Despite the fact that no one has come up with a good reason to increase plutonium pit production for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, officials want to study the possibility of radically increasing the amount of plutonium allowed in a recently completed laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Deputy Administrator for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs, Don Cook, has requested an analysis to increase the radioactive materials inventory in the recently completed Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) to up to 400 grams of plutonium-239, the isotope used in nuclear weapons. The RLUOB, which originally was limited to 8.4 grams of Pu 239, was built as Phase 1 of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at LANL that would have expanded plutonium pit production to 50 – 80 pits per year (pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons). LANL’s current capacity is 20 pits per year. Phase 2 of the CMRR project, the “Nuclear Facility,” was canceled because of lack of clear need and a bulging ten-fold increase in costs.

This RLUOB, along with some floor space in the existing Plutonium Facility (PF-4), will replace the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, which is slated for closure in 2019. The Laboratory was working on a plutonium strategy to move out of CMR and maintain the current plutonium capability.

But NNSA recently increased the maximum amount of radiological materials allowed in the RLOUB, and all “radiological” facilities, from 8.4 grams to 38.6 grams. Internal Lab documents floated plans that could have increased the limit again by two or three times by treating each little laboratory in the RLUOB as its own radiological facility. This could have increased the limit to 115.8 grams of Pu239.

But NNSA apparently wants to go big. The new analysis is to consider the RLUOB as a Hazard Category 3 nuclear facility, which is a huge step up from its current designation as a radiological facility.

Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said, “This turkey of a plan is stuffed with bad ideas – The RLUOB is not seismically qualified for that amount of plutonium. A new supplemental environmental impact statement will be needed. There is no need for more plutonium pits, except for new nuclear weapons, because they last for around 100 years and nuclear weapons stockpiles are decreasing. And apparently LANL can’t safely handle plutonium anyway, as major operations with plutonium have been paused since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. Finally, it was LANL’s improper handling of plutonium waste that contaminated 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, causing it to close with at least a half billion dollars in costs to reopen. We say no to more plutonium at Los Alamos!”

# # #

Read the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report here.

 

 

Today’s New York Times article “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” does a public service by pointing out that contrary to his rhetoric, Obama has the lowest nuclear weapons dismantlement rate of any president. In fact, he proposes to cut funding for dismantlements by 45% in FY 2015, along with cutting nonproliferation programs designed to keep nuclear materials safe from terrorists by 20%. This is to help pay for increasing nuclear weapons production.

The U.S. government under Obama is completely rebuilding the nuclear weapons production complex. This includes multi-billion dollar facilities for plutonium components at Los Alamos, NM, and highly enriched uranium at Oak Ridge, TN, both of which have massive cost overruns. It also includes a new Kansas City Plant, built by private investors in a sweetheart deal, for the thousand of nonnuclear components (fuzes, radars, etc.) needed to make nuclear weapons deliverable.

In all, “modernization” of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems is expected to cost more than a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. This will inevitably rob American taxpayers of what they truly need (upgraded public infrastructure, environmental and health protection, public education, etc.), while enriching the usual, unaccountable defense contractors. All of these new production plants are expected to manufacture nuclear weapons until 2075, a far cry from the aspirational future world free of nuclear weapons that President Obama claims to profess.

See “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/sunday-review/which-president-cut-the-most-nukes.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141101&nlid=59407362&tntemail0=y&_r=0

 

 

 

Not all interns who work for activist organizations are young college students. A couple of years ago, at age 52, I got tired of the rat race and went back to school. Looking to do something fun and enjoyable for my waning years, I elected to pursue a political science degree (with a little legal study on the side). Little did I know, this path would lead me back to an area I once thrived in and later came to loathe; the national nuclear policy, nuclear war planning, and its products such as warheads and waste, are once again at the forefront of my thoughts.

Previously being a member of the JSTPS (Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff) who proudly builds the nation’s nuclear war plan, I was quite comfortable seeing targets identified, weapons assigned, and analysts assiduously moving aim points back and forth ever looking for the level of damage required by JSCP (Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan). Sometimes they would giggle which could only mean one thing; that target was toast, well, atomized toast. I finally started asking the obvious question, what the hell wasn’t? At the time, I felt as though there was nothing I could do, so like most Americans, I stuck my head in the sand.

