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
Banner displaying “Nuclear Weapons Are Now Illegal” at the entrance in front of the Los Alamos National Lab to celebrate the Entry Into Force of the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty on January 22, 2021
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
In the new budget request for 2011 the Obama Administration proposes to freeze discretionary domestic spending for programs such as education, nutrition, air traffic control and national parks for three years while dramatically increasing funding for new US nuclear weapons production facilities. Meanwhile the proposed budget for dismantling warheads retired from the stockpile is down by 40%. Funding for a new nuclear facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory to be used in direct support of plutonium pit production, the CMRR-NF, is increased to $225 million requested from $97M in FY10 (+132%). After FY11, funding is proposed to triple the FY10 amount to $300 million for each of the following four consecutive years.
Funding for a new “Uranium Processing Facility” (UPF) at the Y12 production plant near Oak Park Ridge, TN, is proposed to increase to $115M from $94M in FY10 (+22%). However, its big money is in the following four consecutive years, climbing to $320 million by 2015 (in all a 240% increase from FY10 funding). Totals costs for both the CMRR and UPF are still “TBD” [To Be Determined], meaning they don’t know, but each will probably cost $3 billion or more.
Outside of the federal budget, groundbreaking is expected this Spring on a new privately-financed ~$700 million Kansas City Plant for nonnuclear components production for US nuclear weapons, subsidized by Kansas City municipal bonds. This pretty well spans the spectrum of future US nuclear weapons production, with big increases for new facilities for plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear components. At the same time, the Obama budget proposes to cut dismantlement from $96.1 million in FY 2010 to $58 million.
Obama is preemptively surrendering to the nuclear weapons labs, the for-profit private corporations running those labs, and the 2/3rd’s Senate majority including Republicans needed for treaty ratifications. All of these special interests explicitly seek to extract more taxpayer funding for nuclear weapons programs in exchange for ratification of a renewed bilateral arms control treaty with Russia and a long-sought-for Test Ban Treaty.
We went through this a decade ago, when the nuclear weapons complex got billions of dollars and but ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty failed. History is getting ready to repeat itself, this time with the nuclear weapons labs seeking the capability to produce future new-design weapons. Obama’s new budget begins to give them just that, welfare for warheads that can’t be used while American public needs are not adequately met.
While Obama’s rhetoric soars toward a grand nuclear weapons-free world, his Office of Management and Budget is getting ready to ask Congress for a 10% increase in research and production?
Apparently our president is preemptively surrendering to the 40 Republican senators +1 (“independent” Lieberman) that demanded linkage of ratification of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to “modernization” of the nuclear weapons research and production complex, along with a “modern warhead,” whatever that is. A huge fight was always expected over a second round of attempted ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT. However, the Republicans +1 cunningly chose to move that fight up to START ratification in order to leverage Obama’s proposed FY 2011 federal budget slated for release on February 1. They apparently have succeeded: he has caved into them.
The Republicans seek to mandate the construction of two controversial new production facilities, the plutonium “Nuclear Facility” at Los Alamos and the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 near Oak Ridge, TN, both designed for production levels of up to 125 nuclear weapons per year. Additionally, groundbreaking for the new privately financed Kansas City Plant for nonnuclear components production, responsible for 85% of all components that go into U.S. nuclear weapons, will occur soon. Ironically, that may be just before the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that begins May 3 at the United Nations. We can expect Obama’s oratory to again excel at the UN while claiming that the U.S. is indeed working toward a nuclear weapons-free world. He will be contradicted by these new plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear nuclear weapons components production plants, together costing $7 billion or more.
Obama should put his money where his mouth is, not give it to the nuclear weaponeers. A decade ago Clinton and Congress delivered bucket loads of money to the nuclear weapons labs, only to have their directors damn the Test Ban Treaty through faint praise before the Senate in 1999 which killed it (and they got to keep the money!).
Today, the Labs internally state that there is little technical difference between a ratified Test Ban Treaty and the current testing moratorium in effect since 1992. Their real concern is to leverage treaty ratifications to ensure expanded design and production capabilities for both existing weapons and possible “replacement designs,” which they have not given up on despite previous congressional rejections of “Reliable Replacement Warheads.” They want to “Get more money” for expanded capabilities through Treaty “Safeguards.” They are apparently succeeding. ( more ).
Studies by independent nuclear weapons experts have concluded that the all important plutonium pit triggers last a century or more, and existing nuclear weapons can be reliably maintained under existing programs for many decades. In pending budget and treaty ratification processes our New Mexican Senators should be pushing for increased funding for alternative missions and cleanup at our Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, instead of supporting Obama’s preemptive surrender that will further entrench our state in the nuclear weapons business. That is the right thing to do for both the long-term creation of jobs in New Mexico and working consistently toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
Given exploding national debt the American taxpayer should not be further burdened with unneeded and provocative nuclear weapons production facilities. The labs want to pervert disarmament treaties into armament treaties by enshrining expanded nuclear weapons design and production capabilities for themselves as treaty “Safeguards.” Hope we don’t get fooled again!
Some pertinent points on the new Kansas City Plant, prompted by the Kansas
City Star article:
• Groundbreaking will probably be sometime after March given that final
private financing still has to be found.
• However, groundbreaking for a major new U.S. nuclear weapons production
plant, costing $4.76 billion to build and operate over its first 20 years,
is still likely to occur just before the May 2010 NonProliferation Treaty
Review Conference. It would be nice if the U.S. had some explaining to do at
the UN over that.
• Originally reported construction cost was $500 million. Now we’re up to
• Previously projected tax abatements to be granted by the Kansas City
municipal government were $41 million. Now we’re up to $65 million ($2.6
million/year over 25 years).
• Infrastructure improvements (roads and utilities) enabled by the tax
abatements will benefit the private developers in their other nearby
business ventures, including a planned intermodal,international
transportation hub (part of the so-called “NAFTA Superhighway”).
• Kansas City’s Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA), enabled by
Missouri state law to fight urban blight, will issue bonds to private
investors. The PIEA declared a producing soy bean field blighted in order to
provide the basis for this (hardly urban blight).
• Through the PIEA, a municipal government (Kansas City, MO) will hold fee
simple to this new federal nuclear weapons production plant (i.e., own it).
The PIEA will grant the private developers a 20-year or more
lease-to-purchase, after which the private developers will own this new
federal nuclear weapons production plant.
• Guaranteed subleases to the National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA) via the General Services Administration (GSA) effectively guarantee
the profits of the private developers and their ability to pay the bonds
off. “Coincidentally,” one of the two private development partners happened
to own the land that the new Plant is to be built upon before GSA/NNSA
• GSA/NNSA put out a solicitation for bids to private developers a good
month or so before they issued public notice of an environmental assessment
for the new Kansas City Plant under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Nevertheless, the two agencies have always denied any predetermination.
Above its masthead the hard copy 12/4/09 Sandia Lab News has a cool NNSA/DoD “W76-1/MK4A” badge with a black submarine and a vertical warhead above it with a slanted trident across it. MK4A is the reentry vehicle for the W76. The sub, of course, is a Trident submarine.
To summarize some points:
• It states that Life Extension Programs (LEPs) can extend warhead life up to 60 years. That’s significant, especially given the continuing push by some for new-design replacement warheads. Previously I had heard only up to 30 years.
• Please note the pending resumption of broad-scale nuclear weapons production with this W76 LEP.
• Please note “reinventing the weapon’s AF&F [arming, fuzing & firing] system” …. which “provides packaging and performance enhancements. Though the W76-1 is emphatically not a new weapon system, the scope of the LEP effort was very demanding.”
Maybe it’s not a new “system,” but the W76-1 has new military characteristics. That new AF&F system being produced now at the Kansas City Plant is believed to endow the warhead with a selectable height of burst.
In 1997 Navy Admiral George “Pete” Nanos wrote :
The demonstrated capability of the D5 [the new Trident II missile] is excellent. Our capability for Mk 4 [reentry vehicle with W76 warhead], however, is not very impressive by today’s standards, largely because the Mk 4 was never given a fuse that made it capable of placing the burst at the right height to hold other than urban industrial targets at risk. With the accuracy of D5 and Mk 4, just by changing the fuze in the Mk 4 reentry body, you get a significant improvement. The Mk 4, with a modified fuze and Trident II accuracy, can meet the original D5 hard target requirement. Why is this important? Because in the START II regime, of course, the ICBM hard target killers are going out of the inventory and that cuts back our ability to hold hard targets at risk.
“Strategic Systems Update,” Rear Admiral G.P. Nanos, The Submarine Review, April 1997
In other words, with a new fuze and increased missile accuracy the military characteristics of the refurbished W76-1 are transformed from being a countervalue weapon of deterrence (“city buster”) into a counterforce weapon (“hard target killer”). This directly contradicts the constantly repeated statements by senior U.S. Government officials that military characteristics won’t be changed and that “new” nuclear weapons will not be created.
For more, please Hans Kristensen’s excellent 2007 “Administration Increases Submarine Warhead Protection Plan”
(Side note: Adm. Pete Nanos later became LANL Director, didn’t quite get along, and at one point famously called Lab scientists “cowboys” and “buttheads”).
