Monday, December 29, 2014

End of Year 2014 Thoughts

Two recent Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board letters to Department of Energy officials describe failures of  Los Alamos National Laboratory  to: 1) follow prescribed safety procedures; 2) follow through on a previous safety commitment made to DNFSB.

1) 9 December, 2014 / The packaging of transuranic (TRU) waste at LANL's Technical Area-54 has proceeded without a proper safety basis. Although packaging of TRU waste at TA-54 is now suspended due to the inability of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to accept any new waste, this situation will eventually be resolved. Before that time, existing safety problems at TA-54 must be fixed.

2) 17 December, 2014 / LANL has not pursued a promised study of the possible failure of containment at it's Plutonium Facility-4 installation, in the event of a worst case accident following earthquake beneath the Pajarito Plateau and/or wildfire in the surrounding Jemez mountains.

Needless to say, the nuclear weapons industry is dangerous, but no complex operation is without its hazards, and periodic lapses in safety and security at LANL are to be expected. Right? But, what about accidents in our own backyard, Española, NM?

 New York Times /December 28, 2014 / Marshall Islanders bring suit in World Court over failure of nuclear powers to rid themselves of nuclear weapons, as per their commitment made when they signed the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty. Is this commitment in any sense legally binding? The World Court may choose to decide. If the Court decides in the affirmative, will it's decision be enforceable? Would the nuclear powers ignore a decision by the World Court restricting access to nuclear weapons and/or limiting the development of new nuclear weapons technology?

In the past, haven't the nuclear weapons states behaved with impunity with regard to their nuclear weaponry?

29 December, 2014 / In a letter to LANL staff, Director Charles McMillan admits that a 90% reduction will be imposed by DOE to the annual bonus pay for LANL managers, for 2014, because of poor performance in the cleanup of hazardous TRU waste from LANL's nuclear weapons operations. However, McMillan insists that DOE continues to recognize LANL for its good performance in developing the nuclear weapons stockpile, thereby generating still more hazardous waste.

 The New Yorker's Talk of the Town /December 22&29, 2014 / Lack of any great public concern being generated by release of summary version of US Senate report on CIA torture of 9/11 prisoners worries New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who says: "Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity."

What does the American public, evidently unfazed by internal threats such as DOE's continued nuclear weapons development and CIA's torture regimen, currently fear most? Is it the external threat posed by renewed Al Qaeda attacks; or the menaces of North Korea; or the nightmare of another cold war, one which could turn hot?

Friday, November 14, 2014

DOE Blames SNL Management

In a Summary Report by the Department Of Eenergy-Office of the Inspector General (DOE-OIG) dated 7 November 2014, the OIG describes findings obtained from an investigation of charges that Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) managers did illegally attempt to interfere with Sandia Corp's ongoing contract negotiations with the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administartion (NNSA,) by means of actively lobbying the DOE, as well as the US Congress, for a non-competitive contract extension. As a part of this illegal lobbying effort, Sandia Corp hired outside consultants, one of which was Heather Wilson, LLC. Sandia Corp is the for-profit management entity that manages SNL for the NNSA.

 It is clear in the US Code that the lobbying of US goverment agencies, such as the DOE or the US Congress, by contractors to the US government, such as Sandia Corp, is illegal, when conducted for the purpose of affecting contract negotiations.

 Nevertheless, Sandia Corp managers actively engaged in such lobbying efforts, which began in March, 2009 and have been ongoing until very recently.

 In its Summary Report, which is available to the general public, the OIG does not assign blame to individuals, beyond noting that, pursuant to the effort by Sandia Corp to influence ongoing contract negotiations with the NNSA:

1) a Contract Strategy Team was formed at SNL by Sandia Corp managers;

1) a consultant, Heather Wilson LLC, was hired by Sandia Corp;

2) altogether, three consultants were hired by Sandia Corp.

 Also, in its Summary Report, the OIG asserts that consultant fees, as well as other costs related to the illegal lobbying effort, which had been charged to the DOE by Sandia Corp, are to be reimbursed to the DOE.

 As a part of Sandia Corp's management response to these charges, as described in an Attachment to the Summary Report, Sandia Corp management said: "The Sandia Field Office conducted a review of fees paid to a consultant named in this report and, as a result, Sandia Corp reimbursed NNSA $226,378 in April 2013."

 Sandia Corp also said: "The Sandia Field Office will evaluate the outcome of the reviews conducted to determine allowability of salaries and/or fees paid by Sandia Corp for activities of the SNL Contract Strategy Team to determine if any adjustment to performance fees is warranted ... The estimated completion date for this action is March 2, 2015."

 It would be of interest to the general public to know the depth of involvement in this illegal lobbying effort by Sandia Corp individual senior managers; i.e., especially as might pertain to the Sandia Corp Director, and the Sandia Corp Associate Directors. This group of individuals takes home lucrative salaries and bonuses every year, and it would be in their particular interest to perpetuate the highly remunerative arrangement that Sandia Corp has with the DOE; e.g., to the tune of $2.4 billion per year, as mentioned in the Summary Report. In fact, the Sandia Corp Director alone recieves an annual total compensation package in excess of $2 million.

 Sandia Corp is a wholly owned subsidiary of Martin Marietta, merged since 1995 with the Lockheed Corp to form the Lockheed Martin Corp.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

DOE Blames LANL Management

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of the Inspector General issued DOE/IG-0922, dated September 30, 2014, entitled: "Management Alert / Remediation of Selected Transuranic Waste Drums at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – Potential Impact on the Shutdown of the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)." See www.doe/oig for the entire report.

