Chromium Groundwater Contamination at Los Alamos Lab Far Greater Than Previously Expected; LANL’s Treatment Plan Must Be Drastically Changed

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has detected far more hexavalent chromium (Cr) contamination than previously estimated in the “sole source” regional groundwater aquifer that serves Los Alamos, Santa Fe and the Española Basin. Sampling in July from a new well meant to inject treated groundwater back into the aquifer detected chromium contamination five times greater than the New Mexico groundwater standard of 50 micrograms per liter (ug/L).

Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen, and is the culprit in many illnesses as depicted in the well-known film Erin Brockovich. A “sole source aquifer” is a designation given by the Environmental Protection Agency when an aquifer supplies at least 50 percent of the drinking water for its service area and there are no reasonably available alternative drinking water sources should the aquifer become contaminated. Nuclear Watch discovered the alarming data in obscure entries in the Lab’s contamination database IntellusNM (http://intellusnm.com).

The location of the particular well, Chromium Injection Well 6 (CrIN-6), was chosen because LANL thought that it would be on the edge of the chromium groundwater plume where detection samples would be below the New Mexico standard of 50 ug/L, or in other words on the boundary of what legally requires treatment. Given this new information, if this new well is used to inject treated water, it will help push the contamination beyond Lab boundaries instead of blocking it. The thickness of the chromium plume at this location is not exactly known, but elsewhere it contaminates approximately the top 80 feet of the groundwater aquifer.

LANL’s “Chromium Plume Interim Measures Plan”, approved by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), is designed to remove chromium contaminated water from the center of the plume through extraction wells, treat it so it meets the state’s ground water standard, and inject the treated water into the leading edge of the plume in an attempt to slow or halt the plume migration.

CrIN-6 is currently the last proposed injection well, while injection wells 1 through 5 are already active. The new data indicates that the leading edge of the plume passed CrIN-6’s location some time ago. Injecting treated water into it now will only serve to push the plume farther east toward San Ildefonso Pueblo and the Buckman Wells that the City of Santa Fe relies on for a third of its drinking water.

The new data suggest there will have to be will have to be a complete re-thinking of chromium groundwater treatment by LANL and NMED, with more wells needed to both accurately find the true boundary of the chromium plume and eventual treatment. This inevitably means that remediation will take longer and cost more, when at the same time NMED weakened its own regulatory authority through a revised Consent Order governing cleanup that it agreed to with the Department of Energy last year (for more, see background below).

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Timely budgets for additional urgently needed cleanup work at Los Alamos are far from being a given. The 2016 Consent Order that NMED and DOE negotiated both weakened and delayed cleanup at LANL, and allows DOE to get out of cleanup by simply claiming that it is too expensive or difficult. But we demand that DOE find additional funding to immediately address this threat to New Mexico’s precious water resources, without robbing other badly needed cleanup projects.” In contrast, funding for the Lab’s nuclear weapons that caused the contamination to begin with continues to grow.

NukeWatch Operations Director, Scott Kovac stated, “It is easy for data to get buried and never see the light of day in the Lab’s contamination database. LANL should proactively keep the public continuously informed of important new developments. NMED and LANL must modify and expand the chromium groundwater treatment plan to meet this growing threat. The new well must not be used for injection, and instead treated water should be injected in front of the contaminant source to help permanently flush it out, instead of behind it which will push the contamination offsite.”

# # #

Background

Chart of samples data from Intellus NM compiled by Nuclear Watch. To locate data, go to http://intellusnm.com and search by Location ID.

Field Sample ID Location ID Sample Date Parameter Name Report Result Report Units Sample Time
CrIN6-17-142149 CrIN-6 07-16-2017 Chromium 247.24 ug/L 19:00
CrIN6-17-142150 CrIN-6 07-16-2017 Chromium 249.69 ug/L 23:00
CrIN6-17-142148 CrIN-6 07-17-2017 Chromium 262.07 ug/L 15:00
CrIN6-17-142151 CrIN-6 07-17-2017 Chromium 252.07 ug/L 03:00
CrIN6-17-142152 CrIN-6 07-17-2017 Chromium 260.22 ug/L 11:00
CrIN6-17-142154 CrIN-6 07-17-2017 Chromium 257.65 ug/L 07:00
CrIN6-17-142163 CrIN-6 07-17-2017 Chromium 259 ug/L 15:00

Chromium was released into the head of Sandia Canyon until 1972.