The article ends by noting that the W76 LEP has laid the foundation for a future B61 LEP, which itself is an issue of current controversy.
Separately it was recently revealed that Sandia manager Lockheed Martin pays Sandia Director Tom Hunter $1.7 million a year. Lockheed Martin is also the dominant corporate partner running the U.K’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston. On December 4 the Obama Administration nominated Donald Cook to be NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. Cook is an American who worked at Sandia for 28 years and was the Managing Director of the UK’s AWE from 2006 to 2009. The W76 is the U.K’s main (if not only) currently operational nuclear weapon.
I find the overarching headline in this e-version of Sandia Lab News announcing that Sandia technology “comprehensively” supports the CTBT to be ironic while it then goes on into an article about broad-scale nuclear weapons production of the W76-1. I understood the original intent of the CTBT to be a disarmament treaty cutting off the further advancement of nuclear weapons by any country.
The package was labeled “explosives” on the inside, so the cargo handlers were rightfully concerned when their alarms went off. The cargo facility was closed for about four hours during the incident.
It was reported that , “The containers are usually shipped via ground transportation but sometimes, he [LANL spokesperson] said, they’re sent by air.” I’m guessing that it costs more to send it by air, not to mention the extra cost of wasting time of the Albuquerque Police Department bomb squad, the cargo handlers, and Lab personnel.
The Journal reported, “Security at the airport didn’t know about the arrangement. “Apparently it was just a misunderstanding,” said airport spokesperson Daniel Jiron.” Once again, the Lab deflects any responsibility.
KOB TV 4 broke the story and is still has the only account as best as I can tell. Read report and see video here.
Los Alamos National Laboratory sent an 8’ package labeled “explosives” to the Sunport to be flown to California on Southwest Airlines (where bags fly free). A sensor alarm alerted the cargo handlers to “a small amount of trace explosives” and the package never made it to the plane. It was reported that no flights were delayed and there was no danger. It was also reported that the Lab meant to ship the package by ground.
The danger here is that the Lab which is entrusted with the nation’s nuclear secrets cannot ship a package correctly. It was an 8’ package labeled “explosives.” It’s not like it got accidently mixed in with other packages and put on the wrong truck.
The public deserves all the facts. How did the “mix-up” occur? Has the Lab shipped similar packages before? What type of “explosive” label did the package have on it? Did it meet all shipping standards for explosives? Did the explosives pose a detonation hazard? Could the package really have been shipped by ground? How does an 8’ package labeled “explosives” even get unloaded into the air cargo building?
A GAO Report released Friday the 13th found that “significant information security control weaknesses remain on LANL’s classified computer network. LANL had vulnerabilities in several critical areas, including (1) identifying and authenticating the identity of users, (2) authorizing user access, (3) encrypting classified information, (4) monitoring and auditing compliance with security policies, and (5) maintaining software configuration assurance.”
The report explains that LANL spent approximately $433 million from fiscal years 2001 through 2008 to operate, maintain, protect, and procure equipment for its classified computer network. The largest expenditure for the classified computer network was for high-performance computing, which accounted for $322 million (or 74 percent) of total expenditures. LANL began to expand the classified computer network in 2005, accounting for $48 million (or 11 percent) of total expenditures during the fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2008 period. Expenditures for special initiatives, such as the Integrated Cyber Security Initiative and Multi-Platform Trusted Copy program, accounted for $19 million (or 4 percent) of total expenditures. The core classified cyber security program, which serves as the foundation of LANL’s protection strategy for the classified cyber security program, accounted for $45 million (or 10 percent) of total expenditures over the period.
Clearly, the Lab was more focused on high-performance computing rather than focusing on protecting the nation’s nuclear secrets, or maybe the Lab thought everything was OK.
This GAO report comes after the DOE Office of Enforcement devoted significant attention to monitoring compliance with a Secretarial Compliance Order that was issued in July 2007. Specifically, the DOE Secretary directed the contractor for the Los Alamos National Laboratory – Los Alamos National Security, LLC – to remediate deficiencies that contributed to a breach of classified information security controls and to correct longstanding deficiencies associated with classified information security, and classified and unclassified cyber security programs. Los Alamos National Laboratory reported that the actions were completed by December 2008, and the DOE Los Alamos Site Office formally validated completion of the required actions.
But problems were still not corrected. To satisfy the above July 2007 DOE Compliance Order, the laboratory reaccredited all classified computer systems. During 2008, as part of its reaccredidation process, LANL revised risk assessments for classified computer systems and included the results in the system security plans. However, of the five system security plans the GAO reviewed, one plan’s risk assessment did not adhere to the latest methodology and did not include evidence of a comprehensive threat analysis, as required by DOE. Furthermore, the remaining four plans noted that all known threats and vulnerabilities were not evaluated to determine risks. Without comprehensive risk assessments, risks to certain systems may be unknown and appropriate controls may not be in place to protect against unauthorized access to or disclosure of sensitive information, or disruption of critical systems and operations.
What’s the problem? A Special Report from the Government Computer News tells us –
According to data reported by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), reported attacks on U.S. government computer networks climbed 40% last year, and more infiltrators are trying to plant malicious software they could use to control or steal sensitive data. Accounts of unauthorized access to government computers and installations of hostile programs rose from a combined 3,928 incidents in 2007 to 5,488 in 2008, The latest report, issued in February 2009, represented a small sampling – just 1% of federal agencies have fully developed tracking systems – and some of the uptick in reported attacks may be due to better reporting in the last year.
Government networks are targeted by foreign nations seeking intelligence, such as China and Russia, as well as criminal groups and individuals who may want to disrupt power, communication or financial systems. Some attackers are less interested in stealing data than in undermining a system’s ability to operate by planting software that could slow critical networks in emergencies. Security industry observers expressed alarm about phishing, in which seemingly legitimate e-mails solicit sensitive information, and ‘web redirects,’ which shunt a computer to a website where it downloads malicious software. According to reports, fewer attacks are being used to take down an organization’s entire IT system. Instead, attacks now penetrate IT systems without impairing them, primarily to siphon out sensitive information without detection.
Q: How much does it cost to cleanup a 65-acre, 50-year-old, nuclear weapons laboratory unlined dump full of low-level radioactive waste (LLW), radioactively contaminated infectious waste, asbestos contaminated material, transuranic waste, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and much more?
A: About 8 years of the Lab’s nuclear weapons activities budget.
First, define cleanup. (Closure is the better term to use.)
The Lab recently submitted a revised (September 2009) corrective measures evaluation (CME) of Material Disposal Area (MDA) G, located within Area G of Technical Area 54, at Los Alamos National Laboratory to the NM Environment Department. The goal of the CME report was to recommend a corrective measures alternative for closure of the site and to address contamination releases in compliance with the March 1, 2005, Compliance Order on Consent (Consent Order).
This CME report screened 14 corrective measures alternatives based on their ability to meet the regulatory threshold and other qualitative screening criteria. Seven of the 14 alternatives evaluated met the screening criteria and capital costs were estimated:
1. Alternative 1B: maintenance of existing cover – $9.4 million;
2. Alternative 2B: evapotranspiration (ET) cover – $64.8 million;
3. Alternative 2C: ET cover with partial waste excavation – $46.5 million;
4. Alternative 2D: ET cover with partial waste excavation, targeted stabilization – $48 million;
5. Alternative 5B: complete waste excavation, waste treatment, off-site disposal – $9.1 billion (This is down from last year’s estimate of $20 billion.);
6. Alternative 5C: complete waste excavation, on-site waste treatment, disposal of wastes in a RCRA Subtitle C landfill – $6.1 billion; and
7. Alternative 5D: complete waste excavation, on-site waste treatment, disposal of wastes in a RCRA corrective action management unit – $6.1 billion.(All alternatives include monitoring and maintenance, and soil vapor extraction, but don’t include a 55% contingency.)
The Lab’s recommended corrective measures alternative is Alternative 2C.
The right thing to do would be Alternative 5B, complete waste excavation. The Lab could cover the $9.1 billion by redirecting the $1.2 billion it spends annually on nuclear weapons activities.
The hard-working folks over at NMED have to make the final decision, and there will be opportunities for public input.
Find the report MDA G CME R1 Sept 09 [Warning, it’s 14MB]
The gist of NNSA’s important announcement: After $5 billion and counting,
NIF’s laser beams CAN BE effectively delivered and ARE CAPABLE of creating sufficient x-ray energy to drive fuel implosion, an important step toward the ultimate goal of fusion ignition.
NIF will be a cornerstone of a critical national security mission, ensuring the continuing reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing…
This is more of Tom D’Agostino’s positioning of NIF as essential for CTBT ratification (which he has done face-to-face to me and others). That’s not a prudent deal, to hinge CTBT ratification on what NIF “MIGHT” be capable of.
… while also providing a path to explore the frontiers of basic science, and potential technologies for energy independence. It is a prime example of how our investment in nuclear security is providing the tools to tackle a broad range of national challenges.
