Sunday, May 29, 2011

CMRR-NF SEIS Hearings in New Mexico

Public hearings were recently held by DOE/NNSA, in which comments were solicited from the general public on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) of April, 2011, regarding proposed construction of the ~$6 billion facility for plutonium R&D at LANL. These hearings were a part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, mandated by the U. S. Congress, and were held on the evenings of May 23-26, 2011 in Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Española, and Santa Fe, NM.

The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) discussed is being designed to replace a similar, but said to be outmoded building (CMR) constructed in the 1950's. If constructed as planned, the CMRR-NF will enable DOE/NNSA/LANL's continuation of the performance of nuclear weapons R&D at Los Alamos for approximately the next 50 years; in particular, R&D activities related to plutonium chemistry and metallurgy. These activities would have applications to stockpile stewardship, as presently understood; i.e., to the production of new plutonium triggers to replace weapons that have been damaged or destroyed during active surveillance.

However, the CMRR-NF is also a keystone of DOE/NNSA's plans for the continuation of the U. S. nuclear weapons program for the next 50 years. An essential part of these plans is the centralization of all  plutonium related activities at LANL, with the collection and storage of weapons grade plutonium in underground vaults at CMRR-NF. The CMRR-NF could also support the large-scale production of plutonium pits, or triggers, of new and untested designs if DOE/NNSA should ever convince a future U. S. Congress to revive the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.

It is interesting to recall that plutonium pits, or triggers, are really only essential for the detonation of miniaturized thermonuclear weapons which, although small in dimension, can be designed to be weapons of almost limitless explosive power. A single very powerful thermonuclear weapon exploded over a major metropolis could result in the deaths of tens of millions of people. Thus, in our current political environment, in which the role of nuclear weapons in national policy is being down-played, and in which the contemplation of the use of any weapon of mass destruction is being stigmatized, thermonuclear weapons would seem to be of little value.

On the other hand, weapons of more limited power, such as atomic weapons, can be fashioned from uranium alone. The atomic weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was just such a weapon, and its design was so simple that it did not even need to be tested before use. As is well known, however, the design of the plutonium based device dropped on Nagasaki did require testing before use, since its design was fraught with difficult engineering challenges. Thus, if there were to be any future for nuclear weapons, based say on their presumed deterrence value, then uranium weapons might easily suffice. In fact, initial concepts of the RRW were for just such a uranium based atomic weapon. However, in this, advocates for the "more is better" approach seem to have prevailed.

I attended the last 3 of the public meetings held to encourage public comment on construction of the proposed CMRR-NF. The emphasis in comments made by the public was different in each of these 3 meetings.

The Los Alamos meeting was rather small: 7 comments were pro-LANL and pro-construction; 3 comments were anti-LANL. The pro-LANL comments asserted the importance of the proposed construction to the local economy, as well as the importance of LANL to the local economy, generally. A few patriotic themes were also struck by the pro-LANL speakers.

The Española meeting was larger: there were 4 pro-LANL comments, 2 of which were by the same individuals who had spoken at the Los Alamos meeting; and there were 34 anti-LANL comments. The anti-LANL commenters mostly expressed outrage at the environmental contamination which they believed LANL operations were causing and which, they implied, activities at the CMRR-NF would worsen.

The Santa Fe meeting was equally large: there were 2 pro-LANL comments, but by the same 2 individuals who had spoken at the previous meetings; again there were 34 anti-LANL comments, of which only 4 were by people who had spoken in Española. The anti-LANL sentiments were now largely centered on moral concerns; i.e., the immorality of continuing with the U. S. nuclear weapons enterprise.

Thus, it appears that the local community is much more motivated to express opposition to the proposed CMRR-NF construction project than it is willing to express support for the smathering of new jobs that the project will produce; viz., over all, 65 citizens opposed the project while 8 expressed support.

