Wednesday, December 22, 2010

America Vencedor! Obama Vencedor!

Wednesday, 12-22-10, 3:00 PM EST/  The United States Senate ratified the New Start Treaty (strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians) by a vote of 71 to 26; 13 Senate Republicans and all 58 Democrats voted in the affirmative. For those who missed today’s CSPAN-2 broadcast of the Senate hearing, here is my personal summary:

Initially, two amendments to the Treaty, offered by Republicans, were passed by unanimous consent of the Senate; these were in the nature of signing statements, and should not require that the Treaty be renegotiated with the Russians. (Yesterday, several other amendments to the text of the Treaty had been offered by the Republicans; but, these were all voted down by margins of 2 to 1.) 

 The accepted amendments were:

 1) The Kyl amendment, which stipulates that the President should expedite funding for upgrades to the nuclear weapons laboratories. In particular, funding for the plutonium R&D facility (CMRR building) at LANL, and the enriched uranium R&D facility at ORNL should be expedited.

 2) The Corker-McCain-Lieberman amendment, which stipulates that the Preamble to the Treaty is non-binding on the United States. In particular, the US will continue with development of its missile defense systems and such development will not be seen by the US as an acceptable reason for any future Russian withdrawal from the Treaty.

At this point, it was made clear by the majority leader Sen. Harry Reid, and the head of the Foreign Relations Committee Sen. John Kerry, that no further amendments would be allowed. Nevertheless, senators continued to expatiate regarding the Treaty.

 Sen. Byron Dorgan (Dem. of South Dakota) pointed out that the federal budget for nuclear weapons R&D had increased by 10% a year, over the past two years, and that there was no reason to suspect that there had been any foot-dragging in this area by the Obama Administration. Dorgan also noted that architectural designs for the CMRR building at LANL were currently only 45% complete and, therefore, there was no reason to expedite funding for construction of that facility.

 Sen. Jeff Sessions (Rep. of Alabama) spoke for 20 minutes about his fervent denunciation of the Treaty. Sessions said that "the Treaty would make the US less safe", and should be rejected by the Senate. He complained that:

 1) The Treaty was a step on the road toward "President Obama's goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons", which was a "leftist goal" and a "dangerous fantasy".

 2) The notion that the Treaty will make Russia "more cooperative" in its relations with the US was false. He stated that Russia had shown itself to be uninterested in cooperation with the US since it had blocked United Nations Security Council attempts to condemn North Korea and, in 2008, had attacked its neighbor Georgia.

 3) The Obama Administration had "unilaterally given away US missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic", thus, showing itself to be "insufficiently committed to missile defense".

 4) The US Senate should state clearly that the "goal of zero nuclear weapons is undesirable and even impossible".

 5) "The goal of zero nuclear weapons is a cockamamy and dangerous idea".

 6) "The idea of a world without nuclear weapons is ominous and chilling".

 7) In the Nuclear Posture Review of this past spring, Pres. Obama made clear that "his goal is a world without nuclear weapons". However, ex-Sec. of Defense Schlesinger has said that he believes that "a world without nuclear weapons is a utopian idea".

 8) "The maintenance of a large US arsenal of nuclear weapons is the best way to encourage the non-proliferation" of nuclear weapons. "If the US continues to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, this will lead other nations, which don't now have nuclear weapons, to develop their own".

 9) "The Obama Administration has made it clear that the New Start Treaty is a step on the road toward its goal of a world without nuclear weapons. But, to me this is not a dream, it's a nightmare!"

 10) "By reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the US is relinquishing its leadership role in the world."

 Thus, the world according to a rosy-cheeked and smiling Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

 Sen. Kay Hutchinson (Rep. of Texas) then spent 10 minutes talking about why she would vote to reject the Treaty:

 1) The original Kyl amendment, and the original Corker amendment, which would have required renegotiation of the Treaty, and were rejected yesterday by the Senate, should have been approved.

 2) An amendment by Sen. Inhofe aimed at stengthening the Treaty's verification regimen, which would have required Treaty renegotiation and which was also rejected, should have been approved.

 3) The threat of attack on the US by nuclear tipped missiles from Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea is very worrisome, and should lead to the rejection of the Treaty, as written.

 Sen. Dorgan spent 10 minutes rebutting the remarks of Sen. Sessions. He noted that the Treaty is not a unilateral statement of intent by the US to reduce the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal, but a schedule of reductions that had been negotiated with Russia. He mocked the idea that a world with fewer nuclear weapons is a more dangerous world. Rather, he said, that "the Treaty is a step on the road toward a less dangerous world".

 Sen. Mark Kirk (Rep. of Illinois) took 10 minutes to talk about his beliefs that:

 1) "While the present leadership of Russia is rational, and does not threaten the US by attack with nuclear weapons, the leadership of Iran and North Korea is irrational."

 2) "It is the sacred mission of the democracies to maintain readiness to confront attacks with nuclear weapons by irrational states."

 3) "The New Start Treaty limits our ability to develop missile defense and is, therefore, irrational".

 4) "The Obama Administration has cancelled plans for missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and has downgraded missile defense systems in Alaska".

 5) "The Preamble to the Treaty was written to curry favor with the Russians".

 6) "The Treaty's verification regimen is inadequate".

 7) "Russia has fueled the Bushehr reactor in Iran, and will also supply an air-defense system to Iran".

 8) "Mutual Assured Destruction is a strategy from the past which is inappropriate as a means of dealing with modern threats".

 Sen. Kyl (Rep. of Arizona) spent 20 minutes talking about his reasons for advising that the Treaty be rejected, and complaining about the way in which Senate business was being conducted:

 1) "The majority leader, has packed the Senate agenda in order to jam Republicans in the lame-duck session."

 2) "Not enough time has been allowed for debate on the Treaty". "Republicans were not allowed to change language in the Treaty, thus, preventing them from exercising their advise and consent role."

 3) "If the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is brought before the Senate next year, then that Treaty will be very closely examined."

 4) "The most important issue confronting the US is that of non-proliferation, and not the sizes of the arsenals of the US and Russia."

 5) "Another very important issue is how the US is going to modernize its arsenal of nuclear weapons."

 6) "It is also very important that "the US continue to modernize each leg of the triad of its strategic nuclear weapon delivery system."

 Sen. Kerry (Dem. of Massachusetts), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, devoted 10 minutes to summarizing the Treaty debate. He pointed out that:

 1) "Disagreements over Treaty details should not dissuade senators from voting to ratify, since the Treaty is of utmost importance for national security, and for helping to move the world out from the dark shadow of the nuclear nightmare."

 2) J. Robert Oppenheimer said that, in a world with nuclear weapons, "people must unite or perish".

 3) Pope John Paul II said, while on a pilgrmage to Hiroshima, that "man, who wages war, can also make peace".

 4) Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts said, 150 years ago that, with respect to slavery, "he spoke not just as a man from Massachusetts, but as an American".

 Sen. Lugar (Rep. of Indiana), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also spent 5 minutes summing up issues touched on during the Treaty debate:

 1) "The original Start Treaty, negotiated under Pres. Reagan and signed by Pres. George H. W. Bush, was very successful in that it drastically reduced the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed on each side."

 2) "The importance of such treaties is also in helping to build trust between the two sides".

 3) "The Treaty would help to reduce future expenditures for nuclear weapons, a matter of especial importance now, as we are faced with such difficult long-term financial problems".

US Vice President, and President of the US Senate, Joe Biden, took the presiding officer's chair and called for a vote on the Treaty; ~30 minutes was consumed by the voting process, following which Biden declared that the Treaty had been ratified by a vote of 71 to 26.

As it turned out, members of the Kyl faction, made up loosely of Sens. Kyl, Cornyn, Inhofe, McCain, etc, voted unanimously to reject the Treaty, in spite of the Obama Administrations having offered them many incentives, in the form of more funding for upgrades to the US nuclear weapons complex. Nevertheless, 13 Republicans were counted among those who voted to ratify the Treaty. Those were: Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Bob Bennett of Utah, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.  

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national poll released Tuesday, 73 % of respondents said that the Senate should ratify the Treaty, while 24 % said that it should be rejected. That is, Americans support ratification of the Treaty by a 3 to 1 majority.

As contentious as the ratification process has been, the Treaty itself mandates only a modest reduction in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, and strategic delivery vehicles, by the United States and Russia; viz., from the present 2200 deployed weapons to 1550, and to a total of 700 delivery vehicles. A verification regimen is also stipulated by the Treaty.

However, many thousands of  strategic nuclear weapons have been placed in storage by both sides, and large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons are also still deployed and remain in storage. Although none of these very dangerous assets have been considered by the Treaty, they  may become the subject of some future negotiation. One imagines the world awaiting this future negotiation with bated breath.

Meanwhile, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty continues to be problematic for President Obama. It does seem unlikely that Senate Republicans, soon to be reinforced by 6 new members, will allow that treaty to go forward during the remaining two years of this Administration. After all, this is a treaty which is much opposed by the nuclear weapons industry!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Start Treaty Blocked by Republicans

In recent weeks a controversy has erupted between supporters of the New Start Treaty and those opposed to the Treaty. The New Start Treaty is a negotiated agreement between the United States and Russia to continue with reductions in the size of the arsenals of nuclear weapons held by each side. It would renew a treaty (Start Treaty) which was proposed by Pres. Ronald Reagan in 1982, signed by Pres. George H. W. Bush in 1991, and entered into force in 1994.

The New Start Treaty has already been signed by Pres. Obama, but still must be ratified by the US Senate.

In the US, those who are advocating a "trust but verify" attitude towards the Russian nuclear weapons program, are being opposed by those who would promote a strategy of American "strength above all".

Advocates of the Treaty point to the importance of reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons being held in Russian and American arsenals, both as a means of limiting the danger of accidental nuclear war and as an important part of ongoing efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapon proliferation. They also point out that the Treaty continues with an essential regimen of mutual inspections of nuclear weapons sites.

Those who are opposed to the Treaty believe that it is generally disadvantageous for the United States to enter into arms control agreements with Russia, since Russia is by far the weaker power, both militarily and economically.

On the one hand is a group of Democrats led by Pres. Barack Obama. This group is supported by US Defense Sec. Gates and top brass in the Pentagon, by NATO member states and commanders, and by Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

The opposition group is made up of Republican senators led by Jon Kyl of Arizona, and apparently by North Korean leaders and by Sigfried Hecker, a past Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Pres. Obama appears to believe that the New Start Treaty is an essential step along the road toward eventual world-wide nuclear disarmament. In this regard, he would say that it is not only necessary to continue to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons held in the arsenals of the US and Russia, and this in a matched and verifiable way, but also to continue to disincentivize attempts by presently non-nuclear states to develop their own nuclear weapons.

Sen. Kyl appears to feel that it is essential for the US to maintain a vast military superiority over Russia, and for this reason it is necessary to force from the US Congress guarantees of increased spending for the US nuclear weapons program. He also seems to be generally suspicious of any attempt to enter into arms control agreements with Russia.

Meanwhile, militaristic and paranoid North Korean leaders continue to grow their nuclear weapons program and to boast to the world about their accomplishments in this area. Recently, they invited American nuclear weapons expert Sig. Hecker to inspect their new uranium enrichment plant, which they proudly displayed to him. Having been duly impressed, Hecker returned to the US and launched into a media tour in which he presented himself as being astounded at the scale of the North Korean achievement. However, Hecker is a perennial advocate of more money for the American nuclear weapons program and the recent signatory of a letter criticizing American attempts to limit the size of developments to that program.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nuke Enthusiasts Fight New Start Treaty

The newspapers this morning are filled with reports and discussions of matters relating to the New Start Treaty:

The New York Times is running a William J Broad story about the Treaty, and its relation to controversy over upgrading of the US nuclear deterrent, with corresponding costly nuke building programs at the DOE/NNSA's nuke labs, especially LANL and ORNL, but also the Kansas City Plant. In order to entice a few Republican Treaty ratification votes, Pres. Obama is offering more money for nuke program upgrades, but the Republican point man on this issue, Sen. Jon Kyl, still says no.

