust Shafts. After the detection on a radiologic release, filters move into the Exhaust Shaft and air is drawn to the outside by fans blowing to the outside here. The other three shafts, mainly the Air Intake Shaft because it has no elevator in it, provide intake for the air flow path to the Exhaust Shaft. Strangely missing from the press release is any mention of the Waste Handling Shaft, which contains an elevator to take the waste down into the mine and should also have been out of the air flow path. DOE and NWP must explain why the Waste Handling Shaft was not sampled and, if it was, what are the results. The Waste Handling Shaft provides the normal entry to the underground, so why use the Salt Shaft? Also, the press release did not mention that any “soil” samples were taken from the walls of any of the shafts. Is the Waste Handling Shaft contaminated or presumed contaminated?
As far as the air flow path goes, it’s an elaborate game to get the air to flow where it is needed in the underground of WIPP. Getting the desired path requires blocking off numerous openings in the underground. Bob Martin from KRQE gave a hint of what is involved in his recent report. We have not been given the diagram for the air flow path at the time of the release or even if the path was in place. We don’t have the location of all the monitors in the underground and if they were working. What was the presumed path of the contaminated air to the Exhaust Shaft? Why are so many details left out out of the information released to the public?
Unfortunately, the press release also mentioned that four more WIPP workers had been contaminated. But it was not stated where or when these employees received the dose. Was it Friday night or Saturday? Why was this important information not in the press release?
We also have some new sample findings released. Some of the interesting information here is that the WIPP Laboratory Analyses are so much lower than the Screening Analyses. I will get back to you on that. But don’t forget that it is unlikely that the main release actually hit any of the air monitors dead-on. Also, notice the lack of samplers to the northeast.
We will have to wait for soil samples to come in before we can begin to estimate the main path of the release.
WIPP is not a secret facility. (They even let me down there last year.) Press releases that raise more questions than they answer must stop now.
By DON HANCOCK, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC)
The world’s first geologic repository for military nuclear waste is making international news because of the radiation leak that was detected late at night on Valentine’s Day. An unknown amount of radioactive and toxic chemical waste was released to the environment from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). On February 26, the 13 workers at the site when the leak was detected were notified that they tested positive for internal radiation contamination.
Since the Department of Energy (DOE) and Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the operating contractor, have repeatedly stated that WIPP would “start clean, stay clean” and not release any radioactivity for at least 10,000 years, the leak was never supposed to happen. The health danger that persists for thousands of generations is the reason to put the wastes underground so they are not released to the environment. Thus, an obvious question: What’s wrong with WIPP?
Also, what effect does the leak have on DOE plans to expand WIPP and what is the opposition to such proposals?
*Some of the unknowns about the February 2014 radiation leak*
As of March 4, there is much more that is unknown than known:
* What caused the leak?
* How much leaked into the underground salt mine?
* How much leaked into the environment?
* Where are those radioactive and toxic wastes now?
* To what amount of radiation were the workers exposed?
* What are the health effects for those workers?
* What decontamination is necessary in the underground mine?
* What decontamination is necessary on the WIPP site and surrounding area?
* If WIPP reopens, what changes in the operation, monitoring, and safety culture will be implemented?
KRQE TV 13 aired a news story last night that included statements from the five members of the NM Congressional Delegation:
On the recent radiation leak: “From my perspective on the (U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources) committee, the first priority is making sure that the personnel who actually work at WIPP are safe and that the community and environment around WIPP is safe.”
On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “WIPP was never designed as a high level facility, and I don’t think we should retrofit it to be a high level facility. There has been talk of moving other transuranic waste there that was generated in different ways than the transuranic waste that’s coming from Los Alamos, for example. That’s something we can have the conversation about, but it should never be a high level facility.”
On any future change in WIPP’s mission: “We have a very long standing and robust conversation in my office with the community in Carlsbad all the time. The input from the community is always critical.” “There is nothing more important than making sure that that community feels like we are doing everything possible to make sure that WIPP is a success, and that the people who work there in the surrounding community and their well-being is our first priority.”
“It’s too early to say whether the leak factors into my thoughts about the future of WIPP because we don’t know what happened. I’m taking the leak very seriously, and our focus right now is on the immediate safety of the community and WIPP personnel and the recovery work. It would be premature to draw any conclusions. This is a very technical issue, and the science is extremely important. My position on expansion now is the same as it has always been. When it comes to proposals that would significantly change WIPP’s mission, I support the provision in the current law that bans high-level waste at WIPP. WIPP was not fully studied for high-level waste, and it does not meet permit requirements for high-level waste. Additionally, New Mexico’s people and state government are the ones who have the power to decide what waste our state will accept and under what terms. Any attempt to alter WIPP’s mission would take many years of study, permitting, and require the state of New Mexico’s full support.”
On the radiation leak: “Congressman Pearce has introduced legislation to protect New Mexico jobs at WIPP, which has safely disposed of TRU waste for over a decade. Right now, Congressman Pearce is focused on monitoring the present situation closely, ensuring DOE and WIPP continue to make public safety the top priority. To date, all information shared with our office indicates there is no risk or danger to the community. At the appropriate time, the Congressman fully expects and will insist that the Department of Energy conduct a thorough investigation and answer all the public’s questions.”
On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “Now is not the time to speculate about proposals that are not even on the table. Taking high level waste at WIPP is not on the table. Congressman Pearce’s number one priority right now is public safety, and there are many questions that need to be answered before any changes in WIPP’s mission are discussed.”
“Right now, the number one priority is the health and safety of the WIPP employees who were affected by the leak as well as the residents of the surrounding community. As the response effort continues, there must be nothing short of full transparency and accountability to ensure the public that they are safe. This incident further proves that any expansion of WIPP’s mission warrants close scrutiny that’s rooted in science and that includes extensive outreach to and input from all stakeholders and local communities.”
“I am very concerned about the recent detection of radiation near WIPP and the health and safety of those exposed to radiation. It will be important that answers are provided detailing the causes of the elevated levels and how this will be prevented in the future. The safety and security of the community must be the top priority.
As far as the larger discussion about changes at WIPP, one aspect that cannot be forgotten or overlooked – especially given the recent incident – is the reality of exposure and what will happen when workers or members of the community are exposed to harmful levels of radiation. Sadly in New Mexico, we are all too familiar with the story of those who worked in uranium mines and other government facilities and suffered exposure to radiation. They contributed to our national security, yet paid a steep cost as many individuals became sick and some paid with their life. I am still fighting in Congress to see that many of these workers are compensated for the health problems they developed as a result of their work. While we hope we never have to face a similar situation in the future, it is important we have these discussions now rather than when it’s too late, especially given the recent reports that 13 workers tested positive for radiation exposure.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 4, 2014
Contact: Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.692.5854, email@example.com
Nuclear Weapons Budget Increased
Nonproliferation and Cleanup Budgets Cut
Good News: Wasteful Plutonium Program Shuttered
The Obama Administration has released topline numbers for its FY 2015 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which owns the nation’s nuclear weapons complex of design laboratories and production plants. The NNSA’s budget category “Total Weapons Activities” is slated to be increased to $8.3 billion, $534 million above FY 2014 (+ 6.9%). Of particular interest is “Directed Stockpile Work,” increased by $305 million (+12.5%), whose overwhelming focus is Life Extension Programs. These programs not only extend the operational lives of existing nuclear weapons by decades, but also arguably give them new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government. Details are not yet available, but the increase for Directed Stockpile Work will probably mostly be for the B61 Life Extension Program. Its refurbishment of each nuclear bomb will cost more than twice their weight in gold.
This is the beginning of a pattern where the U.S. will spend massive amounts on nuclear weapons “modernization,” while nonmilitary domestic services are cut or flat lined. In December 2013 the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its study Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion was that estimated costs for maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex would total $355 billion over the next decade. The CBO also reported that costs after 2023 would increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report did not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars.
In stark contrast, key nonproliferation programs designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons have been slashed by $300 million (-21%), even though nuclear weapons are recognized as the greatest existential threat to the United States. “Defense Environmental Cleanup”, the nation-wide program to clean up the Cold War legacy of radioactive and toxic contamination, is being reduced from $5 billion to $4.87 billion, despite the fact that estimated costs keep climbing.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, noted how Obama’s proposed nuclear weapons budget is upside down. He commented, “It’s common knowledge that NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs have a staggering track record of cost overruns, schedule delays and security breaches. It’s less well known that these programs may undermine stockpile reliability by introducing unneeded, incredibly expensive changes to existing nuclear weapons that have been extensively tested and are known to be even more reliable than originally thought. Clearly, NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs should be cut to help pay for the expansion of nonproliferation programs that actually enhance national security and cleanup programs that actually create jobs.”
In one piece of good news the NNSA is finally putting the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina on “cold standby.” The MOX program is a failed attempt in the laudable goal of disposing of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The MOX Program’s life cycle costs have exploded to an estimated $30 billion, and NNSA is now studying cheaper alternatives. This has major positive impacts on the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which was slated to process 2.5 metric tons of plutonium every year as feedstock for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility. It also further undermines the need to build massive new plutonium facilities at LANL.
# # #
Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration topline budget numbers are available at
ALLIANCE FOR NUCLEAR ACCOUNTABILITY
A national network of organizations working to address issues of
nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup
Ashish Sinha: (301) 910-9405 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Schaeffer: (239) 395-6773 email@example.com
for use with March 4, 2014 Obama Administration Budget Request
QUESTIONS FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE)
FY 2015 NUCLEAR WEAPONS, REACTOR AND CLEANUP BUDGET
The U.S. nuclear budget is out of control. Huge cost overruns for unnecessary production facilities are common. At the same time, cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal is falling behind. The Department of Energy (DOE) budget for FY 2015 will reveal the Obama Administration’s nuclear priorities.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 25-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear sites, will be looking at the following issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Media Advisory.
— Does the budget reflect the Administration’s commitment to curtail unnecessary spending on the $19 billion Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge by downsizing it to the capacity needed to support stockpile surveillance, maintenance and limited life extension?
— Does the budget address the looming deficit in nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity so the United States can meet its international arms reduction commitments?
— Will the Obama Administration articulate its alternative plutonium strategy to the $6 billion “CMRR Nuclear Facility,” which was effectively cancelled in 2012? Is any expanded production needed when expert studies have found that existing plutonium pits are durable?
— Will NNSA reduce funding or impose meaningful milestones at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which performed less than half of its planned Stockpile Stewardship experiments in FY2013 and still has not achieved ignition.
— Is the budget a de facto cancellation of plans to pursue “interoperable warhead designs” by imposing a delay of five years or more on the program? How much money will taxpayers save?
— Does the FY 2015 budget seek more than the $537 million requested for the B61 Life Extension Program last year? Will the “First Production Unit” from this $10 billion program continue to slip to 2020 or later delaying needed routine replacement of critical components?
— How much of the additional $26 billion in Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel’s “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” will go to DOE nuclear weapons programs?
— Will the Administration support increased funding for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects given the many cost over-runs, schedule delays, safety issues and technical problems?
— What is the projected life-cycle cost of the plutonium fuel (MOX) program at Savannah River? Is DOE’s internal cost assessment consistent with ANA’s estimate of $27 billion? When will it be released? Have any nuclear reactor operators committed to using MOX fuel?
— Does the Request include continued funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which private investors have been unwilling to finance fully because of concerns about viability and risks? Does DOE have plans to finance SMR construction?
—How much additional Environmental Management (EM) funding would be necessary in FY 2015 to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars.
— In which states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones due to budget shortfalls? Which states are enforcing their binding clean-up agreements by imposing fines and taking further legal action?
— What is the high range for total life-cycle clean-up costs (LCC) for EM sites Because of funding shortfalls, are LCC costs continuing to increase? In the FY 2013 Budget Request High Range LCC was $308.5 billion, and in the FY 2014 Request LCC was $330.9 billion.
— Does the FY 2015 Request include funds to cleanup contamination from the recent radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)? How much will this incident delay shipments from the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge?
— How much money is included for construction of new double-shell tanks to replace those leaking radioactive waste at the Hanford site? Are funds included for emergency pumping of tanks found to be leaking?
— Is DOE allocating sufficient funds to monitor and address ignitable hydrogen gas buildup in Hanford’s nuclear waste tanks as recommended by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to protect workers, the public and the environment from possible explosions?
— Is an independent review of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant included in the budget request to address concerns about the reliability of many of the parts and materials?
–– How much money is DOE allocating for building and development of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant based on the current, flawed design and how much on redesign?
— For information about specific DOE nuclear weapons sites and programs, contact:
Meredith Crafton – Hanford: (206) 292-2850 x26 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Clements – Savannah River and MOX Plant: (803) 240-7268 email@example.com
Jay Coghlan – Los Alamos Lab and Life Extension: (505) 989-7342 firstname.lastname@example.org
Don Hancock – Environmental Management Program: (505) 262-1862 email@example.com
Ralph Hutchison – Oak Ridge Site and Dismantlement: (865) 776-5050 firstname.lastname@example.org
Marylia Kelley – Livermore Lab and Life Extension: (925)-443-7148 email@example.com
WIPP Update Feb 27 2014 – 13 Employees Contaminated
I’ll remind us all that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site is NOT a National Security site. It is a fancy landfill. There are really no secret programs there to protect. Maybe there are some secret parts buried there, but they have long-since been crushed. There is no reason to withhold news. The waste streams are well known and exactly where they are emplaced in WIPP is also well known. When the public gets news from WIPP officials, we deserve to have our questions answered clearly with all the important facts included.
Our best wishes go out to the employees.
Here’s the February 26, 2014 letter from the U.S. Department of Energy – Carlsbad Field Office, which provides oversight of the private contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, that currently manages and operates WIPP. Unfortunately, this letter raises many questions. Below are each of the paragraphs of the letter, followed by my questions and comments.
First Paragraph –
This morning (February 26), the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination. Employees were notified within about 12 hours of the receipt of preliminary sample results.
Ok, “the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14,” sounds like there were only 13 employees at WIPP on Feb 14. But the February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release states, “All non-essential employees were off-site by 5:30 PM MST.” The February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release also states, “No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” I guess we are to read this as, “No contamination has been found ON any personnel.”
Questions raised –
How many employees were onsite when?
Were the 13 contaminated employees essential or non-essential?
Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed?
How does an employee inhale rads and not have any on them?
Second Paragraph –
At the time of the event, these employees were performing above ground operations, and federal oversight duties at the WIPP facility. Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the site contractor, requested that all workers on site the night of the event submit follow-up bioassay samples as they were considered more likely to have indications of potential exposure. Additional samples will be collected from these employees in the weeks ahead in order to perform complete analyses.
Questions raised –
When did Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC request the bioassay samples from the night workers?
What made them “more-likely” to be exposed? What exactly were they doing?
Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed? When was this request made?
Third Paragraph –
It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed. However, on-site sampling and surveys and environmental monitoring, to date, continue to support National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling, which indicates that airborne contamination was likely at very low levels.
Questions raised –
Where is the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling? The public must be allowed to read any and all reference documents. And by the way, NARAC is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is a Department of Energy site.
Fourth Paragraph –
The material for this release event is transuranic radionuclides. The release material was predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.
Questions raised –
Really? Smoke detectors? Here’s from the EPA
As long as the radiation source stays in the detector, exposures would be negligible (less than about 1/100 of a millirem per year), since alpha particles cannot travel very far or penetrate even a single sheet of paper, and the gamma rays emitted by americium are relatively weak. If the source were removed, it would be very easy for a small child to swallow, but even then exposures would be very low because the source would pass through the body fairly rapidly (by contrast, the same amount of americium in a loose powdered form would give a significant dose if swallowed or inhaled). Still, its not a good idea to separate the source from the detector apparatus.
All the americium at WIPP is the byproduct of Cold War nuclear weapons production. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) explains the health effects of americium.
