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Watchblog

Once Again – It’ll Cost More and Take Longer

Decades of nuclear materials production at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site in South Carolina have left 37 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste in 49 underground storage tanks. This is just a small part of DOE’s Cold War cleanup legacy that currently has an estimate of $360+ billion to remediate across the country. This estimate keeps going up.

The United States Government Accountability Office released a September 2010 report about persistent concerns with efforts to cleanup these underground radioactive waste tanks. Like so many GAO reports before, the findings are that it will cost more and take longer:

Emptying, cleaning, and permanently closing the 22 underground liquid radioactive waste tanks at the Savannah River Site is likely to cost significantly more and take longer than estimated in the December 2008 contract between DOE and Savannah River Remediation, LLC (SRR). Originally estimated to cost $3.2 billion, SRR notified DOE in June 2010 that the total cost to close the 22 tanks had increased by more than $1.4 billion or 44 percent. Much of this increase is because DOE’s cost estimate in the September 2007 request for proposals that formed the basis of the December 2008 contract between DOE and SRR was not accurate or comprehensive.

Legacy cleanup at Los Alamos is currently estimated by the Lab to be around $2-3 billion.  This is required to be complete by 2015 by a consent Order agreement with the State of NM.  This estimate includes the Lab’s version of cleanup, which is leaving most the waste in the ground perched above our aquifer. Actually removing the waste is estimated at $20 billion. The final decision on what type of cleanup will be made by the State, which would like to have you the public’s input.

Cleanup at Los Alamos is one project that needs to cost more.

CMRR is Key to Expanded Plutonium Pit Production

While being narrowly correct, LANL PR man Kevin Roark is misleading when he claims [in a June 25, Letter to the Editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican  newspaper] that plutonium pit production will not take place in the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR). What he fails to disclose is that the Lab is not building just one facility, but instead is creating an integrated manufacturing complex for expanded production for which the CMRR is absolutely key. This complex will consist of LANL’s existing production facility “PF-4” with ~$300 million in upgrades; CMRR’s already completed first phase, the $400 million “Rad Lab”; and the future $4 billion CMRR “Nuclear Facility,” now being debated.

The Nuclear Facility will be literally next door to PF-4 and linked to it via underground tunnel. While pits are physically manufactured in PF-4’s glovebox lines, the Nuclear Facility’s central missions of “materials characterization” and “analytical chemistry” are essential operations that ensure “weapons-grade” plutonium and pit production quality control. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s own documents show that the Nuclear Facility is being specifically sized to support expanded production of up to 80 pits per year, quadruple LANL’s currently approved rate. It is also planned to have a vault for up to six metric tons of “special nuclear materials,” capable of storing around 1,000 pits.

Roark must think that New Mexicans are naïve enough to accept the Lab’s claims that the CMRR is all about “science” even as LANL becomes more and more a production site. Sadly, this is only part and parcel of the substantial rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex, which will also include a new $3.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee and a new privately financed Kansas City Plant for production of the 1,000’s of nonnuclear components that go into a nuclear weapon.

Many New Mexicans hoped for serious mission diversification at Los Alamos, which some $5 billion sunk into its plutonium infrastructure will almost certainly shut the door on. Schools in Santa Fe and all across the country are being closed due to lack of funding. Nevertheless, our government is preparing to spend some $10 billion to build new production plants even as we are purportedly working toward the declared long-term national security goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. To get there, citizens need to push the politicians to meet the needs of everyday people, not those of the vested nuclear weaponeers.

Revised Estimates for Safer Gloveboxes Hurt Budget

On the heels of a GAO report made public Monday, which stated that accounting procedures used by various branches of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex are preventing NNSA from pinpointing the exact total cost of maintaining its nuclear deterrent, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) has released a weekly report also showing LANL’s inability to accurately estimate even the tiniest of specific costs.

In the June 4th weekly report for Los Alamos Lab, the DNFSB stated that the Lab underestimated the cost of seismically upgrading gloveboxes at its plutonium pit production complex by an order of magnitude. The DNFSB stated, “…the expected cost of seismic upgrades to individual gloveboxes has risen from an original estimate of about $80,000 per glovebox to a current estimate of approximately $850,000.” In addition, the Lab also ended up doubling the number of gloveboxes that need the upgrades as a priority up to 157.