The NYT runs a Maureen Dowd spoof of Pres. Obama's New Start Treaty political problems.

The NYT also runs a story about Sig Hecker's trip to N Korea, and his "discovery" there of a new facility for uranium enrichment.

The Los Angeles Times contains a more comprehensive story about Hecker's trip to N Korea, pointing out that he traveled with Jack Pritchard, a former US ambassador to S Korea, and a current publicist for S Korean interests. According to the LAT, both Hecker and Pritchard will shortly give a talk about their trip to the Korean Economic Institute, Pritchard's organization. They had both also just finished briefing the Institute for Science and International Security, a group focused on world-wide nuclear proliferation matters.

Hecker, a past director of LANL and a strong proponent of continuing the American nuclear weapons program, was a signatory to a May 2010 letter by 10 former nuke lab directors criticizing the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. The former directors asserted that the NPR restricts the creative freedom of scientists and engineers who work at the nuke labs, thus denying the nation the full benefit of its nuclear weapons designers' expertise, and placing the nation at unnecessary risk of a possible future nuclear attack.

One wonders about the timing of the release of information about Hecker's latest visit to N Korea, and the effect that this information might have on the New Start Treaty ratification process.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fate of New Start Treaty?

Messieurs John Bolton and John Yoo, two former Bush administration stalwarts, reprised their fundamentalist approach to the formulation of US foreign and domestic policy, in a 11-10-10 Op Ed piece for the New York Times.

It is now clear, they said, that "Voters want government brought closer to the vision the framers outlined in the Constitution, and the first test could be the fate of the flawed New Start arms control treaty, which was signed by President Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia last spring but awaits ratification. The Senate should heed the will of the voters and either reject the treaty or amend it so that it doesn’t weaken our national defense."

They asserted further that: "New Start’s faults are legion. The low limits it would place on nuclear warheads ignore the enormous disparities between American and Russian global responsibilities and the importance of America’s 'nuclear umbrella' in maintaining international security."

They then opined: "To prevent New Start from gravely impairing America’s nuclear capacity, the Senate must .... demand changes to the treaty itself. .... Congress should pass a new law financing the testing and development of new warhead designs before approving New Start."

In support, they offered up a historical precedent: "All this is within the Senate’s powers. When it approved the Jay Treaty in the 1790s, which resolved outstanding disputes with Britain, the Senate consented only on condition that President George Washington delete a specific provision on trade. Washington and Britain agreed to the amendment, and the treaty entered into force."

Hence, we see here what may be the opening sally, from a cabal of nuclear stone-agers, in the about to be renewed struggle to ratify the New Start Treaty (nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia) in the US Senate.

A key player in this struggle may be Sen. Jon Kyl of Ariz., whose opposition to the treaty is well-known, although for months he has held out the possibility of a compromise. In particular, Kyl has appeared to pin his eventual "support for the treaty to a boost in funding to modernize the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons", according to the Associated Press yesterday.

Perhaps the Administration hopes to turn Kyl's opposition into eventual support by offering up additional sweeteners; viz., in the form of guarantees of increased funding for the nuclear weapons program, or even by agreeing to proceed with the development of new nuclear weapons designs.

Of course, the Administration's Nuclear Posture Review of this past spring was explicit in its refusal to permit work on any new warhead designs. And, the current heads of the three nuclear weapons laboratories wrote letters in support of the NPR, albeit not without some grumbling.

For example, as reported by David Kramer in Physics Today, issue of July 24, 2010:
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) director Michael Anastasio told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 15 July that lab managers have "both the authority and the responsibility" to replace aging weapons components "on a case-by-case basis" if that is judged to be the best approach. While admitting he would prefer having no restrictions put on the labs’ options for extending warhead lifetimes, Anastasio said language in the administration’s April Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) provides "an adequate level of flexibility to carry out our mission.”

Similarly, while expressing reservations, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory director George Miller pronounced the NPR restriction "workable," and said it "would permit his weapons designers to bring forward all the options for consideration."
However, a group of ten former heads of the three nuke labs were moved to denounce important parts of the NPR. In the same Physics Today story we find that:
In a May letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the 10 former directors said the NPR "imposes unnecessary constraints on our engineers and scientists when it states that 'the United States will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse’ and that the replacement of nuclear components ‘would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met, and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.'”

The former lab directors warned that the "higher bar" set by the NPR for replacement of components will "stifle the creative and imaginative thinking that typifies the excellent
history of progress and development at the national laboratories, and indeed will inhibit the NPR’s goal of honing the specialized skills needed to sustain the current deterrent."
They added that the NPR restrictions will add to the risk that the country has taken on by not testing its nuclear weapons.

In their letter, the former directors also fretted that science, engineering, non-nuclear testing, and other laboratory programs will be starved to pay for cost overruns that have become inevitable during the construction of the facilities needed to clean up the Department of Energy’s cold war weapons production complex. And they warned that the administration’s budget projections for the construction of a multibillion-dollar plutonium research and pit production facility at LANL, and for a new uranium processing facility at Oak Ridge, TN, are inadequate.

“While we are encouraged by your commitments, we are deeply concerned that most of the significant investments promised are not available until the out-years of the plan," the directors wrote. "We are concerned, having received commitments of support before, that Congress and the President will once again promise a great deal today, and then quickly forget about the nuclear weapons enterprise until something breaks.”

Signing the letter were former LANL directors Harold Agnew, Siegfried Hecker, John Browne, Pete Nanos, Robert Kuckuck, and Donald Kerr; former LLNL directors John Nuckolls, John Foster, and Michael May; and former Sandia National Laboratory director C. Paul Robinson.

But Roy Schwitters, a physics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told senators he disagreed with the former directors' statements, arguing that there are enough technical and scientific challenges within the scope of the NPR to provide opportunities for staffs to grow professionally. Schwitters chaired a sub-panel of JASON, the self-perpetuating scientific advisory committee, that last year reviewed the NNSA’s technical plan for extending the life of the stockpile. That review found no evidence that an accumulation of changes incurred from aging or from earlier life extension programs has increased the risk that deployed warheads won’t work as they’re supposed to. It also advised that the lifetimes of the weapons could be extended for decades with no loss in confidence. But Schwitters noted how one life extension program currently underway, the W-76 warhead for Trident missiles, actually employs a combination of refurbishment, reuse, and replacement.
So who's right and who's wrong here? Well, the "experts" seem to be divided along lines, at least partly, of self-interest. By this I mean that:

Out of self-interest, current nuke lab directors would be expected to accede, generally, to the administration's point-of-view. Thus, theirs is an unconvincing endorsement of the administration's position.

On the other hand, although former directors can more freely express themselves, they speak from an experience steeped in the culture of nuclear weapons design, and the interests of nuclear weapons designers. We will return to this point in an moment.

What about the opinions of Prof. Schwitters? Well, as a member of the JASON's, his views may be conditioned by connections both to the nuclear weapons industry and to the military and civilian political establishments, but in unknown proportions. Nevertheless, it would seem to be in the interests of a JASON for his judgment to appear to be unbiased and straightforward. So, after all, his view may be the most credible.

Finally, coming back to the ten former nuke lab directors, it is clear enough to me that their complaints were based upon parochial concerns.

For example, they warned that the NPR will "stifle the creative and imaginative thinking that typifies the excellent history of progress and development at the national laboratories, and indeed will inhibit the NPR’s goal of honing the specialized skills needed to sustain the current deterrent." But, the creative and imaginative thinking to which they referred could really only not be stifled if the goals of the nuclear weapons program themselves were not stifled. Such was the situation in the fifties and early sixties, at the height of the cold war, but no longer!

Moreover, they said that "the NPR restrictions will add to the risk that the country has taken on by not testing its nuclear weapons." Admittedly, such a risk would be difficult to quantify, or even estimate, but they've made no attempt whatsoever to do so. It seems to me that they were just fear-mongering.

Furthermore, as reported in Physics Today "the former directors also fretted that science, engineering, non-nuclear testing, and other laboratory programs will be starved to pay for cost overruns that have become inevitable during the construction of the facilities needed to clean up the Department of Energy’s cold war weapons production complex." But, the cleanup of toxic waste, accumulated from the nuclear weapons program over a period of more than fifty years, and now costing ~$6 billion annually, is necessary for the safety and well-being of all Americans. It does not seem to be a fitting subject for public lamentation by former nuke lab directors.

"And they warned that the administration’s budget projections for the construction of a multibillion-dollar plutonium research and pit production facility at LANL, and for a new uranium processing facility at Oak Ridge, TN, are inadequate." Indeed! The next phase of construction of the CMRR at Los Alamos is projected to cost in excess of $4 billion, with a similar amount slated for Oak Ridge. But, whether or not any of this new construction will actually ever serve the national interest is still an open question. It is clear, however, that the continuation of this project would be in the pecuniary interest of those who are wedded to ongoing nuclear weapons operations at Los Alamos, and Oak Ridge, and to the nuclear weapons industry, generally.


Today, 11-18-10, I'm returning to this blogpost to take note of the latest development. Two days ago Sen. Kyl made clear that he is unwilling to proceed farther down the path toward ratification of the New Start Treaty, until the next Congress is seated, in January.

After all, I suppose, why should the Kyl group accept half a package of Treaty concessions from Pres. Obama now, when they might expect to get a full package by waiting just two more months? And, if they can't get the concessions that they want, then they could instead vote the Treaty down. Scuttling the Treaty would be in accord with the Kyl group notion that arms-control treaties between Russia and the United States act to limit the actions of the US, by far the stronger of the two parties, unnecessarily. Such treaties, they would argue, cannot be in the interest of the US.

It seems that the President must resort to the bully pulpit to explain clearly, and forcefully, to the entire nation, the importance of immediately ratifying the New Start Treaty.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nukes Very Lucrative

A recent article in the Los Alamos Monitor underlined the fact that New Mexico is currently number five among the 50 states in terms of per capita annual income recieved from the federal government. For every $1 in federal taxes paid by New Mexicans, Washington returns $2 to New Mexico.

Federal dollars come from the sources of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as from the DOE's nuclear weapons activities in NM: viz., the approximately $4 billion spent in fiscal 2010, for work at LANL, SNL, and the WIPP site.

In and around Los Alamos County, local economies are particularly dependent on federal largess. However, in recent years, this largess has been skewing toward the most highly paid Lab managers.

In this context, consider this brief history:

In 2005, after the DOE had decided to end its sixty year-long UC/LANL connection, it issued a Request for Proposal to an eager group of would-be new contractors. Among these, M. Anastasio led a team of entrepreneurs backed by the well-heeled Bechtel in creating a successful bid for the new LANL contract. No neophyte he, for several years prior to that time Anastasio had been the Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Although partly selected by DOE for its promise to bring a new efficient management style to LANL, LANS-LLC is still a for-profit management group. It is not surprising then, that in the first year of the new contract at LANL (2006-2007), the new LANL Director took home a salary plus bonus of $1.25 million. This was approximately four times what the previous LANL Director had earned in his last year under the old UC contract.

In fiscal year 2009, LANS-LLC declared a profit from its management of LANL operations of $72 million. Legally, the Limited Liability Copmpany (LLC) is obliged to distribute, each year, all of its profits to its owner-managers.