The radiation from americium is the primary cause of adverse health effects from absorbed americium. Upon entering the body by any route of exposure, americium moves relatively rapidly through the body and is deposited on the surfaces of the bones where it remains for a long time. As americium undergoes radioactive decay in the bone, alpha particles collide with nearby cell matter and give all of their energy to this cell matter. The gamma rays released by decaying americium can travel much farther before hitting cellular material, and many of these gamma rays leave the body without hitting or damaging any cell matter. The dose from this alpha and gamma radiation can cause changes in the genetic material of these cells that could result in health effects such as bone cancers.
Fifth Paragraph – Here it states that inhalation did employees did occur.
Determining employee dose typically involves multiple sample analyses to determine employee’s radionuclide excretion rate over time. This allows the lab to estimate the employee’s accumulated internal dose. The time this process takes depends largely on the solubility of the inhaled particulate, with less water-soluble radioactive materials requiring more samples and time to accurately estimate the dose. Follow-up urine samples may require about three or more weeks to accurately predict dose.
Sixth Paragraph –
We are now focusing our sampling program on employees with work assignments that may have placed them at greater risk, including those on shift February 15. We are still reviewing staff assignments to determine if additional employees will need to be tested. However, employees who feel they were assigned positions or functions that placed them at risk will be included in follow-up bioassay monitoring at their request.
Questions raised –
How many employees were working on the 15th? Were they wearing safety protection?
What is the criterion “to determine if additional employees will need to be tested”?
Seventh Paragraph –
There is no risk to family or friends of these employees. As we learn more information, we will continue to share. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact 1-800-336-9477. Thank you.
Questions raised –
What is the current status at the site?
Are employees working there now?
Are they wearing protective gear?
There apparently is a Press Conference today (Feb27 2014) at 3pm MST.
The New York Times ran a WIPP story today, NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY SET TO REOPEN AFTER LEAK, New York Times — February 26, 2014, By Matthew L. Wald
This is a good example of what is known, what is being said, and what is not being said.
1. One shaft has a filter with a monitor and three don’t. The article, and many others, quotes a WIPP press release,
But late on Feb. 14, at an hour when no one was in the mine, an air monitor indicated the presence of radioactive contamination. An automated system cut off most of the ventilation and routed the exhaust through filters that are supposed to capture 99.97 percent of all contamination, turning off fans and changing the air flow, in less than one minute.
At WIPP, there are 4 ways for air to get to the surface – the Exhaust Shaft, the Salt Shaft, the Air Intake Shaft, and the Waste Handling Shaft. When radioactive contamination is detected, airflow is directed to the Exhaust Shaft as its filter is put into place. This shaft has the only filter and monitors on any of the shafts. WIPP officials claim that it was a monitor in Panel 7 that detected radiation and set into action the sending of all the air to the Exhaust Shaft. The Panel 7 monitor is around 2000 feet from the shafts. This means that the WIPP officials were relying on any contamination to set off the monitor before any contamination went up a shaft. We need a layout of the monitors, and if they were working, in the underground.
2. “Safe levels” of radioactivity? The article quotes a WIPP monitor,
“For someone living in town, I would say the dose was probably zero,” Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an independent monitoring organization that is part of New Mexico State University, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said that the event would not add to background levels of radiation — including bomb fallout — any more than an eyedropper full of water would contribute to the rise in the level of the Pacific Ocean.
Seriously, an eyedropper in the Pacific? I had to look it up –
There are over 70 cubic million miles in the Pacific Ocean. Meaning there are 188,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons in the pacific ocean. That is 187 quintillion gallons.
No problem, unless you eat the fish that drank that drop. Anyway, I don’t believe anyone knows how much radiation was released. The preliminary results are based on a ridiculously small number of air samples. The official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely.
3. Then, it was explained how to get dosed –
Even in the desert, the danger to humans was small, the mine’s operators said. The highest reading from the monitors indicated that a person could have inhaled radioactive material that would emit a dose, over the person’s lifetime, of 3.4 millirem, an amount roughly equal to three days of natural background radiation. But to get the dose, the person would have had to stand for hours in the desert, on the downwind side of the plant.
Again, the official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely. We await the many soil samples that will shed light on the actual amounts.
Let’s start with what we know.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the Nation’s only operating geologic repository for nuclear waste. WIPP can legally only accept a very specific type of waste – transuranic (TRU) waste generated at defense-related nuclear facilities. “Transuranic” refers to atoms of man-made elements that are heavier (higher in atomic number) than uranium. The most prominent element in most TRU waste is plutonium. Some TRU waste consists of items such as soil, rags, tools, and laboratory equipment contaminated with radioactive materials. Other forms of TRU waste include organic and inorganic residues or even entire enclosed contaminated cases in which radioactive materials were handled.
The WIPP underground is 2150 feet below the surface. And will consist of 8 separate panels with 7 football field-sized rooms per panel. (Two additional panels, 9 & 10, are to be placed in the existing tunnels that lead to Panels 1 – 8.) WIPP has a legal maximum capacity of 175,564 m3 and is currently starting to fill Panel 7.
At 12:25 p.m. February 5, 2014, – Shortly after 11 a.m., an underground vehicle used to transport salt is on fire in the underground.
At 11:30 PM Friday February 14, 2014, a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground.
Sometime on Saturday February 15, 2014, a filter aboveground at the fence line of the WIPP facility (Location A) was sampled. The field preliminary analysis showed .87 Bq. (EPA’s action level for the isotopes of concern is 37 Bq.)
Sometime on February 17 & 18, 2014, more samples were taken from other monitors and also from Location A, which showed a much lower reading (.04 Bq) than it did three days earlier. http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Environmental%20Sampling%20Results.pdf
Are the fire and the release related?
On the surface I would have to say yes. The first large fire in the underground was followed by first release 9 days later. But the 9 days is a problem. Apparently nothing happened for 9 days after the fire then something happened to cause the release of radionuclides aboveground. Did the fire somehow loosen the ceiling 2000’ away? Maybe, but right now, I have to think that it is a freak coincidence, because we don’t know the cause of the release.
Is the release serious?
Yes, WIPP is not supposed to leak for 10,000 years.
Is the release a threat?
Elevated levels of radionuclides can always pose a threat. The primary threat of alpha-emitters like plutonium is inhalation. Inhalation of very small amounts of plutonium can cause cancer.
The Location A monitor was some 6750 feet from the assumed source of the release, Panel 7. (2000’ from Panel 7 to the bottom of the exhaust shafts + 2150’ to the surface + ½ mile (2600’) to the monitor) Did Location A pick up a representative sample of the release? Unlikely. There are too many variables to know if the Feb 15 sample from Location A was higher or lower than the main part of the release. But the results do show that any higher risk is more than likely localized.
The map shows the seven monitoring locations. I have always thought that this was not enough monitoring locations.
What about the plume maps floating around the internet?
Please remember that these maps represent one possible outcome of a group of inputs entered into a NOAA computer program. We don’t know the input parameters that were used, therefore we do not know what this map is based on. This is not an actual map of where any actual plutonium actually went.
Also please notice the units.
The yellow is “1.0E-13 mass/m3”.
That would be .000,000,000,000,1 of something per cubic meter.
The blue is “1.0E-16 mass/m3”
That would be .000,000,000,000,000,1 of something per cubic meter.
It’s not nothing, but it’s not much. I would like to see what this map is based upon. This does show how well computers can crunch numbers.
What about claims of nuclear salt water rocket explosions in the WIPP underground?
A grim “Of Special Importance” (highest classification level) report prepared by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) circulating in the Kremlin warned that the “potentially catastrophic nuclear event” currently unfolding at the US atomic Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has prompted the White House to begin pre-staging government forces and equipment in the event a large-scale evacuation is needed, Whatdoesitmean.com reported.
I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to respond to Whatdoesitmean.com. There was no Rosatom/WIPP report. There are no nuclear salt-water rockets in the underground at WIPP, exploded or otherwise.
What to do?
In the short term let’s keep a critical ear open to the DOE story and separate out the spin. I’m waiting for the next batch of samples to be released to the public. WIPP has several proposals modify its permit in the works. Clearly, at this time, those all need to be put on hold until details of the exact cause of this accident are released to the public. The health and environmental impacts must be fully known and cleanup must be completed to everyone’s satisfaction.
Budget Deal Mixed Bag for Nuclear Weapons Programs
Planned Long-Term Trend Not Sustainable
Following December’s budget deal Congressional appropriators have completed a one trillion dollar omnibus appropriations bill for this fiscal year, expected to pass given that neither political party wants another shutdown. The federal government has been running on a Continuing Resolution since October 1, and the omnibus bill now provides funding levels for the entire fiscal year 2014. Concerning the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons programs, the appropriators made a slight cut to Obama’s requested $7.87 billion, funding “Total Weapons Activities” at $7.78 billion.
All of this, of course, takes place within a larger context. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a study entitled Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will cost $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.
As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars. This is simply not sustainable, given the nation’s continuing budget constraints.
The new omnibus appropriations bill has fully funded the most controversial program, the B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program (LEP), at the president’s request of $537 million. This overrode a proposed cut by Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations, a key subcommittee that Senator Tom Udall sits on. Udall vigorously opposed that cut, saying that he wanted to save a few hundred jobs in New Mexico.
The B61 LEP has exploded in costs from an original $4 billion dollars to $12 billion, including a program synchronized with the Pentagon to give the bomb a new tail fin guidance kit that would transform it into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb. Its main mission is forward deployment in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War, contradicting Obama’s rhetoric of lowering the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe.
But this is not a clear-cut victory for NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs. The appropriators cut funding for the B83 nuclear bomb that NNSA claims the B61 LEP will enable it to retire (leaving aside the fact that it was already planned for retirement). The appropriators made clear that they wanted to hold NNSA to its word. Moreover, the appropriators demanded detailed reporting on major warhead refurbishments, which they applied retroactively to the B61 LEP, and cut the requested amount for the tail fin guidance kit in half. Finally, the fight over the B61 LEP will soon start all over again with the release of the proposed FY 2015 federal budget, expected in late February or early March.
So whereas the NNSA and the labs have won an ambiguous victory in the B61 LEP, the rest of the omnibus appropriations bill demonstrates how deeply troubled their nuclear weapons programs are. Foremost amongst these is a planned Life Extension Program for the W78 ICBM warhead, proposed to be “interoperable” with the W88 sub-launched warhead. This is the first of three proposed interoperable warheads, which the NNSA and labs want to use to transform both the nuclear weapons stockpile and the research and production complex that supports it, with requisite exorbitant appropriations to fund them. In a serious blow to this scheme, the appropriators funded only $38 million out of $72.69 million requested for paper studies. Although not yet officially reported, conventional wisdom in Washington, DC is that the Nuclear Weapons Council (composed of senior officials from both NNSA and the Pentagon) has already canceled the interoperable warhead.
The appropriators also require NNSA to submit a report by May 1 explaining the costs and benefits of stress testing plutonium pits at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. These radioactive nuclear weapons cores would have to be transported back and forth from the Los Alamos Lab. This is significant because Livermore’s continuing future in nuclear weapons programs is becoming increasingly questionable, given the failure of its flagship National Ignition Facility to initiate fusion, its loss of security status to handle large amounts of plutonium, and now the doubtful future of interoperable warheads, which it was banking on.
Concerning the proposed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) near Oak Ridge, TN, the appropriators provided $309 out of $325.8 million requested, but noted that it is an adjustment caused by the necessity to consider additional alternatives. The UPF has been under increasing fire after a half-billion dollar design mistake and a recent Pentagon estimate that it would cost $12 to $19 billion, up from $6 billion. Conspicuous in its absence is any mention of follow-on to the deferred plutonium facility at LANL (the “CMRR-Nuclear Facility”) whose mission is to expand plutonium pit production, or NNSA’s “alternative plutonium strategy.”
The appropriators also provided $343.5 million for the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, adding to the $320 million requested. However, they directed NNSA to identify the root causes of cost increases and prioritize recommended solutions and corrective measures, showing that this program too is in serious jeopardy.
The appropriators funded $224.79 million for “cleanup” at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which primarily consists of removing radioactive transuranic wastes that were suppose to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant a decade ago. In contrast, LANL is planning to “cap and cover” around one million cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill, creating a de facto permanent, unlined nuclear waste dump above groundwater and the Rio Grande.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers have won for now the battle over funding for the gold-plated B61 bomb Life Extension Program, but we look forward to the coming fight over next year’s budget. The rest of their plans are falling apart because they are so often their own worst enemy with constant cost overruns and lack of clear need. We are confident that given the trillion dollar cost for future nuclear weapons, subs, bombers, and missiles, the public will increasingly demand cleanup and related jobs, not more nuclear bombs.”
# # #
The omnibus appropriations bill can be viewed at http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140113/113-HR3547-JSOM-D-F.pdf
The NNSA section begins at p. 34 or PDF p. 70.
Nuclear Weapons “Modernization” Will Cost One Trillion Dollars Over Thirty Years;
Locally, Los Alamos Lab Cleanup and Job Creation Are Imperiled
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released its study Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023. Its stunning conclusion is that estimated costs for maintenance and “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and research and production complex will total $355 billion over the next decade. This is 70% higher than the figure the Obama Administration reported to Congress in May 2012.
As if this were not bad enough, the CBO also reports that costs after 2023 will increase yet more rapidly since “modernization” is only now beginning. The report does not attempt to project costs for maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces over the planned period of the next thirty years, but given current trends it will easily exceed one trillion dollars.
Approximately two-thirds of the modernization costs will be for new submarines, bombers and missiles that could be operational for the rest of this century, contrary to the Obama Administration’s rhetoric of a future world free of nuclear weapons. The remaining third will be for the Department of Energy’s research and production complex, which includes the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia nuclear weapons labs.
While the American public at large is experiencing growing income inequality and limited economic opportunity, nuclear weapons contractors are experiencing increasing profits and decreasing federal oversight. The for-profit corporations running the labs, comprised of Lockheed Martin (the world’s biggest defense contractor), Bechtel, and the University of California, plan a never-ending cycle of exorbitantly expensive “Life Extension Programs.” These programs will not only extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons for decades, but also give them new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. international policy. Ironically, the contractors’ drive for profits may undermine national security, as confidence in our nuclear weapons could be eroded by planned massive changes to an extensively tested stockpile that has been proven to be reliable.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had planned to “modernize” with a new facility to support expanded production of plutonium pit cores (or “primaries”) for nuclear weapons. Because of budget constraints, the Obama Administration decided to defer it in favor of the Uranium Processing Facility near Oak Ridge, TN, for production of nuclear weapons “secondaries.” The LANL plutonium project, known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR)-Nuclear Facility, had grown from an original estimate of $600 million to around $6 billion, for which it would not have created a single new permanent job (it would have merely relocating existing Lab jobs). But the Uranium Processing Facility has now grown from a similarly estimated $600 million to an astounding worse case $19 billion, in part due to a simple design error that cost a half-billion dollars just to correct on paper.
So-called nuclear weapons modernization at these costs is clearly not sustainable, especially when they create few if any new permanent jobs. Moreover, they exist for a product that must never be used (i.e. nuclear weapons). Therefore, they are of little economic benefit to society outside of the privileged enclaves that benefit from nuclear weapons research and production (for example, Los Alamos County is the second richest county out of 3,077 counties in the USA).
Funding for nuclear weapons modernization programs will rob taxpayers’ dollars for programs that local citizens really need. For example, the Los Alamos Lab plans to “cap and cover” its largest waste dump (called “Area G”), leaving up to one million cubic meters of poorly characterized radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill permanently buried in unlined pits and shafts. This will create a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump above the Rio Grande, and most importantly above a sole source groundwater aquifer that supplies 270,000 people in the arid Southwest.