Is there nothing NIF can’t do? Recall that exactly a year ago tomorrow they had Terminator Gov. Schwarzenegger going “gee whiz,” as follows:
This laser technology has the potential to revolutionize our energy future,” Governor Schwarzenegger said. “If successful, this new endeavor could generate thousands of megawatts of carbon-free nuclear power but without the drawbacks of conventional nuclear plants. This type of innovation is why we are a world leader in science, technology and clean energy, and I could not be prouder that this work is happening right here in California.
Speaking for myself, I will grudgingly concede that NIF has succeeded in its real mission of ensuring that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory survives as a nuclear weapons lab (NIF-specific funding is 25% of all DOE funding for LLNL). In 1995 the Galvin Commission recommended eliminating the redundancy of having 2 nuclear weapons design labs and ending weapons programs at Livermore. Then rose NIF…..
The bolded emphases on NNSA’s repeated use of qualifying language and future tense is mine. Does this press release really say anything of substance at all?
In the latest of a string of fire system deficiencies on Wednesday September 30th, LANL management declared the fire suppression system inoperable in PF-4 at TA-55. Facility activities were placed in stand-by mode, which were still stood down as of three weeks later on Oct. 23rd.
DNFSB explained that the stand down was based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system does not achieve the water density coverage required. Basically, the sprinklers in 13 of approximately 100 fire suppression areas at PF-4 cannot meet the current required gallons per minute estimated to effectively extinguish a fire. (Read the Oct. 2nd-23rd DNFSB reports)
One has to wonder – What is the cost to the taxpayer of PF-4 being stood down for nearly a month?
These reports come on the heels of last week’s DNFSB recommendation that the Lab must immediately do something about its risk to the public of a seismically induced fire at PF-4, which was estimated to exceed the DOE guidelines by more than 100 times. In a worst-case situation, an earthquake-induced fire could set free enough breathable plutonium that a person on the perimeter of the facility would receive a lethal dose of radiation.
Speaking of seismically induced fires, I am reminded of a March 2007 LANL report, Seismic Fragility of the LANL Fire Water Distribution System (LA-14325), which explains how numerous valves in the fire water distribution system at the Lab would have to be manually closed to insure proper pressure to facilities on fire after a seismic event.
Granted, these may be low probability events, but they have high consequences. The Lab is playing with fire by not adequately funding upgrades to its existing fire systems now, before embarking construction of any new facilities.
In this YouTube video Energy Secretary Chu and Tom D’Agostino celebrate the Kansas City Plant’s 60th anniversary with a plaque mounted with vacuum tubes for the B61 radar unit. STRATCOM chief Chilton has repeatedly used the presence of vacuum tubes in the nuclear weapon as a rationale for complete new-design nuclear weapons (the Reliable Replacement Warheads, or facsimiles thereof), instead of modernizing just the radar.
Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the General Services Administration are engaged in a complex scheme for private financing of a new Kansas City Plant for which the Kansas City municipal government will hold title because of municipal bonds issued to finance its road and utility infrastructure. This is enabled by Missouri state law, which gives tax abatement authority to municipal governments in order to fight urban blight. In this case, 185 acres primarily used for soybean agriculture was declared blighted in order to grease the deal. The result: a city government owning a federal nuclear weapons production plant in the name of fighting urban blight!
Historically, the Kansas City Plant has manufactured and/or procured 85% of all types of nuclear weapons components by volume. KCP was excluded from analysis in the Complex Transformation Supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement because NNSA falsely argued that its nonnuclear components production mission would not be affected by decisions made elsewhere in the nuclear weapons complex. Au contraire, the rationale for the new Kansas City Plant was originally predicated upon extensive production of new Reliable Replacement Warheads and Life Extension Programs involving existing nuclear weapons numbering in the 1,000’s.
Hopefully that rationale is now seriously outdated.
Apparently the National Nuclear Security Administration reimburses Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS) $397,341 for LANL Director Anastasio’s salary. Then LANS LLC pays him another $400K to promote the NNSA agenda from which LANS LLC derives a profit. During all this time Anastasio also acts as President of the for profit LANS (for which he gets a combined total of $800K).
Which hat does Anastasio then wear when the country needs his best advice? Obama wants the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified as one beginning step toward a nuclear weapons-free world. The Labs want the Senate to attach “Safeguards” to the Treaty during the ratification process that will have the contrary effect of enshrining nuclear weapons design and production capabilities into perpetuity. LANS profits from those capabilities. How do we know that Anastasio will give untainted advice on serious questions such as whether this country will genuinely lead toward enhanced global security through the verifiable multilateral elimination of nuclear weapons?
For more on what the nuclear weapons labs want through CTBT Safeguards see our September 2009 press release:
Santa Fe, NM – On December 10 President Barack Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway for his beginning efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. The President is paid $400,000 a year for running the country. Michael Anastasio, the Director of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab in northern New Mexico, is paid double that of the President, $800,348 a year. Unlike the President, Mr. Anastasio has been an unabashed supporter of new-design nuclear weapons and resumed industrial-scale nuclear weapons production. Over 60% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget is specifically dedicated to nuclear weapons research and production, while much of its remaining budget supports those core programs.
It is profoundly regrettable that so much taxpayers’ money is misdirected toward nuclear weapons of mass destruction, contrary to the spirit of the Peace Prize that President Obama is about to receive.
From October 26 – 30, 2009
Near Miss –
• NA – Los Alamos National Laboratory (Significance Category 3). On October 22, a Water
Quality sampling crew discovered two hikers with three dogs at Technical Area 68 (TA-68)
during High Explosive (HE) Operations. The hikers were instructed to exit DOE property.
During interviews, the hikers stated they had hiked approximately one mile into TA-15.
During that time, TA-39-6 conducted two HE shots. A third shot scheduled for another shot
site was cancelled because of equipment issues. The hikers did not enter the TA-39-6 shot
Hazard Areas. Had the third shot been conducted, the hikers could have been within the
Hazard C Area with the potential for contamination or HE injury. A radiological control
technician surveyed the hikers and dogs for contamination. The contamination surveys
indicated no detectable activity and the hikers were released.
I’m glad everyone is OK, but I have some questions. The hikers clearly crossed a fence or a gate with one of those warning signs on it. There is no mention of security forces being called. The Lab has been busted for security issues many times in the past and can ill afford any more security problems. Is it possible that the Lab is trying to avoid having this incident count as a security violation? If they found me walking my dogs inside the fence, I’ll bet I would at get to explain my story to the guys in the black SUVs.
An October 27 press release from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)
“Defense Board Catches Los Alamos Trying to Dodge Plutonium Safety Vulnerability” revolves around a new Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) revelation of public safety vulnerability and seismic issues at TA-55 (The Lab’s plutonium Technical Area).
The DNFSB has been very patient on the safety issues at TA-55. In a September 23, 2005 weekly report, they stated that LANL needed to try to justify a passive confinement strategy, continue plans to reduce radioactive materials, and to seismically upgrade the glove-box supports that have not already been upgraded. These issues are still unaddressed as of the latest DNFSB report.
Seismic issues run deep at Los Alamos. NNSA currently has plans to construct and operate the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement–Nuclear Facility (CMRR–NF) to support plutonium operations as a replacement for portions of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility, a 1950’s structure that faces significant safety and seismic challenges. In 1999, a fault was discovered under the old CMR building, which has been neglected, contaminated, and has several abandoned wings. This fault was the major reason given to build a new facility 1.2 miles away at TA-55.
The Lab has big plans for plutonium. In December 2008, NNSA released a Record of Decision for its Complex Transformation Environmental Impact Statement that keeps manufacturing and research and development involving plutonium at Los Alamos and blesses the building of the CMRR-NF. This decision was a combination of two alternatives – a Distributed Centers of Excellence and a Capability-Based alternative. But to compensate for the nearby fault lines, the CMRR-NF is now being designed with 10-foot thick concrete floors and there are plans being designed to pump grout into a layer of fragile volcanic ash under the proposed facility. Current construction estimates for this facility are $2 billion.
The Lab has been negligent in taking care of its plutonium flagship, TA-55. It has not been a good steward of plutonium missions. Los Alamos is the wrong location, seismically. Congress must seriously consider ending this unnecessary plutonium work.
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Click above for more information on the entry into force of the Nuclear Ban Treaty
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LANL Cleanup: What you can do
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Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
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New & Updated
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads
New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All
Following protracted negotiations, threatened litigation, and claims of imminent and substantial endangerment, the New Mexican Environment Department (NMED), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) contractor agreed to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. Its promise was fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy waste at Los Alamos. The 2005 Consent Order was designed as a plan-to-make-a-plan, with investigations followed by cleanup and with hundreds of specific milestones. The intent was to convince DOE to increase funding for LANL cleanup by making a complete cleanup schedule subject to enforcement. The original CO had a “final compliance date” scheduled for December 6, 2015.
However, in 2012, NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of aboveground, “transuranic” (TRU) nuclear bomb production wastes from LANL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico. This put Consent Order cleanup on the back burner. Approximately 150 milestone extensions of the 2005 CO were granted to LANL by NMED. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down by improper packaging at LANL of a drum of this waste. Dealing with the remaining “suspect” drums (packaged at the same time) at LANL is a major priority lately instead of cleanup. This has kept the Consent Order cleanup on the back burner.