(As an aside, in a somewhat memorable early 2006 presentation to staff of LANL's X-Division, the then X-Div Head, Paul Hommert, proclaimed that the new contract was being written in such a way as to ensure an increase in the number of managers and, therefore, an increase in the amount of money that many LANL employees could expect to be taking home, in the very near future. Immediately after the start of the new contract, Hommert, who was not a member of the new management team, was moved to a temporary post at UC Headquarters in San Francisco. Today, four years later, the perspicacious Hommert is the new President of Lockheed-Martin's Sandia Corporation, manager of Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), and the new Director of SNL. The previous President of the Sandia Corp. and SNL Director T. Hunter took home ~$1.75 million annually.)

In 2007, a similar process ensued at LLNL. The then LLNL Director, George Miller, led a team of manager entrepreneurs, again backed by Bechtel, calling themselves Lawrence Livermore National Security-LLC, who successfully bid for the new LLNL contract. On October 1, 2007, Miller became the new LLNL Director, under the new LLNS-LLC contract. Presumably, he too enjoyed a greatly increased pay package.

At about the same time, a team of nuclear weapons enthusiasts led by Stephen Younger, backed by Northrop-Grumman, and calling themselves National Security Technologies LLC, succeeded in winning a new contract from DOE for management of the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Younger had earlier been an Associate Laboratory Director at LANL, and was a past Director of the DOD's Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Thus, the nuclear weapons industry became much more remunerative for its managers, especially its senior managers. However, even some non-management personnel obtained substantial benefits. For example, when the contract changed at LANL from UC to LANS-LLC, in June 0f 2006, DOE gave all LANL employees the opportunity to retire as UC/LANL staff while continuing as new full-time LANS-LLC/LANL employees. Senior staff could draw full UC/LANL pensions, in some cases amounting to nearly 100% of their previous LANL salary, while continuing to collect their regular full-time LANS-LLC/LANL salaries. This was double-dipping with a vengeance.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

CMRR Being Scrutinized

NNSA hosted two public "scoping" meetings during the week of October 18, 2010, in northern New Mexico, in order to gather input on what should be studied in a new environmental impact statement for the CMRR facility.

The first meeting was held on Tuesday, October 19, at the White Rock Town Hall, 139 Longview Drive, in Los Alamos, the second on Wednesday, October 20, at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Pojoaque. Both meetings began at 4 PM and ended at 7 PM.

LANL employees had the right to participate, but their comments were to be submitted as private citizens rather than on behalf of the Lab.

Written comments could be submitted, by November 1, to:

Mr. John Tegtmeier
CMRR–NF SEIS Document Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos Site Office
3747 West Jemez Road
TA–3 Building 1410
Los Alamos, New Mexico, 87544

KL attended the Wednesday meeting, in which the first hour and one-half was devoted to poster presentations by NNSA staff. In these presentations, citizens were informed of the latest complications in the Nuclear Facility (NF) portion of the CMRR project. The projected cost of the NF, for which plans have not yet been completed, has now risen to beyond $4 billion. The next hour was occupied by public comment.

Approximately 20 comments were presented by local citizens. Of these, only one was pro-Lab and pro-weapons development; that was the comment by Mike Loya, owner-operator of a local construction company. After the public comment period, a representative from Senator Udall's office thanked the NNSA for hosting the meeting, pointedly stating that the Senator wanted it to be known that NNSA had hosted the meeting entirely on its own initiative.

Two weeks prior to these meetings, however, on October 6, 2010, a hearing had been held in Los Alamos, at the Hilltop House, at which local citizens also discussed with NNSA officials matters of concern relating to the CMRR project. This was the second hearing on this topic to be held this year. Such biannual hearings have been going on since March, 2006, and are a part of a court facilitated agreement between local citizens groups and NNSA. At these hearings, NNSA is legally obliged to engage with local citizens.

Neither these two meetings, nor this hearing, were well-publicized.

Friday, August 13, 2010

WIPP Permit Hearing Summary

Monday, August 9, 2010, 9:00 AM; WIPP Permit Renewal Hearing began in the "Board Room" at Santa Fe Community College. It was expected to run for two days.

Thirteen "principals" were seated at the front table: these were, from left to right viewing from the front: Joseph Alarid, the Hearing Officer, a retired NM State Court Judge; Don Hancock, of Southwest Research Information Center (SRIC); Scott Kovacs, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico (NWNM); Cristopher Timm, of Pecos Management Services (PMS); Mr. ?, a DOE lawyer on-site at WIPP; Mr. ?, Mr. Woodward, and Mr. Head, three Texas lawyers contracting services to WIPP; Mr. ?, a Washington TRU Solutions (WTS) lawyer on-site at WIPP; Mr. Bearzi, Chief of NMED/HWB; Lindsay Lovejoy, a Santa Fe lawyer contracting services to NMED/HWB; Steve Zappe, an NMED/HWB manager assigned to WIPP business; Ms. ?, a NMED staff lawyer assisting Mr. Zappe.

The first witness to be sworn was WIPP's Robert Kerman, manager and engineer, who remarked as follows:

A controversy has grown up between WIPP and NMED/HWB regarding the maximum allowable values for the concentrations of certain Volatile Organic Contaminants (VOCs) in the air circulating in particular underground spaces at the WIPP-site. A VOC of special concern has been CCl4, a recognized carcinogen and volatile solvent copiously emitted by containerized mixed TRU waste; i.e., waste sent to WIPP for storage from other DOE sites. Evidently, TRU waste containers have not been "air-tight", and solvent-contaminated materials inside these containers have out-gassed into underground storage spaces at WIPP.

Although the WIPP ventilation system has filtered the contaminated air circulating in the underground spaces, thereby removing some of the contamination, air vented into the open atmosphere above the WIPP-site was still found to have been impure. Thus, emissions from the ventilation system, contaminated by CCl4 to some measurable degree, have been free to circulate around and diffuse into the air being breathed by the nearby residents of Carlsbad, NM.
It has then been a technical exercise for WIPP and NMED engineers to estimate the health risk posed to local residents by the average levels of CCl4 in their air. The standard applied stipulated that the risk to the surrounding population due to all VOCs (not just CCl4) emitted from WIPP should not exceed one excess cancer death per 100,000 individuals. Needless to say, however, any such estimation of risk would be very uncertain, and any translation of such estimated risk into a value for the maximum allowable concentration of a particular VOC in the underground spaces would be even more uncertain.

Nevertheless, acting as if the connection between the concentrations of a suite of VOCs in the underground, and the estimated risk to local populations due to these VOCs was well-understood and precise, WIPP managers such as Mr. Kerman, and WIPP lawyers such as Mr. Woodward, argued that WIPP should be permitted to allow VOC concentrations in the underground to rise to levels such that estimations of excess cancer deaths in local populations would be exactly 1.00 death per 100,000, and not some slightly smaller number, say 0.75 deaths per 100,000.

Moreover, the estimate of 1.00 excess cancer deaths per 100,000 persons was to be applied to a time-dependent mixture of VOCs in the underground spaces, the hazard due to each one of these VOCs carrying with it its own significant degree of uncertainty. It seems that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in accordance with the best evidence available, stipulates a maximum tolerable risk for each VOC. But, this number is itself a moving target. And, in fact, the EPA recently changed its value of the tolerable risk due to chronic exposure to CCl4 in air, reducing this by a factor of 2.5. WIPP engineers translated this reduced risk factor into an increased value for the maximum allowable concentration of CCl4 in underground air, multiplying the previous value of 165 ppbv by 2.5 to obtain a new value of 412.5 ppbv.

Being prodded by NMED/HWB's lawyer Lovejoy to clearly explain how this change could be justified, WIPP managers and lawyers responded with two days of obfuscation.

The second witness to be sworn was WIPP manager John Garcia, who presented viewgraphs describing the processing of Contact Handled (CH) and Remote Handled (RH) waste at WIPP; e.g., from acceptance of the waste at the facility entrance to its emplacement into permanent underground storage. He mentioned that a provision for the establishment of a temporary overflow, or "surge", storage space at WIPP had been agreed upon by WIPP management and NMED in the past, and that such an overflow space had now been created. However, this space had not yet been used. Under cross-examination by Mr. Hancock, it was revealed that no waste-streams were anticipated for the future which would necessitate the use of surge storage. However, both Mr. Garcia and Mr. Kerman defended the maintainence of surge space as being an example of "just good management practice."

At 2:15 PM the Hearing was adjourned until 9:00 AM tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 9:00 AM; the Hearing resumed. James Bearzi, NMED/HWB Chief, was sworn in as the first witness for NMED. He began by talking about public participation in the regulatory process. Specifically, NMED is now requiring of WIPP that it create an electronic information repository to inform the general public about those parts of WIPP business that are regulated by NMED/HWB. He said that WIPP is being encouraged to work with members of the general public in order to ensure that this repository truly serves the public; to this effect, WIPP should devise and implement a public communications plan. Mr. Bearzi then talked briefly about: a) a perceived WTS conflict-of-interest; b) "acceptable knowledge" criteria conditioning NMED's willingness to forego radiography and/or chemical testing aimed at detecting prohibited items within containers shipped to WIPP.

The next witness to be sworn was Steve Zappe, a NMED/HWB manager. Mr. Zappe spoke for ~2 hrs about 11 matters of concern to NMED. A significant portion of this time was spent talking, inconclusively, about the increase in the allowed concentration of CCl4 in the underground spaces by a factor of 2.5. Cross-examination of the witness then extended for ~1 hr. Apparently, no new issues were raised.

Following a lunch break, at 1:00 PM, a period was allowed for public comment. The first commenter was NM State Rep. John Heaton, from Carlsbad, NM. Mr. Heaton talked about the joy of ownership that he and the citizens of Carlsbad feel when they contemplate the presence of the WIPP dumpsite in their neighborhood. Hr. Heaton was followed by Linda Borrego, another Carlsbad resident. She may have outdone Mr. Heaton in her enthusiastic support for the dumping of radioactive waste at WIPP; waste that was being dumped in close proximity to her home and to her children. She spoke earnestly about her feelings of complete safety, and about the great importance of WIPP to the local economy.

At 1:10 PM public comments ended. Next, PMS presented its testimony, offered by Jerry Fox, followed by Cris Timm. These two worthies advise NMED/HWB as it moves through the Permit renewal process. Their presentation seemed shaky, appearing to suffer from a lack of familiarity with the Hearing process itself. Nevertheless, a central feature of their testimony referred to their belief that the draft Permit showed some "inconsistencies", and they considered these inconsistencies to be a significant failing. During cross-examination, their view was vehemently contested by Mr. Head, a WIPP contract lawyer. Mr. Head, in an apparent effort to cow the PMS witnesses, even referred to the 13 individuals seated at the front table as "The Tribunal"; as in, "Do you mean to suggest to this tribunal that ... ?" Mr. Timm, perhaps chastened, allowed that PMS supported the draft Permit, as a whole, but had a few suggestions for improvements.

At 2:40 PM Mr. Bearzi presented rebuttal to Ms. Joni Arends written opinion that the draft Permit had no provision for any public appeal of certain "fee-payment structures". Mr. Bearzi disagreed.

At 2:45 PM a recess was declared. At 3:30 PM the Hearing resumed and Mr. Kerman presented rebuttal to the widely expressed view that WIPP's multiplication of the maximum allowed concentration of CCl4 in underground air by a factor of 2.5 may have been unfounded. Mr. Kerman presented the summary of a WIPP calculation which, he claimed, supported their procedure, and attempted to place it into evidence. Much disputation ensued; the Hearing Officer finally ruled that the rebuttal was improper and the calculation summary could not be placed in evidence, but that it could be entered into the Hearing record as a comment. He said that as he later wrote up his Hearing recommendations he would pay attention equally to evidence and to comment.