The Cities of Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, oppose LANL’s plans to create a permanent nuclear waste dump, passing resolutions demanding full characterization of the wastes and offsite disposal. The resolutions note that, “full cleanup of Area G would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our precious groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating 100’s of high paying jobs for twenty years or more.” The costs for full cleanup of Area G would be about the same as four to five years’ worth of the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM Director, commented, “We simply can’t afford to squander precious taxpayers’ money on programs that enrich contractors while introducing radical changes to fully tested nuclear weapons. This may harm national security by undermining confidence in stockpile reliability. Instead, New Mexicans should demand that their elected officials invest taxpayers’ money in programs that create real security for citizens, such as creating jobs that protect diminishing water resources, rather than their habitual support for unneeded, mismanaged and exorbitantly expensive nuclear weapons programs.”
# # #
The Congressional Budget Office report Projected Costs of Nuclear Forces 2014 -2023 is available at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf
The Santa Fe City press release announcing passage of its resolution opposing “cap and cover’ of Los Alamos Lab’s largest radioactive and toxic waste dump is available at http://www.santafenm.gov/news/detail/santa_fe_city_council_unanimously_passed_resolution
For a comparative estimate of cleaning up LANL’s Area G radioactive and toxic waste dump see http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Area_G_Comparison_Costs-11-14-12.pdf
For a history of successful citizen activism against expanded plutonium pit production see http://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Pit-Production-History.pdf
Nuclear Watch New Mexico is almost broke. When we say it, we mean it- it’s not a figure of speech.
Too bad we’re not paid by merit; then we’d be rich. But support from foundations is steadily decreasing, as if there are more important things to fight against than nuclear weapons (which we don’t think there are). We’re left with no choice but to increasingly rely on citizens like you.
Why should you support us? Check out 25 years of NukeWatch achievements
There you will also see the unsung story of successful citizen activism against repeated government attempts to expand the production of plutonium pit cores, which has always been the choke point of resumed U.S. nuclear weapons production. This history is a critical part of the march toward a future world free of nuclear weapons.
We are most proud of our successful battles against the expanded production of plutonium pit cores for nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NukeWatch has been central to beating back four successive attempts by the federal government to expand pit production, from a Cold-War-like level of 450 pits per year proposed a decade ago, to today when no pits are scheduled for manufacture.
This was no accident. It’s the result of sustained citizen activism, including beating back a new $6 billion plutonium facility at LANL. To keep stockpile production at zero will require strong future activism that will have to quash proposed “Life Extension Programs,” slated to cost something like 100 billion dollars over the next quarter-century.
They will not only indefinitely extend the life of existing nuclear weapons, but also give them new military capabilities, a shift which overtly contradicts declared U.S. international policy.
We advocate strongly for comprehensive cleanup at the Lab, a true win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting the Rio Grande and groundwater while creating 100’s of high-paying jobs. LANL wants to “cap and cover” nearly one million cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes and backfill, leaving it forever buried in unlined pits and shafts. To combat this, NukeWatch drafted a resolution adopted and passed by the Cities of Santa Fe and Taos that calls on the New Mexico Environment Department not to approve a de facto permanent nuclear waste dump at LANL. This resolution- which we hope other local governments will soon pass- instead calls for full characterization of the poorly recorded wastes, and their offsite disposal.
To support us, please send a check to “Nuclear Watch NM” at 903 W. Alameda, #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Or donate by credit card on our donations page. All donations are tax deductible, and all are appreciated.
Thank you! We hope you and your loved ones have a great holiday season and new year.
P.S. Please forward this mail, using the link at the bottom of the page, to friends who may be interested- thanks!
Jay Coghlan,Executive Director
Scott Kovac, Operations Director
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501
Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
The first iteration of the draft City resolution on Area G cleanup called for reburial of low-level wastes in a modern landfill, while specifically calling for any high level and transuranic wastes to be disposed offsite. Most low-level wastes are mixed with hazardous wastes, which legally would have to be disposed offsite. Unfortunately DOE has sole regulatory authority over “purely” radioactive low-level wastes.
The resolution has now gone through several iterations, and the final draft that will presented to the Council does not have reburial. See http://www.santafenm.gov/index.aspx?NID=2887
and scroll down.
Rather than being fast tracked this resolution has gone through 2 City committees and a 3rd today, before being presented to the full council on Wednesday.
FYI, two back-to-back events:
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6:00-6:45 pm, Santa FePublic info session presented by Nuclear Watch NM and others (TBD) on Santa Fe City resolution calling for comprehensive cleanup of LANL’s largest radioactive waste dump (see below). First Presbyterian Church, 208 Grant Ave. From there we’ll walk two blocks to City Hall.
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 7:00 pm.
Santa Fe Santa Fe City Council hearing and public comment on a resolution introduced by Mayor Coss calling on LANL to examine alternatives to planned “cap and cover” of radioactive wastes at TA-54 Area G. This will be followed by the City Council’s yes or no vote to adopt. We are encouraging citizens to come and show their support for comprehensive cleanup of the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump! Council Chambers, Santa Fe City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave.
Reader View: City resolution on waste doesn’t do enough
By ShannYn Sollitt | 0 comments
On Dec. 2, the Finance Committee of the Santa Fe City Council considered a resolution requesting a consideration of the alternatives to Los Alamos National Laboratory’s current plan to deal with their highly radioactive legacy nuclear waste by leaving it buried in illegal landfills.
The laboratory’s only plan is to leave it in place and cover it. The highly toxic waste dumps in Los Alamos at the top of the watershed are leaking deadly contaminants into the Rio Grande, directly upstream from the city’s new water source — posing serious health threats to Santa Feans.
Thank you, Mayor David Coss, for your awareness, concern and willingness to bring this issue to the forefront, and for your foresight and compassion for the future generations of our community. However, if the intent is to assure a secure and potable water supply for the coming generations, the resolution falls short.
It relies on a cleanup proposal to rebury the low-level, yet still highly radioactive, waste in lined landfills. This approach postpones the problem for the coming generations while solutions to remediate it are available and being utilized now. American scientists are currently effectively remediating the nuclear devastation of land around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
For 55 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has known of the serious health threats presented by the seepage of radionuclides into the groundwater and has done nothing more than “study” the problem — costing taxpayers billions. Clearly, the laboratory scientists have neither the environmental intelligence nor the will to cope with this problem. Sadly, the resolution is being fast-tracked through the council before the members of the community with considered solutions have been given the opportunity to present their ideas.
The resolution will come before the full City Council on Wednesday. Please help us broaden the discourse by contacting the mayor. Concerned citizens are asking for a seat at the table to share views of the viable alternatives to protect our bioregion from the scourge of the nuclear industry.
ShannYn Sollitt is founder and director of NetWorks Productions, a nonprofit communication arts production company dedicated to creating and disseminating media designed to inspire a peaceful and sustainable world.
Mayor’s Resolution Makes Sense
The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…
The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.
The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.
The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.
Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”
I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.
Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos
Santa Fe, NM – Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds the demand by the Mayor of Santa Fe that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) not rule out alternatives to their so-called “cleanup” plan for Area G, the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump. LANL plans to “cap and cover” and permanently leave one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried forever.
Mayor David Coss will ask the Santa Fe City Council to approve his resolution to seek real cleanup alternatives at their December 11th meeting. Mayor Coss is also chairman of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that lobbies Congress for increased Lab funding. Yesterday he introduced his resolution to the Regional Coalition as well.
LANL is relying on their own outrageous estimate of $29 billion for removal of the waste at Area G as a rationale to leave the waste in place. Nuclear Watch has performed a cost comparison that compares the Lab’s estimate on a recent cleanup actually performed by the Lab and also to another Laboratory estimate. Our cost comparison shows that removal of the waste could actually cost less than $6 billion. The Lab’s preference is to cap and cover and leave the waste in place at Area G.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit playing games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.”
# # #
Heather Wilson Finalized Contract with Sandia Labs While in Congress;
Payments Started the First Day She Left Congress;
Wilson Should Resign from Council Determining Labs’ Futures
Santa Fe, NM – Today, The Albuquerque Journal reported that former Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R. – New Mexico) finalized her first contract with the Sandia National Laboratories on December 19, 2008, while she was still representing the district that includes that nuclear weapons facility. Moreover, her first invoice documents that she began to be paid $10,000 a month for “Consultant/Advisory Services” that had no written work requirements on January 4, 2009, her very first day out of office. A few months later she was also being paid $10,000 a month by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for a similar contract.
The Albuquerque Journal article builds upon a Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General investigation, which determined that the Sandia and Los Alamos Labs had made approximately $450,000 in improper payments to Wilson up until March 2011, when she began to campaign for the Senate. The DOE IG report said that the facts indicate that federal funds were used for prohibited lobbying activities, which that office is still investigating. The Labs were forced to return that money to the government, but not Wilson.
The Albuquerque Journal received the new information concerning the dates of Wilson’s contract with Sandia from Nuclear Watch New Mexico. The watchdog organization obtained the documents by appealing an initially rejected federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
During her unsuccessful 2012 Senate campaign Wilson repeatedly attacked her opponent Martin Heinrich for not supporting the labs strongly enough. In particular, while invoking a jobs argument, she repeatedly criticized the Obama Administration for delaying a controversial facility at LANL for expanded production of plutonium pit cores for nuclear weapons. However, despite its estimated $6 billion cost to the taxpayer, the government’s own documents clearly disclosed that the facility would not create a single new permanent job because it would merely relocate existing Lab jobs. In contrast, during her entire Senate campaign, Wilson did not disclose the full extent of her financial ties to the nuclear weapons labs.
In February 2013, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Wilson to a congressional advisory council that will recommend how the nuclear weapons laboratories should be managed and operated in the future. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Heather Wilson should resign from this advisory council immediately because of her clear conflict-of interest. If she does not step down voluntarily, congressional leaders must replace her.”
“Other Members of Congress should take heed of Heather Wilson’s highly questionable ethical behavior,” Coghlan continued. “They should remember that they were elected to represent their constituents, not the for-profit corporations running the labs. Our politicians should avoid even the appearance of favoring the interests of the nuclear weapons labs above the public’s best interests, which Wilson so clearly failed to do.”
# # #
Ex-Congresswoman Wilson’s contract with Sandia and invoices obtained through Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act request are available at
The Nov. 3, 2013 Albuquerque Journal article From Congress to contract: Heather Wilson says 10K per month Sandia Labs deal met ethics rules is available at
(a paid subscription is necessary for the full article).
The June 2013 DOE IG Report Concerns with Consulting Contract Administration at Various Department Sites (DOE/IG-0889) that focuses on Heather Wilson’s contracts with the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories is available at http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/inspection-report-doeig-0889
903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
firstname.lastname@example.org • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
The New Mexican has just published “New ideas, technologies from LANL could boost region’s economy” on how the Lab wants to “rebrand” itself. I posted the following response on the newspaper’s web site:
This is more of The New Mexican’s sycophantic reporting on the Los Alamos Lab. It’s a long tradition, going back to the early 1990’s when the newspaper’s previous owner (and ex-member of the Department of Energy’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission) fired two reporters who wrote the groundbreaking series “Fouling the Nest” critical of the Lab. Further, he paid off his managing editor to stay quiet about it. Nevertheless, the Columbia University School of Journalism wrote a scathing review on the whole affair decrying “the nuclear meltdown at The New Mexican.”
Or how about in the same period of time when The New Mexican wrote a glowing editorial praising the executive summary of a 1992 LANL Strategic Plan that crowed about the potential for regional economic development through tech transfer from the Lab (sound familiar?).
There were only two problems: 1) those “Cooperative Research and Development Agreements” between LANL and the private sector never did produce significant local economic development; and 2) the Lab had bamboozled The New Mexican because the main body of its 1992 Strategic Plan explicitly said that nuclear weapons are and always will be the LANL’s “raison d’etre.” That remains true to this day, when just under 2/3’s of the Lab’s budget is for core nuclear weapons research, testing and production programs. Moreover, the for–profit corporation (including war-profiteer Bechtel and the University of California) running LANL plans on a never ending cycle of “Life Extension Programs” that will extend the service lives of nuclear weapons for decades while giving them new military capabilities.
This article’s implied claim that the labs’ national security missions are significantly moving away from nuclear weapons is baloney. In addition, show me the money that will make this pipedream of regional economic development through Lab tech transfer happen (especially when it has failed before). It won’t come from the federal government in this fiscal environment, and the quote that “you’d see private investments pouring in” is empty economic propaganda.
Business at LANL makes no sense because doing business at LANL simply costs too much, when each program dollar also costs an overhead dollar (which historically has been used in part to subsidize nuclear weapons programs). And the examples cited, partnerships with oversized corporations such as Chevron and Proctor and Gamble, please show me what that has done for Main Street Española.
Maybe one of these days the New Mexican could again do some groundbreaking critical investigative reporting on the Lab without firing its reporters. I look forward to that day.
House Armed Services Hearing on the B61 Life Extension Program
October 29, 2013
As expected, this was a rah rah session for the B61 Life Extension Program. My opposing comments are mostly in response to the testimonies of witnesses. Their prepared statements are available at
Unless otherwise indicated the quotes herein are from their prepared statements.
Two background notes:
Cost: The estimated weight of individual B61 bombs is ~700 lbs. Gold is currentlly priced at $1,353 per troy ounce. Up to 500 B61s will be refurbished, costing ~$11.8 billion (including DoD tail fin kit). Therefore each bomb will cost more than twice its weight in gold.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) proposes a “3+2” strategy for the future stockpile of three ballistic missile warheads and two air-delivered warheads (one gravity bomb and one air-launched cruise missile warhead). All four witnesses claimed the 3+2 strategy will lead to stockpile reductions. However, a comparison of NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (in which the 3+2 strategy is first introduced) to previous years’ plans shows no further reductions to the stockpile than what is already incrementally planned. Despite their testimony there is no demonstrable link between 3+2 and stockpile reductions. In fact stockpile size may be bumped up while keeping old warheads as a hedge while seeing how the new warheads work out.
Donald Cook, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration
Cook touted the virtues of “interoperable” warheads, the first on deck being for the Air Force’s W78 ICBM warhead and the Navy’s sub-launched W88 warhead. However, a recent GAO report has noted that “the Navy has not fully engaged in the effort because (1) other, ongoing modernization programs are higher Navy priorities, and (2) it has concerns about changing the design of the warhead.”  This understates the Navy’s concerns, when the service actually seems very skeptical about so-called interoperable warheads. The Navy’s lack of keen endorsement can be enough to kill this concept, especially in combination with inevitably exorbitant costs.
“…let me be clear that the resulting decision supported the lowest cost option that meets threshold military requirements.” With that Cook is pushing back against the Senate Appropriations Committee, which cut $168 million from the Obama Administration’s FY 2014 request of $537 million for the B61 LEP, while stating:
The Committee is concerned that NNSA’s proposed scope of work for extending the life of the B61 bomb is not the lowest cost, lowest risk option that meets military requirements and replaces aging components before they affect weapon performance. 
The question of military requirements is key, and whether that may be synonymous with new military capabilities. NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs chose Option 3b for the B61 LEP. As Cook testified, “…Option 3B architecture allows for consolidation of existing B61 variants (B61-3/4/7/10) with the integration of an Air Force provided tail kit assembly.” That tailfin kit will dramatically increase targeting accuracy, functionally melding tactical and strategic variants. The NNSA LEP itself will transform a dumb analogue bomb into a digital nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by future super stealthy aircraft (the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter). In my view, this combination clearly creates new military capabilities.
Senate Appropriations favors Option 1E, a non-nuclear LEP. The difference in House and Senate funding levels represents a struggle over new military capabilities or not.
Cook stated that sequester cuts made the B61 LEP slip 6 months, so NNSA added $244 million to “management reserve” to offset potential increased costs and risks.