So, in effect, the Labs original estimate for this glovebox work was $6.4 million (80 gloveboxes at $80,000 each), but the revised estimate is now $133.4 million (157 gloveboxes at $850,000 each). It’s hard to understand how new bracing and bolts to upgrade the legs of these gloveboxes could cost $80,000 each, much less $850,000. It’s not rocket science. Maybe the private corporation running the Lab underestimated the profits that they wanted to make for this much-needed work.  Make no mistake, there will be performance- based incentive award fees  for the work, as well as for the design and even the estimates.

In safety documents, the Lab originally stated that these upgrades would be done by 2011 to mitigate the possible off-site dose of plutonium to the public in the event of a large earthquake and subsequent facility fire. Guess what? The Lab will be behind schedule as well as way over budget. But LANL is already using its commitment for future glovebox seismic upgrades to reduce the mitigated dose consequence for a seismically-induced event in its dose calculations. So the public will be safe, only on paper, until the Lab finds the time and the money to upgrade those glovebox legs.

The Lab should focus on upgrading existing facilities and equipment and prove its ability and desire to protect the public before embarking on unneeded new construction, such as the CMRR – Nuclear Facility.

A Bargain – But At What Cost?

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a new report today. Actions Needed to Identify Total Costs of Weapons Complex Infrastructure and Research and Production Capabilities, GAO-10-582, June 2010

I’ll start with the conclusion –

Within the global community, the Administration, and Congress, a bargain is being struck on nuclear weapons policy. Internationally, if the [START] treaty is ratified, significant stockpile reductions [will] have been negotiated between the United States and Russia. Domestically, a new Nuclear Posture Review has provided an updated policy framework for the nation’s nuclear deterrent. To enable this arms reduction agenda, the Administration is requesting from Congress billions of dollars in increased investment in the nuclear security enterprise to ensure that base scientific, technical, and engineering capabilities are sufficiently supported … For its part, NNSA must accurately identify these base capabilities and determine their costs in order to adequately justify future presidential budget requests and show the effects on its programs of potential budget increases. As it now stands, NNSA may not be accurately identifying the costs of base capabilities because … NNSA cannot identify the total costs to operate and maintain essential weapons activities facilities and infrastructure, … Without taking action to identify these costs, NNSA risks being unable to identify the return on investment of planned budget increases on the health of its base capabilities or to identify opportunities for cost saving…NNSA has the opportunity to mitigate these risks by addressing them through the ongoing revision of work breakdown structures and through identifying means of collecting the total costs … Without taking these actions, NNSA will not have the management information it needs to better justify future budget requests by making its justifications more transparent. Additionally, the availability of this information will assist Congress with its oversight function. (Pg. 25)

It looks like NNSA does not know exactly the total costs of its infrastructure budget, but it does know that it wants more. The report tells us that without identifying the total costs of products and capabilities, NNSA will be challenged to explain the effects of funding changes or justify the necessity for increased investment to support or enhance base capabilities. (Pg. 25)

The reduction in nuclear warhead numbers will mean an increase spending. “In such an environment, NNSA is likely to face increased scrutiny of its planning, programming, and budget execution to determine the effect of funding increases on the overall health of base capabilities.” (Pg. 24)

Curating the Stockpile: Remanufacturing Fogbank

I only now happened to run across the article below from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Nuclear Weapons Journal about how the remanufacturing of Fogbank was reestablished. As dated as it is, I think its implication is very important that existing programs are more than sufficient to keep the nuclear weapons stockpile safe and reliable, until eventual disarmament.

You may recall that the loss of Fogbank was a bit of a crisis that seriously delayed the W76 Life Extension Program. It had at various times been used as rationale for why existing LEPs would not work in the long run because of necessary changes to materials, loss of knowledgeable workforce, etc. By extension this was used to argue why Reliable Replacement Warheads should be designed and built.

But this article demonstrates that all that was needed was to simply give some emphasis to reestablishing fogbank production. Plus as an added bonus, it has some pleasing wonky detail. “It’s the impurity, stupid!” [see link below]

LANL Nuclear Weapons Journal, Issue 2 • 2009, pp. 21-22
Fogbank: Lost Knowledge Regained

Power of the Purse over DOE Projects

I was in Washington, DC last week and heard a number of congressional offices express support for the CMRR-Nuclear Facility, indicating what we already know, that it will be very difficult to defeat directly. However, the issue of costs is another matter, and I have some hope that the Nuclear Facility can die a death of 1,000 cuts.