At 4:20 PM the Hearing adjourned until 6:00 PM, when public comment would be again invited.

[I have blogged previously about the "WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit Renewal Process." (Blogdate: Sunday, May 23, 2010.) "The draft Permit includes several conditions that are newly imposed on WIPP but have been included in other hazardous waste facility permits issued by NMED; viz., 1) Community relations plan; 2) information repository; 3) minimization of future waste volume."]

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hiroshima Commemorative

For the first time, today, on the 65th anniversary of the catastrophe at Hiroshima, representatives of the United States government attended commemorative ceremonies being held at Peace Park, in Hiroshima. John Roos, current U. S. ambassador to Japan, deposited a wreath "in memory of all of the victims of WW II." His presence in Hiroshima may have reflected the support that U. S. President Barack Obama has shown for world-wide nuclear disarmament; i. e., Roos said that it would be "for the good of future generations if we continued working together to create a world free of nuclear weapons." Also, for the first time, England and France sent representatives to these well-known annual ceremonies. [As reported today by much of the international press.]

Both the Hiroshima bomb (Little-Boy) and the bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki (Fat-Man) were designed, during a hectic two-year period, at the top-secret military R&D facility set up at Los Alamos, NM, in early 1943. This facility, known today as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has grown and operated continuously for the last 67 years. For more than half a century, technical staff at LANL have designed, and conducted R&D on processes important to the design of, a large number of nuclear and thermonuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Today several of these designs account for approximately half of the thousands of WMD still being deployed (for immediate action) and stored (for future use) by the USA.
As a related matter, the New York Times noted on Aug. 3, 2010 that: Ratification of the New Start Treaty, signed at Prague on April 8, 2010 by United States President Barack Obama and President of the Russian Federation Dimitri Medvedev, is stalling in the U. S. Senate. At Republican request, further consideration of the Treaty has been delayed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair, Sen. John Kerry, until Sept. 15 or 16. Later still, a vote of the full Senate will require at least 8 Republican yes votes to reach the 2/3 vote needed for Treaty approval. Meanwhile, advocates for more and better nuclear weapons, combined with fewer constraints on U. S. nuclear weapons policy, work to promote a no vote; viz., Sen. Jon Kyl (Repub., Ariz.), Sen. Larry Inhofe (Repub., Okla.), and Sen. Jim DeMint (Repub., S. Car.) Evidently, any attempt by the Obama Administration to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to a vote in the Senate will now be delayed until after the November election.
On Monday, Aug. 9, 2010, at 9:00 AM, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) begins a public hearing at the Santa Fe Community College, in Santa Fe, NM. The hearing will explore issues related to the proposed granting, by NMED, of a new Hazardous Waste Permit for continuing operations of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, NM. NMED first granted a Permit to WIPP in 1999 so that this new Permit, if granted, will be in the nature of a renewal, with modifications. WIPP has been charged by the United States Congress to store permanently, in an underground repository, so-called TRansUranic (TRU) waste. This is a part of the waste accumulated, over the last 67 years, from the U. S. nuclear weapons program. Such waste is largely still stored at the DOE's nuclear weapons laboratories and production facilities, located all around the continental United States.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future a Mixed Bag.

July 12, 2010: The DOE's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, Reactor and Fuel Cycle Subcommittee, held a public meeting today at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in Idaho Falls, ID.

The meeting was co-chaired by Prof. Per Peterson, from UC Berkeley's Dept. of Nuclear Eng., and ex-United States Senator Pete Domenici, from New Mexico. Its start was delayed for two hours, until 10:30 AM, because of a local electrical power failure.

Six formal talks had been scheduled for the day, ranging from the first, "Nuclear Energy R&D Roadmap Overview", by the DOE's Ass't Sec., Office of Nuclear Energy, Warren "Pete" Miller, to the last, "Transmutation R&D", by ANL's Bob Hill. A live video webcast was provided for internet viewers. Viewgraph summaries of all the talks are available online at The Blue Ribbon Commission is sponsoring two other subcommittees; viz., Disposal Subcommittee, which met publicly on July 7, 2010 in Washington, DC; Transportation Storage Subcommittee, which has not yet scheduled a public meeting.

In contrast to talks presented five days ago at the Disposal Subcommittee, talks today at the Reactor and Fuel Cycle Subcommittee meeting were entirely technical in content. The absence of any socially relevant content from these talks was remarked upon approvingly by several private citizens during the Public Comment Period. It was even suggested by more than one commenter that the most important issues of nuclear power in America today were technical or scientific in nature; that the desirability of nuclear power as a future energy source was now a settled question, with an overwhelming majority of US citizens having a positive view; and that any attempts to mix "political" concerns into future discussions of nuclear power in America should be resisted.

Of course, opinions such as these are themselves political in nature.

Then, politics coming again to the fore, in the final moments of the meeting ex-Senator Domenici remarked that the talks which had just been presented were testament to the high quality of work being performed today by certain [for-profit] groups and .... (partly inaudible) [evidence that today's for-profit DOE management contractors were vastly superior to yesterday's not-for-profits.]

More interesting to me were the presentations made five days ago at the Disposal Subcommittee meeting; viz., Approximately three quarters of those talks were given by representatives of local government entities, either in Nevada or New Mexico. Typical of these presenters was John Gervers, Consultant to Clark County, Nevada's Nuclear Waste Division. Mr. Gervers said:

"While good science and technical proficiency are the keys to successful development of a nuclear waste disposal system, the siting of a nuclear waste facility depends equally on public confidence in the safety of the facility and the competence of the managing agency. Technical expertise cannot substitute for lack of public confidence. Both are essential components of a nuclear waste disposal system, and require equal attention from policymakers, planners and implementers of such a system. The key lesson to be learned from the Nevada experience is that public acceptance of a siting process is an essential ingredient for success of any nuclear waste storage or disposal system."

"There are three elements of a successful relationship with a potential host community.
1. Respect for the concerns of the community
2. Acknowledgement of the potential health and safety risks of the facility
3. Acknowledgement of the potential economic risks or benefits from the facility"

"Surveys by the State of Nevada and Clark County have consistently revealed that over 70 percent of Nevada citizens are opposed to the siting of a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain."

These words of Mr. Gervers are a cogent expression of a point-of-view which holds that the public must be fully involved in the making of future decisions relating to the siting of nuclear waste disposal facilities. It seems to me that there is also no good reason why the public should not be more involved in making key decisions about the future of nuclear power in America, generally. Such socially relevant considerations were absent, however, from the meeting in Idaho Falls, on July 12.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LANL Licks More NWT Lolly

It's a predilection built upon habit as Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to devote itself to the R&D of Nuclear Weapons Technology. The NWT lolly is hard to resist for many, if not most, of those fortunate enough to qualify for a LANL job. Indeed, the lure of work at LANL brings technical staff to New Mexico from all over the United States, while the citizens of Northern New Mexico have become stuck on the generous pay checks that DOE/LANL supplies.

The game is about to become still more lucrative. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on June 15, 2010 that LANL expects to hire ~1000 new employees to build and staff the next, and largest, phase of the Chemical, Metallurgical & Radiological Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF); the construction cost alone is expected to rise to several billion dollars. Presently, LANL employees number over 11,000.

As NM State Senator Jeanette Wallace, R-Los Alamos County, is reported to have said: "The economic impact of the work will spread beyond the local community. This is good not just for Los Alamos but for all of Northern New Mexico. We need the jobs, especially in the economy as down as it is right now."

LANL Deputy Director Isaac Richardson asserted that the existing building (CMR) is from the 1950s and needs to be updated. "If we were to not build this building, we would not be able to attract the talent to do all the other things we need to do at LANL," he said.

Of course, the CMRR-NF Facility is an integral part of DOE/NNSA's grand scheme for the future of the United States Nuclear Weapons Complex; e.g., according to which, LANL will become the national center for plutonium R&D, as well as the sole site for plutonium pit production.

There is still much controversy about this reorganization of the NW Complex, and it is uncertain to what extent Congress will continue to fund the program. See the recent article entitled, "Bunker mentality: Is NNSA digging itself into a hole at Los Alamos?" by Greg Mello, dated 26 May, 2010, in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

As Mello says: "CMRR-NF is a highly complex and utterly unique project. Preliminary design has taken seven years so far and isn't done. The U.S. has not successfully built a plutonium facility since 1978, when PF-4 opened its doors [at LANL]. An attempt to do so at Rocky Flats in the mid-1980s failed spectacularly. Despite all this, despite NNSA's poor project management record, and despite what appears to be a lack of convincing mission need, CMRR-NF is being managed as a concurrent design-build project. Under that approach, between one-half and $1 billion will have been spent on the project before preliminary design, cost estimates, and schedules have been completed."

"Pyrrhic design: The 270,000-square-foot CMRR-NF would add only 22,500-square-feet of additional plutonium processing and lab space to LANL's existing 59,600-square-feet of comparable space in PF-4, a 38 percent increase. The new labs would comprise just 8 percent of the CMRR-NF floor area. Most of the building would be occupied by utilities, ventilation, safety equipment, and by the heavy structure itself."

"The current cost of CMRR-NF lab space works out to $151,000 per square foot, or $1,049 per square inch. PF-4 cost $75 million to build in 1978 ($213 million in 2009 construction dollars). Thus, in constant dollars, CMRR-NF lab space would cost 42 times as much as LANL's existing plutonium labs did, assuming costs do not increase further."

"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. For the past few years, the CMRR-NF project has struggled to adequately respond to 'new' seismic and safety issues. Actually, these issues were appreciated by NNSA senior management from the beginning of the project to some degree, but they were not officially accepted as applicable. LANL is underlain by a fault system that has produced three earthquakes measuring 6.5 to 7.0 on the Richter scale in the last 11,000 years. These 'new' seismic issues, along with requirements for so-called safety-class ventilation equipment that was also not initially accepted by LANL, have dramatically increased CMRR costs and are not yet fully resolved."

Meanwhile, the situation for science at LANL is not improving. As reported in the June, 2010 issue of the American Physical Society News, under the heading, "It’s a Bumpy Ride to Private Management at Los Alamos and Livermore" by Michael Lucibella and Alaina G. Levine:

"When the management of the historic Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was transferred from the University of California to two private companies [in 2006 and 2007, respectively], many officials hailed the move as the turning over of a new leaf for the Labs. The goal of the transfer was to introduce private sector accountability into a management system seen by many in Congress and the Department of Energy as broken. However four years on, costs have swelled, red tape endures, and questions persist as to whether the transfer has benefited the Labs in the long run."

“'When I heard a company was going to run (LANL), I thought they would do it efficiently. I thought it would be good for us,' said a long-time member of the technical staff of LANL. 'But it used to be that science drove this place and everyone knew it…Now that’s gone.'”

"Interviews with current and former employees of both laboratories show shared concerns that since the facilities have become managed by a for-profit entity, science is no longer the top priority; rather, the emphasis is on generating profits through a climate of intense risk aversion. Many of those who still work with the Lab have asked to remain anonymous because of concerns of repercussions from their employers."

"One of the Lab’s former directors said that the system of governance at LANL in particular was broken in 1997 and since then has become more so. Siegfried S. Hecker served as the Director of LANL from 1986 to 1997 and is currently a research professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering, and the co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He said the excessive security concerns, the creation of an extra level of bureaucracy, the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), and the fact that the contract to run the lab was given to a for-profit entity, all led to the greater emphasis on risk avoidance."