“The B61-12 LEP is making great progress. We are in the second year of full scale engineering development. The program has met its development milestones, it is on schedule and it is on budget.” That is laughable. On budget? Really?
“…cascading effect on the integrated schedule of LEP work….” The likely failure of the B61 LEP will have cascading impact on subsequent LEPs.
“Sustained support for the completion of the B61-12 will enable the retirement of the B83…” Not so, the B83 was already planned for retirement (B83-0s are already being dismantled as per the Pantex Ten-Year Site Plan). The proof is the absence of any proposed LEP for the B83-1 in NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.
Right at the end of Q&A Cook made the outrageous statement that to descope the LEP and do anything else would cost more than the LEP itself. He gave no supporting evidence or justification for that.
Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, Department of Defense
She said 3+2 will save money. Where is the proof? The track record suggests otherwise. Simple maintenance (“curatorship”) is what would save money while not risking reliability through major changes.
General C. Robert Kehler, USAF Commander, US Strategic Command
“Through a series of synchronized life extension programs like the B61-12, we plan to improve confidence in the reliability, safety and intrinsic security of our nuclear weapons.” To the contrary, introducing major changes that can’t be tested to a stockpile that has been extensively tested could be exactly what undermines confidence in reliability.
Paul Hommert, Sandia Labs Director
Bear in mind that Hommert wears two hats: the first as Sandia Labs Director, the second as president of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporation that runs Sandia. Sandia Corporation, LLC stands to make a lot of money off of perpetual Life Extension Programs.
“…it is our technical judgment that we must complete the life extension program currently being executed.” Ditto to the above.
LANL Finds a Way to Very Efficiently Waste $400,000
The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released an Audit Report on “The Department’s Fleet Vehicle Sustainability Initiatives at Selected Locations”. One of the locations investigated was Los Alamos National Laboratory. The report states that LANL leased 522 flex-fuel vehicles that were routinely fueled with regular gasoline instead of alternative fuels such as E-85. Sadly, DOE paid a premium of about $427,900 to acquire these flex-fuel vehicles rather than purchasing conventionally-fueled vehicles. (The report stated that $700,000 was spent for 854 flex-fuel vehicles, which was for 522 at LANL and 332 at Bonneville. I had use a simple ratio to arrive at the $427,900 average split for LANL because the DOE IG would not give the actual breakouts.)
By acquiring flex-fuel vehicles but continuing to fuel these vehicles with petroleum at LANL and Bonneville, the Department is not maximizing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. DOE paid at least $427,900 for flex-fuel vehicles at LANL; however, failed to obtain the environmental benefits or further Departmental goals of increasing alternative fuel use and reducing petroleum use.
As of September 2012, LANL’s overall fleet had decreased by 9 vehicles, while the number of flex-fuel vehicles had grown to 587. According to LANL officials, LANL used a tanker truck to bring fuel to LANL to fill approximately 65 security vehicles with ethanol fuel. The tanker truck operated approximately 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, and the weekly labor costs to operate the truck were $1,200. Additionally, LANL spent $3,760 on maintenance and repair of the truck in calendar year 2012. The total cost of maintaining and operating the truck, excluding fuel costs, was approximately $66,000 for calendar year 2012. But this tanker truck, or one like it was never used for the regular flex-fuel vehicles.
In addition, the Lab had trouble letting go of unneeded vehicles. LANL retained about 25 percent of their fleets (269) and other mobile equipment even though they did not meet minimum utilization standards. Despite retaining underutilized vehicles, LANL actually increased its inventory of other motorized equipment (small motorized equipment not suitable for use on public roadways).
To be considered fully utilized at LANL, a vehicle must travel an average of 205 miles per month or make 6 trips per working day. According to documents provided by LANL officials, a utilization rate of less than 93 percent, meaning that less than 93 percent of fleet vehicles meet these utilization standards, is considered “unsatisfactory.” During FYs 2009 through 2011, LANL’s utilization rate was between 75 and 77 percent. For example, in FY 2011, LANL had a utilization rate of 76 percent meaning that 269 of 1,115 vehicles, or approximately 24 percent, were retained even though those vehicles did not meet the local utilization objectives.
LANL submitted written justification for retaining only 35 of the 269 underutilized vehicles. However, some of the justifications were very vague and did not sufficiently explain why the user needed to retain the vehicles instead of downsizing their fleet. One justification for retaining two underutilized vehicles stated, “because of the amount of employees and locations of employees, they would like to keep both vehicles. The plan is to switch them every 6 months to make sure we put enough mileage on both vehicles.” When addressing underutilized vehicles, the DOE IG noted the emphasis was often on increasing utilization as opposed to downsizing the fleet and, therefore, reducing costs. In regard to eight other underutilized vehicles, the justification stated, “all managers have devised a plan to increase the utilization of their vehicles and do not plan to turn any in at this time.”
Managing a fleet of vehicles is not rocket science. Hopefully this wasted money will be reimbursed by the operating contractor.
The over budget costs of near everything that the National Nuclear Security Administration touches is growing increasingly controversial. Of particular interest now is the Life Extension Program for some 400 B61 nuclear bombs. That program was originally going to cost $4 billion, but is now estimated at ~$10.4 billion. At this point each 700 lb. bomb will cost more than twice its weight in gold. And this doesn’t include original production costs and ongoing support costs since they were first produced in the late 1960’s (which under “Stockpile Systems” is currently ~$80 million annually). And of course it doesn’t include the cost of the bombers over the years that were designed to deliver them.
In lockstep with NNSA’s Life Extension Program, a synchronized Pentagon program will provide new tail fin guidance kits that will transform the B61 into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb, for delivery by future super stealthy (and exorbitantly expensive) F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. That clearly constitutes new military capabilities, despite policy declarations at the highest levels of government (for example at the 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference) that the U.S. would never endow existing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities. An unarmed prototype of the refurbished bomb, designated the B61-12, is to be “flight tested” and dropped with the new tail fin kit in this FY 2014.
Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists recently made available an August 2012 JASON Report on the B61 Life Extension Program while providing his own excellent analysis http://allthingsnuclear.org/jason-on-the-b61/ [The JASONs are pretigious scientists periodically consulted with by the government on nuclear weapons issues.] Among their findings the JASONs reported “In implementing important and desirable, but not essential, elements in the 3B program [the 2nd most expensive B61 LEP option picked by the NNSA], there should be a clear understanding of their cost and impact on the schedule. These elements should be prioritized in the event that unanticipated program delays or cost overruns are encountered that could threaten meeting the FPU [first production unit] deadline.” The JASONs also noted “the Pentagon’s already strongly expressed displeasure at the inability to complete the W76 as scheduled.”
The W76 is one of two warheads for the Navy’s sub-launched Trident missiles, and is the single most common nuclear warhead in the U.S. stockpile. This got me wondering how much the W76 Life Extension Programs will cost, which I tracked down as follows:
In millions of dollars
Original appropriation NNSA data source Inflation adjustment
2003 $72 FY 2005 budget request $91.52
2004 $139 FY 2006 budget request $172.10
2005 $181 FY 2006 budget request $216.75
2006 $182 FY 2008 budget request $211.14
2007 $152 FY 2008 budget request $171.45
2008 $190 FY 2010 budget request $206.39
2009 $203 FY 2010 budget request $221.30
2010 $232 FY 2012 budget request $248.83
2011 $249 FY 2012 budget request $258.89
2012 $254 FY 2012 budget request $258.74
2013 $198 FY 2014 budget request $198
2014 $235 FY 2014 budget request $235
2015 $242 Future Years Nuclear Security Plan in NNSA’s FY 14 request
2016 $237 ditto $237
2017 $235 ditto $235
2018 $230 ditto $230
2019 $200 NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan
2020 $60 ditto $60
Total (adjusted for inflation) $3.694 billion
The number of W76’s to be refurbished is classified, but is believed to be around 1,600. [In 2007 Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists estimated ~2,000 (http://blogs.fas.org/security/2007/08/us_tripples_submarine_warhead/), but told me that number has since been scaled down.] Using 1,600, then each W76 warhead will cost ~$2.31 million to refurbish. This is in contrast to the B61, more than ten times that at $26 million per warhead ($10.4 billion/400), or more than twice its weigh in gold.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has cut the NNSA’s FY 2014 budget request of $537 million for the B61 LEP (that request is a 45% increase above FY 2013) by $168 million. Its report said:
The Committee is concerned that NNSA’s proposed scope of work for extending the life of the B61 bomb is not the lowest cost, lowest risk option that meets military requirements and replaces aging components before they affect weapon performance.
According to the budget figures that I have compiled the W76 LEP is a 17-year program start to finish. In its FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan NNSA claims that the much more complex (and hence much more expensive) B61 LEP will be completed in 10 years by 2024. Granted we’re talking about 4 times fewer nuclear weapons being refurbished, but the work is much more aggressive and involves 100’s of parts, all of which cannot be full-scale tested as a weapon (thank God!). And NNSA’s track record of staying on budget and on schedule is becoming a matter of scorn even amongst congressional staff.
The take away lesson is that NNSA and the labs should simplify. For the sake of stockpile maintenance limited life components such as neutron generators and tritium reservoirs should be replaced as needed, which is a near routine practice, and perhaps the B61’s radar needs replacement as well (which NNSA is fond of pointing out uses old style vacuum tubes). All of that would bring the costs down somewhere along the lines of the W76 LEP. It would also be better aligned with declared nonproliferation policy by not introducing new military capabilities, and better align with national security concerns by not possibly eroding confidence in stockpile reliability through major changes that can’t be full-scale tested. In addition, Congress should require NNSA to disclose in its budget requests annual costs per warhead type, as once was the practice, so that the public can be fully appreciate just how much each warhead costs for arguably archaic missions.
Finally, New Mexico’s Tom Udall sits on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. He opposed the cut to the B61 LEP, among other things saying that he wanted to save 200 in-state jobs. That is no way to formulate nuclear weapons policy, especially given that the B61 Life Extension Program far exceeds mere maintenance. Tom Udall should support his own committee’s cut.
A well-placed source says the B61 Life Extension Program is in increasing trouble because:
• In the just ended Fiscal year 2013 the sequester caused a $30 million cut to the program, resulting in a 6 month slip to the schedule and therefore added $230 million to the total cost of the program. [My comment: only in government can you cut 10’s of millions and end up adding 100’s of millions.]
• If the current government shut down lasts more than 2 weeks, B61 activities will be curtailed, causing additional delays and therefore increasing costs.
• Regardless of the present difference in House and Senate appropriations, the B61 LEP faces a $60 million cut in FY 2014 from sequestration and management efficiencies that cut 5% from the needed budget request.
• Under the Continuing Resolution, since nuclear weapons activities did not get an anomaly, the B61 program cannot spend beyond FY 13 levels because of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill.
• At this point an omnibus appropriations bill is unlikely. But if House and Senate Appropriations were to go to conference (which is also unlikely) then there will be a battle over the different levels of funding for the B61 LEP.
• There is already infighting within the Air Force about the future of the B61 and whether the cruise missile is more important to them. [My comment: this point is completely new to me and strikes as very exploitable, roughly analogous to the Navy’s fiscal predicament of new strategic subs vs. the rest of its fleet.]
• As a subset to the point above, there is some talk about making the B61-12 the warhead for the new cruise missile, but that is very preliminary and wishful thinking. The B61 is not well suited for the environmental conditions and loads of a cruise missile and there needs to be sufficient diversity in the stockpile — you can’t make everything a B61.
The bottom line is that given opposition from both Senate Energy and Water and Defense Appropriations, which zeroed out the tail kit for the B61, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense may be finally realizing that they need to find alternatives to the full B61 Life Extension Program.
The Oct 2013 Department of Energy Inspector General (DOE IG) audit report “The Resumption of Criticality Experiments Facility Operations at the Nevada National Security Site” informs us that a move from Technical Area 18 (TA-18) at Los Alamos to the Nevada National Security Site, like many other DOE projects, is taking longer than planned. The report didn’t mention it but it, but the move is, no doubt, costing us more, too.
The move centers on relocating four criticality assemblies. Criticality experiments use “assemblies” of enriched uranium and/or plutonium to create self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions. These assemblies differ from nuclear reactors in that the nuclear reaction is not sustained (assuming there are no accidents). Another significant difference is that the critical assemblies have no containment or shielding.
A DOE fact sheet tells us that:
[National Criticality Experiments Research Center] NCERC contains the largest collection of nuclear critical mass assembly machines in the western hemisphere. These assemblies can be broadly categorized as benchmark critical assemblies, general-purpose assemblies, and fast- burst assemblies that were designed to accommodate a broad range of experiments. Godiva is a bare metal uranium fast burst assembly designed to provide an intense burst of neutrons during an extremely short pulse. Flattop is a unique fast-spectrum assembly used for cross section testing and training. Planet and Comet are general purpose vertical assembly machines that are designed to accommodate experiments in which neutron multiplication is measured as a function of separation distance between experimental components. Fuel materials include uranium, plutonium, and neptunium.
Clearly, safety and careful planning would be of the utmost importance with these operations, which include conducting nuclear criticality experiments along with hands-on, criticality safety, and emergency response training.
The fact sheet gives the reason for the move as, “As a result of the extensive inventory of SNM and the resulting requirements for physical security and operational safety, it was decided to relocate…”
The DOE IG report also explains that criticality experiments at Los Alamos were halted and moved to Nevada “Citing safety and security concerns in 2004…”
But both of these accounts leave out some interesting history. A Project On Government Oversight (POGO) article gives an account of a security training exercise at TA-18 at Los Alamos –
In 1997, a special unit of the U.S. Army Special Forces was the adversary during a force-on-force exercise. The normal theft scenario is to “steal” enough SNM for a crude nuclear weapon that would fit in rucksacks. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, this exercise required that they “steal” more HEU than a person can carry. Not to be outmaneuvered, the Army Special Forces commandos went to Home Depot and bought a garden cart. They attacked TA-18, loaded the garden cart with nuclear materials, and left the facility. “[T]he invaders reached the simulated objective of the game: enough nuclear material to make an atom bomb.”
And they did so with relative ease. As the Wall Street Journal reported,
“The Garden Cart attackers. . .used snipers hidden in the hills to “kill” the first guards [protective forces] who arrived. Because they happened to be the commanders of the guard force, the rest of the force was thrown into disarray. Many of them also were “killed” as they arrived in small groups down a narrow road leading to TA-18. ‘[The Special Forces] took them out piecemeal as they came in,’ says one participant in the game, whose account wasn’t challenged by DOE or lab officials.”
As the Wall Street Journal further noted, “The 1997 mock invasion succeeded despite months of guard [protective forces] training and dozens of computerized battle simulations showing that newly beefed-up defenders of the facility would win.”
In April 2000, then DOE Secretary Bill Richardson ordered that TA-18 be shut down and all the nuclear materials be completely removed by 2004. So instead of completing the move the 2004, DOE and Los Alamos Lab had only started the move by 2004. Nuclear Watch NM voiced our concerns many times, including when we learned that a Federal Safety Board concluded fatal doses were possible if there was an accident.
As far as operational safety goes, neither the fact sheet nor the DOE IG Report mentioned that TA-18 was intentionally located at the bottom of Parajito Canyon so that the 200-foot canyon walls could provide some natural radiation shielding. This meant that TA-18, with its estimated three tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, sat in a flood plain.
The results of the DOE IG audit states that many of the former capabilities of the were restored in Nevada. However, several problems resulted in delays in restoring the full array of experimental capabilities. NNSA was unable to authorize operations until May 2011, approximately 1 year after the planned date. The program experienced further delays in the start-up activities of each criticality machine, with completion of all planned startup activities for one machine delayed about 2 years.
DOE has not been able to restore full capability to perform plutonium-based criticality experiments.