  • Potassium dichromate was used in cooling towers as a corrosion inhibitor at a Laboratory power plant
  • Up to 72,000 kg was released from 1956-72 in hexavalent form [Cr(VI)]

Discovered in 2004

  • A Cr plume is in the regional aquifer at 900–1,000 feet below the canyon bottom at deepest, which places the Cr into the top of the aquifer
  • Size was estimated at approximately 1 mile x 1/2 mile x <50 feet thick
  • Plume edge is approximately 1?2 mile from the closest drinking water well

For how the 2016 Consent Order has weakened NMED’s regulatory authority, see https://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Consent-Order-should-be-rescinded-9-10-17.pdf

Nuclear war can be avoided – let’s get it right!

Despite the hyperbole from both Trump and Kim Jong Un, nuclear war can be avoided. This not an argument for complacency, but rather to get it right.

Perhaps the silver lining in the crisis with North Korea can be that that the focused attention of the peoples of the world will rise to demand brakes on nuclear weapons, as it did to great effect in the 1980’s. But now we finally have an international treaty banning nuclear weapons, just like chemical and biological weapons.  It won’t be easy, but let’s roll up our sleeves and get the job done!

http://thebulletin.org/north-korea%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cnot-quite%E2%80%9D-icbm-can%E2%80%99t-hit-lower-48-states11012

North Korea’s “not quite” ICBM can’t hit the lower 48 states

Theodore A. Postol, Markus Schiller, Robert Schmucker 

From the point of view of North Korean political leadership, the general reaction to the July 4 and July 28 launches could not have been better. The world suddenly believed that the North Koreans had an ICBM that could reach the West Coast of the United States and beyond. But calculations we have made—based on detailed study of the type and size of the rocket motors used, the flight times of the stages of the rockets, the propellant likely used, and other technical factors—indicate that these rockets actually carried very small payloads that were nowhere near the weight of a nuclear warhead of the type North Korea could have, or could eventually have. These small payloads allowed the rockets to be lofted to far higher altitudes than they would have if loaded with a much-heavier warhead, creating the impression that North Korea was on the cusp of achieving ICBM capability.

In reality, the North Korean rocket fired twice last month—the Hwasong-14—is a “sub-level” ICBM that will not be able to deliver nuclear warheads to the continental United States. Our analysis shows that the current variant of the Hwasong-14 may not even be capable of delivering a first-generation nuclear warhead to Anchorage, Alaska, although such a possibility cannot be categorically ruled out. But even if North Korea is now capable of fabricating a relatively light-weight, “miniaturized” atomic bomb that can survive the extreme reentry environments of long-range rocket delivery, it will, with certainty, not be able to deliver such an atomic bomb to the lower 48 states of the United States with the rocket tested on July 3 and July 28.

….

We emphasize at this point that advances in rocketry demonstrated by North Korea in the Hwasong-14 are significant, and although the Hwasong-14 is not an immediate threat to the continental United States, variants that are almost certainly now under development, but probably years away from completion, will eventually become missiles with sufficient payloads to deliver atomic bombs to the continental United States.

General conclusions—for now. Our general conclusions from intensive study of a wide variety of data relating to the two rockets that North Korea launched in July:

  • The Hwasong-14 does not currently constitute a nuclear threat to the lower 48 states of the United States.
  • The flight tests on July 4 and 28 were a carefully choreographed deception by North Korea to create a false impression that the Hwasong-14 is a near-ICBM that poses a nuclear threat to the continental US.
  • The Hwasong-14 tested on July 4 and 28 may not even be able to deliver a North Korean atomic bomb to Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Although it is clear that North Korea is not capable of manufacturing sophisticated rocket components, their skill and ingenuity in using Soviet rocket motor components has grown very substantially. This is not good news for the long run.

It is time for the United States to get serious about diplomacy and appropriate defensive preparations (see sidebar, “Comments on the developing situation with North Korea”) to constructively support those diplomatic efforts.