“'It was difficult to get work done in 1997, and now it’s simply so difficult to get work done that it gets difficult to attract the best and brightest to the facility,' he said, 'It’s gone downhill for some time and we failed to fix it with the creation of the NNSA and the new management structure.' He added that people are now more afraid to make mistakes, contributing to the difficulty of conducting scientific work."

But then, the R&D of Nuclear Weapons Technology may not really be science at all.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WIPP's Future Unsure

As the period for public comment winds down on NMED's proposed renewal Permit for the WIPP site (the last day of the comment period is June 28, 2010), it may be of interest to recall that the United States Government is now also contemplating a future expansion of both WIPP's size and WIPP's mandate. The following material is related to this potentially unsettling (for citizens of New Mexico) topic:

Excerpted from, "Advice for the Blue Ribbon Commission"
By Robert Alvarez | The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists | 24 March 2010

"President Barack Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future will have its first meeting this week. The commission, formed after Obama cancelled the Yucca Mountain spent nuclear fuel repository in January, is tasked with rebooting the country's five-decade-plus effort to manage its high-level radioactive waste."

"The 15-member commission includes representatives from industry, government, and academia and is co-chaired by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and former Indiana Democratic Cong. Lee Hamilton. It's scheduled to provide interim recommendations in 18 months and a final report within the next 24 months. It will review the government's management of the nuclear fuel cycle and consider all alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of used nuclear fuel, high-level waste, and materials derived from nuclear activities."

[One such problematic issue is that of the disposition of high-level military waste.] "Since World War II, the production of plutonium and other nuclear material has generated about 100 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste that is stored in 237 gigantic underground tanks in South Carolina, Washington, Idaho, and New York. In 1985 the government mandated that such wastes be commingled and stored with civilian spent fuel at Yucca Mountain. With Yucca closed, community and political leaders near Washington's Hanford and South Carolina's Savannah River nuclear weapon sites are now suing to reopen Yucca and force the government to take the material. There is growing interest in placing the waste in the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), a geologic disposal site in a salt formation near Carlsbad, New Mexico that opened in 1998 for plutonium-contaminated military waste. Predictably, New Mexico's elected officials are not supportive of the idea."

"Despite local political opposition, there may be merit to exploring the potential for defense high-level waste disposal at WIPP. Unlike commercial spent fuel, more than 98 percent of the long-lived radioactive material in defense wastes, such as plutonium, has been removed. It's also roughly 10 times less radioactive and thus produces less decay heat than commercial reactor spent fuel--an important factor because decay heat can corrode waste containers and impact the geological stability of the site. That said, more research is necessary to determine if placing wastes in WIPP is a viable option."

Opinion Published in Albuquerque Journal | April 08, 2010

"WIPP Not a 'Storage' Place"
By Ron Curry, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Environment Department

"In response to the editorial in your paper on March 30, 'Time Right To Look at WIPP for Greater Uses,' we assert that New Mexico, more than any other state, has done its part in disposing of our nation's nuclear waste. But, changing the mission at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad by allowing high level nuclear waste at the site runs contrary to the federal government's promise to New Mexicans more than a decade ago. That promise was that the facility should dispose only of transuranic waste created by production of nuclear weapons. But, permanent disposal of the nation's nuclear waste is a national issue and the responsibility for such disposal should not be placed solely on our state."

"The editorial mentions that a federal Blue Ribbon Commission is tasked with recommending to the Department of Energy solutions for nuclear waste disposal. This commission's purpose, stated in its charter, is not to recommend locations for disposal. Although former Sen. Domenici agrees with that and states he is not advocating for any location, it is clear where he stands on this issue when he offers that "field hearings" be held at WIPP. If field hearings are conducted at WIPP, shouldn't they also be held at locations where defense-related nuclear waste was created — such as Hanford in Washington and Savannah River in South Carolina — and at commercial nuclear power plants?"

"WIPP is not a ‘storage’ site. WIPP is in fact a disposal site, and disposal is forever. However, some of the high-level waste under consideration by the commission might be more amenable to a non-permanent ‘storage’ option. For example, the solution for spent nuclear fuel must include the ability to retrieve and potentially reprocess that source, if that is the direction the United States pursues. Under that scenario, dry-cask storage at sites where waste is created may be a reasonable alternative to ‘storage’ in a repository. Options for high level waste, on the other hand, must consider permanent disposal with no intent of retrieval."

"The editorial claims that 'it's time for scientific research to have the upper hand over political considerations.' We believe science and the will of the people must be considered equally. Further, we don't agree that nuclear power necessarily weans us from foreign energy interests. The main nuclear power consortium that builds most plants worldwide is a French state-supported company with a long history of cost and schedule overruns."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit Renewal Process

As of April 27, 2010 a two-month period began for public comment on renewal of the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit, recently proposed and issued in draft form by HWB/NMED. When finalized, the renewed Permit will allow for lawful continuation by the WIPP site, for a period of ten years, of the acceptance and storage of mixed chemical and transuranic (TRU) wastes, resulting from the DOE's nuclear weapons program.

Documents relating to the renewal process may be found on NMED's public website. Among these documents is a copy of the proposed renewal Permit and a WIPP Fact Sheet describing the Permit history, as well as a summary of the points at which the proposed renewal Permit differs from the previous version. These differences are partly the result of Permittee requests, and partly owing to NMED's desire for consistency. According to NMED:

"The draft Permit includes several conditions that are newly imposed on WIPP, but have been included in other hazardous waste facility Permits issued by NMED."

1) "Community Relations Plan: The draft Permit directs the Permittees to establish and carry out a community relations plan to inform the nearby communities and members of the public of permit-related activities. In addition, the plan will give these entities a means to give feedback and input to the Permittees and will seek to minimize disputes and resolve differences between the Permittees and interested parties."

2) "Information Repository: The draft Permit requires the Permittees to establish an information repository (IR) containing specific documents concerning the issuance and operation of the Permit. The Department requires that the IR be located either as a virtual or electronic repository, at a physical location, or both. The Department considers an electronic IR available through the internet to be more readily accessible and therefore more utilized. The Department considers the requirement to include particular documents in an electronic IR to be easier to enforce because the Department can access an internet based repository at any time. The Department’s experience with physical IRs is that they are often incomplete and that they create a burden on third parties to ensure that documents are not removed or altered. The Department encourages the Permittees to collaborate with interested parties to determine an effective and reasonable IR. In any event, the Department maintains a physical copy of information in the IR in its Administrative Record."

3) "Waste minimization: The draft Permit requires a waste minimization program to
reduce the volume and toxicity of hazardous wastes generated at WIPP. The regulations at 40 CFR §264.73(b)(9) require an annual certification by the Permittees that they have in place a program to reduce the volume and toxicity of hazardous waste generated. In this section the Department has included specific program requirements to make the condition enforceable and protective. EPA is encouraging states to enforce the waste minimization requirements at 40 CFR §264.73(b)(9). These requirements were previously contained in Module VII. The Department requires that the waste minimization program be a forward looking document for planning purposes to integrate the waste minimization program into WIPP’s operating principles."

Of particular interest here is NMED's new requirement (2) for WIPP to establish an "information repository", in electronic and/or physical form, "containing specific documents concerning the issuance and operation of the Permit". This is similar to what will likely be required of NNSA/LANS, in the soon to be issued Hazardous Waste Permit, for operations conducted at LANL.

In the recently concluded Hearing, in which issues relating to that new Permit were extensively discussed, Mr. Bearzi, the HWB/NMED head, allowed that the establishment of an information repository would be required of NNSA/LANS, but only if such would be authorized by NMED’s Secretary Ron Curry.

Citizens groups have asked that a physical information repository, reflecting issues relating to the Hazardous Waste Permit for LANL, be set up at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). NNMC will soon also be the home of the RACER data project. RACER is a vehicle for bringing precise information relating to the detection and characterization of environmental contaminants, resulting from LANL operations, to the general public.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Open Burning at TA-16: What's Up With That?

The Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing, underway for the last two weeks in venues all around northern New Mexico, was held on Friday, April 23, 2010, in Los Alamos on the campus of UNM-LA. To date, the Hearing has featured several issues of compelling interest to: 1) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), its owner, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and its present management contractor, Los Alamos National Security - Limited Liability Company (LANS); 2) the Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB), an arm of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED); 3) a coalition of citizens’ activist groups led by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS).

One such issue has been the question of whether or not HWB/NMED would grant a permit to NNSA/LANS to continue the Open Burning (OB) of explosives residues at TA-16. Evidently, the OB of explosives residues has been a common practice at LANL, dating back to the 1940’s.

The citizens’ groups have contended that OB, as practiced at TA-16, is unsafe to human health and to the environment. It appears to this observer that some evidence of this has been presented at the Hearing, during the last two weeks, albeit small. Also, NMED has seemed to me to be impressed by this evidence, although just barely. Nevertheless, NMED had proposed, prior to the Hearing, to deny the OB permit for TA-16. This had been, they said, principally because of the volume of citizens’ protests they had received about this matter.

NNSA/LANS has been fighting back. Prior to the Hearing they induced both the Española City Council and the Rio Arriba Board of County Commissioners to write letters about OB operations at TA-16. These letters, available for perusal on NMED’s public website, are supportive of NNSA/LANS operations, generally, and of Open Burning at TA-16, in particular. Interestingly, in both of these letters, patriotic themes are struck with much vigor.

Indeed, patriotic themes were also struck resoundingly at the Hearing on Friday by LANS managers and by private citizens making public statements supportive of NNSA/LANS and its OB practices at TA-16.

It is often fruitless to speculate about motivations. Nevertheless, one is inclined to wonder about what is driving this campaign of NNSA/LANS to “have its way” at TA-16. Could it be that there is more going on at TA-16 than meets the eye? Why have LANS managers maintained so doggedly that there are no materials contaminated by dioxins and furans being burned at TA-16? No one from either NMED or the citizens’ groups has claimed otherwise. And why have NNSA bosses stated so emphatically that there are no materials contaminated by radioactive substances being burned at TA-16? None of the other parties at this Hearing has even hinted that this was so. No one, that is, but Joni Arends of CCNS who, on Friday, when queried by LANS staff if she would like to go on a guided tour of TA-16 asked, “can I bring my radiation detector?”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Comment Presented at Haz. Waste Permit Hearing

This comment was was presented at the NMED/LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing, held on Friday, April 16, 2010 in the Pojoaque Cities of Gold Hotel Conference Center. The Hearing was then in its tenth full day.

I am a PhD physicist, retired for the last four years, following twenty years of employment at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in the Applied Physics Division (X-Division). Prior to my LANL years, I worked for seven years as a Research Associate Professor of physics at the University of Connecticut. I have lived in Española, NM for seventeen years.

During the past two years I volunteered my time to the DOE’s Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board (NNMCAB), where I became familiar with issues concerning hazardous waste generation, storage, and treatment at LANL. While with the NNMCAB I also learned about the sometimes difficult relations between the present regulator, the Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB), an arm of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and LANL’s present owner, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), as well as LANL’s current management contractor, Los Alamos National Security Limited Liability Company (LANS-LLC). I also learned about the role played in these relations by local citizens groups such as Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Nuclear Watch of Northern New Mexico (NWNNM), and Citizens Action of Albuquerque (CAA), as well as local pueblos, especially those allied into the Eight Northern Pueblos; e.g., Pojoaque, Santa Clara, Ohkay Ohwingeh, San Idelfonso, Tesuque, Nambe, Taos, and Picuris.

It was with much interest that I heard testimony presented at this hearing. I have also listened with interest to comments presented by many private citizens.