The period for written public comment on construction of the CMRR-NF building extends to June 28, 2011, and citizens may email DOE/NNSA at (Attn: Mr. John Tegtmeier, CMRR–NF SEIS Document Manager) expressing their views on this controversial matter. Copies of such communications should be forwarded to the offices of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and to Senators Bingaman and Udall.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Comments on LANL Draft Community Relations Plan

The Draft LANL Community Relations Plan of May, 2011 (LA-UR-11-10608), the "Plan", was mandated by Sect. 1.12 of the LANL Hazardous waste Facility Permit, issued by NMED for the state of New Mexico on December 28, 2010 (RCRA Renewal Permit, the "Permit")

The Permit mandates that LANL create a Plan which will:

 1) Establish an open working relationship with the public
 2) Establish a productive government to government relationship with the tribes
 3) Keep the public informed about Permit actions of interest
 4) Minimize disputes and resolve differences with the public
 5) Provide a mechanism for dissemination of information to the public
 6) Provide a mechanism for public input to the Permittees

The Plan asserts compliance with Permit mandates because:

 1) LANL hazardous activities have become more transparent and responsive to the public
   a) As measured by the annual survey of attitudes of local community leaders toward LANL, and the evolution  toward more positive attitudes over the last several years
   b) Mechanisms facilitating exchange of information and opinions with the public have been set up; e.g.,  an email address at; information repositories, electronic at and printed  media at LANL's Oppenheimer Center; a schedule of formal meetings and briefings; tours of LANL facilities; the NNMCAB.
 2) Government to government relations with the tribes are being promoted
 3) Professional facilitators are being employed to conduct public meetings

However, I believe that the Plan is inadequate for the following reasons:

It seems that all of the cited Plan elements have been ongoing for many years. Thus, the Plan is a collection of previously existing programs; no programs were created specifically to comply with the mandates of the Permit. As to the individual Plan elements:

 1a) The annual surveys of the attitudes of local community leaders toward LANL is insufficient to convincingly demonstrate approval, or disapproval, by the local community of LANL behavior. A better means of determining the opinions of local community members would be to survey these opinions directly. Moreover, the annual survey of local community leaders has been ongoing for several years and could hardly be counted as a part of a new plan to improve relations with the general public.

 1b) All of the mechanisms and entities mentioned here by LANL have been in existence for many years and cannot be considered a part of a new community relations plan.

 2) Government to government relations with the tribes have long been promoted by the DOE and are also nothing new.

 3) It has long been DOE policy to employ professional facilitators to keep order at public meetings. Therefore, this element is also not new.

Furthermore, the enumerated Plan elements do not even include all of the existing LANL community relations programs. For example:

 A.) The Plan makes no mention of the RACER electronic database. RACER is an online record of measurements made by LANL and NMED of the concentrations of a large number of contaminants of groundwater and soil all around the Pajarito Plateau over a period of many decades. RACER was created with DOE money, and the accumulation of its important environmental data is an ongoing process.

 B.) The Plan makes no mention of the New Mexico Community Foundation and its commitment to providing a regular forum for the exchange of information and opinions between LANL personnel and members of the general public. The NMCF has recently been funded by the DOE to accomplish this important task and it's hard to understand why LANL's Plan does not claim part ownership of this group. After all, LANL includes the NNMCAB in its Plan. Yet the NNMCAB is wholly a DOE creation.

 C.) The Plan makes no mention of the NEWNET air quality data available, online and in real time, to the general public.

 D.) The Plan makes no mention of the Bradbury Museum, an important part of LANL ongoing community relations. Perhaps this is because the Bradbury invites contributions from the general public, for which it provides exhibit space. Some of these contributions are very critical of LANL operations, past and present.

 E.) The Plan makes no mention of the many other materials available through the existing LANL Community Programs Office.

Worse, the Plan's authors have made no attempt to accommodate the demands of local citizens, presented during the public RCRA Hazardous Waste Permit hearings:

 A.) There is no mention of the extensive information on environmental contamination compiled by the LAHDRA project, which was funded by the DOE, and is available online in the LAHDRA final report.

