Atomic Histories & Nuclear Testing
Quote of the Week
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LANL’s Central Mission: Los Alamos Lab officials have recently claimed that LANL has moved away from primarily nuclear weapons to “national security”, but what truly remains as the Labs central mission? Here’s the answer from one of its own documents:
LANL’s “Central Mission”- Presented at: RPI Nuclear Data 2011 Symposium for Criticality Safety and Reactor Applications (PDF) 4/27/11
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Click the image to view and download this large printable map of DOE sites, commercial reactors, nuclear waste dumps, nuclear transportation routes, surface waters near sites and transport routes, and underlying aquifers. This map was prepared by Deborah Reade for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
Nuclear Watch Interactive Map – U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex
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New & Updated
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 22.214.171.1240 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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The DOE IG Report (DOE/IG-0889) is available at
Dear Fellow Travelers on the Long Road to Safety at WIPP:
I am writing to you as a battle-weary compatriot. For so many New Mexicans, the merest mention of WIPP induces a glazed-over, burned-out feeling associated with the “done deal,” the “one that got away.”
Incredibly, safeguards we originally fought for at WIPP are being stealthily erased behind closed doors right now—a potential disaster for our state’s natural resources and inhabitants. What’s going on? Some of us pessimists predicted this long ago: the attempt to sneak high-level waste into a repository that was never designed for it.
Leaking liquid waste from Hanford, Washington is about to be “re-classified” so its true origin as high-level waste can be disguised long enough to drag it into our state and down to WIPP. This stuff is “Superhot,” so thermally AND radioactively hot that it poses an entirely different set of environmental risks than the plutonium-contaminated “gloves and booties” long used to exemplify WIPP waste. Yes, plutonium lasts an unimaginably long time, but it doesn’t generate as much volatile activity as this liquid waste. The new high-level waste from Hanford is hot enough–both kinds of hot–to blast bigger, faster escape pathways out of the WIPP site that the longer-lasting waste could then travel along. The result? The Rustler Aquifer, Pecos River, Rio Grande and Gulf of Mexico hit by a nasty soup of chemical and radioactive debris that could last almost forever.
If the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, designed from day one to hold high-level waste, couldn’t even attain certification, why should we get stuck with waste for which our dump was never intended? Especially when we got so many promises over the years from politicians that this scenario was illegal and could never come to pass?
I am asking you to consider the written comments I have prepared for our state Environment Department and, if you agree, to add your name to them. I’m asking this because I bet you don’t all have time to write your own lengthy treatises on the subject. We all see that it’s disgraceful for our elected officials to look the other way, clear their throats, hum and whistle a jaunty tune as decades of promises are broken and centuries of pollution recklessly set in motion. Shouldn’t we have public hearings when a change of this magnitude is being considered?
If you agree with me, please co-sign my comments below, and add anything else you’d like at the bottom…
(Fill in your name and contact info, then copy into an email)
…and submit before 5 p.m. on June 10 (yes, next Monday, sorry)
Thanks. Sasha Pyle, Santa Fe (WIPP gadfly since the 1980’s with CCNS, NukeWatch and ANA)
SHOULD THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT IN NEW MEXICO RECEIVE RE-NAMED HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE?
Written Comment Submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department
New Mexico Environment Department
2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1
Santa Fe, NM 87505
WIPP has been controversial for nearly three decades already, among scientists and citizens concerned about its safety. Now, long after the initial public outcry, it seems that the facility is quietly on the verge of seeing its mission and its risks expanded significantly, but this time with quite limited opportunities for public comment. WIPP opened against a substantial tide of opposition. But that does not mean it has carte blanche today to alter its course in ways that substantially increase its potential to taint New Mexico’s resources and future inhabitants. Any change to its operations that renders it more dangerous should be accompanied by at least the same level of scrutiny as its original mission. The fact that it is already receiving waste does not mean it is suddenly appropriate for any radwaste that anyone in the rest of the country wants to get rid of.
It is interesting to note that if WIPP were proposed today, it likely would never get the green light to begin operations. Discussion of appropriate nuclear waste disposal technologies has largely shifted over the last quarter-century to above-ground retrievable and monitored storage of dangerous nuclear materials, hence away from deep geologic repositories–much less those that are designed explicitly to render the waste invisible and irretrievable, an environmentally irresponsible approach at best–and one that only WIPP employs. Promoted as a “Pilot Plant,” WIPP is now destined to be the only one of its kind. There is literally nowhere else to build the dozens of equally large repositories that would be required to solve the nation’s nuclear waste backlog. WIPP is an idea whose time has come and gone.