I have been particularly struck by the emphasis placed by private citizens on the call for an information repository, to be located on the campus of Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). As conceived, this repository would be for the purpose of accumulating and making available to local residents information relating to the history of the generation, storage, and treatment of hazardous waste at LANL, as well as relating to the history of relations between the local communities and the DOE, the NNSA, and LANS-LLC, and to relations with the previous management contractor, the University of California (UC).

It appears that NMED is well aware of a desire on the part of local citizens for such an information repository. In fact, Mr. James Bearzi, head of the HWB/NMED, addressed this issue in Sect. IV. D. of his written testimony. However, he said in that testimony that it is the opinion of NMED that an electronic information repository should suffice.

Even so, he also says in his written testimony (Sect. IV. C.) that NMED is attempting to adhere to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerns for the promotion of environmental justice among local communities. Such concerns require that local communities be provided with all possible opportunities to participate in decisions related to local environmental matters; e.g., matters resulting from the actions of government in New Mexico, especially the federal government.

In this regard, environmental justice concerns would be better met, in my opinion, by the establishment of a permanent information repository at NNMC, than with a simple electronic repository. In my view, if such a repository is to serve the purpose for which it is intended, it must have an on-site staff, trained in its maintenance, and able to assist local citizens in their quest for information.

Mr. Bearzi also refers to the RACER database in his written testimony (Sect. IV. G.) He points out that RACER is a compendium, in electronic form, of environmental data recorded in and around the Pajarito Plateau. He notes too that this database is already fully accessible to the general public (at least that part of the general public that has access to a PC and a high-speed data link) and is being well-maintained by the Los Alamos Community Foundation. He does not mention that it is currently a part of the RACER plan that RACER shall eventually be maintained by a staff located at NNMC.

I would like also to recall a critical public comment made at this Hearing, this past Tuesday, regarding the influence of LANL on the local economy. In this remark it was suggested that an unfortunate dependency had been created in the local community on the economic benefits brought here by LANL, over the last sixty years.

It is in this context that I would like to speak briefly about the last few months of my two years of service on the DOE’s NNMCAB. It was during this time that I first recognized the presence of a tension between Board members who believed that economic benefits brought by LANL to the local communities were always of paramount concern, when dealing with regulatory matters, and other Board members who felt that health matters were much more important. In an attempt to quantify the strength of such opposing opinions, and the degree to which such opposed opinions were wide-spread in the local community, I conducted a public opinion survey.

This survey was conducted in the fall of 2009 in the towns of Santa Fe and Española, and accumulated responses from 225 persons. The questions in the survey were written, the survey administered, and the results analyzed entirely by myself. In an effort to obtain, some technical guidance in this matter, I did consult briefly with a staff member from Research and Polling, Inc. of Albuquerque.

The results of the survey can be perused in my attached report. In quick summary, these results show that there are indeed two strong attitudes about LANL to be found within the local community. One attitude is of appreciation for the economic benefits brought here by LANL. The other attitude is one of worry about possible environmental hazards arising from the type of work done at LANL. This second attitude is combined with an uneasiness about the nature of that work itself; i.e., the R&D of nuclear weapons.

Simplifying somewhat, approximately 25% of respondents felt that the economic benefits brought by LANL were great, while environmental hazards were of little concern, and uneasiness about nuclear weapons R&D was just not a factor. Approximately 25% of respondents felt just the opposite; i.e., while economic benefits did not impress them, the threat arising from environmental hazard was great, and the culture of nuclear weapons was rejected strongly. Interestingly, ~50% of respondents displayed both attitudes simultaneously. For these conflicted individuals, there was an awareness of a clear economic benefit brought by LANL to the local community. At the same time, however, worry about possible environmental hazards due to the business of LANL, and uneasiness about the nuclear weapons industry was also great.

In closing, I make the claim that it is the effect of LANL’s business on the local community which should be the subject of further study. Evidently, this effect is perceived to be wholly positive by some, and wholly negative by others but, generally, both positive and negative effects are experienced simultaneously by at least half the members of the local community.

Thank you for your attention.

Ken LaGattuta

(My "Community Survey Report for Northern New Mexico" appears as the first post in this blog.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

NMED/LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing

9:00 AM (Monday, April 5, 2010)
The NMED/LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing began this morning in the Jemez Room at Santa Fe Community College, in Santa Fe, NM. Approximately 50 people were in attendance. Among the attendees were representatives of the three main parties and their supporters, as well as members of the general public. The parties were: 1) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and its owner the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an arm of the United States Department of Energy (USDOE), and its current management contractor Los Alamos National Security Limited Liability Company (LANS-LLC); 2) the Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB), an arm of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED); 3) a coalition of citizen activists' groups and citizen activists; viz., Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Nuclear Watch of New Mexico (NWNM), Citizens Action of New Mexico (CANM), Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE), Southwest Information Research Center (SIRC), and Robert Gilkeson, a registered geologist.

Lawyers in attendance, representing the three parties, were: 1) Pete Domenici, Jr. for NNSA/LANS-LLC; 2) Mr. Lovejoy and Mr. DeSaillan for HWB/NMED; 3) Joni Arends, the head of CCNS, and Dave McCoy, the head of CANM.

The presiding judge was Joseph Alarid, Jr., a retired New Mexico Court of Appeals judge, and experienced hearing officer. According to Judge Alarid's self-assessment, he has no particular scientific or engineering expertise, but does have an extensive legal experience.

The Hearing will be conducted according to standard rules of evidence. Testimony will be presented by witnesses for the parties, one party at a time. NNSA/LANS-LLC will go first, followed by HWB/NMED, and the citizens groups will be last. Testimony will be presented for each party by panels of witnesses, and each panel will focus on a particular matter at issue. A witness' testimony may be elicited directly by a lawyer for the witness' party; i.e., the lawyer may ask the witness a series of leading questions. Following testimony, witnesses may be cross-examined by lawyers for the opposing parties; redirect examination will then be solicited, led by the lawyers for the party testifying. Recross-examination will then occur. Evidence may be submitted for the record, provided no objection to the submission is sustained by the judge. Questions during cross, redirect, and recross exmaination are all subject to the objections of opposing counsel.

The Hearing, as scheduled, will last two or more weeks, after which the hearing officer will issue a ruling on all matters at issue. That ruling will only be advisory. Evidently, the Hearing was originally requested by Joni Arends and Robert Gilkeson in a letter to NMED dated Feb. 1, 2008; the letter may be found on NMED's public website.

Matters at issue relate to a Hazardous Waste Permit, which HWB/NMED proposes to issue to LANL/NNSA/LANS-LLC for work being done at LANL. The Hazardous Waste Permit will regulate the handling and above-ground storage of hazardous waste at 24 separated above-ground waste storage facilities at LANL. Presently, a draft permit exists.

An hazardous waste permit was first issued by HWB/NMED in 1989, and was valid for a period of ten years. However, since late-1990, when application for a renewal permit was denied, the handling and above-ground storage of hazardous waste at LANL has been permitted by HWB/NMED only on an interim basis.

The issuing of a Hazardous Waste Permit by HWB/NMED, for NNSA/LANS-LLC hazardous waste operations at LANL, is allowed by federal statute; viz., the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. Moreover, NNSA/LANS-LLC hazardous waste operations at LANL are also explicitly permitted by RCRA.

RCRA was originally enacted by Congress in 1976, and is currently a law of the United States, codified in the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The goals of RCRA are to: protect the public from harm caused by waste disposal; encourage reuse, reduction, and recycling of waste materials; clean up spilled or improperly stored wastes. RCRA was enacted as an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965, and was intended to regulate waste handling from cradle-to-grave. Unlike the superfund act (CERCLA), RCRA only regulates the handling of wastes at active sites, (sites which continue to receive waste) but not at historical or legacy sites.

There are numerous matters at issue here, all to be explored during the course of the Hearing. These are controversial matters to be contended between: 1) LANL and HWB; 2) LANL and the citizens groups; 3) HWB and the citizens groups. A sampling of these matters is as follows:

1) a) HWB/NMED is aggrieved by a past tendency of NNSA/LANS-LLC to underfund cleanup tasks at LANL, the schedule and pace of which was previously agreed upon by HWB/NMED and NNSA/LANS-LLC, but only after an arduous year-long negotiation. The agreement took the form of a Consent Order, issued on March 1, 2005. The underfunding, typically by a factor of ~2, has continued over the last several years; i.e., essentially since the inception of the CO. HWB/NMED would like the new Hazardous Waste Permit to contain a financial assurance clause which would help, they say, to guarantee future NNSA/LANS-LLC budgets for LANL cleanup. In contrast, NNSA claims that its budgets are guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the federal government and need no further guarantee. Indeed, they say, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) stipulates that government entities cannot be subjected to financial assurance constraints.

1) b) HWB/NMED has also stated that it intends to deny NNSA/LANS-LLC's application for an Open Burn (OB) permit, a small part of the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit; i.e., for the open burning of explosives residues at TA-16. NNSA/LANS-LLC is incensed by this threatened denial of an OB permit, and will contest the matter vigorously.

2) a) The citizens groups are sure that the OB permit should be denied, because of alleged dangers to the health of surrounding communities, and they support HWB/NMED in its intent to deny the OB permit.

2) b) The citizens groups would very much like to see a financial assurance clause included in the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit.

2) c) The citizens groups will argue that NNSA/LANS-LLC is not in full compliance with the 1992 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) rules governing the treatment and storage of hazardous waste. The citizens groups will argue that the Consent Order(CO)is now being used by HWB/NMED to regulate the treatment and storage of hazardous waste at LANL, although the RCRA rules should have precedence. They will further argue that the CO is not legally binding since it: a) was negotiated without input from the general public; b) should not supercede the RCRA rules.

3) a) The citizens groups are upset that HWB/NMED has withheld hundreds of documents from the general public which relate to cleanup at LANL. Apparently, many of these documents bear on the question of whether LANL is in compliance with the RCRA rules, especially as they pertain to groundwater monitoring.

3) b) The citizens groups will argue that the LANL groundwater monitoring program is inadequate scientifically, and that HWB/NMED has failed to censure NNSA/LANS-LLC for this failure. The citizens groups will point out that problems with LANL's groundwater monitoring program have been described over the past several years both in reports by the National Academy of Sciences and by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA)Kerr Lab, and should be well-known to HWB/NMED.

Opening statements were invited from lawyers for the parties by Judge Alarid. Pete Domenici, Jr. spoke for NNSA/LANS-LLC: He began by talking about the legal basis upon which the hearing rests, and upon which the authority of NMED to regulate LANL's treatment and storage of hazardous waste depends; i.e., the RCRA rules and regulations, and the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act. He continued by asserting that much, if not most, of the language in the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit was agreed upon by HWB/NMED and NNSA/LANS-LLC, and that there were only a limited number of areas of disagreement. One such area involved the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF) at TA-50., which will be partly regulated by language in the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit. Domenici contended that the RLWTF should not be so regulated since waste water outfalls from this facility are already being regulated by EPA under the Clean Water Act. He also claimed that the planned Destruction and Demolition (D&D) of certain buildings at LANL should not be regulated by the propoosed new Hazardous Waste Permit. He opined that the primary business of the Hazardous Waste Permit should be only to regulate the above-ground storage of certain "mixed waste"; e.g., part RCRA regulated waste and part radioactive waste. He pointed out that such mixed waste was already being stored at many DOE sites throughout the country. He also stated that "an important goal of this hearing will be to reassure the general public that NNSA/LANS-LLC will adhere to the scheduled cleanup and closure schedule for TA-54, as set forth in the 2005 Consent Order". He was emphatic that language in the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit "should not be duplicative of that in the Consent Order". Hence, he said, "closure and corrective actions at MDA's and SMU's should be allowed to proceed unimpeded under the CO and should not be further regulated by the Hazardous Waste Permit". He also asserted that the Hazardous Waste Permit should not contain financial assurance language, binding upon LANS-LLC. He claimed that "a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) contractor such as LANS-LLC has never before been required to provide financial assurance for work supported by the federal government". Finally, he expanded at length upon the claim being made by NNSA/LANS-LLC that there is no danger to human health or the environment arising from open burning at TA-16.