The Report results state that delays occurred because contractors had not developed adequate procedures for correcting concerns identified during the process to authorize the start-ups. Also, procured safety equipment did not meet standards. Additionally, the Report claimed that DOE had not ensured effective management of the multiple contractors involved and had struggled to successfully integrate and resolve issues between the multiple contractors. Which is odd, because there were only four contractors mentioned in the report – Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Security Technology, LLC, Wackenhut Services International. Exactly what Wackenhut (which provides security, fire rescue and aviation services) did for the move was not stated.
We do appreciate the focus on safety, but if these operations are so important, DOE must emphasize completing the job to avoid wasting any more taxpayers’ money. Once again the Department of Energy proves that its contractors cannot juggle safety, schedule, and cost without dropping as least two. And apparently DOE has trouble efficiently juggling contractors, which is too bad because contractors attempt to perform over 90% of DOE’s work.
LANL Community Support Is Contract Requirement
A recent press release from Los Alamos National Laboratory stated that the LANL “Board of Governors last week approved a $3.1 million extension to the company’s plan supporting education, economic development and charitable giving in Northern New Mexico.”
This, like most LANL statements, could use a little decoding.
1. The Lab’s contract with DOE requires community support. The LANL Conformed Contract (Conformed to Mod 215, 01/25/2013) tells us:
H-24 NNSA AND CONTRACTOR COMMUNITY COMMITMENTS
(a) The Contractor shall perform the activities described in the Contract’s Section J Appendices entitled “Regional Initiatives”, “Regional Purchasing Program” and “Technology Commercialization”, which sets forth the NNSA’s commitments to support the community…
(b) The Contract’s Section J Appendix entitled “Contractor and Parent Organization Commitments, Agreements, and Understandings” sets forth the Contractor’s Community Commitment plan that describes its planned activities as to how the Contractor will be a constructive partner to the communities in northern New Mexico, the eight northern pueblos, and to citizens of the State of New Mexico who should all benefit from the Contractor’s management and operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory…
2. For 2014, the Press release states the Plan will provide “$1 million for economic development such as financial and technical assistance to start and grow regional businesses. ” However, the contract states that the Lab receives a $1.8 million tax credit (per year) from the State of New Mexico for providing technical services assistance to small business. It is unclear to us what the Lab does with the other $.8 million.
4. The Press release continues that the Plan will provide “$1.1 million for educational programs and scholarships for New Mexico students and teachers as well as workforce development programs.” One of the scholarship programs that the Lab provides is the Out-of-State Tuition and Fee Waiver program. The contract explains that this program is for any LANS “full-time active employee and/or dependent who is accepted to any University of California undergraduate or graduate program. Based on the past 3 years of data, approximately 100 students will take advantage of this program annually. Out-of-state tuition and fee waiver represents a savings of $17,000 per student each year” or $1.7 million annually.
5. For meeting its community giving contract requirements, the then Lab receives an award fee on top of the regular payments. LANL’s FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Report does not give the public the exact breakout, but we know that Performance Based Initiative 11 (PBI 11: Excellence in Business and Institutional Management), which includes community giving, earned the Lab an additional $3,656,808 for 2012.
6. Not mentioned in the press release was one of the biggest gives, which is to Los Alamos Public Schools. The contract states, “The primary management and operations contractor shall provide $8.0 million in each fiscal year to the Los Alamos Public School District to support public elementary and secondary education.”
Wired Magazine’s alarmist article NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration argues that virgin production of plutonium-238 in nuclear reactors is needed, or U.S. space exploration is dead. Instead the nation’s future Pu-238 needs should be met through accelerated nuclear weapons dismantlements and recycling/scrap recovery efforts.
Processing and encapsulation of Pu-238 currently takes place at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. [Having said that, all plutonium operations at the Lab have been shut down since the end of June because of nuclear criticality safety issues, which is a story in and of itself]. A Pu-238 scrap recovery line capable of recovering 2-8 kilograms per year was slated to start in 2005, but apparently has never become fully operational. In fact, LANL claimed in a 2008 site-wide environmental impact statement that it was capable of recycling/recovering up to 18 kilograms of Pu-238 per year, far more than needed to take care of the nation’s needs.
LANL has a large existing inventory of Pu-238 scrap material. Moreover, the Pantex Plant was supposed to ship radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) from dismantled nuclear weapons to the Lab to harvest Pu-238. That hasn’t happened either, we conjecture because the LANL’s scrap recovery line hasn’t been properly working (or perhaps never really started in the Lab’s troubled Plutonium Facility-4). Indeed, the government estimated that approximately 3,200 RTGs would become available for recycling between 2009 and 2022 through nuclear weapons dismantlements. Significantly, increased dismantlements could also supply sufficient recycled tritium for existing nuclear weapons instead of current military production in civilian reactors, a big nonproliferation no-no. But unfortunately dismantlements at the Pantex Plant are substantially blocked by exorbitant “Life Extension Programs” that extend the service lives of existing nuclear weapons by three decades or more while giving them new military capabilities.
Before the U.S. resumes virgin Pu-238 production, the government should make LANL straighten out its Pu-238 recovery operations. Safely that is, because Pu-238 is a very energetic gamma emitter and therefore very dangerous to handle. But the nation’s future Pu-238 needs should be met through accelerated nuclear weapons dismantlements (instead of Life Extension Programs) and recycling/scrap recovery efforts, not new virgin production in nuclear reactors.
The Albuquerque Journal ran a really good editorial on Tuesday, September 17:
Editorial: Time past for coddling bloated nuclear agency
It’s big government on steroids.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, is tasked with securing and maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal. It oversees Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
For years the agency’s MO has included expectations of nearly automatic budget increases, bloated projects that are never finished, duplicative red tape and a bureaucracy that resists efforts to rein it in.
Critics say it has become a massive jobs program.
Ten of its major projects are collectively over budget to the tune of $16 billion and behind schedule by 38 years, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. For instance, at LANL a new $213 million security system to protect sensitive nuclear bomb-making facilities doesn’t work. So, taxpayers are being asked to lay out an additional $41 million to fix it.
The chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees finances and contracts largely blames the agency’s reliance on private contractors – more than 92,000. LANL and Sandia are operated by private contractors, LANL by a consortium led by Bechtel, and Sandia by Lockheed Martin.
Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine told Congress this spring that accountability and internal structure problems pose a national security risk. And there’s no doubt NNSA’s work is critical to U.S. national security, but taxpayers also are tired of watching their money being thrown at an insatiable beast that too often fails to deliver results.
As long as the NNSA remains impervious to calls for improving its culture and tightening up its accountability, the inefficiencies and waste will keep coming.
A congressionally appointed panel recently began studying whether to overhaul the agency. (Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman had said he was open to just getting rid of it.) Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says the review is a chance to “have this dialogue and reach a conclusion.”
It’s way past time for that talk. The panel should come up with a well-thought-out plan to either overhaul NNSA from top to bottom or outright kill it and let the DOE take on its oversight duties.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
Abolish NNSA, but increase federal oversight and independent review
Kudos for the editorial “Time past for coddling bloated nuclear agency.” The money the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has wasted on out-of-control nuclear weapons projects is appalling. Some examples are the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos (estimated costs exploded from $660 million to $5.8 billion), the failed National Ignition Facility at the Livermore Lab in California ($1 billion to $5 billion), the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina ($1 billion to $7 billion), and now the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee ($1 billion to $10 billion).
Despite all this chronic mismanagement NNSA’s proposed budget was increased 17% above FY 2013 sequester levels. That’s right, the guilty were rewarded, while schools, firefighting, environmental protection, etc. were cut.
But while NNSA is truly dysfunctional, its contractors deserve more scrutiny as well. After all, the agency is simply out manned, with some 2,600 (and declining) employees trying to oversee more than 50,000 contractor employees nation-wide. Moreover, these contractors have inherent conflicts-of-interest. For instance, the lab directors wear two hats, first as those responsible for annual certification of the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, which gives them enormous leverage. Their second hat is as presidents of the executive boards of the for-profit corporations running the labs. How can we be sure they are always acting in the best interests of the country while they are pushing a never-ending cycle of extremely costly “Life Extension Programs” for existing nuclear weapons? Ironically, these programs may actually erode confidence in stockpile reliability by intentionally introducing major changes that can’t be full-scale tested.
As your editorial noted a congressionally appointed panel is beginning to study the NNSA’s future. I make some recommendations for that panel:
• The NNSA is a failed experiment and should be abolished. Its nuclear weapons programs should revert back to “Defense Programs” within the Department of Energy, as it was pre-2000.
• As guarantors of the nuclear weapons stockpile, the lab directors should be just lab directors, their jobs institutionally insulated from the for-profit motivations of the private corporations running the labs.
• Duplicative bureaucratic red tape should be eliminated, but federal oversight should be increased, not decreased (witness a protesting 82-year-old nun infiltrating an extremely sensitive area at Y-12 despite contractor security assurances). Concrete benchmarks need to be put back into now toothless annual Performance Evaluation Plans so that contractors are held truly accountable. NNSA’s past practice of granting waivers for poor performance while handing out contract extensions (as was done for the Los Alamos and Livermore Labs) must end.
• DOE should be required to seek concurrence from the congressionally chartered Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board early in the design of nuclear facilities. Past NNSA delays in meeting safety concerns have been a prime driver of exploding project costs.
• Congress should establish a stringent change control process for nuclear weapons, including a requirement for outside review of all proposed major changes. Because the labs lack conservatism in maintaining the pedigree of tested, reliable designs, independent expert review could save 100’s of billion of dollars over the next few decades and help maintain confidence in stockpile reliability. As a past example, a group of eminent independent scientists called the JASONs found that the cores of nuclear weapons, the plutonium pits, have reliable life times of around a century, in contrast to NNSA’s previous claims of 45 years. This helped to convince Congress to delete funding for NNSA’s proposed, enormously expensive new-design nuclear weapons and related expanded plutonium pit production.
• Finally, the congressionally appointed panel deliberating on NNSA’s future should itself be above reproach. One member, former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, pocketed $450,000 in no-bid “consulting” contracts with the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, in between her terms representing New Mexico’s First District and her Senate campaign that largely championed the labs. She should resign from the panel so that its future recommendations are not tainted by her clear conflict-of-interest.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Report Reveals That Little is Known About Lab’s Future Plutonium Needs
Except LANL Contractor Needs Money
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals how the future of expanded nuclear weapon component production at Los Alamos is unknown. The public has had enough of half-baked billion-dollar plans for nuclear facilities that do nothing but line contractors’ pockets. Congress must put away the check book and realize that the Lab’s plutonium future is unknown because it is unneeded.
Let’s get some details out of the way –
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) houses most of the nation’s capabilities for plutonium research and development in support of the nuclear weapons mission. In addition, LANL’s scientists and technicians also perform research on plutonium to support other missions, such as conducting research on recycling plutonium for use as fuel in commercial nuclear reactors (MOX).
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), is responsible for the management of the nation’s nuclear weapons.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of modern nuclear weapons (fissile means capable of sustaining a nuclear reaction). When a nuclear weapon is detonated the pit is explosively compressed into a critical mass that rapidly begins atomic fission. In modern two-stage weapons the plutonium pit acts as the primary (or “trigger”) that initiates fusion in the thermonuclear secondary. Each pit is an atomic bomb in its own right, similar to the Trinity and Nagasaki bombs, both of which were plutonium bombs. In thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs the plutonium pit serves as the trigger that detonates the far more powerful fusion explosion characteristic of hydrogen bombs.
(The need for any more nuclear weapons production ever is actually zero.)
NNSA claims that the need is unknown –
Because of public participation, lack of need, and budget concerns, construction of the Lab’s $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) nuclear facility was deferred for at least five years starting in 2012. The CMRR would have enabled a production capacity of 50-80 pits per year. Theoretically, the Lab is currently capable of producing 10-20 pits per year, maybe. But it produced zero this year.
It is now unclear when or if the CMRR nuclear facility will be built, which the Lab claims may lead to insufficient capabilities to meet LANL’s plutonium research requirements. But no one really can say what these requirements are.
The report states the uncertainty–
The Nuclear Weapons Council is still evaluating specifications for nuclear weapons and their corresponding life extension program schedules, and it may take another year or two before final decisions are made, according to NNSA officials. Since the schedule has not been finalized, the number of pits that will be needed is uncertain as well. (Pg. 10)
Officials have announced that they are seeking alternatives to the CMRR that would provide the capabilities planned for the CMRR nuclear facility using existing facilities. This would be replacing deferred unneeded capabilities with unneeded capabilities. Instead of trying to replace the lacking capabilities of the CMRR, NNSA should first describe the actual pit needs, which are none.
Meanwhile, “NNSA has estimated that it needs to be able to ramp up its capabilities to manufacture about 30 pits each year by 2021” to meet expected life extension program requirements. (Life extension programs are intended to lengthen the lives of existing nuclear weapons by 20 to 30 years by repairing or replacing nuclear weapons components as needed.)
But the 30 number is just a guess “for planning purposes”.
For planning purposes, NNSA is studying the possibility of manufacturing about 30 pits per year… (Pg.10)
“Studying the possibility” is not a need.
NNSA now believes that LANL can support the manufacture of 30 pits per year just by upgrading its radiological laboratory and by repurposing available space in its existing plutonium facility. (Pg. 12)
Costs are unknown –
The cost estimates were characterized as “high-level and a rough order of magnitude and noted that the estimates should be viewed as preliminary and preconceptual that would not be useful for program definition or scoping.” (pg.15)
Staffing is unknown.
NNSA and LANL officials told us that recruiting additional staff for plutonium-related research necessarily takes years of advance planning, but that the uncertainty of where the new capabilities will be located or what the level of capacity is needed has complicated planning efforts. (Pg. 17)
What is know is the public is a problem –
Plans for transporting plutonium or other radioactive materials from LANL to facilities at other sites could also spur public opposition that may cause schedule delays or create other impediments…
Like speaking up?
The real action will begin soon. Note the press release’s phrase “With the incorporation of a new Air Force tail kit assembly…” In its last budget request NNSA marks the following milestone “In FY 2014, NNSA will integrate the nuclear bomb assembly components and the Air Force Tail Kit Assembly into functional Compatibility Test Units (CTUs) for integration testing with Air Force nuclear certified aircraft.” NNSA FY 2014 Congressional Budget Request, page WA-32.
This is a good example of how the NNSA’s ~$10 billion B61 Life Extension Program and the Air Force’s ~$3.2 billion Tail Kit Assembly program are co-joined. Together they will create the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by future super stealthy F-35s (with each bomb costing more than twice their weight in gold). This clearly creates new military capabilities for an existing nuclear weapon, contrary to official U.S. policy declared at the 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference and elsewhere.
National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S. Department of Energy
For Immediate Release
August 29, 2013
Contact: NNSA Public Affairs, (202) 586-7371
B61-12 Life Extension Program Radar Drop Tests Completed Successfully
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of the ongoing effort to refurbish the aging B61 nuclear bomb without resorting to underground nuclear testing, two successful B61-12 radar drop tests were successfully completed at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on Aug. 14 and 15, 2013, by engineers from Sandia National Laboratories.
Current B61s use decades-old vacuum tubes as part of their radar system. The new radar system, which had not been tested outside of a laboratory environment, was assembled in a gravity bomb configuration and successfully functioned as it was dropped from a helicopter.
“The B61 contains the oldest components in the U.S. arsenal,” said Don Cook, National Nuclear Security Administration Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure and effective without the use of underground testing. The B61 has been in service a decade longer than planned, and our refurbishment program is a scientific and engineering challenge. These successful tests have given us confidence in our ability to integrate the new radar design and move forward with our efforts to increase the safety and security of the bomb.”
The Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and Department of Energy/NNSA organization established by Congress, moved the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) from the planning stages to development engineering in February 2012. The scope of this LEP includes refurbishment of both nuclear and non-nuclear components to address aging, ensure extended service life, and improve safety, reliability and security of the bomb. With the incorporation of a new Air Force tail kit assembly, the design will also enable consolidation and replacement of the existing B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs by the B61-12 bomb. The LEP will reuse or remanufacture existing components to the extent possible.
This radar drop test is one of several critical milestones for the B61-12 LEP this year. Radar testing will continue with integration of other B61-12 components, including the weapon and firing control units to demonstrate the arming, fuzing and firing subsystem. The B61-12 LEP is an essential element of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent and of the nation’s commitments to extended deterrence and it ensures the continued vitality of the air-delivered leg of the U.S. nuclear triad.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.energy.gov for more information.
A Los Alamos National Laboratory fact sheet touts the Lab as a plutonium “center of excellence”. However, the Laboratory Director paused operations in the Plutonium Facility on June 27, 2013. (The Plutonium Facility, called PF-4, is located at Technical Area 55 at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). PF-4 is home for the Lab’s plutonium work, including nuclear weapons component production.) The pause was based on issues identified during safety reviews and findings from recent assessments. For one, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) performed a review of the Criticality Safety Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in May 2013. (The Board is an independent organization within the executive branch chartered with the responsibility of providing recommendations and advice to the President and the Secretary of Energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy (DOE) defense nuclear facilities.) This review identified significant non-compliances with DOE requirements and industry standards in the Lab’s Criticality Safety Program (CSP). In addition, this review identified criticality safety concerns around operations at the Plutonium Facility. The Board noted that some of these deficiencies are long standing and indicated flaws in federal oversight and contractor assurance. Much plutonium work, especially work with a high potential for criticality, will be stopped through the rest of 2013.
Nuclear criticality safety is defined as “protection against the consequences of an inadvertent nuclear chain reaction, preferably by prevention of the reaction.” The most potentially dangerous aspect of a criticality accident is the release of nuclear radiation if it maintains a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
To date, the only thing self-sustaining is the Lab’s inability to address its criticality issues and yet still convince Congress to keep funding plutonium work there. To prevent bad things from happening, DOE’s regulations and directives require contractors to evaluate potential accident conditions and put in place appropriate controls and safety measures. History shows that the Los Alamos Laboratory just cannot do this, even though much of the work is performed on plutonium pits, the primaries of nuclear weapons. Even though actual need for this work has not been proven, the Lab has entrenched itself as the only place in the country where plutonium pits can be made, developed, and tested.
For fiscal year 2014, the budget request for nuclear ‘weapons activities’ at LANL was $1.4 billion. The exact amount that is spent on plutonium operations in PF-4 is unknown to us, but the budget request for 2014 for Directed Stockpile Work, which is where major parts of the plutonium operations are located, was $460 million. This is a 23% increase over last year’s budget. The funding pours into the Lab regardless of whether the Lab is actually doing any work, which is frequently stopped.
Here’s history of criticality problems and work stoppages at Los Alamos Laboratory:
In 2005, an assessment determined that LANL’s expert-based Criticality Safety Program (CSP) was not compliant with applicable DOE requirements and industry standards.
In 2006, LANS developed a Nuclear Criticality Safety Program Improvement Plan.
In 2007, in response to concerns raised by the Board’s staff, LANL determined that the authorized loading of vault storage rooms in PF-4 could lead to a critical configuration.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office reported concerns about nuclear safety at LANL are long-standing. Problems included 19 occasions since 2003 where criticality safety requirements were violated, such as storing materials in quantities higher than safety limits allow, 17 of 19 of the site’s nuclear facilities operating without proper safety documentation, reported inadequacies in safety systems, radiological releases, and four enforcement actions for significant violations of nuclear safety rules.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending April 3, 2009
LANL management placed the facility in stand-by mode until roughly 125 safety evaluations could be re-evaluated.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending October 2, 2009
The Plutonium Facility was placed in standby mode because management declared the fire suppression system inoperable based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system was not able to achieve the water coverage required. LANL had performed a system adequacy analysis in 2008. The hydraulic calculation completed for the system identified that 13 of approximately 100 hydraulic areas did not meet the requirement.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending October 16, 2009
A general evacuation alarm was caused by a Criticality Alarm System signal because of a loss of all facility ventilation and failure of the Facility Control System at the Plutonium Facility. The facility was in standby mode during this event due to previously identified issues with the fire suppression system and, therefore, limited personnel were in the facility.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending September 10, 2010
Operations in Plutonium Facility were suspended because potentially explosive ammonium nitrate was discovered in two filter ducts.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 3, 2010
It was revealed that greater than 1000 items, or about 20%, of the total vault holdings are items packaged in potentially vulnerable containers with taped slip-top lids rather than in robust safety-significant containers that include a HEPA-filtered vent. The presence of these slip-top containers requires respirator use whenever operators access the vault. In FY10, LANL made meaningful progress in addressing these legacy materials.
In 2011, an event occurred at PF-4 in which fissile material handlers violated procedural requirements and criticality safety controls while moving and photographing plutonium rods.
Beginning in 2012, LANS experienced an 18-month exodus of criticality safety professionals from its criticality safety group. LANS currently employs 2 full-time and 2 part-time qualified criticality safety analysts, in addition to 3 part-time subcontractors—far fewer than the 17 criticality safety analysts it has determined to be necessary to support operations, meet mission goals, and maintain the CSP.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending April 20, 2012
Plutonium Facility personnel use a software program called MAR Tracker to track plutonium that is used in the facility. A system engineer discovered an error in
MAR Tracker that caused only a small subset of applicable facility containers (roughly 1700 out of 13000 containers) to be checked during the required annual MAR surveillance. The Plutonium Facility was placed in Standby Mode.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending June 15, 2012
LANL identified a number of fuel rods in TA-35 Building 27 that were not consistent with the criticality safety evaluation for the facility. Operations at this building had previously been suspended in late-May due to the discovery of three fuel rods that were not in the facility or institutional tracking systems.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 14, 2012
LANL identified that the Criticality Safety Evaluations (CSEs) for two rooms did not adequately address the potential for interaction effects between storage locations. Plutonium Facility management suspended operations in these two vault rooms.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending February 15, 2013
LANL began a focused training program (“boot camp”) to provide an intensive learning environment for new criticality safety staff. The program consisted of nine modules including: nuclear theory; criticality safety calculation methods; ANSI/ANS, DOE and LANL criticality safety standards and requirements; criticality safety evaluations; and criticality alarm and detection systems. This program along with on-the-job training and performance demonstrations was to provide a mechanism for achieving full qualification as a LANL criticality safety analyst. Conduct of the boot camp was part of the LANL corrective action plan for improving the nuclear criticality safety program.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending May 3, 2013
The laboratory completed criticality safety assessments at LANL nuclear facilities. The review teams identified 3, 4, and 6 findings for TA-55, CMR, and Area G, respectively. In all cases, the assessments concluded adequate implementation of the Criticality Safety Program with the exception of identified findings. Notably, one of the findings at Area G identified that supervisors and operations center personnel did not have an adequate understanding of criticality safety requirements. Area G management paused operations based on this finding and conducted appropriate training to resolve this issue.
In May 2013, the staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) performed a review of the Criticality Safety Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory. This review identified significant non-compliances with applicable Department of Energy requirements and industry standards in the implementation of the Criticality Safety Program. The Board’s staff identified the following non-compliances during its review:
• Most criticality safety controls are not incorporated into operating procedures.
• Operators typically do not utilize written procedures when performing work.
• Fissile material labels do not list parameters relevant to criticality safety (e.g., mass).
• Some fissile material operations lack Criticality Safety Evaluations (CSEs).
• Some CSEs do not analyze all credible abnormal conditions.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending June 28, 2013
The Laboratory Director paused programmatic activities at the Plutonium Facility. The pause was directed based on issues identified during procedural and criticality safety reviews and findings from recent assessments. Reviews at PF-4 have identified a number of procedural issues and the need for clarification and improvement of criticality safety controls.
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending July 26, 2013
Plutonium Facility personnel identified several criticality safety issues associated with recent construction activity. Even though plutonium work was paused, the Laboratory Director and the Facility Operations Director (FOD) approved construction activities that had the potential to affect nuclear materials.
For more information, please read the LAMonitor article By John Severance
Safety board visits LANL
Secretary of State John Kerry correctly condemned the Syrian regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons, but he’s wrong calling them “the world’s most heinous weapons.” Instead that awful distinction belongs to nuclear weapons, a class of weapons far above any other. If ever used again nuclear weapons would indiscriminately kill far more people, including women, children and non-combatants, than chemical weapons ever could, and poison the planet with radioactive fallout. Nevertheless our country is planning repeating cycles of “Life Extension Programs” costing $100 billion or more, giving existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities. This is directly contrary to what Kerry’s predecessor ex-Secretary Hillary Clinton declared as official U.S. policy at the 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference.
The cost of the mismanaged Los Alamos and Sandia Labs’ Life Extension Program for the B61 nuclear bomb has more than doubled from $4 billion to $10 billion. A related $3.2 billion Pentagon program will produce a new tail fin guidance kit. Together these programs will create the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by future super stealthy aircraft, while each bomb will cost more than twice their weight in gold.
The U.S. should review its own moral authority while preparing for military action in Syria. In particular our New Mexican congressional delegation must stop automatically supporting expanded nuclear weapons programs without deeply questioning their own consciences. Our politicians’ justifications to date have been to protect a few hundred jobs at the Labs, which don’t really trickle down to average New Mexicans anyway.
As evidence of the lack of broad benefit to New Mexicans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau our state was 37th in per capita income in 1959. In 2010 we were 44th, despite the vaunted economic presence of the nuclear weapons industry in New Mexico, and in 2013 we were rated dead last for the well being of our children by the KIDS COUNT Data Center. Our politicians should be striving mightily that New Mexicans increasingly benefit from our vast renewable solar, wind, biomass and geothermal resources that would employ far more citizens, instead of pandering to nuclear weapons programs that produce a commodity that we can only hope will never be used.
John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal had an article today entitled “Sandia Labs manager gets 6 more months,” describing Lockheed Martin’s half year contract extension. John knows all three nuclear weapons labs well, and I won’t be telling him things that he doesn’t already know. But I’ll use his article as an excuse to stand on my soap box about Sandia Labs.
To my taste, John’s article makes Sandia sound a little too benign with phrases like “the nuclear weapons research center” and “Sandia is one of the nation’s three nuclear weapons design and maintenance laboratories.” What is left unreported is that Sandia is a major production site that, for example, manufactured 850 neutron generators for nuclear weapons in 2010, and loads them with radioactive tritium. In addition to design responsibility for non-nuclear components, Sandia’s secondary mission has long been “weapons effects” research for making sure nuclear weapons continue to work in lethal radiation environments. This enables multi-strike nuclear warfighting rather than the simple deterrence sold as doctrine to the American public.
Further, instead of mere “maintenance,” all three nuclear weapons labs (Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore) are lobbying for a never-ending cycle of so-called Life Extension Programs that will intentionally introduce profound changes to existing nuclear weapons. Major changes are the last thing we should do to a stockpile that has been extensively tested and proven to be even more reliable than previously thought, when we can no longer full-scale test. All of this will be of enormous expense to the American taxpayer, where for example the currently proposed Life Extension Program for the B61 bomb has exploded in costs from $4 billion to more than $10 billion, resulting in each bomb costing twice its weight in gold. Added to this is a related $3.2 billion Pentagon program giving the B61 a new tail fin guidance kit, transforming it into the world’s first nuclear “smart” bomb for delivery by planned super stealthy aircraft.
In addition to prolonging their service lives for 30 years or more, these Life Extension Programs have and will create new military capabilities for existing nuclear weapons, despite denials at the highest levels of the U.S. government to the world at large (for example, at the United Nations’ 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference). The lab directors wear two hats, the first as directors who are required to annually certify to the president and Congress that the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe, secure and reliable. The second hat is that as presidents of the executive board of the for-profit corporations running the labs, which will directly benefit from never-ending Life Extension Programs that may actually undermine stockpile reliability. So far from mere “research” and “maintenance” we have a deep seated conflict-of-interest driven by profit that will stymie our global leadership toward getting rid of nuclear weapons while continuing to fleece the American taxpayer.
Foremost in this is the Sandia National Laboratories, which amongst the three labs now has the largest nuclear weapons budget. In the past, Sandia has been singled out as a model of lab mission diversification, with its total annual institutional budget falling below 50% nuclear weapons. That is no longer true given recent large increases to its nuclear weapons research and production programs, which now comprise ~55% of Sandia’s total budget.
A July 5th article in the Deseret News reported on an NNSA program that gives millions of dollars to universities for “predictive science”, which is defined as:
Predictive science is the application of verified and validated computational simulations to predict the behavior of complex systems where routine experiments are not feasible. The selected PSAAP II centers will focus on unclassified applications of interest to NNSA and its national laboratories — Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
Funny, nuclear weapons are not mentioned.
The good news, and few know this better than Utah, is that testing nuclear weapons no longer requires full-scale explosions. The bad news is that predictive science, to the NNSA, is the “science” of predicting whether nuclear warheads will work after they have been refurbished, modernized, and given new military characteristics. We know that the old versions work. Do the students know that they helping to prolong the nuclear menace by testing newly designed versions of the old weapons on their computers?
It should be called nuclear weapons perpetuating science 101.
Yesterday all three House members of the New Mexican congressional delegation voted against an amendment that would cut money added to a wasteful nuclear weapons program. In April the Obama Administration asked for $537 million in fiscal year 2014 for a “Life Extension Program” for the B61 Cold War nuclear bomb, 45% above the 2013 level. The House Appropriations Committee added $23.7 million to that bloated request, which the amendment would have cut. Overall, the B61 Life Extension Program has exploded in estimated costs to where each warhead will cost twice their weight in gold just to “refurbish” (which does not include original production and ongoing maintenance costs).
The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., testified during floor debate:
At a time when we are slashing funds for disease research at the NIH [National Institute of Health], failing to fund our crumbling infrastructure, and underinvesting in our children¹s education, we are increasing funding to keep hundreds of nuclear bombs in operation that we will never use. The Cold War is over.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.,
…supported the full $551 million for the B61 Life Extension Program because it is a national security priority. “This funding is important for Los Alamos and Sandia labs’ effort to ensure the safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile, and cuts to that funding impact the ability to keep it secure,” Luján said.
Rather just ensuring safety and security the program will radically improve the bomb, giving it new military capabilities by turning it into a precisely targeted smart bomb and mating it to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery. Currently the main mission of B61 bombs is as tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War. Improved B61’s fly in the face of Obama’s newly declared goal of reducing the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, even as he proposes to negotiate with the Russians for further arms reductions. Moreover, if security is really the issue, the sure solution that saves taxpayers money and encourages nonproliferation is to withdraw the nuclear bombs from forward deployment in Europe, where a few years ago protesting peace activists were able to infiltrate within a few hundred yards of them.
Ironically, the B61 Life Extension Program may actually undermine our own national security by introducing major changes to existing bombs. Our stockpile has been extensively full-scale tested, and repeated studies have found our nuclear weapons to be even more reliable than previously believed. The Los Alamos and Sandia Labs propose to create a “frankenbomb” by mixing and matching four variants of the B61 bomb into a single new modification. Common sense dictates that the last thing we should do while seeking to maintain confidence in our reliable nuclear weapons stockpile is to introduce major changes that can’t be tested.
Our New Mexican congressional delegation represents a state that was just ranked as the worst of all fifty for the well-being of its children, where more than 25% live in poverty. In stark contrast, Los Alamos County, dominated by the lab, is the second richest county in the entire USA. Nuclear weapons programs are a poor producer of jobs, where for example according to the government’s own documents a new $6 billion plutonium facility was not going to produce a single new permanent job at Los Alamos Lab.