For example, while in DC I met with a staff person knowledgeable about DOE project cost accounting requirements introduced by the Senate Armed Services Committee. I expressed my concern that LANL could implement its first segment of CMRR-Nuclear Facility construction without having come up with total costs, thus steamrolling the project.  [Reminder: we are now $4.5 billion for estimated total project costs and climbing.]  That staffer said that sort of thing will not be allowed to happen. Further, while being in favor of some advance site prep, that staffer said LANL would not be allowed to construct the concrete batch plant and replace 225,000 cubic yards of weak volcanic ash strata with “lean concrete” until total project costs are in.

The requirements were introduced as SEC. 4713. NOTIFICATION OF COST OVERRUNS FOR CERTAIN DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY PROJECTS.

I realize this is not a showstopper, but it is something. It should slow the CMRR-NF down some, which hopefully we can capitalize on. Further, it may provide us with ammo over the project’s tremendous and escalating costs.

Nick Roth of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability was instrumental in suggesting this cost accounting requirement to Congress.

Three Huge New Facilities Rebuild U.S. Nuclear Weapons Production Capacity

Modern nuclear weapons are comprised of three general types of components: plutonium pit primaries, uranium/lithium secondaries that are triggered by the primaries, and the 1,000’s of non-nuclear components that create deliverable weapons of mass destruction (fuzes, radar, bomb cases, etc.). The U.S. is aggressively pursuing major new production facilities for all three types. At the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, the “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project” will be the keystone to a revived plutonium manufacturing complex. The proposed “Uranium Processing Facility” (UPF) at the Y-12 Site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will be the future production plant for warhead secondaries. A new “Kansas City Plant” (KCP) in Missouri for nonnuclear components production is slated for groundbreaking in August 2010. Each of these three major new production facilities is expected to operate for the next half-century, in sharp contradiction to the declared national and global security goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.

A Compromised START

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is a staunch supporter of arms control treaties, particularly since they can be confidence building steps toward the long term goal of creating the nuclear weapons-free world articulated by President Obama.

However, we fear that arms control treaties will be turned on their heads to become in effect armament treaties for the American nuclear weapons complex. We think our fears are now concretely realized by the Obama Administration’s “modernization plan” attached to yesterday’s submittal of New START to the Senate for ratification.

As you probably know, the Obama plan is to increase funding for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs from $6.4 billion in FY10 to $9 billion by FY 2018, which is a 76% increase above the Cold War annual average of $5.1 billion. We think that is obviously a serious step backwards on the road to a nuclear weapons-free world, especially when the labs seem intent on introducing new military capabilities to existing types of U.S. nuclear weapons.

There have been calls for unconditional public support of New START. Yet current political realities are that New START will be heavily conditioned by both the Obama Administration and the Senate to include the revitalization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

In concrete terms, this means dramatically increased funding for huge new production plants for plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear components, respectively the Los Alamos CMRR-Nuclear Facility, the Y-12 Uranium Processing Facility and the new Kansas City Plant.

It also means future aggressive Life Extension Programs that will substantially modify the nuclear explosives package, a serious threshold that we have not yet crossed (and which could effectively recreate the Reliable Replacement Warheads that NNSA sought but Congress rejected, but by another name). We also need to remain aware of the failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, but which nevertheless profited the nuclear weapons labs and complex by some $100 billion to date under the Stockpile Stewardship Program to compensate for the loss of underground full-scale testing.

We don’t question that appeals for public support of New START should go forward. But as NGOs we are also entrusted with public responsibility to provide a fuller picture.

We argue that certain conditions for New START ratification, such as increased funding for new production facilities, LEPs and stockpile work, should be publicly explained, and lead to qualified instead of unconditional support of New START ratification.

Obama Bails Out Arms Reduction Treaty by Dramatically Increasing Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday President Obama submitted the new bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to the Senate for ratification. At the same time he submitted a modernization plan required by Congress that “includes investments of $80 billion to sustain and modernize the [U.S.] nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.” Given that two-thirds of the Senate is required for treaty ratifications a large political fight was always expected over a second attempt at ratifying the previously rejected Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, last December all 40 Republican senators plus one independent wrote to President Obama demanding modernization of both the stockpile and complex as a condition for New START ratification. Meanwhile, the prospects for ratification of the CTBT (first proposed by Prime Minister Nehru of India in 1954) look increasingly dim.

In response to Republican demands, the Obama Administration plans to increase funding for the nuclear weapons research and production programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by more than 40% from $6.4 billion in FY 2010 to $9 billion by 2018. In turn, $9 billion is 43% above the average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for analogous Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs.