When queried by Judge Alarid, HWB/NMED declined to make an opening statement.

The second opening statement was offered by Dave McCoy of Citizens Action of New Mexico (CANM). McCoy began by saying that the wastes being stored at LANL "contain the potential for genocide", and that "possible seismic activity would threaten nearby residents with catastrophe". He went on to say that the CO seemed to over-ride existing federal regulations governing closure, post-closure, and the groundwater monitoring of hazardous waste sites, but that the CO had no firm legal basis, and was unenforceable. He said further that the CO could not be an enforceable document because the general public was never offered an opportunity to particpate in negotiations leading up to its creation; this was a violation, he said, of federal law. He finished by stating that "21 million cubic feet of stored hazardous waste at LANL is an illegal operation".

The third opening statement was made by Bob Gilkeson, a licensed geologist working in concert with CCNS. Gilkeson began by stating his opposition to sections of the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit dealing with groundwater protection practices at LANL. He also noted the recent discovery of a volcanic vent, and a volcanic dike, beneath Area G (TA-54) which, he said, "presents a serious threat to surrounding communities".

The fourth opening statement was made by Marian Naranjo from Santa Clara Pueblo. Ms. Naranjo pointed out that "Area G is the site of an ancestral Santa Clara kiva which was dug up and replaced with a toxic waste dump".

The fifth opening statement was made by Don Hancock of SIRC. Hancock stated that the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit "must protect the environment from future LANL operations". Such future operations, he said, "may include pit production".

1:35 PM (Monday, April 5, 2010; still the first day) -

The first of six LANL panels of witnesses was seated, and their testimony began.
This panel of witnesses described the history of the permitting process at LANL, starting with the first Hazardous Waste Permit in 1989.

The second LANL panel of witnesses was seated. They described the structure of the present proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit. Emergency opearations and fire protection managers then described the capabilites of their areas of responsibility, and their relevance to the Hazardous Waste Permit. Finally, an expert on the geology of the Pajarito Plateau talked at length about newly discovered underground faulting which, however, she said, did not constitute a hazard to LANL operations.

2:00 PM (Tuesday, April 6, 2010; the second full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late today in the hearing room) -

The third of six LANL panels of witnesses was in progress. This panel was describing issues relating to the RLWTF, and presenting reasons why the RLWTF should not be regulated by the Hazardous Waste Permit.

The remaining three LANL panels will deal with the issues of: a) closure of permitted facilities; b) financial assurance for future cleanup operations; c) open burning of explosives residues at TA-16.

(Wednesday, April 7, 2010; the third full day; I was absent for this entire day) -

2:00 PM (Thursday, April 8, 2010; the fourth full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room) -

The fourth LANL panel had testified about closure and post-closure matters and was undergoing cross-examination. Danny Katzman, LANL manager for groundwater monitoring programs, was being queried by Dave McCoy about the adequacy of these programs, and the extent to which they complied with RCRA rules. This was a vey extensive cross-examination.

11:00 AM (Friday, April 9, 2010; the fifth full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room) -

The fifth LANL panel had finished testifying about financial assurance matters and was undergoing cross-examination. Dave McCoy asked LANL witness Mr.Turner if the CO addresses financial assurance matters, and Turner said emphatically that it did not.

1:15 PM (Friday) Following a lunch break the hearing resumed with a period of comments solicited from the general public.

Penny McMullen, member of the Sisters of Loretto, asked that a public information center be set up somewhere in the Espanola Valley. She said that such a center would be to ensure better access for local residents to information relating to LANL's work for the DOE, both past and present. [Later, in a private conversation with Marian Naranjo, I learned that this information center was being proposed by CCNS, to be located at Northern New Mexico College, and would complement the RACER data base, which would eventually also be located at NNMC.]

1:30 PM (Friday) The sixth and final LANL panel of witnesses was seated. This panel would address the open burning of explosives residues at TA-16, as well as the intent of HWB/NMED to deny NNSA/LANS-LLC's application for an OB permit. Initial testimony attempted to persuade that the OB permit was essential to the performance at LANL of R&D required by the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; viz., by the need for greater knowledge of techniques employed in the fabrication and use of Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs). Subsequently, testimony was provided about the generation of dioxins and furans during the open burning of explosives residues at TA-16. These were the chemicals about which both HWB/NMED and the citizens groups have expressed concern, and because of which the OB permit may be denied. The LANL witness asserted that dioxins and furans could only be generated if: a) the material being burned contained chlorine; b) the material was burned in an oxygen poor atmosphere; c) the material was burned at temperatures between 400 and 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. The witness further asserted that none of these conditions held for the explosives residues being burned at TA-16 which: a) did not contain chlorine; b) were burned in an oxygen rich atmosphere; were burned at temperatures above 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Monday, April 12, 2010; the sixth full day; I was absent for this entire day) -

Evidently, cross-examination of witnesses for NNSA/LANS-LLC continued into Monday morning. Then testimony of James Bearzi, head of HWB/NMED began. His testimony was expected to continue into tomorrow, Tuesday.

3:20 PM (Tuesday, April 13, 2010; the seventh full day began at 9:00 AM; the hearing has been moved for today to the Ohkay Owingeh Conference Center in Española; I arrived late in the hearing room) -

Evidently, Mr. Bearzi's testimony continued all through this morning. However, Mr. Bearzi was unable to be present this afternoon, so that his testimony and/or cross-examination, will be put off until Wednesday.

A period for comments by the general public has been alloted, to run from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. The leader of the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group (EVEMG) is speaking. She endorsed the information center being proposed for NNMC; i.e., a center in which information describing the business of LANL, and the history of that business, would be provided for perusal by the general public. These comments were followed by those of a private citizen who lamented the growth of greed and consumerism in Northern New Mexico, which had resulted, she said, from the flood of money that had been dumped by LANL into the local economy. She also said that this flood of money had caused the local economy to become dependent on LANL, in such a way as to inhibit the development of a normal mix of local businesses.

4:15 PM Testimony of HWB/NMED witness Steve Pulen began, facilitated by leading questions posed by Mr. Lovejoy, lawyer for NMED. This testimony related to instances of language in the proposed new Hazardous Waste Permit which is being disputed by NNSA/LANS-LLC. Mr. Pulen is the first of eight NMED witnesses scheduled to present testimiony in the coming days.

5:00 PM Testimony ends for today, and will resume tomorrow at 9:00 AM, back in the Jemez Room at SFCC.

(Wednesday, April 15, 2010; the eighth full day; I was absent for this entire day) -

However, I received by email this morning, from John Kieling of HWB/NMED, a copy of James Bearzi's 80 page written testimony; I perused this document with much interest. The Summary section (on pages 4 and 5) displays the following topic headings; the topics are addressed later in the document:

"III. Factual background"

"A. Regulatory structure; B. Permit history; C. Units to be permitted; D. Open detonation units; E. Permit organization; F. Permit terms; G. Enforcement history."

"IV. Issues at this hearing"

"A. Relation of Proposed Permit to Consent Order; B. Outreach and community participation in the permitting process; C. Community relations and environmental justice; D. Information repository; E. E-mail notification; F. Community relations plan; G. RACER; H. Seismic location standards; I. Radioactive liquid Waste Treatment Facility regulation; J. Risk level for closure and corrective action; K. The "enforceable document" regulations; L. Closure provisions for regulated units and surface units - post-closure care; M. Closure of regulated units - specific issues; N. Groundwater monitoring; O. Financial assurance; P. Open burning at TA-16 - notice of intent to deny; Q. Closure plans for TA-16 open burn units."

1:30 PM (Thursday, April 15, 2010; the ninth full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room) -

Public comments were proceeding. A woman who introduced herself as a librarian endorsed the idea that there be a physical repository for information relating to the Permit, and that this be set up at NNMC. Then James Bearzi was reseated as a witness for HWB/NMED , and his cross-examination by Dave McCoy continued. Referring to 40 CFR 264.90F, DM said that this rule allowed for the replacement of the RCRA rules appearing in 40 CFR 264.(90-100) by other "enforceable rules". He also said that JB assumed that the CO was an enforceable document and used it to replace the RCRA rules. JB said "that is not an assumption, it is a fact." Cross-examination by DM was followed by Scott Kovacs, for NWNM, and Bob Gilkeson, for CCNS. At 3:00 PM, JB was excused and John Ahlquist, a private citizen was allowed to give testimony. Mr. Ahlquist, a retired LANL health physicist, stated that he believed the hearing to be a waste of time and money, and that LANL's cleanup should be allowed to proceed unimpeded by such administrative wrangling. At 4:00 PM, Rebecca Cram, a HWB/NMED witness, began her testimony. She talked about the 24 closure plans that will regulate the closure of the 24 LANL facilities subjected to the Proposed Permit.

2:00 PM (Friday, April 16, 2010; the tenth full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room) -

A public comment period began. I submitted an oral comment which: a) endorsed the idea of an information repository to be located at NNMC; b) endorsed a previous comment suggesting that economic benefits brought to the local community by LANL dollars was not an unalloyed benefit. I also submitted a written version of my comment, and a written copy of my "Community Survey Report for Northern New Mexico", for the hearing record. My written comment also appears in the next post in this blog (dated April 17, 2010); my "Community Survey Report for Northern New Mexico" appears as the very first post in this blog (dated Dec., 2009).

A series of public comments then followed, until 3:00 PM, when Mr. Bearzi was reseated and his cross-examination continued (until 6:15 PM).

2:00 PM (Friday, April 23, 2010; the eleventh full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room. The Hearing was held today on the campus of UNM-LA, in Room 230) -

During the ensuing public comment period, ~15 comments were presented by current LANS-LLC employees, by LANL-UC retirees, and by Los Alamos residents unafilliated with LANL, or with LANS-LLC. These comments were all very supportive of LANL and its doings. This group of commenters was also uniformly indignant about the intent of NMED to deny LANL an Open Burning Permit for its work at TA-15, several commenters striking patriotic themes in their effort to convince the Hearing Officer of the righteousness of their views.

Other comments were presented by citizens who had no economic ties to LANS-LLC, or to LANL, and who did not live in Los Alamos. These comments were uniformly critical of LANL, and expressed much uneasiness about the potential for negative human health and environmental impacts due to Open Burning at TA-16.

I then presented a comment in which I first reminded listeners of my "Community Survey Report for Northern New Mexico", described at last Friday's Hearing, during the comment session. I then pointed out that, although we had just heard many comments that could fairly be summarized as lying on a bimodal distribution of opinion, in fact, in Northern New Mexico a much more smoothly varying spectrum of opinion existed. That is, as my survey of 225 individuals had shown, while ~25% of responders had strong positive opinions about LANL, and ~25% had strong negative opinions, there was a near-majority of ~50% who held both strong positive and strong negative opinions about LANL.

[On April 20, 2010 a compendium of public comments appeared on NMED's public website. Among these were copies of letters from the Española City Council (by Alice Lucero, Mayor) and the Rio Arriba County Commission (by Alfredo Montoya, Chair) strongly condemning NMED's proposed denial of an OB Permit for LANL, and striking very patriotic themes.]