Contrary to the claimed economic benefits of the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, New Mexico as a whole continues to fall from 37th in per capita personal income in 1959 to 44th in 2011. Nevertheless, the Labs have always had inordinate influence over New Mexican politicians. One extreme example is the recent starling revelation that in between unsuccessful Senate campaigns former Rep. Heather Wilson was paid more than $450,000 by the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs for “consulting” contracts that had no written work requirements.
The nuclear weapons labs have voracious appetites for federal funding, with their directors simultaneously acting as the presidents of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs (those private LLCs pay 2/3’s of the directors’ annual compensation of around one million dollars). Business will boom with never-ending Life Extension Programs, and Sandia and Los Alamos are not satisfied with just one Life Extension Program for the B61. They already plan yet another one 20 years from now that initial figures indicate would be even more expensive. In fact, the labs plan a never-ending cycle of Life Extension Programs that intentionally seek to implement major design changes for all existing types of nuclear weapons in our stockpile, costing at least $60 billion (while the doubling of costs has so far been the rule).
Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Congressman Ben Ray Luján should ask himself the question what good does a Cold War nuclear bomb that the for-profit labs want to endlessly tinker with do for New Mexican children? Pork for the labs should not drive nuclear weapons policies, especially when it’s of little if any tangible benefit to average New Mexicans. Luján should, instead, dedicate himself to boosting funding for programs that would really help our children but are facing painful sequester cuts, such as education, medical care and food assistance. Those investments would really brighten their future, and help raise New Mexico from its shameful position as the worst state for kids.”
# # #
See House rejects effort to trim $23.7M in funding for B61, Michael Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, July 11, 2013.
For New Mexico’s ranking as the worst state for kids see Kids Count Data Center http://datacenter.kidscount.org/updates/show/20-2013-data-book-rankings
For the scope and schedule of perpetual Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons see NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan
Thanks to everyone’s work, the NM Environment Department has decided to get more information before allowing any leaky Hanford high-level tank waste to come to New Mexico!
NMED issued its determination to reclassify the DOE request as a class 3 – which requires a public hearing – “because there is significant public interest.”
Public comments made the difference!
There will be much more to do.
See http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/?p=1503 for background.
From the NMED release –
July 2, 2013
RE: ELEVATION OF CLASS 2 MODIFICATION TO REMOVE EXCLUDED WASTE PROHIBITION WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT
The New Mexico Environment Department (Department) received a permit modification
request dated April 8,2013 from the U.S. Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office and
Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC (the Permittees) on April 9,2013. The Permittees seek to
modify the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Hazardous Waste Facility Permit (Permit) and
request that the Department process the request as a Class 2 modification under the
regulations at 184.108.40.2060 NMAC, incorporating 40 CFR § 270.42(b).
The request modifies the prohibition of excluded waste from the WIPP Permit.
Under 40 CFR § 270.42(b)(6)(i)(C), the Secretary may determine that the modification
request must follow the procedures in § 270.42(c) for Class 3 modifications for the following
reasons: (1) There is significant public concern about the proposed modification; or (2) The
complex nature of the change requires the more extensive procedures of Class 3.
In this matter, I have determined that it is appropriate for the Department to process the
modification request as a Class 3 modification under 40 CFR § 270.42( c) because there is
significant public interest.
If you have questions regarding this matter please address them to Trais Kliphuis, of the
Hazardous Waste Bureau, at 476-6051 or email@example.com.
Immediate Action Required
The House of Representatives Energy & Water Appropriations bill is coming up for a vote this week of July 8, 2013. It will come up tomorrow, with votes on amendments as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday. Rep. Quigley (D-IL) will be offering a floor amendment cutting the increase that the Energy & Water subcommittee added to the B61 Life Extension Program.
Please call urging your Representative to vote yes on the Quigley amendment to cut funding on the B61 nuclear warhead program. Please call rather than email at this point, to DC offices, as the timeline is very short.
Over the last few years, spending on nuclear weapons and nuclear bomb plants has continued to grow despite massive cost overruns. Especially wasteful is the plan to overhaul the B61 nuclear bomb, with an eventual total cost of $10 billion by 2019. This is way too much money for a bomb that is dangerous and outdated, and it is urgent that we slow down the spending before it is too late.
Cutting nukes spending in the Republican-controlled House can be an uphill battle. But we have been working with allies in Congress to stop this program that would overhaul 400 B61 nuclear bombs at a total price tag of $25 million each (almost double their weight in gold). We can see some wins, if our representatives feel the pressure.
Call your representative now at (202) 224-3121 to vote for the Quigley amendment to cut funds for the B61 nuclear bomb. [Direct phone numbers for the New Mexican delegation below.]
Subject Line: Budget Cut for Nuclear Bombs
Call your representative at (202) 224-3121 right now. To look up your representative click here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Use this sample message and add your own words:
“My name is [your name] and I live in [your city]. I am calling to tell Rep. [your rep’s name] to vote for the Quigley amendment to the Appropriations bill to cut excess funds for the B61 nuclear bomb.”
This is an important chance to cut wasteful spending on dangerous and outdated nuclear weapons. You can convince Congress to make this a priority.
New Mexico Representatives
Rep. Ben Ray Luján
Washington D.C. Office • Ph: (202) 225-6190
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Washington, DC Office?•?Phone: 202-225-6316?
Rep. Steve Pearce
Washington, DC Office • Phone: 855-4-PEARCE (732723) or (202) 225-2365
Santa Fe, NM – Today the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee reported that it cut funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program (LEP). This is a significant victory for good governance, and it could positively influence future nuclear arms control. The Obama Administration’s request for the B61 LEP was $537 million for FY 2014, a 45% increase above FY 2013. Senate Energy and Water cut it by $168 million to $369 million, and directed NNSA to look at alternatives since the full-blown program is experiencing massive cost overruns.
Senator Tom Udall opposed this cut since most of the B61 work will take place at the Los Alamos and Sandia nuclear weapons labs in New Mexico. Udall now sits on Senate Energy and Water, and successfully engineered a provision that would restore B61 LEP funding if certain cost and schedule requirements are met. Meanwhile House appropriators have added $23 million to the already bloated program, which sets up a sharp difference that must be reconciled in conference. This is where “deals” tend to be cut, and Tom Udall’s position on the B61 LEP could be critical.
In the past few years Senator Tom Udall actively supported a Walmart-sized “CMRR-Nuclear Facility” at Los Alamos that exploded in costs from $600 million to ~$6 billion, which for fiscal reasons the Obama Administration prudently decided to delay. The CMRR’s main mission is to quadruple LANL’s production of plutonium cores (or “pits”) for nuclear weapons. Expanded pit production is necessary only for new-design nuclear weapons or heavily modified existing weapons.
If the full Life Extension Program that Tom Udall currently supports goes forward the estimated 400 B61 nuclear bombs will literally cost more than their weight in gold to refurbish (and that does not include original production costs). Moreover, the program will radically improve the bomb, giving it new military capabilities by turning it into a precisely targeted smart bomb and mating it to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery. Currently the main mission of B61’s is as tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War. Improved B61’s fly in the face of Obama’s just declared goal of reducing the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, even as he proposes to negotiate with the Russians for further arms reductions.
The nuclear weapons labs’ have voracious appetites for federal funding, with their directors simultaneously acting as the presidents of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs (those private LLCs pay 2/3’s of the directors’ annual compensation of around one million dollars). Business will boom with never-ending Life Extension Programs, and Sandia and Los Alamos are not satisfied with just one Life Extension Program for the B61. They already plan yet another one 20 years from now that initial figures indicate would be even more expensive.
In fact, the labs plan a never-ending cycle of Life Extension Programs that intentionally seek to implement major design changes for all existing types of nuclear weapons in our stockpile, costing at least $60 billion (while the doubling of costs has so far been the rule). Further, these major changes may undermine our own national security by eroding confidence in performance reliability when major modifications cannot be full-scale tested. We should instead stick to proven existing nuclear weapons designs, and avoid serious changes which arguably profit only nuclear weapons contractors. Genuine maintenance of our nuclear weapons stockpile, such as the well-understood replacement of limited life components, would be prudent, technically sound and relatively inexpensive.
New Mexico, the state that Tom Udall represents, was just ranked as the worst state of all fifty for the well-being of its children, where more than 25% live in poverty. In sharp contrast, Los Alamos County, dominated by the lab, is the second richest county in the entire USA.
Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Tom Udall could better serve all New Mexicans if he focused more on improving the lives of our children instead of the nuclear weapons labs and the service life of an archaic Cold War nuclear bomb. Specifically, he should drop his opposition to the cut in funding for the exorbitant and unneeded B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program, and make that clear in House-Senate conference. He should, instead, seek to boost funding for programs that really benefit New Mexican children but are facing painful sequester cuts, such as education, medical care and food assistance. And given our state’s increasingly crippling drought, Tom Udall could better serve all New Mexicans while sitting on the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee by expanding water conservation and wildfire prevention programs, instead of favoring the labs through so-called Energy appropriations with increased funding for worse than useless nuclear weapons programs.”
# # #
Obama Calls For Further Nuclear Weapons Reductions
While Increased Production and New Facilities at Los Alamos Are Still On the Table
On June 19, in Berlin, President Barack Obama declared that, in concert with Russia, he plans to seek to cut the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third. He also said he will pursue significant bilateral cuts in tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. In contrast, Obama’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently released plans for unneeded upgrades and dangerous improvements to existing nuclear weapons, which could force expanded nuclear component production and construction of new facilities at Los Alamos.
In the just released “FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” (SSMP), NNSA proposes perpetual Life Extension Programs for nuclear warheads that will result in three types of ballistic missile warheads and two types of nuclear air bombs. Although it’s still vague, the three so-called interoperable warheads would replace four types of existing warheads, which make little sense given the staggering estimated costs. These radical upgrades, if implemented, could not be full-scale tested, which would undermine confidence in their reliability. Our existing nuclear weapons designs have been extensively tested and subsequent studies have found them to be even more reliable and long-lived than originally thought.
The President’s speech is also incongruous with the SSMP in the area of plutonium pit production, and states “Preliminary plans call for pit production of potentially up to 80 pits per year starting as early as FY 2030.” (SSMP Pg. 62) With Obama’s further proposed arsenal reductions, any planned increase in weapons production is only a concession the nuclear weapons contractors profits. The alleged need for more plutonium pits cascades into a misplaced call for more production facilities. NNSA is “…evaluating the feasibility of constructing small laboratory modules connected to existing nuclear facilities…” (SSMP Pg. 8) to meet future claimed plutonium-manufacturing requirements. The SSMP states that Los Alamos can produce up to 30 pits per year without new facilities.
The need for increased pit production has never been explained adequately to the public, but the claim likely is centered on one of the interoperable warhead plans – the W78/88. In a May 7, 2013 testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Dr. Penrose C. Albright, Director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claimed that the W78/88 would require increased pit production at Los Alamos. He goes on to try to scare the Committee by saying that without construction funding for new pit facilities now, the W78/88 warhead upgrade could cost even more. He stated, “without going into the detail, the most likely option for the primary on the 78/88 does require the stand-up and operation of plutonium pit production capabilities at Los Alamos. And so any delay by the Government—any delay in funding to get that stood up—and that really has to start now—is going to add significant schedule risks to the program.” (Hearing Pg. 17)
The President should adopt the more fiscally prudent and technically sound alternative of replacing limited life components while he actually works to eliminate nukes altogether. This unending cycle of proposed Life Extension Program will waste huge sums of taxpayers money and is in direct conflict with the President’s own long-term goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.
The full text of President’s Obama’s speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/19/remarks-president-obam
NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf
Hearing To Receive Testimony On National Nuclear Security Administration Management Of Its National Security Laboratories In Review Of The Defense Authorization Request For Fiscal Year 2014 And The Future Years Defense Program, Tuesday, May 7, 2013, U.S. Senate Subcommittee On Strategic Forces, Committee On Armed Services, Washington, DC.
John Harvey is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, where “he advises on plans, policy and oversight of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.” See his full bio at http://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/bio_harvey.htm
On June 13 he made some comments that offer some good insights into the relationship between the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on nuclear weapons, and their current “3+2” strategy for the “end state” stockpile. See http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/JRH-remarks-NDUF-breakfast-13Jun.pdf
According to Harvey that future stockpile will consist of not one, but three “interoperable” ballistic missile warheads, one gravity bomb (the B61) and one air-launched cruise missile warhead (which could be yet another variant of the B61). For details, see the just released NNSA FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf
The costs will be astronomical, which the FY14 SSMP projects at ~$60 billion (and that’s without the usual cost overruns). And all this strategy does is take 4+3, the existing 4 ballistic missile warheads (W76, W78, W87, W88) and three air delivered bombs/warheads (B61, W80, B83) down to 3+2, but it includes bringing back deployed air-launched cruise missile warheads (which are currently declining in numbers). The gravity bomb that would be retired is the B83, but how useful is that at 1.2 megatons?
Moreover, NNSA and DoD were probably going to get rid of W80 cruise missile warheads anyway. Bush Sr. withdrew many W80’s from active deployment circa 1992 following the break up of the Soviet Union. The W80 life extension program was canceled ~5 years ago, all W80-0’s have already been dismantled, but now the entire class of W80’s might be retired. However, the W80 design was based on the B61 to begin with, so all of this is kind of a distinction without a difference anyway.
The overall trend is lower-yield, more accurate nuclear weapons substituting for higher yield weapons, which I contend on the face of it are new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Reducing the number of the types of nuclear weapons is a smoke screen.
Harvey notes that the ballistic missile warheads will be “interoperable” because they could share the same nuclear explosives package, but that does not a truly swappable warhead make. And at what point do heavily modified nuclear weapon become “new,” and at what point are original designs so changed that confidence in reliability is eroded without full-scale testing?
With respect to the NNSA/DoD relationship, I continue to think that it is largely the tail wagging the dog, that is the nuclear weapons labs wagging both NNSA and the Pentagon. Related, my concerns increase over the congressional panel on the future of the NNSA because of heavy representation on it by the labs and their contractors. Two examples are former LLNL/LANL Director Mike Anatasio and ex.-NM Rep. Heather Wilson. Regarding Wilson, the DOE Inspector General recently reported how she was the recipient of $450,000 in open-ended consulting agreements that lacked deliverables with Sandia and Los Alamos Labs. They had to pay the government back for these unallowable costs, but in turn Wilson should be barred from the panel.
Santa Fe, NM – Today, standing in front of the historic Brandenburg gate in Berlin, President Barack Obama declared that he will seek to cut the arsenal of deployed strategic nuclear arms by up to one-third in concert with Russia. He also said he will pursue significant bilateral cuts in tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. In contrast, just two days ago, Obama’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released it plans for over 60 billion dollars in upgrades and improvements to existing nuclear weapons, beginning with a $10 billion upgrade to the B61 tactical bomb based in Europe.
In its just released “FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,” the NNSA proposes perpetual Life Extension Programs that will result in three types of ballistic missile warheads, two types of nuclear bombs (including the refurbished B61), and one redeployed cruise missile warhead (which is not currently active). Much of the drive for this comes from the Directors of the nuclear weapons labs, who simultaneously act as the presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs. According to the Directors and the NNSA, the three modified ballistic missile warheads would be “interoperable” between delivery platforms. However, these warheads can never be truly interoperable between land and sub-based missiles, but at most will have some interchangeable components.
Further, although it’s still vague, the three so-called interoperable warheads would replace only four types of existing warheads, which other than profits for the labs makes little sense given their staggering estimated costs. Moreover, these proposals will also require untold sums of taxpayers money for facility upgrades and new construction and then production by 2030 of 80 new plutonium pits at Los Alamos, NM and uranium secondaries at Oak Ridge, TN. Finally, these radical modifications, if implemented, cannot be full-scale tested, therefore perhaps undermining confidence in reliability. In contrast, our existing nuclear weapons designs have been extensively tested, and subsequent studies have found them to be even more reliable and long-lived than originally thought.
NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan also claims that new military capabilities for existing nuclear weapons will never be pursued through improvements, echoing previous claims made internationally at the highest levels of government (for example by the Secretary of State at the United Nations’ 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review conference). But past and planned modifications and Life Extension Programs contradict that claim. In 1997 the U.S. rushed a B61 bomb modified as an earth-penetrator to the stockpile. This significantly changed weapon, with an estimated yield of 350 kilotons, assumed the mission of the 9 megaton surface-burst B53 bomb to destroy hardened, deeply buried targets.
The U.S. is currently conducting a Life Extension Program for the sub-launched W76 warhead. This is extending its service life by three decades or more, and giving it a new fuze that is likely capable of more precise heights of burst. As far back as 1997 the head of the Navy’s Strategic Systems pointed out that the combination of increased accuracy and a changed fuze could transform the 100 kiloton W76 from a weapon of deterrence targeting soft targets such as cities into a hard target killer of missile silos and command centers.
NNSA now proposes an overly ambitious Life Extension Program for the existing battlefield variants of the B61 gravity bomb, an estimated 180 of which are forward deployed in NATO countries as a relic of the Cold War. This, of course, seems to contradict Obama’s newly declared goal of reducing the presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. While future numbers may be lowered, the government’s plans will radically improve the B61, which the Russians will be keenly aware of.
NNSA’s proposed B61 Life Extension Program has exploded in costs from an estimated $4 billion to more than $10 billion. Among other things it will mate the bomb to the future F35 Joint Strike Fighter (which itself is estimated to have life cycle costs of more than $1 trillion). Separately, a ~$1.2 billion Pentagon program will upgrade the B61 with a new tailfin guidance kit. This combination of an improved nuclear “smart” bomb delivered by highly stealthy supersonic aircraft will create a lower yield nuclear weapon that can assume the mission of existing higher yield B61’s.
Together, these three examples firmly establish that the U.S. creates new military capabilities through modifications and improvements of existing nuclear weapons. In Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s opinion, an arguably more usable lower-yield nuclear weapon substituting for a higher-yield weapon is clearly and inherently a new military capability.
In contrast to his rhetoric today, in April President Obama requested an unprecedented $537 million for the B61 Life Extension Program in FY 2014. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NNSA programs, has expressed increasing concern over exploding costs. She has indicated in media reports that a reasonable alternative would be to fund a significantly reduced program that replaces limited life components. In our view, this would also have the benefit of not creating new military capabilities.
Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “We naturally welcome President Obama’s declared goal to reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons and battlefield weapons in Europe. However, as a real disarmament step, he should take a time out on the full B61 Life Extension Program. He should instead adopt the more fiscally prudent and technically sound alternative of replacing limited life components while the ultimate future of B61 forward deployment in Europe is being determined. This unending cycle of proposed Life Extension Program will waste huge sums of taxpayers money and is in direct conflict with the President’s own long-term goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.”
# # #
The full text of President’s Obama’s speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/19/remarks-president-obam
NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf
For more on the W76 and B61 Life Extension Programs, in particular their new military capabilities, see the Federation of American Scientists blogs at http://blogs.fas.org/security/2007/08/us_tripples_submarine_warhead/ and
June 11, 2013
Santa Fe, NM – The Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General has found that the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories made improper payments of approximately $450,000 to ex.-NM Rep. Heather Wilson from January 2009 to March 2011. This last February House Speaker John Boehner appointed Wilson to a congressional advisory council that will recommend how the nuclear weapons laboratories will be managed and operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The stated purpose of this NNSA Council is “to examine options and make recommendations for revising the governance structure, mission, and management of the nuclear security enterprise.” Heather Wilson should resign from the NNSA Council because of her clear conflict-of interest.
Wilson was a protégé of the powerful ex-New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici who protected the nuclear weapons labs and engineered lavish appropriations for them. Upon Domenici’s retirement Wilson unsuccessfully ran for his seat, promoting herself as a staunch champion of the labs. For example, during her 2012 campaign she strongly denounced a NNSA decision to delay a controversial nuclear weapons plutonium facility at Los Alamos, playing on employment fears while inaccurately claiming that the delay would cost a thousand jobs (which the government’s own documents contradicted). At the time it was unknown how much she had been paid for her own consulting jobs for Los Alamos and Sandia.
The DOE Inspector General report identified a number of issues concerning payments made by the labs to Heather Wilson and Company, LLC (HWC). It found: “• 23 payments totaling $226,378 made by Sandia between January 2009 and March 2011;
• 19 payments totaling $195,718 made by Los Alamos between August 2009 and February 2011; and • Payments totaling approximately $30,000 made by Nevada and Oak Ridge.”
The DOE IG report went on to find “[n]one of the 23 invoices submitted by HWC contained details as to the time expended and nature of the actual services provided as required.” Wilson’s billing justifications did “not meet even minimum standards” for federal payments. There was also an “absence of detailed evidence of the actual services provided” and that the Sandia Corporation (a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin) “developed an after-the-fact schedule of activities.”
The four management contractors at Los Alamos, Sandia, Nevada and Oak Ridge were required to pay the government back $442,000 for their irregular payments to Heather Wilson. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “The question now becomes whether Wilson should personally be paying the government back. In any event, these new findings on the depth of her conflict-of-interest should bury her political future in New Mexico for once and for all. Further, she should resign from the NNSA Council on the future of the nuclear weapons labs, or replaced by congressional leadership if she doesn’t go voluntarily.”
# # #
The DOE IG Report (DOE/IG-0889) is available at
Dear Fellow Travelers on the Long Road to Safety at WIPP:
I am writing to you as a battle-weary compatriot. For so many New Mexicans, the merest mention of WIPP induces a glazed-over, burned-out feeling associated with the “done deal,” the “one that got away.”
Incredibly, safeguards we originally fought for at WIPP are being stealthily erased behind closed doors right now—a potential disaster for our state’s natural resources and inhabitants. What’s going on? Some of us pessimists predicted this long ago: the attempt to sneak high-level waste into a repository that was never designed for it.
Leaking liquid waste from Hanford, Washington is about to be “re-classified” so its true origin as high-level waste can be disguised long enough to drag it into our state and down to WIPP. This stuff is “Superhot,” so thermally AND radioactively hot that it poses an entirely different set of environmental risks than the plutonium-contaminated “gloves and booties” long used to exemplify WIPP waste. Yes, plutonium lasts an unimaginably long time, but it doesn’t generate as much volatile activity as this liquid waste. The new high-level waste from Hanford is hot enough–both kinds of hot–to blast bigger, faster escape pathways out of the WIPP site that the longer-lasting waste could then travel along. The result? The Rustler Aquifer, Pecos River, Rio Grande and Gulf of Mexico hit by a nasty soup of chemical and radioactive debris that could last almost forever.
If the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, designed from day one to hold high-level waste, couldn’t even attain certification, why should we get stuck with waste for which our dump was never intended? Especially when we got so many promises over the years from politicians that this scenario was illegal and could never come to pass?
I am asking you to consider the written comments I have prepared for our state Environment Department and, if you agree, to add your name to them. I’m asking this because I bet you don’t all have time to write your own lengthy treatises on the subject. We all see that it’s disgraceful for our elected officials to look the other way, clear their throats, hum and whistle a jaunty tune as decades of promises are broken and centuries of pollution recklessly set in motion. Shouldn’t we have public hearings when a change of this magnitude is being considered?
If you agree with me, please co-sign my comments below, and add anything else you’d like at the bottom…
(Fill in your name and contact info, then copy into an email)
…and submit before 5 p.m. on June 10 (yes, next Monday, sorry)
Thanks. Sasha Pyle, Santa Fe (WIPP gadfly since the 1980’s with CCNS, NukeWatch and ANA)
SHOULD THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT IN NEW MEXICO RECEIVE RE-NAMED HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE?
Written Comment Submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department
New Mexico Environment Department
2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1
Santa Fe, NM 87505
WIPP has been controversial for nearly three decades already, among scientists and citizens concerned about its safety. Now, long after the initial public outcry, it seems that the facility is quietly on the verge of seeing its mission and its risks expanded significantly, but this time with quite limited opportunities for public comment. WIPP opened against a substantial tide of opposition. But that does not mean it has carte blanche today to alter its course in ways that substantially increase its potential to taint New Mexico’s resources and future inhabitants. Any change to its operations that renders it more dangerous should be accompanied by at least the same level of scrutiny as its original mission. The fact that it is already receiving waste does not mean it is suddenly appropriate for any radwaste that anyone in the rest of the country wants to get rid of.
It is interesting to note that if WIPP were proposed today, it likely would never get the green light to begin operations. Discussion of appropriate nuclear waste disposal technologies has largely shifted over the last quarter-century to above-ground retrievable and monitored storage of dangerous nuclear materials, hence away from deep geologic repositories–much less those that are designed explicitly to render the waste invisible and irretrievable, an environmentally irresponsible approach at best–and one that only WIPP employs. Promoted as a “Pilot Plant,” WIPP is now destined to be the only one of its kind. There is literally nowhere else to build the dozens of equally large repositories that would be required to solve the nation’s nuclear waste backlog. WIPP is an idea whose time has come and gone.
A crisis of leaking tanks of liquid high-level Cold War waste at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Reservation in Washington State has provided the impetus for the current push to redefine WIPP’s mission. Anyone knowledgeable in nuclear waste issues knows that the Hanford crisis is very real. A perennial nuclear contractor, Bechtel Corporation, is working on a 13 billion dollar contract (triple the original estimate) of taxpayer money to complete a waste treatment plant that would address the Hanford waste, and they have failed to do so. The question facing us now is: should New Mexico be punished for Bechtel’s (and DOE’s) failure?
Equally importantly, if WIPP cannot solve more than a minute fraction of the Hanford crisis, is it worth exponentially increasing long-term environmental hazards at the WIPP site–only to leave Hanford still polluted as well?
If the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, which was expressly configured for high-level waste, could not attain certification, doesn’t that mean there are clear standards that must be met for disposal of these very dangerous materials? How is it possible that a completely different type of facility could be magically re-designated for this purpose when its very design and construction are not appropriate to meet those standards?
It is a matter of record that New Mexicans have been repeatedly promised that this use of WIPP would never come to pass. The 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Bill, reflecting input from New Mexico’s Legislature, Congressional delegation, Governor, Attorney General, and Environment Department (at the public’s insistence) clearly protects New Mexicans from such weakening of the WIPP permit. EPA containment standards, mandating a 10,000 year period of non-migration; an upper limit on the quantities of waste that would come to WIPP; and a stringent adherence to acceptance of only transuranic waste are all stipulated in the Land Withdrawal Bill and carry the force of law.
Additionally, in 2004, the excluded waste prohibition (agreed upon by NMED, EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy) amended the final language of the WIPP permit to specifically exclude from disposal at WIPP: tank waste and any waste “previously managed as high level waste.” Alteration of this would require a Class 3 Permit Modification request, thus allowing hearings for public input. DOE’s own language makes clear that undoing the waste exclusion would be a modification requiring a full public comment cycle.
According to the EPA, Class 1 and Class 2 modifications do not substantially alter existing permit conditions or significantly affect the overall operation of the facility. Class 3 modifications cover major changes that substantially alter the facility or its operations.
The current attempt to re-classify high-level waste so as to bring it to WIPP, and the designation of this change in policy as a Class 2 modification, patently violate this prohibition.
Waste that is not allowed into our state by one name cannot be allowed to enter under another name. Re-naming the high-level waste “transuranic” when it hits our border in no way addresses the major scientific concerns about its safe disposal. The attempt to run this major change through as a Class 2 modification is deceptive and illegal. Violating the Land Withdrawal Bill and the 2004 waste exclusion would be legally actionable at once.
If New Mexicans have been promised repeatedly, with the force of law, in 1992 and 2004 and many other points over the last 30 years, that high level waste would not come to WIPP, what has changed—besides the Administration?
This raises the question: is WIPP regulated according to the physical reality of what will actually happen to nuclear waste underground, or by the artifice of paper-shuffling and magic language, mere words on paper that happen above ground–and have no relation to the site itself, its toxic contents, and its containment performance over the very long future? And it also raises the question: was WIPP’s purpose truly to solve some fraction of our nation’s nuclear waste crisis, or merely to give the appearance of doing so, to keep tax dollars flowing into nuclear weapons (and hence, waste) production?
The site and the science of WIPP have always been shaky, and widely contested. It is likely the repository will be unable to safely contain even the waste for which it was built. Introducing a new “Superhot” waste stream—both thermally and radioactively much hotter than plutonium-dusted “gloves and booties” (a famous DOE description of WIPP waste)–could greatly accelerate the formation of a hot radioactive slurry that will force escape pathways open from the site. The long-lasting plutonium-contaminated waste for which WIPP was originally built could thus find its way into the biosphere much more quickly and widely once the “Superhot” waste has spurred the formation of waste migration pathways. WIPP has always run the risk of eventually polluting the Rustler Aquifer, the Pecos River, the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. Do we really want that to happen on a larger scale, with a wider variety of radioactive and chemical pollutants, with greatly increased radioactivity, and much sooner? Is that to be our gift to the region’s inhabitants in the future?
We already have to live with the facility’s unknown and unquantifiable risks. Expanding the mission augments these risks unacceptably.
Would allowing one kind of high-level waste to be buried at WIPP open the door to the specter of spent fuel rods coming our way? Are we supposed to solve every nuclear crisis in the country, to become our nation’s nuclear outhouse? This shift in mission is no minor technicality; it represents an enormous turnaround in national waste disposal policy.
If scientific consensus was divided on WIPP’s original mission, it is not divided on the dangers of using a salt repository to contain high-level waste. The hydrophilic (water-attracting) nature of salt as a disposal medium, already extremely dubious as a choice for transuranic waste, is even more inappropriate for waste streams with the heat and radioactivity of high-level waste. This change does not have support from the technical community, only from people who hope to profit from expanding WIPP’s mission.
Here in New Mexico we have a sizeable community of people who are quite familiar with the process of speaking at public hearings on nuclear issues. Many dozens of organizations, and hundreds (indeed, thousands) of individual citizens have testified at NEPA hearings over the years on nuclear issues relating to mission alterations at Los Alamos, specific proposed facilities, cleanup, DOE “Modernization,” and so on. Although the National Environmental Policy Act is not the dominant governing legislation for this permit modification, NEPA has conditioned citizens to expect their “day in court” when they can speak about the nuclear industries that loom so large in our state history and landscape. People expect to present oral commentary and back it up with written submissions. NMED should expect no less from the public.
Now NMED must fulfill its Constitutional obligation to protect New Mexico from risky abuses of natural resources necessary for life and survival in this region. NMED’s job is to regulate. Political arguments and pressure for jobs will always form a large part of the chatter any time nuclear projects are proposed. Boosters will predictably focus on the jobs side of the equation. It is not NMED’s mandate to promote these boom-and-bust jobs that will be long forgotten while the radioactive and chemical materials are still threatening our descendants, 100, 1000, 10,000 years from now. It is NMED’s job to prevent contamination of our land and its inhabitants, no matter which Administration sits in the Roundhouse.
No matter how many closed-door meetings are held, no matter how hidden this process is from public view, no matter how many attempts are made to minimize public awareness and input, we are watching very closely to see what NMED’s legacy will be. We believe the regulatory framework for WIPP should be bedrock, not shifting sands of expediency that erode and eventually collapse public confidence in government. NMED must deny the permit modification request, and it must deny its viability as a Class 2 request.
We also know that if you learn of significant public demand for real hearings, you are obligated to provide them. Consider this a statement of public demand, please. Thank you for your consideration.