 This latest "Management Alert" is part of DOE's ongoing attempt to cope with a radiation release, which occurred at its Carlsbad, NM, WIPP facility, in February 2014. Although still uncertain of the exact cause of that release, DOE is sure that the spontaneous rupturing of a stored drum, containing radioactive waste previously packaged at LANL, was the proximate cause.

 Moreover, since this was the first publicly acknowledged radiation release from WIPP, it is especially important for DOE to take prompt corrective actions. Consequently, even though still unsure as to which chemical reactions inside the drum led to drum rupture, DOE now blames the fact of drum rupture on management failures in LANL's Environmental Management Directorate. LANL's Director McMillan  seems to agree, since he has just reassigned four senior LANL EM managers.

 Indeed, LANL has had a many year-long history of critical problems. It had even once been thought that such problems were really local management problems, the result of a defective local management culture. Moreover, it was hypothesized that such problems were also owing to ineffective oversight by the long-time LANL contract manager, the University of California (UC.)

 UC, under contract to the federal government, had been managing LANL since its inception in 1943, until termination of its contract in 2006. UC had executed this contract for ~60 years as a public service, and often at a financial loss.

 During the early years of the George W. Bush Administration, however, it was argued that management problems at LANL were really the result of inadequate management incentives; i.e., low management salaries. Subsequently, the contract was passed from UC to a for-profit entity, LANS-LLC, led by Bechtel Corp.

 With LANS-LLC, local management incentives increased sharply. For example, the LANL Director's annual compensation package moved up from ~$200,000, under UC, to ~$1.2 million, under the new for-profit contractor. The number of senior managers also increased sharply. In order to pay for this management windfall, which amounted altogether to ~$10 million, ~100 non-management LANL employees had to be dismissed. Nevertheless, the frequency of occurrence of critical problems at LANL did not seem to change.

 Interestingly, in its zeal to privatize functions of the federal government, the G. W. Bush Administration also moved the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) contract from UC, where it had been since the founding of that Laboratory in 1953, to a private sector entity. Just as at LANL, senior management salaries and bonuses soared at LLNL, when the contract with UC ended in 2007. However, one would be hard put to notice any change in LLNL performance as a result of the new management incentives.

 One should also not fail to notice the situation at Sandia National Laboratory (SNL.) Here, local management problems had never been of much public interest, and the SNL contract had long been let in the private sector. Nevertheless, during the G. W. Bush Administration senior manager compensation at SNL lurched upward, in order to bring it up to the new levels being set at LANL and LLNL. Today, the SNL Director takes home in excess of $2 million each year.

 Thus, aspiring managers' interest in the nuclear weapons industry has been very well maintained.

 Meanwhile, critical problems at LANL seem to continue unabated. Perhaps the local management culture has somehow not yet been corrected. Or maybe DOE is looking for a convenient scapegoat, in order to deflect renewed attention from its own well-known management failures.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Conflicted and Confounded over Nukes

Let's try to imagine a person moving in opposite directions at the same time. This is familiar behavior in the quantum mechanical world, fathomable by quantum mechanicians. However, to ordinary joes like you and me, such behavior is usually forbidden; i.e., unless, we happen to be acting like politicians.

 But, as for President Barack Obama, can he be both anti-nuke and pro-nuke at the same time? Consider the facts:

 In 2008 Obama ran for President for the first time while expressing his "Goal of a Nuclear-Free World [To] Show the world that America believes in its existing commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work to ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons. [However,] America will not disarm unilaterally." Less than a year into his presidency, he addressed an international forum in Prague, saying that his government “will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.”  In 2010, he made a first  step is this direction by signing a treaty with the Russians to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads in the
arsenals of the two ersatz superpowers to below 1550 warheads each, within seven years. However, as a means of ensuring that this agreement would be ratified by  the US Senate, the President promised congressional weapons enthusiasts that he would also lead a program of refurbishing of the  US nuclear weapons establishment; e.g., nuclear weapons factories and R&D centers, "spending $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex" (NYT,) as well as other side-agreements written into the treaty, at Republican insistence, such as that "he would follow through on development of missile defense in Europe, despite Russian resistance" (NYT.)

 The FY 2015 budget recently submitted by the Administration to Congress showed clearly that Pres. Obama intends to make good on his promise to congressional hawks, and then some; e.g., he also intends the replacement of aging nuclear weapons delivery systems, submarines, planes, and missiles, within the next 10-20 years. At the same time, no further reductions in the size of the US arsenal of nuclear weapons seem to be in the offing. For this unfortunate circumstance, says the Administration, we have only the bad behavior of the Russians to blame; i.e., especially as regards their latest actions in the Ukraine.

 As a way of further justifying its apparent new-found enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, the Administration notes the fact that other nuclear weapons states are upgrading and expanding their arsenals of nuclear weapons; viz., the Pakistanis, and the Indians, both according to their own public statements. Of course, the North Koreans are trying to enhance their status as a nuclear weapons power, too, and the Iranians are suspected of trying to move in the same direction. The Administration says that it is the responsibility of the United States, as the sole surviving super-power, to help keep the world safe from more nuclear weapons states, and from more nuclear weapons, by continuing to maintain and improve the reliability of its own arsenal of nuclear weapons.