 

Annual Sackcloth and Ashes Hiroshima Day Peace Vigil at Los Alamos, NM

Annual Sackcloth and Ashes Hiroshima Day Peace Vigil at Los Alamos, NM

Saturday, August 5th, 2017, people will gather at 2:00 p.m. at Ashley Pond Park in Los Alamos, NM for the annual sackcloth and ashes peace vigil to commemorate Hiroshima Day. There will be a quiet walk, then sitting in sackcloth and ashes for 30 minutes, then returning to the park, where friends will reflect together on the current UN movement to outlaw nuclear weapons, with Rev. John Dear and Jay Coghlan of Nukewatch. Bring water, an umbrella and a peace sign.

Every year the Pax Christi NM sponsors this peace vigil commemorating the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Symbols are very powerful. They bring it all home,” says Father John Dear of Pax Christi New Mexico, the state chapter of an international Catholic peace movement.

Folks slip on sack cloths and carry bags of ashes to depict penitence and conversion to nonviolence, as portrayed in a story from the Book of Jonah in the Bible.

“Jonah used sack cloths and ashes in Nineveh. Two hundred years ago in
Boston, they used tea. Mahatma Gandhi used salt,” Dear says. “With this
symbol, we reclaim an ancient biblical image to show our political and
spiritual opposition to nuclear weapons and the work of Los Alamos.”

For info, contact Bud Ryan at bud@siochainworld.org
Peace

Peace vigil participants in sack cloth line the street, each sitting in front of a small pile of ashes

US Still On Track For $1 Trillion Nuclear Weapons Modernization

Here’s a breakdown of nuclear weapons costs. The average is $34 billion per year.

$1T Trainwreck For Nuclear Weapons Spending
10-Year Estimates for Sustaining and Modernizing the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent

DOD and DOE are undertaking an extensive effort to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. This effort is expected to take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Congress requires submission of an annual report to congressional committees on DOD’s and DOE’s plans for related matters and includes a provision that GAO review aspects of that joint report. GAO has previously recommended that future joint reports provide more thorough documentation of methodologies and context for significant changes from year to year.

GAO analyzed the departments’ internal plans and budget estimates for sustaining and modernizing the nuclear deterrent and interviewed DOD and DOE officials. The fiscal year 2017 joint report continues to omit explicit information about all assumptions and limitations in DOD’s and DOE’s methodologies and reasons for year-to-year programmatic changes in some estimates—information that could improve transparency for decision makers in Congress.

Read the GAO Report Here

Some Background on Plutonium Pit Production at the Los Alamos Lab

Some Background on Plutonium Pit Production at the Los Alamos Lab

The Washington Post has published the first in a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab. Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that when imploded initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons.