Twenty-seven years later, enter Nuclear Watch New Mexico. When looking for an organization to intern with as required by my degree program, NWNM (Nuclear Watch New Mexico) popped onto my radar. I found their mission statement raising the hair on the back of my neck; “through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, … promote safety and environmental protection … mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs … greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex … consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons”. Seeing this brought back old memories; for a moment I was back in Omaha under the front lawn of Bldg. 500, but this time I could fight back.

How could I not apply? How could I have kept my head buried all these years? Finally, here was a chance to give others the opportunity I had not found earlier in my life. For me, NMNW (Nuclear Watch New Mexico) offers the potential to educate others on issues such as:

  1. The very real threat of a national policy belief the U.S. can win a nuclear exchange employing a counter-force strategy
  2. Nuclear waste is created, not only with the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, but even with maintenance, refurbishment and upgrades to the existing stockpile
  3. There is an imminent, pervasive and measurable threat of environmental damage from these nuclear waste products
  4. The discussion the U.S. has abandoned provisions of the NPT (non-proliferation of nuclear weapons)

So, I applied. And here I am, an intern for Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Over the period of my internship, I plan on posting a personal blog of my experiences. I would like to share what I learn as well as the potential impact we can muster upon the community at large, armed with nuclear knowledge and nuclear persistence. My head is no longer in the sand.

 

Scots will vote on independence from the United Kingdom on Sept. 18, with polls showing the lead of anti-independence forces narrowing. If independence wins one declared goal of the Scottish National Party is to kick out the only British base for nuclear-armed strategic submarines at Faslane, effectively putting the future of U.K. nuclear forces in grave doubt. Polls show that the majority of Scots favor getting rid of Faslane.

In addition, a Review Conference of the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) will be held at the United Nations in May 2015. Non-weapons state are growing increasingly impatient with the weapons states’ failure to abide by the NPT Article VI mandate “… to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…” In fact, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has sued the UK and others in the World Court over that failure.

NPT Article I also requires that “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other explosive devices directly, or indirectly…” Given the interdependence of their nuclear weapons programs, the U.S. and U.K. violate this as well, as explained below.

The late Martin White, former head of Strategic Technologies for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the United Kingdom, made clear that the UK will not be honoring NPT Articles I and VI for the foreseeable future. The Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) July issue of National Security Science features an article by White entitled “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age.” http://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/national-security-science/2014-july/UK-is-modernizing-for-the-second-nuclear-age.php

Some excerpts:

•           You may know that we are in a period of major investment at AWE [Atomic Weapons Establishment] in terms of workforce, facilities, and programs. In the past decade, the workforce has grown from a low of 3,000to the current 4,500.

•           By the end of this decade, we will have new uranium, high explosives, and assembly facilities. Just as crucial, we will have a state-of-the-art high-power laser, supercomputing, and new hydrodynamic experimental capabilities.

•           In all this, our interactions with the United States have been and remain pivotal in shaping the U.K. deterrent program. And our continuing collaborations with Los Alamos National Laboratory touch the very core of our technical capability.

But the title itself contains my main point, “Modernizing for the Second Nuclear Age.” Indeed, the cover page page of the article has a dramatic picture of a U.K. strategic submarine, whose home port can only be Faslane.

This “Second Nuclear Age” is already a common theme with American nuclear weaponeers, See, for example, “The challenges facing stockpile stewardship in the Second Nuclear Age”, LANL Director Charlie McMillan, http://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/national-security-science/2014-february/challenges-facing-stockpile-stewardship

Or “The Second Nuclear Age”, http://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/national-security-science/2014-february/the-second-nuclear-age.php

The U.S. and UK nuclear weapons programs are very close and always have been. For example, the now head of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons programs, NNSA Dep. Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook, is an American from the Sandia Labs. Until a few years ago he was the manager of the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment as well. Also, the biggest U.S. defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, is one part of a three-part consortium running AWE.