 Not only does the Administration seem conflicted in its plans for its arsenal of nuclear weapons, but it seems confounded in its plans for the disposition of the chemically toxic waste and radioactive waste produced by its nuclear weapons industry, not to mention the enormous quantity of hi-level radioactive waste produced by the nation's nuclear power plants. As pointed out previously in this blog, the President began his tenure by closing the Yucca Mt repository for high-level nuclear waste, before a single Curie of radioactive material had been assigned there for storage, but after an expenditure of ~$10 billion, for planning and construction. As yet, no other facility for the storage of high-level radioactive waste is so much as in the planning stage.

 The only fully operational storage facility for low-level nuclear waste from nuclear weapons factories is the WIPP site, in Carlsbad, NM. However, the WIPP site is now closed for repair, owing to the occurrence ~eight months ago of a mysterious accident which led to the release of radiation into the local environment. According to DOE, the cause of this accident is still not completely understood.

 Therefore, by way of dealing with this pressing problem, the DOE has announced the reassignment of four senior managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Environmental Management unit. Evidently, even though all of LANL's EM functions are already funded entirely by DOE's EM money, which money does not pass through NNSA coffers, the actual management of EM activities at LANL is performed locally. According to the latest press reports, this situation will now change: DOE's EM management team will now have direct day-to-day control over LANL's EM activities.

 Perhaps this management change will make all the difference, due to the imposition at LANL of DOE EM's highly touted matrix management system, and in spite of the Obama Administration's sharp reduction in money budgeted for DOE EM, in its US 2015 budget.

 Finally, I will only point out once again the debacle of the MOX fuel program. The Administration is closing down this complex program after already having spent ~$10 billion in planning and construction, and years working out technical and political details with the Russians. The safe and secure disposition of weapons grade plutonium, declared surplus by the nuclear weapons program, will once again become a matter of great national concern.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DNFSB Cites NNSA Safety Lapses

In a recent letter to the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board takes DOE/NNSA to task for its failure to adequately plan for foreseeable emergencies at its nuclear weapons factories, R&D centers, and waste sites.

The following is excerpted from that letter:

September 2, 2014


Emergency Preparedness and Response

The need for a strong emergency preparedness and response program to protect the public and workers at the DOE's defense nuclear facilities is self-evident. Design basis accidents resulting from natural hazards and operational events do occur and must be addressed.

Consequently, emergency preparedness and response is a key component of the safety bases for defense nuclear facilities. It is the last line of defense to prevent public and worker exposure to hazardous materials.

One of the objectives of DOE’s order on emergency preparedness and response is to “ensure that the DOE Emergency Management System is ready to respond promptly, efficiently, and effectively to any emergency involving DOE/NNSA facilities, activities, or operations, or requiring DOE/NNSA assistance.”

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) believes that the requirements in this order that establish the basis for emergency preparedness and response at DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities, as well as the current implementation of these requirements, must be strengthened to ensure the continued protection of workers and the public.

Problems with emergency preparedness and response have been discussed at Board public hearings and meetings over the past three years, as well as in Board weekly reports and other reviews by members of the Board’s technical staff. At its hearings, Board members have stressed the need for DOE to conduct meaningful training and exercises to demonstrate site-wide and regional coordination in response to emergencies.

Board members have also encouraged DOE to demonstrate its ability to respond to events that involve multiple facilities at a site and the potential for several “connected” events, e.g., an earthquake and a wildland fire at Los Alamos.

On March 21, 2014, and March 28, 2014, the Board communicated to the Secretary of Energy its concerns regarding shortcomings in the responses to a truck fire and radioactive material release event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The DOE Accident Investigation Board explored and documented these shortcomings in its reports. Many of the site-specific issues noted at WIPP are prevalent at other sites with defense nuclear facilities.

The Board has observed that these problems can be attributed to the inability of sites with defense nuclear facilities to consistently demonstrate fundamental attributes of a sound emergency preparedness and response program, e.g., adequately resourced emergency preparedness and response programs and proper planning and training for emergencies.

The Board is concerned that these problems stem from DOE’s failure to implement existing emergency
management requirements and to periodically update these requirements.

DOE has not effectively overseen and enforced compliance with these requirements, which establish the baseline for emergency preparedness and response at its sites with defense nuclear facilities.

These requirements need to be revised periodically to address lessons learned, needed improvements to site programs, new information from accidents such as those at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, and inconsistent interpretation and implementation of the requirements.

Through its participation in DOE nuclear safety workshops in response to the events at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and its lines of inquiry regarding emergency preparedness and response at recent public hearings and meetings, Board members have been supportive of DOE’s efforts to improve its response to both design basis and beyond design basis events.

However, the Board believes DOE’s efforts to adequately address emergency preparedness and response at its sites with defense nuclear facilities have fallen short as clearly evidenced by the truck fire and radioactive material release events at WIPP.


Technical planning establishes the basis for emergency preparedness and response at DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities. Technical planning includes the development of emergency preparedness hazards assessments, identification of conditions to recognize and categorize an emergency, and identification of needed protective actions. This basis is used to develop emergency response procedures, training, and drills for emergency response personnel.

Hazards assessments form the foundation of the technical planning basis for emergency preparedness and response and provide the basis for the preparation of the procedures and resources used as personnel respond to emergencies.

The Board has observed that hazards assessments at many DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities do not:

(1) address all the hazards and potential accident scenarios,

(2) contain complete consequence analyses,

(3) develop the emergency action levels for recognizing indicators and the severity of an emergency,

(4) contain sufficiently descriptive protective actions.