 B.) No attempt has been made to create a repository of historical records describing the involvement of DOE/LANL in the lives of local citizens and in the life of the surrounding communities. It was suggested that such a repository of historical records should be established at Northern New Mexico College.

Monday, May 16, 2011

American Physical Society and Nuclear Arms Control

American Physical Society April 2011 meeting (Saturday, April 30, 2011 - Tuesday, May 3, 2011) Hyatt Regency Hotel, Garden Grove, CA

This meeting was mostly about cosmology, astrophysics, and particle physics; however, there were two short sessions devoted to matters of nuclear arms control.

The first of these sessions was entitled "Nuclear Weapons" and was chaired by Patricia M. Lewis of the Monterrey Institute of International Studies. The first speaker,  Rebecca Johnson of the Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy; was not actually present but addressed the attendees through Skype. RJ is a staunch advocate for nuclear disarmament, and presented some well thought out positions in support of her cause. The next speaker was Jay Davis, the first director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA, formerly the National Security Agency), and a knowledgeable apologist for the NW industry. JD seems to advocate for the notion that, as the number of nukes in the US arsenal is reduced, the amount of work required to ensure deterrence increases. He further suggests that, if the number of nukes in the US nuclear arsenal were to approach zero, then the work required to ensure deterrence would approach infinity. (Zeno's paradox). During the question and answer period I asked JD if he could say why it might not be possible to "stigmatize" NWs in the same way that chemical and biological weapons had been stigmatized (as had been pointed out by RJ, during her talk), thus short-circuiting the tortuous build-down process that he implied might require an infinite amount of effort to complete. He answered that chemical and biological weapons had never been of much strategic significance, in contrast to NWs.

The 2nd session was entitled "The Status of Arms Control". The 1st speaker was S. Drell of SLAC who spoke about "What happens to deterrence as nuclear weapons decrease toward zero." He made several points which I recorded as: 1) It was understood at the height of the Cold War that nukes could not be defended against (Star Wars schemes did not work or were unreliable, he said), so that Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) became the only viable policy. 2) Rejecting MAD, the task of US nuclear weapons policy is presently to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. 3) Between 1940 and 1990, the number of nuclear weapons capable states had increased at the rate of one every 5 years. 4) Since 1986, US policy became increasingly one of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. 5) He wonders, however, if nuclear deterrence can be effective without nuclear weapons. In answer to my question about the importance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he said that he believed it to be very important, and if the US failed to ratify this treaty, then the rest of the world would not trust us. At no time during his talk did he address the apparently self-serving quality of current US efforts to "rid the world of nuclear weapons".

The next talk was by Marvin Adams of Texas A&M (formerly of LLNL, LANL and the JASONs) entitled "Confidence in nuclear weapons as numbers decrease and time since testing increases". MA is a buffed looking, carefully spoken, and studiedly reasonable guy. He waxed on, in a seemingly well-informed way, about the travails faced by the poor nuclear weapons labs as they struggle to perform their critical mission (whatever that is) in the face of the threat posed by reductions in the numbers of nukes in the US nuclear arsenal.

The last talk in this session was by Edward Levine a staff member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations entitled "Securing support from a skeptical Senate for further strategic arms controls". EL is a well-spoken Democratic Senate staffer who talked about the difficulty of getting reluctant Republican senators to agree to any controls on US nuclear weapons. During the question and answer period I asked him why he thought that the 3 present weapons Labs directors had publicly supported the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, while 6-8 former weapons Labs directors had condemned it. He said that he believed that this was because the 3 present directors were all members of the new generation of Lab weapons physicists who were comfortable with Stockpile Stewardship whereas the former directors were members of the older generation, unfamiliar with SS. I said that I thought it more likely that the present directors, working as they did for an executive branch agency, felt themselves to be personally vulnerable and were circumspect in the expression of their opinions. He responded that he thought that this was a cynical point-of-view.