  • The former production site, the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, was shut down by a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes. A special grand jury indicted both DOE officials and the contractor, but its report was sealed by a federal judge at the urging of the local federal attorney general. It was only by sheer luck that a major plutonium fire on Mother’s Day 1969 didn’t contaminate Denver with highly carcinogenic plutonium.
  • Senior DOE officials promised New Mexicans 20 years ago that serious lessons were learned from the Rocky Flats Plant and re-established plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) would always be safe. Since then the Los Alamos Lab has spent billions of taxpayers’ money on plutonium pit production, but as the Washington Post article documents still can’t do it safely.
  • As the Washington Post article reports, a serious nuclear criticality incident was narrowly averted in July 2011, which resulted in the three-year shut down of LANL’s main plutonium facility. Nevertheless, according to the FY 2011 LANL Performance Evaluation Report, the Lab contractor was paid $50 million in pure profit for that year. These Performance Evaluation Reports are the report card whereby the government determines how much the taxpayer will pay nuclear weapons contractors. The government denied taxpayer access to these reports until NukeWatch successfully sued for them.
  • A radioactive waste barrel improperly prepared by LANL ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), shutting down that multi-billion dollar facility for nearly three years. Radioactive waste disposal at WIPP will remain constrained for years, raising the question of where future LANL bomb-making wastes will go.
  • Plutonium facilities at LANL are supposed to be designed to withstand a serious earthquake that is supposed to occur only once in every 10,000 years. The last serious earthquake near the Lab is believed to have occurred 11,500 years ago. Although there is no exact linear correlation, LANL is in a sense “overdue” for a serious seismic event given its numerous geologic faults.
  • Congress has legislated a requirement that the Los Alamos Lab expand plutonium pit production, regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. That requirement was drafted by professional staff on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, one of whom was originally from the Sandia nuclear weapons lab. That the existing stockpile doesn’t need pit production is demonstrated by the fact that none has been scheduled since LANL caught up with 29 W88 pits that were stopped when the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down.
  • At NukeWatch’s request former senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) required an independent study of the lifetimes of pits. The expert conclusion was that plutonium pits last at least a century, more than double government estimates (the oldest pits in the stockpile are now around 45 years old). Moreover, there are some 15,000 existing plutonium pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX.
  • Future plutonium pit production is for a new so called “Interoperable Warhead” that is suppose to function both as a land-based ICBM and sub-launched nuclear warhead. The nuclear weapons labs are pushing this $13 billion make-work project that the Navy doesn’t want. Ironically, new-design pits for the Interoperable Warhead may hurt national security because they cannot be tested in a full-scale nuclear weapons test, or alternatively testing them would have severe international proliferation consequences.
  • Given all this, why expand plutonium pit production when apparently it can’t be done safely and may decrease, not increase, our national security? One strong reason is the huge contractor profits to be had under the one trillion dollar-plus “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile and production complex initiated under Obama, which Trump promises to expand. Far from just “modernization”, existing nuclear weapons are being given new military capabilities despite denials at the highest levels of government.
  • The directors of the Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs in truth wear two hats, the first as lab directors, the second as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations running the labs. This inherent conflict-of-interest that skews U.S. nuclear weapons policy should be brought to an end.

Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Director, commented, “The New Mexican congressional delegation kowtows to the nuclear weapons industry in our state. I specifically call upon my two senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to certify within this calendar year that future plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab will be safe, or otherwise end their support for it.”

# # #

The Washington Post article is available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/safety-lapses-undermine-nuclear-warhead-work-at-los-alamos/2017/06/17/87f051ee-510d-11e7-b064-828ba60fbb98_story.html

The article is also being carried in The New Mexican at http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/repeated-safety-lapses-hobble-lanl-s-work-on-u-s/article_f45dd72a-d6f6-580c-97af-8ffcb9fe8364.html

For more on expanded plutonium pit production please see https://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/PitProductionFactSheet.pdf

Don’t trust what NNSA and LANL say

In direct response to the Center for Public Integrity’s first article, NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz broadcasted a strongly worded statement to national media. Among other things, Klotz categorically claimed that, “By late 2016, the (LANL) plutonium facility had resumed all operations that had been paused in 2013.” (Emphasis added)

This doesn’t square with these two weekly reports from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board:

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending September 9, 2016

Following successful closure of the corrective actions, LANL will have completed the revised scope of the formal restart project, restoring basic functionality to the facility¹s manufacturing and surveillance missions. An additional 18 readiness activities are planned for the next two years, including some new activities and some that were de-scoped from the formal restart project such as the aqueous chloride and nitrate operations.

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 30, 2016

Plutonium Facility personnel completed the revised scope of the restart project. Notably, several process deviations occurred in resumed operations prompting management to significantly change the material move procedure. The next significant readiness review is scheduled to occur in April 2017 for the aqueous chloride and americium oxide operations. – End –

This goes to show why the public can’t trust the truthfulness of anything the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Los Alamos Lab say. When they are a long ways from a touchdown, they move the goal posts (i.e., “de-scoping”) while collecting millions in taxpayers’ dollars.

 

Nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab

The Washington Post has published the first in a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab. Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that when imploded initiate the nuclear detonation. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/safety-lapses-undermine-nuclear-warhead-work-at-los-alamos/2017/06/17/87f051ee-510d-11e7-b064-828ba60fbb98_story.html

The article is also being carried in The New Mexican at http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/repeated-safety-lapses-hobble-lanl-s-work-on-u-s/article_f45dd72a-d6f6-580c-97af-8ffcb9fe8364.html

I live in Santa Fe, NM and clearly remember senior DOE officials promising 20 years ago that serious lessons were learned from the Rocky Flats Plant and re-established plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) would always be safe. Rocky Flats was shut down by a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes. A special grand jury indicted both DOE officials and the contractor, but its report was sealed by a federal judge at the urging of the local federal attorney general. It was only by sheer luck that a major plutonium fire on Mother’s Day 1969 didn’t contaminate Denver with highly carcinogenic plutonium (google the article The Day We Almost Lost Denver).