The one-page unclassified summary of the modernization plan declares

U.S. nuclear weapons will undergo extensive life extension programs in the coming years to ensure their safety, security and effectiveness. Maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent requires that the United States operates a modern physical infrastructure and sustain a highly capable workforce.

That may seem intuitively logical on the face of it, but NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are subtly changing the frame of debate to favor their own interests. Independent scientists have repeatedly found that the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable and can be so maintained by existing life extension programs. Past NNSA budget requests repeatedly invoke a “reliable” stockpile, but its FY 2011 request is full of references to an “effective” stockpile.

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino claimed at a recent presentation to international delegations at the United Nations for the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that the U.S. is meeting its disarmament obligations in good faith. At the same time, he repeatedly stated the U.S.’s need to maintain an “effective” stockpile. When asked what effective meant he replied it meant having confidence in the nuclear weapons stockpile underpinned by the right mix of infrastructure and people.

In order to extract increased funding, NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are trying to shift the debate over maintaining the stockpile from technical arguments over warhead safety and reliability to subjective arguments over maintaining an exorbitant research and production complex and workforce. This will not only cost enormous sums of money, which is what the labs seek, but will also perversely undermine confidence in the stockpile because of planned changes, including new military capabilities, that will be made to existing, previously tested weapons. Giving the nuclear weapons labs a blank check contradicts Obama’s declared national security goal of a future nuclear weapons-free world. Instead, he should be redirecting the labs into dramatically increased nonproliferation programs, cleanup, and meeting today’s national security threats of nuclear terrorism, energy dependence and climate change.

The one-page unclassified summary of the Obama modernization plan for the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex.

The average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for DOE defense programs is derived from Atomic Audit, The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, Steven Schwartz, et.al., Brooking Institution Press, DC, 1998, Table A-2, p. 561 (adjusted for inflation).

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino’s presentation to the NPT Review Conference

For more background, please see “Labs Seek “Stockpile Modernization” Through Test Ban Ratification – Updating” of Treaty “Safeguards” to Protect Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Of particular interest are cited Los Alamos Lab viewgraphs that state “Technically: there is little difference between a ratified CTBT, and the current testing moratorium” and “There are several ways to sustain capabilities… Get more money.” The point is that the nuclear weapons labs are fully aware that treaty ratifications are an opportunity for them to secure more funding, as they did in the build up to the 1999 ratification process that rejected the CTBT.

A Tale of Two Cross-Sections

At the recent LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearings, the public was presented with two cross-sections of the current understanding of the geology under the Lab’s largest nuclear waste disposal area, Tech Area 54. These cross sections are important because the NM Environment Department, with public input, will soon have to decide the final disposition of the over 800,000 cubic yards of radioactive and hazardous waste buried there. The options range from leaving the waste in place with some sort of cover to exhuming the waste.

The geology under the site is very complicated and includes layers of lava flows, ash falls, and old stream beds. The waste is buried in unlined pits, shafts and trenches and is perched 800 – 1000 feet above our sole-source aquifer. Some of the more soluble contaminants, such as tritium, perchlorate, explosives, and chromium have already made their way to the aquifer from other parts of the Lab. The cross-sections are needed to understand the contaminant pathways from the dumps to the aquifer.

First, the Lab’s version – (click on image for larger picture)

The Lab's TA-54 Cross-Section Version

The MDAs, or Material Disposal Areas or dumps, are across the top. MDA G is the largest by far. The PM-#s are wells where drinking water is drawn. The R-#s are characterization and contaminant sampling wells. The elevation is on each side. The top of the regional aquifer is the horizontal blue line near 5800′. There are some perched aquifers shown, too.  The one question is a new structure that the Lab is calling a “dike” discovered by well R-22.

The NM Environment Department’s Version – (click on image for larger picture)

NMED's TA-54 Cross-Section

The Environment Department’s version gives a different interpretation of the fractures that could be pathways to the aquifer. It has many question marks, including the “vent” and the perched aquifers.

We appreciate the two versions. With so many unknowns, with so much waste, and with such a potential negative impact to our aquifer, the most protective course would be to remove the waste.