- Just change the schedule
So NMED and LANL could pick a new final cleanup date, say 2030, and work backwards. Or start by adding 4 or 5 years to the old schedule for some reports and work it out from there. The point is to keep the original 2005 Consent Order language, which is very protective of the health and environment of Northern New Mexico, and just change the schedule dates. However the work is rescheduled, all the work items in the old Compliance Schedule Tables need to be addressed in new Compliance Schedule Tables with new dates given for all the work.
Recent public presentations by NMED implied that cleanup milestones in a revised CO would be assigned annually based on the anticipated budget. This would leave hundreds of cleanup items with no target date for completion and would leave cleanup at the mercy of Congressional budget winds. Any cleanup item not on the list for any given year could be outside the scope of enforcement. LANL could be in the position to not put items on the annual list and to delay cleanup forever.
If the schedule must be rearranged into some sort of “Campaign Mode” in an attempt to make cleanup more “efficient”, completion dates must be kept for every step. Every item in the Campaign must remain enforceable with concrete milestones including a final compliance date. All other items not in a Campaign must remain scheduled.
- Lack of budget cannot be an excuse for lack of cleanup
Taking cleanup dollar crumbs and sprinkling them annually over some perceived priority cleanup items is the least efficient way to address the fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War wastes at Los Alamos. Cleanup of the 70 years worth of contamination will never again be cheaper than it is this year. It is imperative that ambitious schedule be made and that it be kept.
Every day of delay means another day of Cold War radioactive and hazardous wastes leaking into the environment of Northern New Mexico.
- Particular items to keep – meaningful public comment and a final date
NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn stated publicly (starting at 8:00 min) that the need for a final cleanup date at Los Alamos is critical to Congress for funding. He presented a map that showed that Los Alamos National Laboratory was the only DOE weapons site without final cleanup date. (Slide 4) Instead, cleanup at LANL is listed as “TBD” (To Be Determined).
The final compliance date for the last work item must keep the Class 3 permit modification language. Please see our earlier blog for more information. This will ensure that the public can be heard at the end of the next CO and requires the opportunity for a public hearing.
There must be meaningful public input for the revised CO. NMED must give response to all comments.
A well-planned schedule with concrete milestones and final compliance dates would get the work done faster and cheaper. Course corrections with schedule adjustments will have to be made along the way. This would be expected for such a complex task. Having to adjust the schedule is no reason to throw it out. Any major rewrite of the 2005 Consent Order may only leave the future of NM less protected.
Not keeping up with changes in the 2005 Consent Order schedule is the main reason that the CO needs to be revised today. We currently find ourselves with cleanup of legacy wastes in such disarray that it seems that the only fix is to start over. But there is no reason not to just update the original 2005 schedule. Secretary Flynn has stated that the 2005 Consent Order is still in effect.
Today we could be looking at a known Consent Order with a new schedule. Instead we may end up with NMED and DOE renegotiating some untried document with unknown benefits and an unknown schedule.
Cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory is too important to leave as TBD.
This article has some details on future expanded plutonium pit production and related facility upgrades and new construction at the Los Alamos Lab.
1) Brig. Gen. S.L. Davis, NNSA acting deputy administrator for defense programs, explicitly ties future underground “modules” to the 50 to 80 pits per year production rate. That is the most explicit statement I’ve seen so far on that. The admission that they can do up to 30 pits per year without the modules is also useful.
2) NNSA and LANL all talk about the statutory requirement for expanded pit production (from the FY 2015 Defense Authorization Act). That came from the nuclear neocons in the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee (one of the staff guys that wrote that legislation is originally from Sandia Labs). They required expanded production regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. It is worth noting that after LANL finished producing 29 W88 pits in 2011 for the stockpile, there has been no further pit production scheduled, essentially because the existing stockpile doesn’t need it.
3) Nevertheless, LANL is tooling up to produce W87 pits for the Interoperable Warhead, which has been delayed for at least 5 years and which the Navy doesn’t want. So the whole thing is a house of cards. The real question is whether the appropriators will fund expanded plutonium pit production, and specifically where Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) will stand on that. He’s on the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Los Alamos lab would get $2.1 billion in proposed budget; officials discuss plans for making plutonium `pits’
By Mark Oswald / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 10:57am
Updated: Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 5:40pm
SANTA FE, N.M. — The Obama adminstration’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget for the Department of Energy, released Tuesday, allocates $2.1 billion for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
That’s down from $2.2 billion that the new budget document says was “enacted” for the current fiscal year but up from $1.9 billion in Department of Energy funding that was included in the administration’s request for last year.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico said the new documents show an additional $200 million was added to the lab’s nuclear weapons program during FY 2016.
The budget, released Tuesday, also calls for $189 million for clean up of decades-worth of radioactive and hazardous materials at LANL, about the same as in recent years.
LANL is under a directive to resume production of plutonium “pits,” the triggers for nuclear weapons, as part of changes and upgrades to the nation’s nuclear weapon stockpile.
Previous DOE documents have indicated that plans to add to new underground “modules” at Los Alamos for the plutonium work were planned, for a cost estimated at a whopping $2 billion or more.
The new budget request doesn’t advance the “module” idea, leaving the plans for pit production facilities open to interpretation. The budget request says that the “remaining mission need” can be met with other alternatives.
“A common interpretation from all this is that the administration has more time to think about it,” said Greg Mello of the anti-nuclear Los Alamos Study Group. “We think it’s great they should take the time to think more clearly… before plunking capital asset money on the table.”
LANL’s Radiological, Utility, and Office Building is now projected to be a $1.44 billion building. DOE recently endorsed plans to expand RLOUB’s plutonium handling capacity by more than 10 times to 400 grams, apparently as part of the pit production plan. Critics say the building was not built as a nuclear facility.
During a press briefing today (Wednesday, Feb. 10), a Journal reporter asked officials of the National Nuclear Security Administration about potential pit production facilities.
Brig. Gen. S.L. Davis, acting deputy administrator for defense programs, said, “Under the current capabilities we have in the projects we have going, we’re going to be able to do ten pits in 2024, 20 pits in 2025, and 30 pits in 2026.
“To get to the 50-80 pits dictated by statute we’d have to do additional construction. In the current budget, we have some money for design of a plutonium capability. We’re currently undergoing an analysis of alternatives to see if that would be, in fact, plutonium modules at Los Alamos or perhaps some other alternatives, but at this point there is no money for funding of the major construction item to do that in the current budget.”
NNSA administrator Frank Klotz, said that to make sure the agency has the capacity for plutonium operations, “we are undergoing several projects basically to move things out of the old chemical and metallurgy facility building by repurposing space” in the building known as Plutionium Facility-4 in and in RLUOB.
“We have some significant funding going to subprojects associated with that,” said Klotz. He said that in the fiscal year 2017 budget, there’s about $6 million “which will be used for the development of the conceptual design for an analysis alternatives for the additional capacity we need at Los Alamos to do pit manufacturing.”
“In the out years, we have put in $12 million per year for the plutonium modular approach,” Klotz said. “We recognize that is not nearly enough money to do that. However, until we go through the analysis alternatives and until we do our internal and external independent cost estimations and all of the environmental assessments and all the other things that needs to be done before we can come up with a realistic estimate in terms of what that we’ll be.
“We’ll be back in the FY 18 or 19 budget when we have done all that due diligence and have better figures for that.”
Nuke Watch’s Coghlan said of the overall DOE budget, with $9.3 billion for the weapons activities within the National Nuclear Security Administration: “Recall that President Obama received the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Instead, the last budget of his administrations sets an all time record for funding Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs. What this means at Los Alamos is that the Lab’s future is being increasingly tied to expanded production of plutonium pits, the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons.”
For immediate release February 2, 2016
Watchdogs Call for Renewed Investigation of Corruption at Los Alamos Lab and Questionable Suicide of Former Deputy Director
Santa Fe, NM – Today three well-known whistleblowers sent a certified letter to Mr. Damon Martinez, the US Attorney for the District of New Mexico, asking him to reopen an investigation into fraud and corruption at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the questionable suicide in 2002 of the then-recently retired Lab Deputy Director. Mr. Damon is the top federal law enforcement official in New Mexico, and also serves as the Chair of the National Lab/Research University Working Group for US Attorneys. Therefore, he should be uniquely qualified to address the whistleblowers’ concerns.
Glenn Walp and Steve Doran were hired in 2002 by LANL to investigate fraud at the Lab after it had been repeatedly rocked by security and corruption scandals. However, senior Lab officials summarily fired them without cause before they could complete their investigations. During their long careers in law enforcement they were respectively, among other things, Commissioner of Pennsylvania State Police and police chief of Idaho City, Idaho. The third whistleblower, Chuck Montaño, is a multi-credentialed auditor and investigator who worked at LANL for 32 years. He became a federally protected whistleblower after reporting accounting malpractice and abuses that he had witnessed for years, and for which Lab management retaliated against him.