Since then the Los Alamos Lab has spent billions of taxpayers’ money on plutonium pit production, but still can’t do it safely. Moreover, as the  article mentions, a radioactive waste barrel improperly prepared by LANL ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), shutting down that multi-billion dollar facility for nearly three years. Radioactive waste disposal at WIPP will remain constrained for years, raising the question of where future LANL bomb-making wastes will go.

Congress in its infinite wisdom has legislated a requirement that the Los Alamos Lab expand plutonium pit production, regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. That the existing stockpile doesn’t need pit production is demonstrated by the fact that none is scheduled. Future pit production is for a new so called “Interoperable Warhead” that is suppose to function both as a land-based ICBM and sub-launched nuclear warhead. The nuclear weapons labs are pushing this $13 billion make-work project that the Navy doesn’t want. Ironically, new-design pits for the Interoperable Warhead may hurt national security because they cannot be tested in a full-scale nuclear weapons test, or alternatively testing them would have severe international proliferation consequences.

At my request former senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) required an independent study of the lifetimes of pits. The expert conclusion was that plutonium pits last at least a century, more than double government estimates (the oldest pits in the stockpile are now around 45 years old). Moreover, there are some 15,000 existing plutonium pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX.

Given all this, why expand plutonium pit production when apparently it can’t be done safely and may decrease, not increase, our national security? One strong reason is the huge contractor profits to be had under the one trillion dollar-plus “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile and production complex initiated under Obama, which Trump promises to expand. Far from just “modernization”, existing nuclear weapons are being given new military capabilities despite denials at the highest levels of government.  The directors of the Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs in truth wear two hats, the first as lab directors, the second as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations running the labs. This is inherent conflict-of-interest that skews U.S. nuclear weapons policy should be brought to an end.

The New Mexican congressional delegation kowtows to the nuclear weapons industry in my state. I specifically call upon my two senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to certify within this calendar year that future plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab will be safe, or otherwise end their support for it.

For more background on plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab see https://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/PitProductionFactSheet.pdf

How could New Mexico’s senators support Heather Wilson for Air Force Secretary?

Commentary by NukeWatch Steering Committee member Chuck Montaño. Chuck is a federally protected LANLK whistleblower, and we’re proud to have him!

*******

It’s disturbing, but not surprising that both New Mexico U.S. Senators, and so many of their Senate colleagues, supported Donald Trump’s nomination of former New Mexico Congresswomen, Heather Wilson, to the position of Air Force Secretary. My award-winning book about the corrupting influence of money and politics, titled Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths, provides in depth perspective on how this occurs and why, regardless of political party affiliation.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, most fraud, waste and abuse can be attributed to managerial malfeasance occurring at the highest levels of leadership, and a reluctance(if not outright refusal) by those with oversight authority to hold those responsible accountable. A couple of years back, Ms Wilson was caught lobbying for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia, and other federal facilities, she receiving tens of thousands of dollars a month in the process. These federal installations were later forced to reimburse the taxpayer for those monies, this being akin to the proverbial slap on the wrist with a wet noodle.

As a former auditor and fraud investigator in Los Alamos, and the once director of fraud and special investigations for the office of the New Mexico state auditor, I know for a fact that using taxpayer dollars to lobby is a blatant violation of federal and state law. I also know that employees are legally required to report fraud, waste and abuse occurring at taxpayer-funded institutions. Indeed, it is a condition of employment at federally-funded facilities. So why did New Mexico U.S. Senator’s Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and so many of their Senate colleagues, choose to ignore the evidence about Wilson’s lobbying activity, introduced into the record at her recent confirmation hearing? Indeed, why do our elected representatives prefer to look the other way as government whistleblower’s (AKA employees) careers get destroyed, by these employers, for reporting such malfeasance? Perhaps we are a nation of laws, but the institutions and individuals charged to enforce them are clearly selective as to how and when they choose to do so, thus ensuring  the powerful get their way and, perhaps most importantly, that the status quo always always remains intact.