New Nuclear Facility – An Attempt to Divide and Conquer

During our March 3, 2010 CMRR public meeting in Los Alamos, the CMRR DOE Project Manager told us the the final estimate for the CMRR Nuclear Facility was scheduled for 2014. Additionally we learned that the CMRR Project as a whole is planning to segment some of the work into smaller projects with their own separate schedules for estimates and construction.
This project and cost segmentation concerns us in that much of the preliminary (but huge) infrastructure construction will be completed before the final cost estimates of the CMRR-NF are available.
The Infrastructure Package Construction, including the concrete batch plant, utilities, excavation, etc., will be completed in 2013. The road relocation and the basemat, which includes 225,000 cubic yards of concrete, are also scheduled to be completed in 2013. Even the structural concrete for the building itself, another 130,000 yds3 of concrete, is due to start before estimated final project costs are available.
The current cost estimates for the entire CMRR Project are now pegged at $4.5 billion (from an original $660 million in 2004), but are also listed as “TBD” in the NNSA FY11 budget request, in other words still not known. To allow the infrastructure to be completed, or even started, before final cost estimates for the Nuclear Facility are complete would condone the NF being built at any price.
We request that Congress strongly pressure NNSA in the authorization and appropriations processes for final CMRR Project cost estimates, and bar NNSA from proceeding with major infrastructure investments for the Nuclear Facility until those final Project cost estimates are provided.

Coghlan Report from NPT Rev Con

I’m in New York City for the first week of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that opened today (Monday May 3). Yesterday global citizens marched from Times Square to the United Nations demanding nuclear weapons abolition. I was very moved to see ~10,000 people from ~25 countries pour into this little park across from the UN, where NukeWatch and some 40 other organizations had information waiting for them.

My main gig here is about the 3 proposed huge nuclear weapons production plants the U.S. is planning to spend some $10 billion on over the next decade. They are the “Nuclear Facility” that will keystone an expanded plutonium complex at Los Alamos; the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 Site near Oak Ridge, TN; and the new Kansas City Plant (KCP). These facilities will expand production capability up to 80 new warheads per year. For more, see New US Production Facilities.

When I talked to folks (half from other countries) here for the Conference about these new facilities, most invariably say, “But, but, buuuuuuuut… what about Obama?” Their eyes get big when I tell them Obama doubled FY 2011 funding for the Nuclear Facility and UPF (KCP is privately financed, hence outside the federal budget). I guess they heard the part loud and clear from Obama in Prague about a nuclear weapons-free world, but not so much when he said probably not in my lifetime.

If left just up to him, I suppose that would be the case, given that these production facilities are expected to operate until 2065. But at least there are ~10,000 global citizens here in NYC pushing for sooner than that. We’ll see what concrete results the NPT Review Conference brings.

The CMRR-Nuclear Facility Is All About Expanding Plutonium Pit Production Capacity

In response to a question by Senator Jeff Bingaman at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 14, 2010, NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino stated “We will not make pits in the CMR replacement facility. We’ll make them in the existing older facility.”

That is narrowly true, but highly misleading. In fact, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project is all about expanding plutonium pit production capabilities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from the presently sanctioned level of 20 per year to up to 80. [Plutonium pits are the fissile “triggers” that initiate fusion in today’s modern thermonuclear weapons.] Yes, PF-4, LANL’s existing plutonium facility, performs the actual physical manufacturing of pits. However, that production cannot take place without “analytical chemistry” (AC) and “materials characterization” (MC) before production to make sure that the plutonium is weapons-grade, and extensive AC and MC sampling during production for stringent “war reserve” quality control.

It’s a mistake to get hung up on different facilities, when an integrated plutonium complex for expanded pit production capability is being created through proposed construction of the CMRR’s “Nuclear Facility” and upgrades to PF-4. It’s silly to think of them as separate facilities just because they’ll be under two different roofs. PF-4 and the Nuclear Facility will be next door to each other, linked by underground tunnel, with highly integrated operations and much exchange of special nuclear materials between them (especially given the Nuclear Facility’s planned vault for up to six metric tons of “special nuclear materials”).

The CMRR Nuclear Facility is being specifically sized to support pit production capability of 50 – 80 pits per year. An internal NNSA study of planned alternatives advocated for a “baseline version (22,500 ft2 of Pu lab space) of the CMRR-NF…, resulting in a production capacity of 50-80 ppy” [pits per year]. Independent Business Case Analysis of Consolidation Options for the Defense Programs SNM and Weapons Programs, TechSource, Inc, December 2007, p. 5-3, parentheses in the original. This “Business Case” is one of NNSA’s hundreds of reference documents for its 2008 Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. [To conveniently find it, use “TechSource 2007a.”]

That 22,500 ft2 of Pu lab space is exactly what is being designed for the Nuclear Facility now. “CMRR Project Nuclear Facility… Baseline under development …. 22,500 Net Square Feet Lab Space.” CMRR Project Update, LANL, Public Meeting, Los Alamos, New Mexico March 3, 2010, 7th viewgraph.

Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the for-profit corporation that runs Los Alamos, has already been paid for installing additional equipment in PF-4 that in conjunction with the future CMRR-Nuclear Facility will expand plutonium pit production capability to up to 80 pits per year. “Build Six New W88 Pits & Install Equipment in FY 2008 to Increase Pit Capacity to 80 Pits Per Year by the Operational Date of a CMRR-Nuclear Facility – Available Fee $1,079,915 – Awarded Fee $1,079,915.” FY 2008 Performance Evaluation Report for the Los Alamos National Security, LLC’s Management and Operation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, NNSA, p. 9.

NNSA echoes this in its FY 2010 Supplemental Stockpile Stewardship Plan. Under Key Recent Accomplishments the agency boasts of “New equipment installed as scheduled for gradual capacity increases to 80 pits per year potential by scheduled operational date for Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Nuclear Facility.” Table 1-1, NNSA/Office of Defense Programs, FY 2010 – 2014 Supplement to the Stockpile Stewardship Plan, p. 14.

In sum, suggestions or representations by NNSA and LANL that the $4.5 billion CMRR Project is not about pit production are at best half-truths. Its massive proposed “Nuclear Facility” is, in fact, all about expanded pit production capability.

What the New Definition of “New” Is

On March 16 I met with a senior congressional staff members. I raised the issue of what is “new.” I specifically pointed to an earth-penetrating variant of the B61 gravity bomb (the B61-11) that was rushed to the stockpile in 1997, likely because of a perceived threat of an alleged Libyan hardened underground bioweapons facility. B61’s are believed to have selectable yields, ranging from .3 kilotons to 300 kilotons.

The destructive effects of earth-penetrating weapons (even if they penetrate 10 meters or less) rise exponentially due to shock “coupling” with geologic strata. The B61-11, with a yield of up to 300kt, was designed to and did replace the monster 9-megaton surface-burst B53. Earth-penetration is indisputably a new military capability for the B61 bomb. But because the B61-11 has the same military mission as the B53 to destroy hardened deeply buried targets (never mind the extreme differences in yields, while arguably lower yield weapons are more “usable”), this senior HASC staffer asserted that the B61-11 was not a “new” nuclear weapon.

This is not an isolated case. I then went on to raise the current example of the sub-launched W76 that is now being refurbished in an ongoing Life Extension Program (LEP). It is being endowed with a new fuze that gives it selectable heights of burst and a more accurately targetable reentry vehicle. So it not only can hit a smaller target, but the lower the altitude of the burst, the more it can hold hardened bunkers or underground facilities at risk. Pete Nanos, then head of Naval Strategic Systems (and later controversial LANL Director), wrote in 1997 that the refurbished 100kt W76-1Mk4 would be transformed into a hard target killer, one that is a “counterforce” weapon against military assets rather a “countervalue” (“city-buster”) weapon of deterrence.

But because refurbished W76s could replace the hard target killer mission of 450kt. sub-launched W88s, this HASC staffer again maintained that it was not a “new” weapon. Never mind that there are less than an estimated 400 W88s, while the Bush Administration planned to run some 2,000 W76’s through LEP’s, which would radically alter the strategic equation (we don’t yet know how many Obama will refurbish).

To add to my case, now Under Secretary for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Ellen Tauscher (former congresswoman for the CA district that sites Livermore Lab) has also indicated that if a modified existing U.S. nuclear weapon, no matter how profoundly changed, assumes the mission of another existing nuclear weapon, then it is not a “new” nuclear weapon.

Needless to say the specific missions of U.S. nuclear weapons are highly classified. But the bottom line is that our stockpile is enough to kill this planet many times over. The U.S. Government appears poised to run many existing nuclear weapons through extreme makeovers (including plutonium pit triggers) that clearly give them new military capabilities. But because there is little theoretical end to what nuclear weapons can blow up (on this planet anyway) our government will continue to deny that these heavily modified existing nuclear weapons are “new” nuclear weapons as long as they assume the missions of other existing nuclear weapons.

In other words, they think they can do whatever they damn well please, and still not call it a new nuclear weapon.

LANL Installing Equipment for Manufacuring 80 Plutonium Pits Per Year

The question arose at the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability meeting this week over the potential level of future pit production at LANL and the role that the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project – Nuclear Facility will play in it.