Contrary to NPT Article I the U.S. is manufacturing neutron generators for the U.K. Neutron generators are crucial nuclear weapons components that introduce neutrons at the instant of detonation to begin the cascading chain reaction of a nuclear weapons explosion. For example, “…we noted that SNL had not established a costing methodology that consistently included a fair share of infrastructure costs to ensure full cost recovery for NG units to be built for the United Kingdom (UK). Reference: “The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Neutron Generator Activities, DOE Inspector General Audit report, page 2, http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/audit-report-oas-l-14-11

I conclude by asking questions: If they knew about it, how would the Scots feel about a “Second Nuclear Age”? Would that have any effect in their vote for independence? And how will  the increasingly impatient non-weapons states feel about a “Second Nuclear Age” at the May 2015 NPT Review Conference?

 

Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach for Congress, August 15, 2014 attempts to present the amount of space needed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Lab to produce 80 plutonium pits per year. CRS has to do this estimating task because the Lab has never done this calculation.

It is unclear to us why the Lab has yet to do this calculation. The Lab claims to be the “Plutonium Center of Excellence for the Nation”  yet the CRS report explains that no one knows whether existing buildings, without modifications, could manufacture 80 plutonium pits per year (ppy); or if modest upgrades would suffice; or if major construction would be needed to augment the current capacity of about 10 ppy.

A plutonium pit is a nuclear weapon component that is a hollow plutonium shell that is imploded with conventional explosives to create a nuclear explosion that triggers the rest of the weapon. Some argue that the capacity to manufacture new pits may be needed to extend the service life of unneeded weapons, to replace broken pits (which never happens), and to hedge against possible unnamed geopolitical surprises where only more nukes will solve the problem. How many pits that the country actually needs to produce annually is beyond the scope of the CRS report. We believe it is zero.

Along with the unknown space requirements, the Lab also does not know how much Material At Risk (MAR a.k.a. plutonium) would be needed in the building to produce 80 ppy. “…these data have never been calculated rigorously.”

CRS created some charts for this report to show what they believe to be current usage of the Lab’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4). But what this looks like for 80 ppy is still a guess.

We at NukeWatch have been demanding that LANL produce this information — most recently in our 2011 comments on the Draft CMRR-NF Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

We think two things a probably happening. There is still not a need for 80 pits per year (or any). And if the Lab were to finally do a pit production study, Congress would find out that LANL has enough space now.

The money should be used to clean up the Lab’s legacy Cold War waste.

 

On July 23, 2014, Los Alamos National Laboratory approved for public release an article titled Rethinking the Unthinkable, written by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Houston T. Hawkins, with the intention of being used for public presentations.

This article argues for an increase in nuclear weapons production and expanding stockpiles. Hawkins stresses the importance nuclear weapons has for the stability of U.S. foreign policy, arguing “the march toward disarmament would take us backwards into an even more unstable and dangerous world.” This stability, therefore, is generated by nuclear stockpiles.

In addition, nuclear deterrence according to the article is an important cornerstone of national security in that it serves as “strategic parity” between states. It also yields confidence not only in the functioning of domestic stockpiles, but in the intelligence capability of U.S. decision makers in assessing foreign nuclear advancements and curtailing surprises.

Continue reading »

 

US Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) recently and announced future recovery plans for WIPP and they include a target date to start some operations 18 months from now reported KRQE.

That date is extremely optimistic. Here’s a few reasons why –

  1. The exact cause of the February 14 release that shut WIPP down is still unknown. The cause must be determined before much else can happen.
  2. There are 360+ drums in Panel 6 that are suspected to have similar waste characteristics to the drum that leaked radiation. These have also now been re-characterized as “ignitable” by Los Alamos officials. Do these need to be removed and retreated? A decision is needed.
  3.  Panel 6 must be sealed off to protect mine workers from releases.
  4. There are 50+ suspect drums in Panel 7 where the original release happen.
  5. Parts of Panel 7 must be sealed off to protect workers.
  6. A new exhaust shaft is in the planning stages.
  7. The mine should be decontaminated.
  8. Funding for the recovery work will be needed.
  9. Fines will probably have to be paid.
  10. If the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit with the State is changed substantially, public comments and possible hearings will be required.
  11. Hopefully, a truly independent review will be approved.

In addition to these, Los Alamos officials have retroactively re-characterized many waste drums as “ignitable”. See previous post. Today it was revealed that Los Alamos has re-characterized some waste drums as “corrosive”.  Ignitable (EPA waste code D001) and corrosive (EPA waste code D002) wastes are prohibited from WIPP.