 

Charles ‘Chuck’ Montano, author

Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths

www.losalamosdiary.com

 

How US Nuclear Force Modernization is Undermining Strategic Stability

Nuclear Weapons defects graph from 1993 Sandia Stockpile Life Study
Nuclear Weapons defects graph from 1993 Sandia Stockpile Life Study

A must read:

How US Nuclear Force Modernization is Undermining Strategic Stability:
The Burst-Height Compensating Super-Fuze

By Hans M. Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie, Theodore A. Postol

http://thebulletin.org/how-us-nuclear-force-modernization-undermining-strategic-stability-burst-height-compensating-super10578

Excerpt:

The US nuclear forces modernization program has been portrayed to the public as an effort to ensure the reliability and safety of warheads in the US nuclear arsenal, rather than to enhance their military capabilities. In reality, however, that program has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing- boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three- and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.

This is a super outstanding analysis by Mssrs. Kristensen, McKinzie and Postol.  I’m no doubt naïve, but I’m hoping it will have some real political and geopolitical impact.

And how in keeping with the 2013 Defense Dept. guidance, which Kristensen was the first to point out to me. It helps to demonstrate that the American public doesn’t really have nuclear “deterrence” as claimed for a half-century. Instead, the U.S. has always had a nuclear war-fighting strategy, as first demonstrated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

To quote:

The new guidance requires the United States to maintain significant counterforce capabilities against potential adversaries. The new guidance does not rely on a “counter-value’ or “minimum deterrence” strategy.

Report on Nuclear Implementation Strategy of the United States Specified in Section 491 of 10. U.S.C., Department of Defense, June 2013, page 4 (quotation marks in the original) http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/dod/us-nuclear-employment-strategy.pdf

As Kristensen, McKinzie and Postol point out, the geopolitical risks in radical improvements to U.S. nuclear warfighting capabilities are enormous. A secondary concern I’d like to point out is the risk to nuclear weapons reliability posed by intentionally introducing major changes to an extensively tested stockpile.

The Pantex Plant (final assembly site for US nuclear weapons) has a newsletter called The Pantexan (duh!). I recall circa 2009 that it had an article concerning the fact that the MC 4700 “super fuze” that was being installed in the then-ramping up W76 Life Extension Program had initial design and production problems. As the article boasted, those defects were detected and swiftly corrected.

However, the principle remains that introducing intentional changes can undermine confidence in stockpile reliability. The grand irony is that the Stockpile Stewardship Program has been lavishly funded because of the official rationale of preserving stockpile reliability, but I believe it has been a Trojan horse all along for using Life Extension Programs to create new military capabilities (and which the excellent analysis above reinforces).

[I have tried a few times to again find that Pantexan article, unfortunately without success.]

The above graph from the 1993 Sandia Stockpile Life Study  shows that the supermajority of nuclear weapons defects occur within the first 5 years from the First Production Unit. Marylia Kelley (Executive Director of TriValley CAREs that watchdogs Livermore Lab ) and I met with Vic Reis, commonly regarded as the “father” of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, in 2004 or 2005. He explicitly said to us that the whole purpose of the Stockpile Stewardship Program was for the “other side of the bathtub curve”, i.e. when defects were going to multiply because of aging.

Guess what? That hasn’t happened, given long-established stockpile surveillance, rigorous maintenance and well-understood replacement of “limited life components” (e.g., batteries, neutron generators, tritium).

Indeed, the 1993 Sandia Stockpile Life Study itself said

We undertook this study to understand how long nuclear weapons last. We quickly learned that this is the wrong question. It is clear that, although nuclear weapons age, they do not wear out; they last as long as the nuclear weapons community (DOE and DOD) desire. In fact, we can find no example of a nuclear weapon retirement where age was ever a major factor in the retirement decision.

The more significant question is “what does it take to sustain a weapon while it is in the stockpile?”… Failures, defects, and aging problems have been rare…

[Available at http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Sandia_93_StockpileLife.pdf]

So again, I think the Stockpile Stewardship Program has been a ruse to indefinitely preserve U.S. nuclear weapons while giving them new military capabilities. And now we have the trillion dollar-plus “modernization” to vastly expand U.S. nuclear warfighting capabilities.