See the below from the
FY10-14 Supplement to the Stockpile Stewardship Plan, p. 14, under “Recent Key Accomplishments”: (emphasis added)

“More than six new W88 plutonium pits
manufactured. New equipment installed as
scheduled for gradual capacity increases to
80 pits per year
potential by scheduled
operational date for Chemistry and Metallurgy
Research Replacement (CMRR) Nuclear Facility.”

This whole document is worthwhile reading (3.7MB).

Senator Bingaman Supports More Nuclear Plants

In the January/February issue of Mother Jones magazine Mariah Blake writes that New Mexico’s Senator Bingaman aided by Lisa Murkowski (R, Alaska) has introduced legislation likely to be included in the coming climate bill that would create a Clean Energy Development Agency (CEDA) within DOE with authority to extend a ‘virtually unlimited number of loan guarantees—without congressional review—to utilities to build nuclear plants.’  Blake goes on to say that both Bingaman and Mirkowski are ‘top recipients of the nuclear industry’s campaign largesse.’  Interested utilities would have to pay an unspecified fee to get a loan guarantee but, if the historical default rate from the 1st generation of US nuclear power folly is a guide, these fees will not come close to covering defaults. Blake continues: “According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if 100 new plants are built, as key Republican lawmakers have called for, the price of bad loans could total at least $360 billion—and that’s assuming zero cost overruns.”

So if fellow New Mexicans do not want MORE federal subsidies wasted in nuclear power plant construction they should send a ‘boo and hiss’ email to Senator Bingaman. I had not realized how completely Jeff had donned the pro-nuke mantle of Pete Domenici—and I deplore it!

TIME TO TAKE SENATOR BINGAMAN TO TASK!

When Jeff Bingaman replaced Pete Domenici as New Mexico’s senior Senator, environmentalists were pleased. But is Bingaman the new Domenici? Is he stepping into Pete’s radioactive shoes as chief procurer of pork for nuclear contractors, the environment be damned?
Consider this: Bingaman’s so-called “Clean Energy” legislation sticks taxpayers with a huge financial burden to cover unlimited loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants– yet another bailout for fat-cats who’ve already bankrupted us, just like the banks, insurance execs and military contractors. No nuclear plant has ever been built on schedule or within budget. And with no remotely viable solution to the nasty spent-fuel-rod problem, all eyes will be on NM’s sadly flawed WIPP repository as a place to stick the waste out of sight and out of mind. New Mexicans were promised that power-plant waste would never come to WIPP, but with Yucca Mountain in Nevada getting the red light, how long can we trust in that long-ago promise?
Now how about the weapons side of the nuclear equation? Talking out of both sides of his mouth like a true US Senator, Bingaman has weakly endorsed mission diversification at the national weapons Labs, then backed the fat increases for bomb facilities and new designs in Obama’s ghastly proposed federal budget for 2011. Bingaman lamely says this tragic misuse of tax dollars is “good for our state.” Hey, Jeff! If something is bad for the nation and bad for the world, it is not good for our state. And those new radioactive and chemical wastes from cranking out H-bombs will all become a permanent feature here in New Mexico. Thanks for drowning us in nuclear waste from all sides, Senator!!! You’re dooming us to an abusive relationship with a couple of dead-end industries whose profits end up elsewhere, when we could be creating a much brighter and cleaner future for our lovely state. Nuclear waste is permanent. The handful of jobs we get out of it are temporary–the way a Senate seat should be.
Friends, if this makes you as mad as it makes me, give Bingaman a trip to the woodshed. His toll-free NM # is 800-443-8658 and his DC office is 202-224-5521.

New Plutonium Facility Estimate Embraces $4.5 Billion

Buried in Volume 1 of the Department of Energy’s FY 2011 Congressional Budget Request are the Details of Project Cost Estimate for LANL’s proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) Project. (Pg.226 & 227)

The Details –

$164 million –       The cost of the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) recently finished with construction

$199 million –       The estimated cost of equipment for the RLUOB scheduled to be installed by 2013.

$3.4 billion –          The current estimate of the Proposed Nuclear Facility due to be completed in 2018.

$782 million –       “Contingency”

$4.5 Billion –         Total

This does not D&D of the existing CMR (estimated at $500 million).

DOE Fails to Make Minimum Payment on Environmental Cleanup

Last I looked, the Cold War ended 18 years ago. We won. OK, I used to think we won, but there is still a big debt that needs to be paid off before any victory party.