In their letter to Mr. Martinez, the three whistleblowers state that their main concern is the need for law enforcement to fully investigate the claimed suicide in 2002 of LANL’s second-in-command, former Deputy Director of Operations Richard Burick. Specifically at issue was the gun found at the scene of his death, and the improbability of this particular type of handgun being left in the state and condition that it was found in if truly used in a suicide. Steve Doran, who is a highly qualified investigator, and other weapon experts have concluded that it is impossible that the gun in question would have landed where it did, with an open, undamaged chamber, had it been truly used in a suicide.
In the same period of time as Burick’s claimed suicide, the criminal investigation of major procurement fraud at LANL was derailed by the Lab’s hasty firing of Walp and Doran. This, in turn, prevented a congressional committee from learning the full scope of potential criminal activity. Since then, new information has emerged that possibly links the corruption to Burick’s suicide, which the three whistleblowers assert deserves serious investigation by federal law enforcement.
The whistleblowers are coming forth now with their letter to the US Attorney for New Mexico prompted in part by a recent article by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a respected national organization that investigates and publicizes government waste, fraud and abuse. The POGO article concluded that if there were ever to be full accountability at LANL, “a new investigation into Richard Burick’s alleged suicide would be a good place to start.”
Walp, Doran and Montaño are also motivated by the recent announcement by the National Nuclear Security Administration that the LANL management contract will be competed in 2017. Their concern is that a full and complete investigation is needed in order to clean house and help ensure that one of the premier nuclear weapons labs, long plagued by scandal, is properly managed in the future, free of any possible reoccurrence of fraud and corruption. They believe that it is imperative that decision makers know the full extent of what transpired in order to know how best to proceed with the award of the new contract. Without a deeper understanding and accountability before the award is made, it is possible that the LANL management contract will end up in the hands of those largely responsible for the cover-up of past mismanagement at the Los Alamos Lab, or even worse the possible obstruction of justice that occurred.
Former Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Glenn Walp commented, “Unless the consortium contractors for the Los Alamos National Laboratory consciously and aggressively resolve their perpetual management and operational failings, the lab will remain a haven for crime, corruption and cover-ups; perhaps it is time to shut it down.”
Former Police Chief Steve Doran asserted, “Corruption at Los Alamos must be taken out at the roots and those responsible brought to justice. This will build a strong national laboratory system that can be both trusted and productive.”
Federally protected whistleblower Chuck Montaño added, “The Los Alamos Lab is a cash cow for the military-industrial complex, and because politicians are so beholden to these corporations, there’s zero accountability for the fraud, waste and abuse that keeps occurring in Los Alamos. We are seeking to end that by asking the US Attorney for New Mexico to intervene and go wherever the facts may take him. ”
# # #
The Walp/Doran/Montaño letter to Mr. Damon Martinez, US Attorney for New Mexico, is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Letter-NM-US-Attorney-LANL-fraud.pdf
The Project on Government Oversight’s article Once Upon a Time in Los Alamos is available at http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/once-upon-a-time-los-alamos.html
Chuck Montaño’s book Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths chronicling his 32 years working at the Los Alamos Lab and becoming a federally protected whistleblower is available at http://losalamosdiary.com/index.html
Glenn Walp’s book Implosion at Los Alamos on his hiring and firing investigating corruption and fraud at the Los Alamos Lab is available at http://www.implosionatlosalamos.com/
In the January 20th, 2016 Albuquerque Journal article, Nuclear Watch to sue over LANL cleanup problems, by Mark Oswald, there is an interesting quote from New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary, Ryan Flynn, in response to our notice of intent to sue DOE/LANL.
“Flynn said Wednesday, “These are nothing more than baseless claims being peddled by a radical group that insists on wasting everybody’s time with empty threats and manufactured disputes, which helps them grab headlines and juices their fundraising efforts.””
The main point in Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Notice of Intent to sue is based on the calendar. In particular, the mandatory final compliance report that was to be submitted under the 2005 Consent Order Compliance Schedule was to be submitted by December 6, 2015.
The report was not submitted by December 6, 2015.
It is now January 25, 2016, which is after December 6, 2015.
The final report is late – see calendar.
The federal law that was incorporated into the 2005 Consent Order, and the Consent Order itself, specify certain actions that must be taken when a deliverable does not meet its due date. For instance, DOE/LANL must request an extension. In the case of extending this final scheduled compliance deadline, there are “Class 3” permit modification requirements, like the opportunity for a public hearing, that are required.
Interestingly, because NukeWatch believes that the ball is DOE/LANL’s court to request an extension of time for the December 6, 2015 report, NMED is not named in our notice of intent to sue.
Nuclear Watch NM Gives Notice of Intent to Sue
Over Lack of Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab
Nuclear Watch New Mexico has notified the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that it will file a lawsuit over their failure to meet cleanup milestones under a “Consent Order” governed by the New Mexico Environment Department. Formal notice is required before a lawsuit can actually be filed, which NukeWatch intends to do within 60 days or less. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce cleanup at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. We are putting the weaponeers on notice that they have to cleanup their radioactive and toxic mess first before making another one for a nuclear weapons stockpile that is already bloated far beyond what we need. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs.”
Last week Nuclear Watch NM broke a story on how LANL and DOE have formally given the green light for new underground facilities to expand the production of plutonium pits (the fissile triggers of modern H-bombs) from the currently approved level of 20 pits per year to 80. In all, upgrades to existing plutonium facilities at LANL and the construction of two underground “modules” that can be added to later for yet more production will cost at least $4 billion. The environmental impact statement for a previously proposed Walmart-sized plutonium facility (canceled because of costs that exploded up to $6.5 billion dollars) documented that not a single new Lab job would be created because it would simply relocate existing jobs. Full cleanup, on the other hand, would be labor intensive and create hundreds of high paying jobs for several decades.
Every year the estimated cost of nation-wide “environmental liabilities” from past nuclear weapons research and production, currently $298 billion, outpaces the annual levels of environmental restoration funding actually spent, even though those estimated liabilities don’t include full cleanup to begin with. At the same time, one multi-billion dollar DOE cleanup project after the other fails, for example the $13.5 billion Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation, the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico (closed because of a ruptured radioactive waste barrel from LANL), and the estimated $2.6 billion spent to date for incomplete cleanup at LANL. As an example of local impacts, during major stormwater events the City of Santa Fe has to close water diversion on the Rio Grande that can supply up to 15 million gallons per day of drinking water because of plutonium contamination in Los Alamos Canyon. Meanwhile, nation-wide, thousands of sick Cold War workers and downwinders from nuclear weapons tests await long delayed health benefits and compensation.
LANL is key to the trillion dollar rebuilding of nuclear forces as the premier nuclear weapons design lab and the nation’s sole production site for plutonium pit triggers, the most critical nuclear weapons components. Funding for DOE nuclear weapons programs is nearly double historic Cold War averages, with around $1.5 billion spent annually at LANL alone. In contrast, funding for Lab cleanup remains flat at around $185 million per year, with only approximately a third going to actual cleanup (one-third goes to pensions and another third to safeguarding improperly prepared radioactive waste barrels destined for the now-closed WIPP). New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) officials have publicly stated that around $250 million per year is needed for effective cleanup at LANL.
The 2005 Consent Order required DOE and LANL to investigate, characterize, and clean up hazardous and mixed radioactive contaminants from 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production. It also stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet. Ironically, the last milestone, due December 6, 2015, required a report from LANL on how it successfully cleaned up Area G, its largest waste dump. However, real cleanup remains decades away, if ever. The Lab plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, four miles uphill from the Rio Grande.
In the past the New Mexico Environment Department had repeatedly stated that it would release a revised Consent Order with new compliance dates before the end of 2015. Last November NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn said that a draft revised Consent Order would not be released until settlements were finalized over LANL violations of waste handling procedures that led to the closure of WIPP. Those settlement negotiations are still ongoing, leaving the Consent Order governing cleanup at the Lab in legal limbo.
Under typical hazardous waste handling permits, federal regulations require that an extension of a final compliance date include “an opportunity for a public hearing at which all interested persons shall be given a reasonable chance to submit data, views or arguments orally or in writing and to examine witnesses testifying at the hearing.” While the 2005 Consent Order is not a permit per se, it nevertheless explicitly incorporated the public process requirements of a federal hazardous waste permit. Therefore, Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes that any revised Consent Order requires an opportunity for meaningful public participation during its negotiation, leading to a public hearing should there be any unresolved issues, a position which so far NMED has opposed.
Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch NM Research Director, said, “DOE, LANL and NMED have had four years to involve the public in revising Consent Order cleanup decisions and comnpliance dates at the Lab, but yet they seem to have ignored the final deadline. Northern New Mexicans want meaningful input into cleanup decisions at LANL. NukeWatch believes that a rigorous cleanup schedule must be stipulated from the beginning in any revised Consent Order, and that the Lab must be held accountable every step along the way for getting the necessary funding and doing the work on time. We insist upon meaningful public participation and dates certain for compliance milestones. Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab cannot be open-ended or it will never be accomplished.”