A crisis of leaking tanks of liquid high-level Cold War waste at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Reservation in Washington State has provided the impetus for the current push to redefine WIPP’s mission. Anyone knowledgeable in nuclear waste issues knows that the Hanford crisis is very real. A perennial nuclear contractor, Bechtel Corporation, is working on a 13 billion dollar contract (triple the original estimate) of taxpayer money to complete a waste treatment plant that would address the Hanford waste, and they have failed to do so. The question facing us now is: should New Mexico be punished for Bechtel’s (and DOE’s) failure?
Equally importantly, if WIPP cannot solve more than a minute fraction of the Hanford crisis, is it worth exponentially increasing long-term environmental hazards at the WIPP site–only to leave Hanford still polluted as well?
If the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, which was expressly configured for high-level waste, could not attain certification, doesn’t that mean there are clear standards that must be met for disposal of these very dangerous materials? How is it possible that a completely different type of facility could be magically re-designated for this purpose when its very design and construction are not appropriate to meet those standards?
It is a matter of record that New Mexicans have been repeatedly promised that this use of WIPP would never come to pass. The 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Bill, reflecting input from New Mexico’s Legislature, Congressional delegation, Governor, Attorney General, and Environment Department (at the public’s insistence) clearly protects New Mexicans from such weakening of the WIPP permit. EPA containment standards, mandating a 10,000 year period of non-migration; an upper limit on the quantities of waste that would come to WIPP; and a stringent adherence to acceptance of only transuranic waste are all stipulated in the Land Withdrawal Bill and carry the force of law.
Additionally, in 2004, the excluded waste prohibition (agreed upon by NMED, EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy) amended the final language of the WIPP permit to specifically exclude from disposal at WIPP: tank waste and any waste “previously managed as high level waste.” Alteration of this would require a Class 3 Permit Modification request, thus allowing hearings for public input. DOE’s own language makes clear that undoing the waste exclusion would be a modification requiring a full public comment cycle.
According to the EPA, Class 1 and Class 2 modifications do not substantially alter existing permit conditions or significantly affect the overall operation of the facility. Class 3 modifications cover major changes that substantially alter the facility or its operations.
The current attempt to re-classify high-level waste so as to bring it to WIPP, and the designation of this change in policy as a Class 2 modification, patently violate this prohibition.
Waste that is not allowed into our state by one name cannot be allowed to enter under another name. Re-naming the high-level waste “transuranic” when it hits our border in no way addresses the major scientific concerns about its safe disposal. The attempt to run this major change through as a Class 2 modification is deceptive and illegal. Violating the Land Withdrawal Bill and the 2004 waste exclusion would be legally actionable at once.
If New Mexicans have been promised repeatedly, with the force of law, in 1992 and 2004 and many other points over the last 30 years, that high level waste would not come to WIPP, what has changed—besides the Administration?
This raises the question: is WIPP regulated according to the physical reality of what will actually happen to nuclear waste underground, or by the artifice of paper-shuffling and magic language, mere words on paper that happen above ground–and have no relation to the site itself, its toxic contents, and its containment performance over the very long future? And it also raises the question: was WIPP’s purpose truly to solve some fraction of our nation’s nuclear waste crisis, or merely to give the appearance of doing so, to keep tax dollars flowing into nuclear weapons (and hence, waste) production?
The site and the science of WIPP have always been shaky, and widely contested. It is likely the repository will be unable to safely contain even the waste for which it was built. Introducing a new “Superhot” waste stream—both thermally and radioactively much hotter than plutonium-dusted “gloves and booties” (a famous DOE description of WIPP waste)–could greatly accelerate the formation of a hot radioactive slurry that will force escape pathways open from the site. The long-lasting plutonium-contaminated waste for which WIPP was originally built could thus find its way into the biosphere much more quickly and widely once the “Superhot” waste has spurred the formation of waste migration pathways. WIPP has always run the risk of eventually polluting the Rustler Aquifer, the Pecos River, the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. Do we really want that to happen on a larger scale, with a wider variety of radioactive and chemical pollutants, with greatly increased radioactivity, and much sooner? Is that to be our gift to the region’s inhabitants in the future?
We already have to live with the facility’s unknown and unquantifiable risks. Expanding the mission augments these risks unacceptably.
Would allowing one kind of high-level waste to be buried at WIPP open the door to the specter of spent fuel rods coming our way? Are we supposed to solve every nuclear crisis in the country, to become our nation’s nuclear outhouse? This shift in mission is no minor technicality; it represents an enormous turnaround in national waste disposal policy.
If scientific consensus was divided on WIPP’s original mission, it is not divided on the dangers of using a salt repository to contain high-level waste. The hydrophilic (water-attracting) nature of salt as a disposal medium, already extremely dubious as a choice for transuranic waste, is even more inappropriate for waste streams with the heat and radioactivity of high-level waste. This change does not have support from the technical community, only from people who hope to profit from expanding WIPP’s mission.