One example of incomplete hazards analysis that is endemic to the complex is the lack of consideration of severe events that could impact multiple facilities, overwhelm emergency response capabilities, and/or have regional impacts.

This was a topic of discussion at the Board’s public meeting and hearing on the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, on March 14, 2013, and on the Y-12 National Security Complex in Knoxville, Tennessee, on December 10, 2013.

At many DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities, the Board has observed that training on the use of emergency response procedures, facilities, and equipment is not adequate to fully prepare facility personnel and members of the emergency response organization. Similarly, drill programs are not adequately developed and implemented to augment this training.

As part of their preparedness for emergencies, DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities have emergency response facilities such as Emergency Operations Centers and firehouses, and associated support equipment. The Board has observed that some emergency response facilities at DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities will not survive all potential accidents and natural phenomena events and, consequently, will be unable to perform their vital function of coordinating emergency response.

Many of these facilities will not be habitable during radiological or hazardous material releases. Equipment that is used to support operations of these facilities is frequently poorly maintained and may not be reliable during an emergency.

The Board has also observed problems with DOE efforts to demonstrate the effectiveness of its planning and preparation for emergencies and its response capabilities. Exercises are used to demonstrate a site’s capability to respond, and assessments are used to verify adequacy of planning and preparedness.

Exercises conducted at many DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities do not adequately encompass the scope of potential scenarios (i.e., various hazards and accidents) that responders may encounter. Some sites do not conduct exercises frequently enough or do not develop challenging scenarios. Many sites are not effective at critiquing their performance, developing corrective actions that address identified problems, and measuring the effectiveness of these corrective actions.

DOE oversight is a mechanism for continuous improvement and is used to verify the adequacy of
emergency preparedness and response capabilities at its sites with defense nuclear facilities.

The Board has observed that many DOE line oversight assessments are incomplete and ineffective, and do not address the effectiveness of contractor corrective actions. In addition, the Board has noted that the current scope of DOE independent oversight is not adequate to identify needed improvements and to ensure effectiveness of federal and contractor corrective actions.

As observed recently with the emergency responses to the truck fire and radioactive material release events at WIPP, there can be fundamental problems with a site’s emergency preparedness and response capability that will only be identified by more comprehensive assessments that address the overall effectiveness of a site’s emergency management program. For example, emergencies can occur during off-shift hours, such as the radioactive material release event at WIPP that happened at approximately 11:00 p.m. on Friday, February 14, 2014. Overall effectiveness was the scope of DOE’s independent assessments conducted prior to 2010.

These assessments consistently identified problems with site emergency preparedness and response, and also sought continuous improvement of these programs. In 2010, DOE independent oversight transitioned to assist visits and did not conduct independent assessments. In 2012, DOE independent oversight returned to conducting independent assessments. However, these assessments are targeted reviews, currently only focused on the ability of the sites to prepare and respond to severe events. As a result, these independent assessments do not encompass all elements of emergency management programs and will not identify many fundamental problems.

Causes of Problems

Based on an evaluation of the problems observed with emergency preparedness and response at DOE
sites with defense nuclear facilities, the most important underlying root causes of these problems are ineffective implementation of existing requirements, inadequate revision of requirements to address lessons learned and needed improvements to site programs, and weaknesses in DOE verification and validation of readiness of its sites with defense nuclear facilities.

The Board has observed at various DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities that implementation of DOE’s requirements for emergency preparedness and response programs varies widely. Therefore, the Board concluded that some requirements do not have the specificity to ensure effective implementation. For example, existing requirements for hazards assessments lack detail on addressing severe events. Requirements do not address the reliability of emergency response facilities and equipment. Requirements for training and drills do not address expectations for the objectives, scope, frequency, and reviews of effectiveness of these programs. Requirements for exercises do not include expectations for the complexity of scenarios, scope of participation, and corrective actions.

Guidance and direction that address many of the deficiencies in these requirements are included in the Emergency Management Guides; however, many sites with defense nuclear facilities do not implement the practices described in these guides. DOE has not updated its directive to address the problem with inconsistent implementation. In addition, DOE has not incorporated the lessons learned from the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in its directive. These lessons learned need to be more effectively integrated into DOE’s directive and guidance on emergency preparedness and response.

The Board also observed that DOE has not effectively conducted oversight and enforcement of its existing requirements. DOE oversight does not consistently identify the needed improvements to site emergency preparedness and response called for in its directive. When problems are identified, their resolution often lacks adequate causal analysis and appropriate corrective actions. When corrective actions are developed and implemented, contractors and federal entities frequently do not measure the effectiveness of these actions.


The Board and DOE oversight entities have identified problems with implementation of emergency preparedness and response requirements at various DOE sites with defense nuclear facilities. The Board has also identified problems with specific emergency preparedness and response requirements. These deficiencies lead to failures to identify and prepare for the suite of plausible emergency scenarios and to demonstrate proficiency in emergency preparedness and response. Such deficiencies can ultimately result in the failure to recognize and respond appropriately to indications of an emergency, as was seen in the recent radioactive material release event at WIPP. Therefore, the Board believes that DOE has not comprehensively and consistently demonstrated its ability to adequately protect workers and the public in the event of an emergency.

Read the entire letter at

Although it may seem a bit of a stretch for DNFSB to ask DOE/NNSA to plan for accidents that "go beyond the design basis," the consequences of containment failure at a defense nuclear facility can be estimated, and could be horrific.