 

Costs Jump in Nuclear Weapons vs. Cleanup; Nuclear Weapons Winning over Environmental Protection

 America is at a crossroads, having to choose between an unnecessarily large, exorbitant, nuclear weapons stockpile, and cleanup that would protect the environment and water resources for future generations. Expanded nuclear weapons research and production, which will cause yet more contamination, is winning.

Two recently released government reports make clear the stark inequality between the so-called modernization program to upgrade and indefinitely preserve U.S. nuclear forces (in large part for a new Cold War with Russia), and the nation-wide program to clean up the radioactive and toxic contamination from the first Cold War. The Obama Administration launched a trillion dollar nuclear weapons “modernization” program, which President Trump may expand. In contrast, cleanup of the first Cold War mess has been cut from a high of $8.5 billion in 2003 to $5.25 billion in 2016, even though comprehensive cleanup would produce far more jobs than nuclear weapons programs.

With respect to cleanup, last week the Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its bi-annual High-Risk Series, which added “Environmental Liabilities” to its list of federal programs and operations that are particularly susceptible to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. Environmental liabilities are expressed as the estimated taxpayers’ cost of necessary future cleanup.

The Department of Energy is running the world’s largest cleanup program addressing the massive contamination caused by Cold War nuclear weapons research and production. But that national program is plagued by inefficiencies, mismanagement, cost overruns and excessive contractor profits.

According to GAO, since 1989 DOE’s Office of Environmental Management has spent over $164 billion on cleanup. Nevertheless, “Despite billions spent on environmental cleanup, DOE’s environmental liability has roughly doubled from a low of $176 billion in fiscal year 1997 to the fiscal year 2016 estimate of $372 billion.”

Therefore, from a cost perspective, cleanup is going backwards fast. Moreover, that $372 billion won’t be anywhere near the total cost of comprehensive, genuine cleanup because not all contamination is yet known. Furthermore, DOE explicitly plans to “cap and cover” much of its existing buried radioactive and toxic wastes, creating de facto permanent nuclear waste dumps while declaring them cleaned up according to regulations.

In contrast, funding is rapidly rising for revamped nuclear weapons and the missiles, submarines and bombers to deliver these most formidable weapons of mass destruction. Underpinning this astronomical expense is the fact that instead of maintaining just the few hundred warheads needed for the publicly claimed policy of “deterrence,” thousands of warheads are being refurbished and kept to fight a potential nuclear war. This is the little known but explicit policy of the U.S. government. As a top-level 2013 Defense Department policy document put it, “The new guidance [in Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review] requires the United States to maintain significant counterforce capabilities against potential adversaries. The new guidance does not rely on a “counter-value’ or “minimum deterrence” strategy.”

President Reagan said long ago that nobody can win a nuclear war. Thousands of nuclear weapons are certainly not needed to deter emerging nuclear threats such as North Korea or potential nuclear terrorism. In addition, there are increasing hints (for example, by the Defense Department’s Defense Science Board) that the U.S. may develop and produce more precise low-yield nuclear weapons that are arguably more usable, and even possibly return to full-scale testing.

Expanded U.S. nuclear capabilities under the rubric of “modernization” involves the wholesale rebuilding of DOE’s nuclear weapons production complex; a perpetual cycle of Life Extension Programs that refurbish existing nuclear weapons while giving them new military capabilities; and completely new ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, heavy bombers and submarines to deliver the rebuilt nuclear weapons.

Not surprisingly, that’s going to cost American taxpayers more than previously thought. Last week the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its updated study Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2026. It estimated that “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear forces will cost $400 billion during 2017 to 2026. This is 15% higher than a CBO estimate two years ago of $348 billion for the 10-year period of 2015 to 2024.