Here in New Mexico we have a sizeable community of people who are quite familiar with the process of speaking at public hearings on nuclear issues. Many dozens of organizations, and hundreds (indeed, thousands) of individual citizens have testified at NEPA hearings over the years on nuclear issues relating to mission alterations at Los Alamos, specific proposed facilities, cleanup, DOE “Modernization,” and so on. Although the National Environmental Policy Act is not the dominant governing legislation for this permit modification, NEPA has conditioned citizens to expect their “day in court” when they can speak about the nuclear industries that loom so large in our state history and landscape. People expect to present oral commentary and back it up with written submissions. NMED should expect no less from the public.
Now NMED must fulfill its Constitutional obligation to protect New Mexico from risky abuses of natural resources necessary for life and survival in this region. NMED’s job is to regulate. Political arguments and pressure for jobs will always form a large part of the chatter any time nuclear projects are proposed. Boosters will predictably focus on the jobs side of the equation. It is not NMED’s mandate to promote these boom-and-bust jobs that will be long forgotten while the radioactive and chemical materials are still threatening our descendants, 100, 1000, 10,000 years from now. It is NMED’s job to prevent contamination of our land and its inhabitants, no matter which Administration sits in the Roundhouse.
No matter how many closed-door meetings are held, no matter how hidden this process is from public view, no matter how many attempts are made to minimize public awareness and input, we are watching very closely to see what NMED’s legacy will be. We believe the regulatory framework for WIPP should be bedrock, not shifting sands of expediency that erode and eventually collapse public confidence in government. NMED must deny the permit modification request, and it must deny its viability as a Class 2 request.
We also know that if you learn of significant public demand for real hearings, you are obligated to provide them. Consider this a statement of public demand, please. Thank you for your consideration.
May 17, 2013
Santa Fe, NM – Albuquerque’s KRQE TV Channel 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker has found that “[a]fter calling employee safety standards “inexcusable,” the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration recently withheld more than $6 million in incentive fees from Sandia [National Laboratories] as punishment… Lab director, Dr. Paul Hommert, defended Sandia’s handling of the Alaskan incident to the federal government. But, in a strongly-worded rebuke, NNSA Acting Director Neile Miller called Hommert’s version of the Kodiak events “disingenuous,” characterized Sandia’s response to the accident as “minimal” and said she was disturbed that no disciplinary action was ever taken against the employees involved.”
In last night’s broadcast Mr. Barker interviewed New Mexico’s senior senator Tom Udall and Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan. Both called for Sandia Labs to openly acknowledge and discuss a tragic vehicle accident in Alaska that resulted in the permanent paralysis of two employees. Sandia Labs Director Paul Hommert refused Mr. Barker’s repeated requests to be interviewed.
However, Mr. Barker did manage to comprehensively document NNSA’s process of fee determination that resulted in the penalty. Included is a 7-page letter by Sandia Director Paul Hommert defending the Labs and arguing that Sandia should not be docked for its negligent performance. He concludes by writing”
“…these actions [to penalize Sandia] are interpreted by me and my leadership as intended (whether rightly or wrongly) to send us a message that our broader national security work is not supported by the NNSA… the impact of such a message will impact our ability to support the nation’s national security challenges. First and foremost among these challenges are the needs of our nation’s nuclear deterrent, which we cannot meet without our broader work.”
Paul Hommert wears two hats, the first as Sandia Labs Director, the second as president of the executive board of the for-profit Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s largest defense contractor, the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Hommert’s salary has not been publicly revealed, but his predecessor Tom Hunter received $1.7 million in total annual compensation.
Sandia’s budget for nuclear weapons now exceeds Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. It is the lead lab for a Life Extension Program that will radically change the existing B61 nuclear bomb, whose estimated costs have exploded to over $10 billion. Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor for the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose estimated service life cycle will cost more than one trillion dollars. The future mission of the stealthy F-35 will be in large part to deliver precision-guided B61 bombs forward deployed in Europe (against what threat?), refurbished under Sandia’s leadership.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “In response to NNSA’s criticism and proposed penalty, in effect Sandia Labs Director Paul Hommert tells the federal government to give us the money or the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile is at risk. There is an inherent conflict of interest in having the nuclear weapons labs directors also acting as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs. As part of badly need reform and strengthening of federal oversight, these two positions should be strictly separated so that the American public can be fully confident that profoundly serious nuclear weapons policy decisions are not being influenced by private for-profit motives.”
# # #
KRQE Channel 13’s investigative report by Larry Barker is available at
His compilation of NNSA’s fee determination and Sandia Lab Director Paul Hommert’s letter is available at
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