# # #
Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Notice of Intent to Sue is available at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/NukeWatch-NM-NOI-to-DOE-and-LANS-20160120.pdf
Budget data are from the Department of Energy’s annual Congressional Budget Requests.
The current estimate of $298 billion to cleanup past nuclear weapons research and production comes from the DOE Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014. Even that figure does not come anywhere close to full and complete cleanup, but instead often involves “cap and cover” and leaving nuclear wastes permanently in place.
The quote concerning the need for a public hearing was incorporated into New Mexico state law NMSA 1978, §74-4-4.2(H) (2006).
Santa Fe, NM.
Today, Nuclear Watch New Mexico notified the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that it will file a lawsuit over their failure to meet cleanup milestones under a “Consent Order” governed by the New Mexico Environment Department. Formal notice is required before a lawsuit can actually be filed, which NukeWatch intends to do within 60 days or less. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce cleanup at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, commented,
“The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. We are putting the weaponeers on notice that they have to cleanup their radioactive and toxic mess first before making another one for a nuclear weapons stockpile that is already bloated far beyond what we need. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs.”
See also: Notice of Intent Letter
For immediate release January 15, 2016
Contacts: Jay Coghlan, NWNM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org
National Nuclear Security Administration Gives Green Light
For Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at Los Alamos
Santa Fe, NM – Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the chokepoint preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.
Coghlan further commented, “The real irony is that this Interoperable Warhead has been delayed for at least five years, if not forever, because of its enormous estimated expense and Navy skepticism. Yet this doesn’t keep LANL and the NNSA from spending billions of taxpayer dollars to upgrade existing and build new production facilities for unnecessary and provocative expanded plutonium pit production.”
Specifically, NNSA and LANL seek to raise the administrative limit on plutonium in the existing Radiological Lab (“RLUOB” in the Safety Board report below) from an original 8.4 grams to 400 grams, and proceed with the “Plutonium Modular Approach project.” In 2012, in the face of exploding costs and rising citizen opposition, NNSA dropped its proposal to build a $6.5 billion Walmart-sized “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project-Nuclear Facility” for expanded plutonium pit production of up to 80 pits per year. There was no technical justification for this expanded production, other than unspecified “Department of Defense requirements.”
These new moves by NNSA and LANL, which will cost around $4 billion before the usual cost overruns, are just another way to achieve their goal of raising plutonium pit production to up to 80 plutonium pits per year. Raising the amount of plutonium in the Radiological Lab will enable LANL to conduct all needed analytical chemistry quality control samples of new pits, as the Safety Board memo says to “primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates.” The Plutonium Modular Approach project will be newly constructed underground facilities for hot operations such as a plutonium foundry, likely beginning with two modules at a billion dollars each. It should be noted that proposed major federal actions require the opportunity for public review and comment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which has not been done for what NNSA calls this alternative plutonium strategy. Nevertheless, increased funding for LANL’s plutonium infrastructure will be likely included in the pending federal budget for FY 2017, scheduled to be released Monday February 9.
There is no need for expanded plutonium pit production to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but it is vital for future new-designs that the nuclear weaponeers want. In fact, the U.S. government is planning to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to “modernize” and completely rebuild its nuclear forces, despite its pledge in the 1970 NonProliferation Treaty to enter into serious negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.
In 1996 the plutonium pit production mission was formally relocated to LANL, with an approved upper limit of 20 pits per year. NNSA has tried four times since then to expand plutonium pit production. This started with a proposed “Modern Pit Facility” capable of producing up to 450 pits per year, with no justification of why that Cold War-like level of production was needed. In all four cases, in response to successful citizen activism, Congress either rejected or NNSA dropped efforts to expand production, in large part because of a pit life study that New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman required at Nuclear Watch’s request. That 2006 study by independent experts found that plutonium pits last at least 100 years (with no proscribed end date), more than double NNSA’s previous estimates of 45 years.
Nevertheless, NNSA now seeks for the fifth time to expand plutonium pit production beyond the currently approved level of 20 pits per year at LANL. After having produced 30 pits for the W88 sub-launched warhead (which was in production when the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down), there are no current requirements for plutonium pit production to maintain stockpile safety and reliability.
In the meanwhile, funding for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab is being cut, while nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with are thriving. As a final irony, these plans to expand plutonium pit production are now being implemented, despite the fact that 1) major operations at LANL’s main plutonium facility have been suspended since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns; and 2) the Los Alamos Lab has no place to send its radioactive plutonium pit production wastes ever since it sent a drum that ruptured and closed down the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico is confident that this latest attempt to expand plutonium pit production will fall apart as well, but only as a result of continuing strong citizen activism.
# # #
• Relevant excerpt from Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Weekly LANL Report:
Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 18, 2015
MEMORANDUM FOR: S.A. Stokes, Technical Director FROM: R.K. Verhaagen and J.W. Plaue
DNFSB Staff Activity: R. L. Jackson was onsite to plan oversight activities associated with Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy. Accordingly, he met with key project staff and walked down the Plutonium Facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, and the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB).
Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy: Late last month, the Deputy Secretary of Energy approved a restructuring of the subprojects covered under the CMR Replacement project. There are now four subprojects: (1) RLUOB Equipment Installation, Phase 2; (2) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 1; (3) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 2; and (4) Re- categorizing the RLUOB to Hazard Category 3 with a material-at-risk limit of 400 g plutonium- 239 equivalent. The first two subprojects enable LANL to cease programmatic activities in the CMR by 2019, while the latter two subprojects primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates. The memo requests an updated project execution plan within 90 days and indicates approval authority will remain with the DOE Deputy Secretary for subprojects 2–4 and with the NNSA Administrator for subproject 1.
In a separate action, the DOE Deputy Secretary also approved the mission need Critical Decision (CD)-0 for the Plutonium Modular Approach project. This project addresses life extension needs for the existing Plutonium Facility in support of Department of Defense requirements and Congressional Direction. The CD-0 schedule range for project completion is December 2025 to December 2027.
• For an extensive history of successful citizen activism against plutonium pit production see http://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Pit-Production-History.pdf
Santa Fe, NM.
Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the choke point preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented,
“Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.
LANL In No Hurry With Emergency Response Plans
In the recent letter, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board told DOE that they were concerned with the pace and completeness of the emergency preparedness and response efforts at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Board is an independent organization that provides recommendations and advice regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy (DOE) defense nuclear facilities.
After LANL recently confessed “[a] sustainable, comprehensive, and coordinated training and drills program has not been fully implemented as required” per DOE requirement Comprehensive Emergency Management System, the Board staff made some preliminary observations indicating weaknesses in emergency preparedness and response at LANL. And the Safety Board plans to perform a comprehensive review of emergency preparedness and response programs at LANL in early 2016.
Some of the preliminary observations were –
- The emergency response plans that involve the inappropriately remediated nitrate salt drums, like the one that exploded and shut down WIPP, have not been updated to reflect the current understanding of the release hazards. Consequently, pre-planned evacuation zones may be not be large enough for members of the public in the event of an accident.
- Planning and conduct of emergency drills and exercises do not ensure that scenarios are sufficiently challenging and minimize artificiality and simulation and do not represent the full spectrum of credible accident types.
- Exercises show the inability to effectively shelter laboratory workers in place during a release of hazardous materials.
- Radios don’t work much of the time.
These types of problems should not consistently be showing up where safety is a priority. It will be interesting to see how much of a factor these emergency preparedness issues played in LANS, the current Lab for-profit management contractor, losing its job.
We hope the new LANL contractor can keep safety first.
Federal Nuclear Safety Oversight at LANL Remains Drastically Understaffed
A recently released report, Office of Enterprise Assessments Targeted Review of Work Planning and Control and Biological Safety at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), December 2015, explains nuclear safety oversight staffing shortages.
The Office of Enterprise Assessments (EA) is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) organization responsible for assessments of nuclear and industrial safety, and cyber and physical security. DOE has regulatory authority over the radiologic facilities, operations, and wastes of the nuclear weapons complex. (Whereas the State of New Mexico has regulatory authority over non-radiological, hazardous operations and wastes.)
LANL is managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC with oversight by DOE’s Los Alamos Field Office (NA-LA). On a good day, NA-LA, with around 100 total on staff, would have their hands full providing oversight for LANS’ 13,000 employees and contractors scattered over nearly 40 square miles.
Lack of Safety Oversight Staff, with No Help in Sight
But the recent report (which was investigated in June and July, 2015) explains that NA-LA has funding for only 6 out of the 12 (at the least) required Facility Representative (FR) positions. An FR is defined as an individual assigned responsibility by the local field office for monitoring the safe and efficient performance of a facility and its operations. This individual is the primary point of contact with the contractor for operational and safety oversight.