Of course, much depends upon the type of facility and its location but, in this regard, LANL's PF-4 is probably among the most sensitive of the existing sites. It would behoove DOE/NNSA to pay close attention.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pit Options Examined

  In the following, I comment on Jonathon Medalia's "Pit Production Options", dated 21 February, 2014, and his "Manufacturing Nuke Pits," of 15 August, 2014, both written for Congressional Research Service.

 According to JM:

 The Plutonium Facility PF-4 at Los Alamos National Laboratory was built in 1970, to withstand a Design Basis Earthquake of a strength considered to be reasonable at that time.

 Only recently, PF-4 has been structurally reinforced and is said now to be able to withstand today's much stronger DBE; i.e., with less than a 50% chance of collapse.

 Fume hoods in PF-4 have been improved so as to better resist spilling their contents onto the PF-4 floor, following a DBE.

 Fire suppression technology at PF-4 has been ungraded so as to better impede the spread of out-of-control fire in the facility.

 JM claims that the probability of a significant medical hazard to the surrounding community, in the event of a DBE, out-of-control fire, and release of Pu laden dust and smoke into the atmosphere above PF-4, has become  nil.

 Although Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has taken note of these LANL upgrades, it may still believe that in the event of a DBE and fire at PF-4, as much as "100,000 Ci of Pu could go up in the air." According to my very rough calculations, described in my blog (July 14, 2012, entitled "DNFSB Disagrees with NNSA Analysis",) this much radioactive material released into the air above PF-4 might require the evacuation of the entire surrounding Los Alamos community.

 JM also notes, in "Manufacturing Nuke Pits," that the (unvaulted) Material At Risk allowance at PF-4 is currently 1,800 kg Plutonium Equivalents, or ~670,000 Ci (using conversion factor of 0.37 Ci/gm.) Of this allowed MAR, only 295 kgs have been allotted to pit fabrication (corresponding to 109,000 Ci,) up to 441 kg of MAR can be used for PU-238 programs, and 386 kg of  MAR is still unallotted.

 With unvaulted MAR capable of emitting as much as ~670,000 Ci onto the floor in PF-4, it seems plausible that ~100,000 Ci could be released as smoke and dust following a DBE, facility collapse, and out-of-control fire. This corresponds to the DNFSB's worst case scenario.

 Also, with this much MAR, a criticality issue would probably intrude. Interestingly, and according to a letter dated 5 Sept., 2014 from NNSA's James J. McConnell to DNFSB's Peter S, Winokur, the criticality issue has recently been readdressed.

 It is true too that the allowable MAR is just a planned for upper limit, and the actual MAR at PF-4 today may be less. It which case, NNSA's future plans for PF-4 would become a subject for public inquiry.

 Finally, based on JM's statement that it takes three months to produce one pit and my own simple back-of-the-envelope estimations, I imagine that the upper limit of 295 kg of MAR allotted to pit fabrication may enable the construction of many more pits per year than LANL's publically planned for maximum of 30 ppy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nukes in Next Great War?

In their recent screed "NATO-based nuclear weapons are an advantage in a dangerous world" (Washington Post, 17 August, 2014) Brent Scowcroft, Stephen J. Hadley and Franklin Miller, talk about dangers which they think may soon confront NATO and NATO's military strategists. The three authors, national security junkies and ex-military strategists all, believe that the military advantages now enjoyed by NATO, vis-a-vis Russia, may disappear unless NATO continues to be backed by its currently well-stuffed arsenal of nuclear weapons.

They are very concerned about possible future reductions in the size of NATO's arsenal of nuclear weapons, and of a possible failure to continue with the modernization of these nuclear weapons systems. This concern is heightened by their firm belief that Russia is hard at work at modernizing its own nuclear weapons systems.

Such concerns may be keenest when felt by military strategists. And as I said, the authors warn about the disadvantage that NATO's military strategists may face if NATO's arsenal of nuclear weapons were to be reduced, and/or were not to be modernized.

Unsurprisingly, the authors are very unhappy with Pres. Obama's 5 April, 2009 Prague, Czech Republic speech, in which he called for an abolition of nuclear weapons. A push to abolish nuclear weapons would seem inconsistent with the authors' view, which I could summarize here as: in a world in which it is difficult to have faith in the peaceful intentions of one's neighbors, the only sound military strategy is to prepare for the worst.

Preparing for the worst, military strategists and their advocates must usually argue for more weapons, and for more destructive weapons systems.

But, if military strategizing by each of the world's militaries, accompanied by an increase in the size and destructiveness of all the world's military arsenals, were to continue unchecked, then the occurrence of the next great war would seem to be all but certain.

Somehow, disagreements between nations cannot be allowed to be distorted by rivalries between the world's militaries.

Recognition has been given to Von Clauswitz, a military theorist who said that war is the continuation of national policies by other means. But, in the future, it must be instead that disagreements between nations will not be the continuation of military rivalries, and will not be propelled by the concerns of competing military strategists.

Clearly, this will require exceptional leadership in the executive offices of today's rivalrous nations; e.g., leadership not cowed by the fears sown by military strategizers and their advocates.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

US Gov't: Realism + Idealism = Stasis

A political paralysis has settled over the US Congress, said by many to be driven by political polarization of the US electorate. The recent somewhat querulous behavior of the Executive Branch may be symptomatic of this polarization, and may itself be acting to increase the polarization. This unfortunate state of affairs is particularly evident in the areas of immigration reform, tax reform, and regulatory reform of the financial sector. Dysfunction can be seen too in the bitter political stand-off over health-care reform, which may engulf the Judicial Branch.