The NM Environment Department, and its Secretary Ryan Flynn, has the final say about the final disposition of the now illegal waste drums and many of the other issues. We trust he will take the health of present workers and future generations into account in his decision-making. DOE’s imagined schedule should not be a consideration.

We appreciate that Los Alamos Laboratory officials have stepped up and re-characterized the drums. But we don’t think DOE officials should be making statements about the timing of WIPP’s reopening (or even that WIPP will reopen at all) until all the facts are in.

To make matters even worse, the Current Argus reported that “Moniz told the town hall meeting [that the Department of] Energy is considering the facility [WIPP] to store spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants, but provided no time line.”

To even consider expanding WIPP when it is not even open shows the lack of focus on the current problems and shows the lessons have not been learned.

 

 

The DOE Inspector General released Audit Report on “Management of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Biosafety Laboratories” that calls for a re-evaluation of the proposed needs for Biolabs at nuclear weapons facilities such as Los Alamos.

The report stated that Los Alamos National Laboratory was considering a $9.5 million expansion of bio-laboratory capabilities even though the Lab could not assess current usage or future needs. Apparently the Lab based facility-planning decisions on perceptions about future demand.

From the report -

[DOE] identified the development of a BSL-3 facility at LANL as its preferred alternative for meeting biosafety laboratory needs even though it had not fully considered the need for and cost effectiveness of additional capacity. Nor, had it developed a sound basis for measuring the utilization of existing facilities – a critical factor in determining the need for additional capacity.

Biological containment levels range from BSL-1, which handles only agents not known to cause illness in humans, to BSL-4, which houses agents for which there are no known cures, such as Ebola. A BSL-3 designation permits work with virulent pathogens used in both defensive and offensive biological warfare research.

Although the BSL-3 building has been constructed, the need is very questionable. From the report –

Specifically, we contacted two of the three Federal agencies that LANL told us were prospective [Work For Other] WFO customers and officials representing those potential customers stated that they did not have any specific plans to contract for BSL-3 research at LANL. Further, officials at both agencies indicated that other existing BSL-3 facilities could satisfactorily meet their needs. In fact, one official told us that generally other existing BSL-3 laboratories were less expensive than expected at the new LANL facility and that several had comparable security.

While the BSL-3 building has been constructed, there is no compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) currently being prepared for BSL-3 facility operations pursuant to NEPA has not even been released, much less a final EIS or Record of Decision (ROD).  The current schedule calls for the EIS to be released in August 2014, but if past schedule changes are indications, it is not going to happen.

The draft EIS has been in process for nine years and counting. We at NukeWatch demand that DOE start over and re-scope both the alternatives and need for the BSL-3 at LANL. LANL is working on a Biological Research Capability Assessment to assess bioscience needs, which must be completed before the BSL-3 is re-scoped.

We hope the current Assessment is more empirical than the 2011 Review, which proposed that the BSL-3 facility was essential to LANL’s mission without considering data such as available capacity at other locations and estimates of projected use from outside customers.

The LANL BSL-3 EIS was the result of a lawsuit. During 2001 and 2002 NukeWatch contested the arbitrary and capricious public process DOE was using to justify its decision to build the proposed BSL-3 facilities at LANL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). DOE failed to adequately address the many concerns raised by the public and proceeded to release final Environmental Assessments (EAs) for both laboratories, along with so-called Findings of No Significant Impact, which gives the Department the green light to begin the first steps leading to operations. Because DOE left so many legitimate questions and concerns unanswered, NukeWatch felt that a legal challenge was necessary.

In August 2003 NukeWatch and Tri-Valley CAREs, a citizens group based in Livermore, CA, jointly filed a lawsuit in the federal district court of northern California claiming that DOE had failed to fully analyze the environmental and health risks associated with the proposed operation of its BSL-3 facilities at LANL and LLNL. In effect, DOE wrote itself a blank check for a wide range of infectious disease research at the two labs. NukeWatch and Tri-Valley CAREs argued that DOE failed to consider the grave risks of introducing pathogens whose behavior may not be known or understood, and for which a cure may not exist.