Moreover, in its earlier report CBO asserted that the next two decades will cost even more. Therefore, modernization will exceed the one trillion dollars over 30 years that is often cited now. And that figure could go much higher yet should Trump accelerate modernization, which he implied when he tweeted the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability…”

Common to both its nuclear weapons and cleanup programs, DOE has the singular distinction of having its contract management designated as high risk by GAO for 26 consecutive years. This is because the Department’s track record of inadequate management and oversight of contractors, who comprise 95% of all nuclear weapons complex employees, has left DOE vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse. The list of busted projects is overwhelming, while the usual nuclear weapons contractors are typically not held accountable (for example, Bechtel’s Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford or Babcock and Wilcox’s half-billion dollar design mistake for Y-12’s proposed Uranium Processing Facility).

To illustrate this nation-wide problem locally, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), run by Bechtel and the University of California, recently signed a new 2016 Consent Order governing cleanup with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), which has coddled the nuclear weapons industry under Gov. Martinez. This new agreement pushes completion of Lab cleanup out to 2040, while creating loopholes where DOE can get out of cleanup by simply claiming that it is too difficult or costly. As a result, DOE has cut the Lab cleanup budget to around $188M per year, in contrast to a high of $225 million in 2014, or the $250 million per year that NMED has said in the past is necessary.

To add insult to injury, LANL’s estimated 3-4 billion dollar environmental liability assumes that nearly 200,000 cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes are left behind forever in unlined dumps, protected only by “cap and cover” and thereby “cleaned up” according to regulations. But this, of course, is false cleanup. As a 2005 LANL hydrogeological report put it, “Future contamination at additional locations [in regional groundwater] is expected over a period of decades to centuries as more of the contaminant inventory reaches the water table.”

But nuclear weapon research and production at LANL, which threatens precious water resources, is not only thriving, but is expanding. Currently, up to $6 billion is planned to be spent on upgrading existing plutonium facilities and building new ones so that production can be expanded to 50-80 plutonium pits per year by 2028 (pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons). Ironically, expanded pit production is for exorbitant “Interoperable Warheads” for both intercontinental ballistic missiles and sub-launched missiles that the nuclear weapons labs are pushing but the Navy doesn’t want. Moreover, the planned changes to the existing, extensively tested nuclear stockpile are so radical that they could undermine confidence in performance reliability, possibly prompting a return to full scale testing.

Scott Kovac, Research Director at Nuclear Watch NM, commented, “Ten years from now, after taxpayers spend another $50 billion on cleanup, DOE’s environmental liability estimate will probably still be more than $400 billion. Meanwhile the US will have spent the same amount on expanded nuclear weapons production that will cause yet more contamination. That money should instead be used to get cleanup done once and for all, giving American taxpayers the real national security of a clean environment and safe drinking water.”

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Executive Director, observed, “Over the next few decades the window will close for comprehensive, genuine cleanup. Unfortunately, our children and grandchildren will instead be saddled with the ongoing financial and environmental debts of never-ending improvements to nuclear weapons that keep a privileged elite rich. As citizens we need deep and meaningful contractor reform and stronger federal oversight. The directors of the nuclear weapons labs should be stripped of their two-hatted role as the presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs, which are built-in conflicts-of-interest. Then perhaps we would begin to see jobs-creating cleanup programs taking precedence over unneeded, exorbitant nuclear weapons programs that threaten global security and local environments.”

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GAO High-Risk Series 2017 is available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-317

Specific DOE cleanup cost numbers are at http://gao.gov/highrisk/us_government_environmental_liability/why_did_study#t=1

Projected Costs Of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 To 2026 February 2017 is available at https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/52401-nuclearcosts.pdf

The quote on top-level counterforce nuclear weapons doctrine is from:

Report on Nuclear Implementation Strategy of the United States Specified in Section 491 of 10. U.S.C., Department of Defense, June 2013, page 4 (quotation marks in the original) http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/dod/us-nuclear-employment-strategy.pdf

For possible more usable nuclear weapons and a return to full-scale testing, see Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration, Defense Science Board, December 2016, http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/Seven_Defense_Priorities.pdf
The quote on more expected groundwater contamination is from LANL’s Hydrogeologic Studies of the Pajarito Plateau: A Synthesis of Hydrogeologic Workplan Activities (1998–2004), ER2005-0679 December 2005, Page 5-15, http://www.worldcat.org/title/los-alamos-national-laboratorys-hydrogeologic-studies-of-the-pajarito-plateau-a-synthesis-of-hydrogeologic-workplan-activities-1998-2004/oclc/316318363