In the midst of this crisis in government, more remote areas of national interest are being neglected. As a complicating factor, there continues to be a stand-off in most policy areas between the policy realists and the policy idealists. This stand-off could hardly be more obvious than in the area of nuclear weapons policy.

Where nuclear weapons policy is concerned, the current US Administration seems to be trying to move in opposite directions at the same time. (See my blogposts of 12 July 2014, "US Gov't Dithers over Surplus Plutonium", and of 15 May 2014, "US Gov't Fails at Nuclear waste Disposal".) News about these conflicting policies has been reported widely in the national press and may be, partly, a reaction to the political polarization in Congress. It would seem, however, the Administration should make up its mind, since the game is afoot! Consider, for instance, the very important business of nuclear non-proliferation.

The nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), first formulated in 1968, has had as its goal the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons in the world toward zero. The Treaty, again up for international discussion and possible refurbishment in 2015, is under serious threat, and may have to be watered down, or ultimately even abandoned.

If not, then it will be largely up to the present nuclear weapons states to develop creative policies, such that the NPT can continue to be meaningful and can continue to be in force. This will require new thinking and maybe some increased trust between the nuclear weapons nations which are today all at peace with each other, but may tomorrow be moved to use their nuclear weapons against each other's militaries and even against each other's civilian populations.


Excerpted from Arms Control Today:

Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?
Hans M. Kristensen /May 2014

Nearly half a century after the five declared nuclear-weapon states in 1968 pledged under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament,” all of the world’s nuclear-weapon states are busy modernizing their arsenals and continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons.

None of them appears willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

Granted, the nuclear arms race that was a main feature of the Cold War is over, and France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have reduced their arsenals significantly. Nevertheless, huge arsenals remain, especially in Russia and the United States. China, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and possibly Israel are increasing their stockpiles, although at levels far below those of Russia and the United States. All nuclear-armed states speak of nuclear weapons as an enduring and indefinite aspect of national and international security.

As a result, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states still possess more than 10,000 nuclear warheads combined, of which more than 90 percent are in Russian and U.S. stockpiles. In addition to these stockpiled warheads, those two countries possess thousands of additional nuclear warheads. These warheads, retired but still relatively intact, are in storage awaiting dismantlement. Counting both categories of nuclear warheads, the world’s total combined inventory includes an estimated 17,000 nuclear warheads.
Moreover, many non-nuclear-weapon states that publicly call for nuclear disarmament continue to call on nuclear-armed allies to protect them with nuclear weapons. In fact, five non-nuclear-weapon states in NATO have volunteered to serve as surrogate nuclear-weapon states by equipping their military forces with the necessary tools to deliver U.S. nuclear weapons in times of war—an arrangement tolerated during the Cold War but entirely inappropriate in the post-Cold War era in which NATO and the United
States are advocating strict adherence to nonproliferation norms as a foundation for international security.

Thus, although the numerical nuclear arms race between East and West is over, a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade. Importantly, this is not just a characteristic of the proliferating world but of all nuclear-armed states. New or improved nuclear weapons programs under way in those countries include at least 27 for ballistic missiles, nine for cruise missiles, eight for naval vessels, five for bombers, eight for warheads, and eight for weapons factories.

Despite significant reductions in the overall number of nuclear weapons compared with the Cold War era, all of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states are busy modernizing their remaining nuclear forces for the long haul. None of the nuclear-armed states appears to be planning to eliminate its nuclear weapons anytime soon. Instead, all speak of the continued importance of nuclear weapons.

The pace of nuclear reductions appears to be slowing as Russia and the United States shift their focus to sustaining their arsenals for the indefinite future. Three of the nuclear-armed states are increasing their arsenals, and nuclear competition among the nuclear-armed states appears to be alive and well.

Despite the financial constraints facing several of the nuclear-armed states, these states appear committed to spending hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade on modernizing their nuclear forces.

Perpetual nuclear modernization appears to undercut the promises made by the five NPT nuclear-weapon states. Under the terms of that treaty, they are required to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” Nearly 50 years after this promise was first made, the non-nuclear-weapon states, who in return for that commitment renounced nuclear weapons for themselves, can rightly question whether continued nuclear modernization in perpetuity is consistent with the NPT.

Without some form of limitations on the pace and scope of nuclear modernization, the goals of deep cuts in and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons remain elusive and appear increasingly unlikely as continued reaffirmation of the value of nuclear weapons, sustained by a global nuclear competition, threatens to extend the nuclear era indefinitely.

At this time, the media are filled with musings about the Guns of August, and such-like things. Appropriately, I think, let me end this blogpost by attaching the following excerpts from "The Sleepwalkers", a 2013 New York Times bestseller by Christopher Clark describing the roots of World War I, which I've just finished reading [with my comments included in square brackets]:

On the morning of June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, arrived at Sarajevo railway station, Europe was at peace.  Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. the conflict which followed would kill more than 15 million people, destroy three empires, and alter the course of world history.

[The military technology of the early 1900's enabled >15 million people to be killed in WW I. In 2014, the existence of >15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the major powers will enable the destruction of ~1 billion people, or more, in WW III.]