DOE has a process to determine adequate Facility Representative staffing. The NA-LA FR staffing analysis for 2015 indicated that 17 FRs are needed to cover 13 Hazard Category 2 nuclear facilities, 4 Hazard Category 3 nuclear facilities, 11 High Hazard facilities, 12 moderate hazard facilities, and 7 low hazard facilities. NA-LA figured that only 12 FRs were needed and that 10 were on board. However the current NA-LA organization chart shows 7 FRs, one of whom has been on detail as the acting chief of staff for over a year and has not maintained his FR qualifications. There are no current plans to fill the vacancies. Due to staffing shortages, FR oversight is limited to the nuclear facilities. The bottom line is that the current NA-LA staffing level is 6 FRs fewer than the requirement of 12 stated in the Work Force Analysis and Staffing Plan Report. (Pg. 25)
This staff shortage is exacerbated by the fact that NA-LA has not approved LANS’ contractor assurance system (CAS), which is required by DOE orders. DOE’s version of Contractor Assurance is a contractor-designed and utilized system to manage performance consistent with contract requirements. The system provides transparency between the contractor and DOE to accomplish mission needs, and for DOE to determine the necessary level of Federal oversight.
A rigorous and credible assessment program is the cornerstone of effective, efficient management of programs such as environment, safety, and health; safeguards and security; cyber security; and emergency management.
The NA-LA oversight processes include an evaluation of the CAS primarily through staff assessments. Also, NA-LA annually approves the annual performance evaluation plan, which is an element of the CAS system.
It is NA-LA’s oversight of the 2015 Performance Evaluation Report (which has not yet been publically released) that lead to DOE ending LANS’ contract at LANL in 2017. We give a tip of the hat to NA-LA for being so diligent about poor LANL performance while being so short-handed. It makes me wonder what other problems may be as yet undiscovered. Would the LANL waste drum packing mistake, which shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), have been caught if NA-LA was fully staffed? The estimated cost of reopening WIPP is $.5 billion and climbing.
It is irresponsible for DOE not to provide its Los Alamos Field Office with its required staffing and resources. The lack of oversight is not only dangerous. It can be expensive.
NukeWatch insists that Federal safety oversight of DOE nuclear and hazardous activities be the first priority. Fully staffed oversight is essential for worker and public safety. This will be especially important as the new contractor takes over operations of LANL in 2017.
Taxpayers con not afford to have any less in place.
Michael Coleman had an interesting article for the Albuquerque Journal – Does New Mexico’s future lie in D.C.?
Coleman relates a conversation with NM Senator Tom Udall that made it clear the Senator isn’t ruling a gubernatorial run out.
It’s not surprising to think that Udall – who has been in Washington as a congressman and U.S. senator since 1998 – might want to come home to beautiful Santa Fe and take up residence in the governor’s mansion as a coda to his long political career.
Just two years into his second six-year term in the Senate, Udall could run for governor without giving up his Senate seat, which doesn’t expire until 2020. If he won the 2018 governor’s race, he would appoint his Senate replacement. That kind of power is alluring to any politician.
But as Coleman says, “it’s all just a parlor game at this point.”
Despite Uncertainty of When/If WIPP Will Reopen,
DOE Hatches Plan to Send More Waste
In a recent Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board Editorial: Another WIPP delay spells more tax dollars wasted, we are reminded of the delays affecting the reopening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which has not been disposing radioactive waste since February 2014 when an improperly packed drum from Los Alamos exploded.
Almost two years later, the WIPP contractor struggles to figure out how to clean and reopen the underground repository. Serious concerns revolve around the ventilation system, which not cannot supply the required amount of air now because it must be operated in filter mode ever since WIPP was contaminated.
As the Journal editorial explains,
So while the delays pile up, so do cleanup and reopening costs, which may exceed $500 million.
With bumbling progress like this, it remains to be seen if WIPP will ever reopen.
Yet surprisingly, DOE just released a plan to send MORE waste to WIPP.
A Federal Register notice announces the DOE selection of a Preferred Alternative to prepare 6 metric tons (MT) of surplus non-pit plutonium for eventual disposal at WIPP.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), issued to the public in May 2015, DOE describes the potential environmental impact from alternatives for safe and timely disposition of 13.1 metric tons (14.4 tons) of surplus plutonium for which a disposition pathway is not yet assigned. When the Final EIS was issued, DOE had no Preferred Alternative for the disposition of the 6 metric tons (6.6 tons) of surplus non-pit plutonium.
The Federal Register Notice for DOE/NNSA’s Preferred Alternative for Disposition of Surplus Non-pit Plutonium for the Final Surplus Plutonium Supplemental EIS is expected to be published in the Federal Register by Thursday, December 24, 2015. The Final SPD Supplemental EIS and related information, including the Federal Register notice will also be available on the SPD Supplemental EIS website, and the DOE National Environmental Policy Act website.
Since WIPP doesn’t have capacity (even if it re-opens) for this additional waste, putting it into WIPP would, among other things, displace waste from other site(s) – Idaho, Hanford, Los Alamos, or Oak Ridge.
The Record of Decision will not be released for at least 30 days. Comments are not requested, but can be made, regarding the notice.
Our friends at Southwest Research and Information Center will be making additional comments about this proposed expansion of WIPP.
The WIPP contractor has much to do before the repository can safely reopen. The task may be unachievable. But in the meantime, expanding WIPP’s mission can only make reopening WIPP more schedule driven instead of safety driven.
If DOE wants to make useful plans, how about plans for WIPP’s replacement?
Four Strikes and You’re Out
In stunning news on December 18, Justin Horwath of the SF New Mexican reported that the management and operating contractor of Los Alamos National Laboratory will not have its contract renewed after it ends Sept. 30, 2017. This is stunning because LANS LLC, the M&O contractor, could have potentially run the Lab until for 20 years until 2026, had it not had so many problems.
The annual contract for FY 2016 was over $2.2 billion. This means that Los Alamos National Security (LANS) left upwards of $20 billion (9 years of lost contract) on the table. It’s not often that a company gets the opportunity to make mistakes that costs them $20 billion worth of contracts.
The management of the Lab was privatized when LANS was awarded the contract in 2005. LANS is a partnership between the University of California, Bechtel Corp., Babcock & Wilcox Co., and AECOM (formerly URS). Before 2005 the University of California exclusively managed LANL as a non-profit. The for-profit experiment for managing the Lab will hopefully be reconsidered.
As a reminder, Nuclear Watch NM, along with our friends at Tri-Valley CARES, submitted a bid to manage the Lab back in 2005. We thought the management should be non-profit and that nuclear weapons research should be phased out.
The overall direction of future missions at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – We propose to downgrade the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs and subordinate them under a new Associate Directorship of Nuclear Nonproliferation so that it can be better assured that national and international obligations under the NonProliferation Treaty are met.
LANS lost the M&O contract because they failed to earn the “award term” 4 times. The award term is simply another year added to the contract. Section H-13(f) of the current contract states, ‘If the Contractor fails 4 times to earn award term, the operation of this Award Term clause will cease.”
Then, LANS lost award term in 2014 AND had one extra award term that was previously earned taken away because of improperly packing the radioactive waste drum that shut down WIPP.
And LANS lost this award term for 2015. LANL may be negotiating this, but they got a waiver in 2012 that granted them an award term when they didn’t actually earn it. They were told that was their last waiver.
These award terms are based on the Lab’s Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs), which thanks to a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by NukeWatch, are available online. We wonder if having these available to the public could have helped the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in any way to not give the award terms.
We do thank NNSA and the DOE LA Field Office for sticking to their guns by providing genuine oversight of the Lab this go-around. But the past few years serve as a reminder of the dangerous and difficult side of nuclear weapons work, the continuing health impacts to workers, and the impossibility of isolating the radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years. When will the US decide that it’s just not worth it?
The SF New Mexican also tells that NM Congressional delegation has weighed in. We agree with the joint statement issued by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján that, “DOE must hold all of its contractors accountable and be responsible stewards of federal funds.”
But we have some questions about this statement:
“Los Alamos National Laboratory employs some of the best and brightest minds in the country whose contributions are indispensable to our national security. The lab also strengthens our economy by providing quality jobs, and we will always fight to protect its mission. As DOE prepares a new contract proposal, assuring continuity for the employees at LANL and the high-quality scientific, energy, and security contributions they make to our nation will be paramount. We are confident that Los Alamos will continue to have a critical role in national and international security, research and science. We expect to receive further details and regular briefings from NNSA as the process moves forward in the new year.”
The delegation’s joint letter seems to demonstrate how overly concerned they are with LANL’s “mission” of nuclear weapons production and with the institutional benefit of profit-making national security contractors. The Lab’s actual contributions to energy research and basic science are also a small proportion to the taxpayer dollars expended there.
A major rewrite of the Lab’s missions is needed where true national security is not based on nuclear weapons.
As the trillion dollar “modernization” of U.S. nuclear forces moves forward, note how hollow the Department of Energy infrastructure is because of contractor greed, incompetence and waste. While that alone won’t win the day for us, I do expect it to limit the scale and timing of “modernizing” the DOE nuclear weapons complex (“modernization” means the indefinite preservation of the nuclear weapons stockpile and its supporting research and production infrastructure, contrary to official U.S. policy that endorses a future world free of nuclear weapons). This includes Life Extension Programs that give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities despite denials at the highest levels of the U.S. government, and new production facilities such as the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 Plant near Oak Ridge, TN and plutonium facilities at Los Alamos which face constant cost overruns.