After the comment period ended, James A. Werner, an expert witness for NMED began his testimony. Mr. Werner described the qualifications which supported his claim to special knowledge about "financial assurance" matters, especially as regarded private contractors working for government agencies, on RCRA regulated projects, or on projects that were partly RCRA regulated and partly state regulated. This is a matter of importance to NMED, which intends to require financial assurance from LANS-LLC, for work to be completed under the Consent Order. On the other hand, LANS-LLC wishes to continue to be free of financial assurance requirements, as these will increase its cost of doing business.

The testimony of Mr. Werner, as facilitated by Mr. DeSaillan, counsel for NMED, seemed to make a plausible case for the legality of requiring financial assurance from LANS-LLC. However, the following cross-examination by Mr. Domenici, counsel for LANS-LLC, did seem somewhat to undermine this case. Not so successful was Domenici's attempt to argue that assignment of a financial assurance requirement to LANS-LLC was illegal because there were federal statutes explicitly forbidding such requirements; e.g., for contractors operating the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP)and Sandia National Laboratory (SNL). However, these two statutes had been created, and their passage through Congress engineered, by Pete Domenici, Sr. as a way of forestalling legal attempts by the State of New Mexico to obtain financial assurance from these contractors.

This cross-examination continued until 6:45 PM, when the Hearing was adjourned for the day.

(Monday, April 26, 2010; the twelfth full day; the Hearing was held at Smith Brasher Hall, 717 University NE, in Albuquerque; I was absent for this entire day) -

11:15 AM (Wednesday, May 5, 2010; the thirteenth full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room. The Hearing was held today in the Courtyard at Marriott, 3347 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, NM) -

[This morning, Ralph Hayes of El Dorado Engineering spoke by telephone about alternatives to open burning of wastes. He asserted that confined burning is a well-developed and accepted technique used by many industries, in a variety of circumstances, which is now replacing open burning. Although I was not present for Mr. Hayes' remarks, I was informed about them by several people who were present.]

When I arrived this morning, Mr. Kulis, a witness for NMED, was finishing his testimony. Mr. Culis is a regulator at HWB/NMED, involved with overseeing the installation of wells at LANL. Mr. McCoy cross-examined Mr. Kulis. McCoy asked about the use of the word "shall" in the RCRA rules, coded in the CFR, asking Mr. Kulis to reflect upon the fact that, in his written testimony, Mr. Kulis used the word "should" when describing that section of the RCRA rules. Mr. McCoy suggested that "should" was less determinant than "shall". Mr. McCoy then asked if Stainless steel casing might not be subject to corrosion by the mixed waste present at MDA G, H, and L, and whether titanium might not be a better choice for the construction of well-screens. Kulis answered that corrosion would be a product of geochemical conditions, but would not result from any mixed waste that might be present at depth underground. He said too that he was unaware of any use or testing of titanium for well-screens, and that titanium might have worse absorptive properties than stainless-steel. Mr. McCoy then asserted that Mr. Kulis had not considered other possible materials for the construction of well-screens. Mr. Kulis answered that he had indeed considered many other materials, and that these were listed, along with their propoerties, in his report. He continued by saying that he judged all of these other materials to be unsuitable for the construction of well-screens, for a variety of reasons. Mr. McCoy ended his cross and Mr. Gilkeson began.

Mr. Gilkeson asked about the acceptability of pipe-based systems for well-screens. Mr. Kulis answered that pipe-based systems may be acceptable under certain circumstances. However, the use of pipe-based well-screens was not allowed under the Permit for the construction of new wells; wells already in place which use pipe-based screens may be retained. Mr. Gilkeson then asked if the use of no-purge Westbay sampling systems must no longer be used anywhere at LANL. Mr. Kulis answered that this was not true, but that the usefulness of data obtained from Westbay systems would be determined on a case-by-case basis by comparison with data taken from nearby wells fitted with purgeable Baskhi sampling ssytems. Mr. Gilkeson then asked if the Permit requires that background water-quality data be determined from upgradient site-specific wells. Mr. Kulis said that he was uncertain if such was the case.

1:00 PM; public comment period began. First speaker said that he had a PhD in linguistics, and that he was concerned by the trickery displayed by vested interests in defense of LANL, and in the minimization of citizens' concerns about toxic waste generated by LANL operations. Second speaker expressed concern about Pu in groundwater near the Buckman Diversion Project, especially in regard to modern standards for maximum allowed levels of contaminants; these standards are being continually reduced, as time goes on. Third speaker talked about the existence of elevated levels of cancers occurring throughout northern New Mexico; i.e., downwind of LANL. Fourth speaker expressed concern about OB at LANL, and said that the Sisters of Loretto had collected more than 500 signatures on a petition asking for confined burn at TA-16. The fifth speaker reads the text of that petition, and said that local residents wanted the security of knowing that they were not being poisoned by emissions from LANL operations. The sixth speaker talked about the chemical properties of PU, and referred to recent work which seemed to show that Pu was more mobile in soils than had previously been thought to be the case. The seventh speaker criticized NMED for not following its own Mission Statement, and for being dominated by a culture of secrecy. He described the successful lawsuit that Mr. McCoy and CANM filed against NMED, which resulted in the release of documents held secret by NMED; these related to the treatment of hazardous waste generated at LANL. He then said that the 21 million cubic feet of hazardous waste stored at LANL had the potential to create a worse environmental disaster than the current oil-spill off the coast of Louisiana. He further stated that the lack of a closure plan for hazardous waste dumps at LANL was a serious violation of NMED's mandate. the eighth speaker was a resident of Ojo Sarco who expressed concern about the elevated level of cancers in northern New Mexico. The ninth speaker was a retired St. John's College teacher. She expressed her concern that the involvement of private citizens in decision-making with regard to the treatment of hazardous waste at LANL was made difficult by the lack of an intelligible overview of the related problems. She emphasized that it was not sufficient to have relevant information be physically accessible to the public, but that it must also be intellectually accessible. The tenth speaker presents a petition with 7500 signatures asking for a confined burn facility at LANL, to replace their present OB facility at TA-16. The eleventh speaker is a writer from Santa fe who expressed her feelings of heart-break when presented with knowledge of the volume of hazardous waste being generated at LANL, from its nuclear weapons operations.

2:15PM; public comment period ends; Mr. Gilkeson resumed his cross of Mr. Kulis, who then admitted that the Permit did require that background data be collected at LANL from site-specific monitoring wells. Mr. Gilkeson then asked if it was true that water-quality studies underway at LANL would only determine if water-quality samples taken from no-purge wells were comparable to those taken from purgeable wells, and would not determine if such samples were representative of water in the surrounding formations. Mr. Kulis agreed that this was true. Mr. Gilkeson then asked if under-inflated packers installed between screens in Baskhi system wells might not allow water to pass between the regions surrounding the two screens, thus contaminating the lower region. Mr. Kulis said that this was a possible problem which was being addressed. Mr. Gilkeson then asked if the use of oragnic foams to expedite the drilling process might not result in a contamination of the regional aquifer. Mr. Kulis said that this might occur, but that it was a problem which was limited by the fact that current methods required that such foams not be used below a point that was 100 ft above the surface of the regional aquifer. Moreover, any foam which did leak down into the aquifer could be mostly removed during the subsequent well-develoment process, and that the remainder was, in any case, biodegradable. Mr. Gilkeson ended his cross and Joni Arends began.

Ms. Arends asked if casing advance techniques could not be used to replace the use of oragnic foams; i.e., as a method of keeping the upper parts of the bore-hole open during drilling, so that the drill string would not be captured by the bore-hole, which would then have to be abandoned. Mr. Kulis said that, generally, this was not possible since then the presence of perched water could not be detected; and it was important to learn about the presence of perched water. [I spoke to Mr. Gilkeson privately about this question. He said that the detection of perched water would also be impeded by the use of high pressure water as a drilling aid, something which was being done routinely by the well-drillers at LANL. He said further that the presence of perched water was NOT something that was being actively sought at LANL. The reason that perched water was not being sought, he said, was that the discovery of perched water would just mean more monitoring work for an already overworked monitoring staff. (Mr. Gilkeson has elaborated further on these themes in his written comment submitted to NMED on May 9, 2010.)]

5:25 PM; NMED rested their case. Dave McCoy began testimony. Mr. McCoy reprised views that he had already expressed during this Hearing. He was cross-examined by Mr. Domenici for LANL, Mr. DeSailian for NMED, and Ms. Arends for CCNS.

7:00 PM; I leave for the day.

2:15 PM (Thursday, May 6, 2010; the fourteenth full day began at 9:00 AM; I arrived late in the hearing room. The Hearing was held again today in the Courtyard at Marriott, 3347 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, NM) -

LANL called Richard Joseph Miranda, a rebuttal witness. Mr. Miranda attempted to explain recent changes in a report, previously submitted as evidence but before any changes had been made, detailing effects of OB residues (dioxins and furans) on the local deer-mouse population. Evidently, LANL was attempting to submit this revised report in lieu of the the previous unrevised report. Objections to this aattempted replacement were made by NMED, by Mr. McCoy and by Ms. Arends. During cross-examination of Mr. Miranda, Mr. McCoy asked about methods being used to survey the deer-mouse population, apparently with a view to determining whether or not those methods were humane, and whether or not those methods minimized the expenditure of public money. 3:50 PM; I leave for the day.

1:00 PM (Friday, May 7, 2010; the fifteenth and last day began at 1:00 PM. The Hearing was held again today in the Courtyard at Marriott, 3347 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, NM) -

The Hearing began today with a public comment period. The first speaker was a ~25 year old male who spoke in favor of LANL operations, and of the OB Permit. He pointed out the imporatnce of LANL operations to the economy of northern New Mexico. The second speaker was a woman from Llano, NM. she blamed her diagnosed cancer on LANL's hazardous waste. She asked that LANL provide medical insurance to all of the residents of northern New Mexico, and that LANL also test all of the fruits and vegetables being grown in this area for the presence of hazardous chemicals.

1:20 PM; public comment period ended and J. Bearzi, rebuttal witness for NMED, was reseated. His testimony related to the financial assurance controversy which has been much discussed at this Hearing. Much of what he had to say was objected to by opposing counsel. Mr. Bearzi then talked about disputed data submitted by LANL relating to the temperatures of burners measured at TA-16 OB units. There were also many objections to this rebuttal testimony.

Mr. Bearzi then talked about the need to include new language in the proposed Permit to ensure that LANS/NNSA, in a timely fashion, would establish a physical repository for information relating to the Hazardous Waste Permit, and would establish a educational center aimed at improving public understanding of issues relating to the Permit, both (perhaps) at Northern New Mexico College; i.e., if Secretary Curry would see fit to approve of such a measure. He said that a period of six months would be specified in the proposed Permit, following the entry into force of the Permit itself, during which all arrangements for the establishment of such a physical information repository and educational center would have to be completed by LANS/NNSA.

Launching into another topic, Mr. Bearzi then stated emphatically that if Area G (TA-54) was to be closed, then all deposition of new low-level radioactive waste at this site would have to end immediately. Mr. Domenici asked if it was true that NMED has no mandate to regulate low-level radioactive waste, generally, and that the proposed Permit does not forbid the storage of new low-level radiaoactive waste at Area G. Mr. Bearzi admitted that this was true. Mr. Domenici then asked Mr. Bearzi if he was aware that the burners at TA-16 unit 388 were designed to burn at over 1400 degrees Fahnrenheit. (There is evidence that, above this temperature, dioxins and furans are consumed.) Mr. Bearzi answered that he did not contest the design of the burners.

5:10 PM; the NMED/LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing ends!