"The Sleepwalkers" reveals in detail how the crisis leading to WW I unfolded. It traces the paths to war in a narrative that moves among the decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade. Historian Christopher Clark examines the decades of history and of war that informed the events of July 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward within a few short weeks. [And in April 1917, was to include the United States.]
And yet what must strike any 21st century reader who follows the course of the summer crisis of 1914 is its raw modernity. It began with a squad of suicide bombers and a cavalcade of automobiles. Behind the double-murder at Sarajevo was an avowedly terrorist organization, the Black Hand, which inculcated among its members a cult of sacrifice, death, and revenge. It had been associated with Serbian military intelligence, but was also extra-territorial, scattered in cells crossing geographical and political borders; it was largely unaccountable, with links difficult to discern from outside the organization.

[The Black Hand was hardly an organization in stasis, or advocating stasis. Rather, its members were intensely active, promoting violent revolution and the formation of a Slav state, eventually to be united with Russia. By contrast, the condition which has developed today in Washington is one of real stasis, but in a world filled with nuclear weapons where violent revolution may soon again become commonplace.]

Saturday, July 12, 2014

US Gov't Dithers over Surplus Plutonium

Department of Energy Report of the Plutonium Disposition Working Group: Analysis of Surplus Weapon Grade Plutonium Disposition Options / Public release in April 2014

This is a lengthy, but accessible account of the costs and benefits of five different options for disposing of 34 Metric Tons of excess plutonium from decommissioned US nuclear weapons. The options divide naturally into two classes: 1) nuclear reactor based options which transform the weapons grade plutonium into nuclear waste unsuited, without reprocessing, to the creation of new nuclear weapons (2 options); 2) non-reactor based options that do not change the isotopic composition of the plutonium, but make it difficult to access physically (3 options.) The option cited by the DOE as preferred is from the second class, and is the so-called blending and permanent storage in an approved repository option. This is also the option estimated by DOE to be the least expensive to pursue.

An obvious weakness in this presentation is two-fold: 1) the blending and permanent storage option, the preferred option, is described too simply as involving the physical mixing of the surplus plutonium with an unspecified filler material, in such a way as to turn it into TRansUranic (TRU) waste; 2) the approved repository is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP,) or some WIPP-like TRU waste facility, yet to be constructed.

However, considering the recent problems at WIPP, apparently the result of TRU waste containers having been packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) with untested and unapproved filler material, which led to an unexpected chemical reaction inside the container and an underground explosion at WIPP, this is a truly unfortunate selection.

A further weakness in this unclassified report, is that none of the five options have been evaluated in terms of the amount of money and technical effort that would be required to reconstitute the dispositioned plutonium for future weapons use. For example, both of the reactor based options would require reprocessing of the spent fuel, as well as isotopic purification of the extracted plutonium, and would be extraordinarily expensive as a means of obtaining weapons grade plutonium. However, the non-reactor based options would only require separation of the weapons grade plutonium from the matrix of additives with which it had been mixed. Clearly, the cost of reconstituting the plutonium should be a highly relevant consideration when determining whether a particular option could be effective as a means of rendering the dispositioned plutonium unavailable for future weapons use.

Now, it is clear from the report that the reactor based options would both be very expensive to pursue, whereas the non-reactor based options would be less so. Moreover, among the non-reactor based options the blending and storage option is projected to be the least expensive; i.e., it is the least expensive of all five options. Yet, the reactor based options provide, by far, the most security against retrieval of the dispositioned plutonium, for use in weapons, and the non-reactor based blending and permanent storage option appears to provide the least security.

It seems that the DOE is being penny wise and pound foolish in the matter of the disposition of excess plutonium from US nuclear weapons!

On the other hand, so many things in life are really just trade offs --- . Suppose that the US Congress, as well as the citizens of the State of New Mexico could be convinced to go along with this scheme to mix plutonium waste with filler (kitty litter?) and bury it at WIPP. According to the present DOE report, such a plan would require that the size of WIPP be expanded, but only  by  ~10%. Now if this would be found by all concerned to be a acceptable alteration to the present WIPP mandate, then the probability immediately improves that WIPP might also be expanded to accept so-called tank waste from the DOE's Hanford, WA facility, and maybe even ultimately high-level waste from commercial nuclear power plants.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

US Gov't Fails at Nuclear Waste Disposal

US Government programs attempting to deal with the radioactive wastes and toxic chemical wastes generated by commercial nuclear power plants, and by the nuclear weapons industry, continue to be designed and administered with stupefying incompetence. Perhaps more serious than the failure to cope successfully with the host of technical problems encountered, has been the ongoing political incompetence; i.e., the inability to deal effectively with the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

A) The attempt to create a repository for high level nuclear waste from electricity generating nuclear power plants has been a complete failure, as was admitted by the present Administration when it closed the pending Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. The consequences of this apparently wholly political action are now beginning to unfold.

To wit::
 Associated Press / By Jonathan Fahey / 15 May 2014

A fee that electric customers have been paying for 31 years to fund a federal nuclear waste site that doesn't exist will now end. The Energy Department will stop charging the fee by court order on Friday.

The amount is only a small percentage of most customers' bills, but it adds up to $750 million a year. The fund now holds $37 billion.

The money was collected to build a long-term disposal site for the highly radioactive nuclear waste generated by the nation's nuclear power plants that is, by law, the federal government's responsibility.

The site was supposed to have opened in 1998, but there is no such site nor even any tangible plans for one.
Don't expect a refund, however. The latest Energy Department strategy, laid out in a report last year, is to have a site designed by 2042 and built by 2048 using the money in the fund.