In January 2004, DOE announced that it had revoked approval for its newly constructed, advanced bio-warfare agent research facility at Los Alamos. DOE went back to square one, and reviewed whether the agency needed to undertake a full Environmental Impact Statement – a key demand in the lawsuit. The BSL-3 at LLNL was built and is operating.

DOE released a notice for the LANL EIS on November 29, 2005. The Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS for the BSL-3 stated that one reason requiring preparation of an EIS was that “it was necessary to conduct additional seismic analysis of the location of the building on fill material on the sloping side of a canyon.” This calls into question not just whether BSL-3 activities can be safely conducted before these issues are resolved through the EIS, but whether any operations can be safely conducted at all.

The drawing below shows the LANL BSL-3 built in a seismic zone, on fill, and on a steep slope.

Review of the Stability Analysis for the LANL BSL-3 Building Foundation, UCRL-TR-226737, November 2, 2006


The DOE-IG report stated that LANL would need to spend about $437,000 in upgrades to attempt to mitigate this seismic concern.  DOE also is spending about $478,000 to complete the now required Environmental Impact Statement

Another $595,000 is needed to open the facility, which includes $368,000 of operating costs for maintenance, utilities, etc.

Can the Laboratory be the best place for bioscience? If the Lab is looking for more funding streams, shouldn’t it be directing its attention to non-proliferation programs and cleanup?

 

 

DOE Retroactively Classifies Suspect WIPP Drums As Ignitable

In two letters posted to the NMED website, Los Alamos contractor and DOE Field Office officials informed NMED that 86 drums currently stored at LANL and 368 drums underground in Panel 6 at WIPP are now considered to contain ignitable wastes. These drums are part of the same waste stream as the drum in Panel 7 that is suspected to have caused the Feb. 14 radiation release and the subsequent closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

The letters state that DOE applied EPA Hazardous Waste Number D001 for the characteristic of ignitability.

The WIPP Permit specifically prohibits D001 Wastes at WIPP -

2.3.3.7. Ignitable, Corrosive, and Reactive Wastes

Wastes exhibiting the characteristic of ignitability, corrosivity, or reactivity (EPA Hazardous Waste Numbers of D001, D002, or D003) are not acceptable at WIPP.

DOE stated that it had “reason to believe that the nitrate salt bearing waste in the containers described above is an oxidizer and therefore the D001 code should be applied to the respective containers”, but did not explain exactly what that reason was. What did LANL or the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) discover that lead them to apply the D001 classification? The AIB report investigating the Feb. 14 release is not due until September.

Now there are 368 illegal drums buried at WIPP. DOE can’t seal up Panel 6 until the exact cause of the Feb 14 release is known, even though there is a plan to expedite closure of Panel 6.  NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has stated on several occasions that that we must know the exact cause before sealing up Panel 6. We agree. Otherwise we might be burying drums that should be retrieved and repackaged, as onerous of a task that that would be.

DOE stated, “Because the investigations are ongoing, the application of the D001 is considered provisional and may change to include and/or remove containers/waste streams in the future.”  But the WIPP permit has no provision for allowance for “provisional” classification wastes.

Either they are or they are not.

 

Today’s New York Times has a very relevant article for those concerned about biolabs at National Nuclear Security Administration  sites (i.e., Los Alamos and Livermore Labs).

The money quote: “Dr. Frieden [Director of the CDC] himself suggested that the accidents had implications for labs beyond his agency, arguing that the world needs to reduce to absolute minimums the number of labs handling dangerous agents, the number of staff members involved and the number of [bio]agents circulating.”

As Marylia Kelley of Tri-Valley CAREs can attest to, Livermore is conducting aerosolized experiments with anthrax and other “select agents.” In its inadequate environmental assessment (a lesser cousin of an “environmental impact statement”) LLNL disingenuously declared a certain amount of pathogens to be at risk during a major event. We discovered only through litigation discovery that ~10 times the amount of pathogens would be permanently kept at the biolab in freezers, which NNSA did not disclose in the EA. This, of course, is near the  densely populated, highly seismic Bay Area, which  could have its electrical grid destroyed during a major earthquake.

See:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/12/science/cdc-closes-anthrax-and-flu-labs-after-accidents.html?emc=edit_th_20140712&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=60715476&_r=0

C.D.C. Closes Anthrax and Flu Labs After Accidents

By JULY 11, 2014

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