The Department of Energy’s Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2009 (Pg.52) gives some sobering figures. Even with extra Recovery funding ($5.1 billion) and all the usual appropriations (about $6 billion) the Department’s “total unfunded environmental cleanup and disposal liabilities” still increased by over $1 billion in 2009. The current estimate for the cleanup of environmental contamination resulting from past operations of the nuclear weapons complex is $262.7 billion. Given that this estimate will surely increase yearly, at this rate, DOE will pay off its existing Cold War environmental liability, well…never.

Yet the Department continues on a shopping spree and rings up new $4 billion facilities that will generate new wastes. DOE must stop creating new waste when the legacy waste is still posing a threat, and should greatly increase the annual cleanup funding at least until it starts to make a dent in the amount owed. Until then, somebody please, cut up the credit card.

More from the Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2009 –

“At all sites where these activities took place, some environmental contamination occurred. This contamination was caused by the production, storage, and use of radioactive materials and hazardous chemicals, which resulted in contamination of soil, surface water, and groundwater. The environmental legacy of nuclear weapons production also includes thousands of contaminated buildings and large volumes of waste and special nuclear materials requiring treatment, stabilization, and disposal. Approximately one-half million cubic meters of radioactive high-level, mixed, and low-level wastes must be stabilized, safeguarded, and dispositioned, including a quantity of plutonium sufficient to fabricate thousands of nuclear weapons. “ (Pg.52)

Mother of Nuclear Weapons Complex Modernization speaks at Global Zero Summit

Re : Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, addressing Global Zero Summit, Paris, February 3, 2010

The good news is there is no bad news in her speech… she basically goes rhetorical using standard mountain climbing analogy language of journeying to the summit of a world free of nuclear weapons.

But it’s an ironic speech given that Tauscher is the Mother of Nuclear Weapons Complex Modernization.  As chairwoman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of House Armed Services she saw to it that the Perry-Schlesinger Strategic Posture Commission was legislatively created in the 2009 Defense Authorization Act.  At the time, she represented the California congressional district that is home to the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratory. In May 2009 that Commission came out with recommendations to modernize the complex. Tauscher then saw to it that the FY2010 Defense Authorization Act required “a report on the plan… to modernize the nuclear weapons complex” as a condition for ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kyl in part used the Commission’s recommendations as the basis for a letter from 40 Republican senators + Lieberman telling Obama there’s no way he’s going to get START ratification without complex modernization. His letter also moved the fight up over complex modernization to START ratification, previously considered a bit of a no-brainer, instead of the expected fight over ratification of the long-sought-for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  On Monday, February 1, President Obama released a federal budget that dramatically increased funding for new US nuclear weapons production facilities. So it’s strange to hear Tauscher, now State Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, play to the crowd at the summit for Global Zero, whose purpose is to abolish nuclear weapons in 20 years.

She had nary a word to say on how under “modernization” the US is designing and building three new production plants for plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear components for nuclear weapons. In fact, groundbreaking for one of them, the Kansas City Plant, just might occur just before the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that begins May 3.  Let’s see how Obama and Tauscher explain that to the international delegations at the United Nations!

Despite Non-Proliferation Pledge – $7B for Nuclear Arsenal

February 2, 2010 – Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman interviews Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch

AMY GOODMAN: All forty Republican senators, as well as Joseph Lieberman, implied in a letter to Obama last month that they would block ratification of the new treaty with Russia unless he funds a, quote, “modern” warhead and new facilities at the Los Alamos National Lab, where you’re near right now in New Mexico, and the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Jay?

JAY COGHLAN: You’re absolutely right. They’re playing muscle, and they’re rolling Obama and Biden. The Democrats are now surrendering. The executive administration is now surrendering to that demand.

…how is the US now going to walk in with a straight face, walk into the UN, and claim that it’s leading towards a world free of nuclear weapons, when in fact we are starting up a plutonium facility in Los Alamos, a uranium facility in Tennessee, but also a major new production plant in Kansas City for all of the non-nuclear components that go into a weapon?

So, basically, the US is revitalizing its nuclear weapons production base. And again, the laboratories, mark my words, and as the Republicans already wrote, they’re calling for or attempting to demand a, quote, “modern” warhead, that means new designs.

Obama’s New Budget Increases Funding for Nuclear Weapons Production Facilities; Cuts Dismantlements

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.

Meet the Nuke Boss, Just Like the Old Boss!

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!

Kansas City (Nuke Plant) Blues

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
$673 million.

•   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
selected it.

•   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.

Sandia Claims Technology Supports the CTBT While Modernizing Weapons

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.