There could also possibly be developments in the first quarter of next year related to its illegal lobbying activities that would shake up Lockheed Martin’s grip on the Sandia Labs (the Sandia contract is also scheduled to be put up for bid). In short, 2016 could be a very fluid and unstable year for the DOE nuclear weapons complex, even as it seeks to put the B61-12 smart nuclear bomb into production and move forward aggressively on a nuclear warhead for a new first-strike air-launched cruise missile.
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director
LANL contract up for bid after 2017
By Mark Oswald / Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Friday, December 18th, 2015 at 11:40pm
SANTA FE – The National Nuclear Safety Administration has informed
Congress that the Los Alamos National Laboratory contract will be put
out for competitive bidding sometime after 2017, the Journal has learned.
It would be only the second time the contact has been put out to bid
since the lab was created to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.
LANL’s most recent federal government performance evaluation is better
than last year’s, but not good enough for the lab’s private-sector
operator to earn the award of an extra year on its contract, the lab’s
director informed LANL workers this week.
And continuation of Los Alamos National Security LLC holding the
contract was contingent on it being granted the “award term.”
LANL director Charles McMillan said in his Thursday email to lab
employees that he was “deeply disappointed that we did not meet NNSA’s
expectations in a manner sufficient to net another year of award term”
on the contract that runs through fiscal year 2017.
“Nevertheless, the federal government has offered Los Alamos National
Security, LLC (LANS) an extension to the contract to manage the
Laboratory beyond FY17; I will provide additional details about that at
a later date after there has been more discussion between the federal
government and LANS,” McMillan said in a copy of his message obtained by
An extension as described by McMillan is not the same thing as the
merit-based award of an additional contract year that LANS missed out on
this year. It’s unclear from McMillan’s statement whether the extension
he mentioned is intended as merely a holding pattern but, under its
contract, LANS needed to earn an award year this time around to keep the
The contract with LANS provides for vacating the contract, awarded in
2006, if the consortium doesn’t earn a series of one-year term awards.
Last year, the Department of Energy – NNSA’s parent organization –
warned that LANS was under the gun to earn an award term for its work in
“Having failed to earn contract term extensions for fiscal years 2013
and 2014,” and with the revocation of a previous extension, “LANS must
earn (an) award term in every future performance period to keep the
contract in force beyond fiscal year 2017,” said a statement provided by
the DOE last December.
On Friday, an NNSA spokeswoman said, “We do not comment on ongoing
Contract over $2 billion
LANS – a consortium that includes the Bechtel corporation, the
University of California, Babcock and Wilcox, and URS Energy and
Construction – won the LANL contract in 2006. The contract now amounts
to about $2.2 billion a year, plus a fee based on performance.
The University of California, on its own, had previously held the Los
Alamos contract since the lab’s beginnings developing the atomic bomb
during World War II. The contract was put out for competition about a
decade ago after a series of security and property management problems
at the lab.
Last year, LANS also didn’t earn an “award term” and even lost a year it
had previously been granted as NNSA hit the lab hard for failures that
led to a radioactive leak at the nation’s nuclear waste repository near
Carlsbad from a drum packaged at Los Alamos. The Waste Isolation Pilot
Plant has been shut down since the leak in February 2014.
The federal government cut the performance-based management fee for LANS
by nearly 90 percent, down to $6.25 million, for fiscal 2014. That
compared with $59 million-plus paid to the LANS consortium the previous
two years. No information on the 2015 fee award has been released.
McMillan’s Thursday message to employees said that, in order to earn an
award year, the lab had to score better than “satisfactory”in all of
six evaluation categories. “We did not accomplish this,” McMillan said,
despite getting high scores in four of the six areas.
NNSA rated LANS only satisfactory for operations and infrastructure, the
same category in which the lab got a crucial “unsatisfactory” grade last
year. LANS this year was rated “very good” in two categories – its
missions to manage nuclear weapons and reduce global nuclear security
threats – and excellent in two others, missions for science technology
and engineering, and for a “DOE and Strategic Partnership Project.” The
NNSA rated LANS’s leadership as “good.”
Despite his disappointment over failing to net an award term, McMillan
wrote, “I am pleased to note that our federal partners once again
acknowledged our strong performance in the areas of mission and science.
We continue to provide strong value to the national security missions
and Los Alamos continues to be regarded highly for the quality of its
“Our federal partners made it clear that shortcomings in our work
planning and work controls related to safety events, project
performance, cybersecurity, the earned value management system (EVMS)
and continued weaknesses in criticality safety all weighed heavily in
the evaluation of our performance. These are areas we must – and will –
improve going forward,” said McMillan.
He also wrote, “I remain committed to the long-term sustainability of
the Laboratory and to each of you. I am scheduling an all-employee
meeting shortly after the New Year to hear and address your thoughts,
concerns, and questions. Los Alamos will continue to have a valued role
in protecting the nation and the world. It is incumbent upon us during
the remainder of the contract period to deliver mission success through
operational effectiveness and scientific excellence.”
Jay Coghlan of the Nuclear Watch New Mexico watchdog group said the
situation as described by McMillan, with LANS getting an extension
despite failing to earn an award term, was “deja vu all over again,”
similar to a later-rescinded waiver that granted LANS an award year for
fiscal 2012, although it hadn’t met all the performance criteria. “It
seems awfully premature for director McMillan to indicate there’s going
to be a contract extension before it’s actually finalized by the U.S.
government,” Coghlan said. “He’s putting the cart before the horse,
maybe putting on a happy face for his employees before they leave for
Feds won’t renew contract for private LANL operator
Posted: Friday, December 18, 2015 9:30 pm | Updated: 10:24 pm, Fri Dec 18, 2015.
By Justin Horwath
The New Mexican | 0 comments
The private consortium that runs Los Alamos National Laboratory will not have its contract renewed after it ends Sept. 30, 2017, The New Mexican has learned. The consortium is currently in negotiations with the federal government that could extend the $2.2 billion annual contract beyond 2017, even as the contract is put back up for bid, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
The decision not to renew the contract follows a blistering series of federal investigations and performance evaluations involving the lab’s safety record after a drum from the lab burst and leaked radiation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February 2014 near Carlsbad, shutting down the nation’s only underground nuclear repository indefinitely.
The Department of Energy notified staffers with the New Mexico congressional delegation about the decision to put the contract up for bid on Friday, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Members of the delegation were not available for comment Friday evening.
Lab officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday evening.
The lab has been run since 2006 by Los Alamos National Security, which took over operations after years of accounting scandals, security lapses and other management issues. The company is made up of a partnership between the University of California, Bechtel Corp., Babcock & Wilcox Co., URS Corp. and AECOM.
But the consortium repeatedly has run into its own problems over the past several years. In 2013, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, the arm of the Department of Energy that oversees the lab’s contract, denied LANS a one-year extension of its contract to operate the lab because it fell short of its goals for repairing and reopening some weapons facilities. Still, the NNSA awarded LANS about $52 million in performance fees, or 87 percent of the full amount possible in 2013.
Then, last December, the NNSA issued a stinging performance evaluation in the wake of the WIPP leak. In that evaluation, the lab received grades of “unsatisfactory” in key areas that cost the consortium a year on its contract and about $57 million in incentives.
The lab has received the results of its latest performance evaluation for 2015, according to an internal memo obtained byThe New Mexican. The results, though better, were not good enough to earn a “unilateral” addition of another year in what is known in the contract as an “award term.”
“While I am deeply disappointed that we did not meet NNSA’s expectations in a manner sufficient to net another year of award term, I am extremely proud of our accomplishments,” lab Director Charles F. McMillan wrote in the Thursday, Dec. 17, memo to lab employees.
In the memo, McMillan focuses on the positives and does not mention that the contract will be up for renewal, but the language underscores the gravity of the situation.
“Understandably, this news is sure to generate questions for each of you,” McMillan wrote. “Nevertheless, I once again express my deeply held belief that the Laboratory’s greatest asset continues to be its people.”
A few paragraphs later, he writes, “I am scheduling an all-employee meeting shortly after the New Year to hear and address your thoughts, concerns, and questions.”
The new evaluation is not expected to be released publicly for a few weeks. But the memo purports to show substantially better results than in 2014. The memo says the lab received high scores in four of six categories, including management of the nuclear weapons mission and its mission of reducing global nuclear security threats. But it received only a “satisfactory” in the category of “operations and infrastructure.”
The lab needed to receive better than “satisfactory” in all six categories to qualify for an additional year in its contract.
“We did not accomplish this,” McMillan wrote. He added, however, that the NNSA has offered the consortium an extension. “I will provide additional details about that at a later date after there has been more discussion between the federal government and LANS,” he wrote.
“Our federal partners,” he added, “made it clear that shortcomings in our work planning and work controls related to safety events, project performance, cybersecurity, the earned value management system (EVMS), and continued weaknesses in criticality safety all weighed heavily in the evaluation of our performance,” McMillan wrote. “These are areas we must — and will — improve going forward.”
Justin Horwath can be reached at 986-3017 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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