The fee, a penny for every 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity, is charged to nuclear operators and then passed on to customers, depending on how power is regulated and priced in each state. Based on the average amount of nuclear power produced across the U.S., a typical residential customer pays $2 a year into the fund.

This has long bothered state regulators. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners began suing the Department of Energy in 2010 to force DOE to stop collecting the fee.

"We never objected to paying the fee when there was a program," said Michigan utility commissioner Greg White, who has been fighting the fee for years. "But people shouldn't be paying for something that doesn't exist."

In a sharply worded opinion last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed, calling the DOE analysis of the fee collection "absolutely useless." The court also noted that there may be enough money in the fund to build a dump already: "The government apparently has no idea."

In 2002 Congress approved Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a site for a national nuclear waste dump and $9.5 billion was withdrawn from the fund to develop the project, according to the Government Accountability Office. But the project has been criticized as inadequate and flawed and is fiercely opposed by Nevadans. President Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, cut funding for the program, withdrew its license application, and dismantled the office that was working on it.

"It's a victory for customers," said White of the end of the fee collection. "But it's bittersweet because we'd still rather see a (nuclear waste) site."

B) The attempt to finish with the disposition of excess plutonium from decommissioned nuclear weapons, until recently proceeding according to long ago negotiated plans with the Russians, has been abandoned by the present Administration, but without any viable alternative being offered. This appears to be a largely political ploy, but whose interests are being served and whose ox is being gored remain matters for speculation.

 Which is to say:
 Physics Today / David Kramer / May 2014

1.) Meeting in The Hague, the Netherlands, in late March, the US joined nearly three dozen nations in recommitting to secure weapons-usable nuclear materials that are scattered around the world and vulnerable to terrorist theft. But just weeks earlier, President Obama proposed scaling back by nearly one-quarter the administration’s signature effort to do just that.

In addition, the president indicated he would shelve a half-built $7.7 billion project to convert US surplus weapons plutonium into reactor fuel, a back-step that would jeopardize a 2011 pact with Russia for each nation to dispose of 34 metric tons of the bomb-usable material.

The administration’s fiscal year 2015 budget request (see special report on page 23) proposes to cut the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), the Department of Energy program charged with securing vulnerable bomb-usable materials around the world, by $109 million, to $333 million. According to budget documents released on 4 March, 5017 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium have been repatriated to the US, Russia, or secure locations since the GTRI’s 2004 inception. In addition, the program has verified that 88 HEU-fueled research reactors or isotope production facilities have been closed or converted to use low-enriched uranium. The program also has strengthened security measures at nearly 1900 buildings outside the US that house fissile materials.

Energy secretary Ernest Moniz told the House Appropriations Committee on 2 April that he was disappointed with the proposed reductions in the GTRI’s and DOE’s other nuclear nonproliferation programs, but he said they were necessary to offset proposed increases for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) nuclear weapons program. Overall, the nonproliferation budget is slated to drop 20%, or $399 million, to $1.6 billion. The 2015 request includes $8.4 billion for nuclear weapons, an increase of $534 million, or 6.9%. Most of the growth is for work on modifying and extending the lives
of three warhead types (see Physics Today, December 2013, page 26) and on maintaining the declining weapons stockpile.

2.) “President Obama’s Four Year Initiative to secure the most vulnerable nuclear material by the end of 2013 was completed successfully,” according to FY 2015 budget documents. However, the president’s original goal, as stated in a 2009 speech he delivered in Prague, Czech Republic, was “to secure all vulnerable material around the world within four years.”

In FY 2015 the GTRI plans to remove 125 kg of fissile materials, convert four reactors, and make security improvements to 125 buildings abroad. Some of that activity was forward funded with monies from FY 2014, Harrington told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 2 April.

“In this current fiscal environment, difficult decisions are inevitable,” Harrington said, adding that the budget will still permit a “robust set of activities” for the nonproliferation programs.

The FY 2015 budget documents added five years to the GTRI’s target date, now 2035, for conversion or shutdown of the 200 or so remaining HEU-fueled civilian facilities around the world. Last year’s budget set the date as 2030; as recently as 2010, the NNSA’s target date had been 2020. And the NNSA target date for securing the world’s radiological materials has been set at 2044. “When the president is asked what keeps him awake at night, he says a terrorist nuclear event. So there’s a disconnect, in my view, between what the president continues to restate that he wants and what the bureaucracy is providing,” says Kenneth Luongo, former director of DOE’s Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

“In a budget where we are spending hundreds of billions every year on national security, and when this is the third president in a row to say that nuclear terrorism is the biggest national security risk, to be slowed by cutting a few hundred million is really penny-wise and pound-foolish,” says Bunn.Luongo, who now heads the Partnership for Global Security think tank, puts it more strongly: “What they are doing in cutting the nonproliferation budget and increasing vulnerability in order to fund the weapons program is a crime against humanity, not just a crime against the taxpayer.”

3.) Proposed savings of $215 million, more than half the overall reduction to DOE’s nonproliferation budget next year, would result from suspending construction of a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina as the administration explores alternative and cheaper methods for disposing of surplus weapons plutonium. The US and Russia in 2011 agreed to each convert 34 tons of plutonium into fuel suitable for commercial reactors. But the MOX plant’s construction cost estimate has soared from $4.8 billion to $7.7 billion, and its lifetime cost to operate is $30 billion. Moniz told House appropriators the original estimate used assumptions that were based on a French MOX plant and failed to account for the two nations’ differing nuclear regulatory regimes and other standards. Although Moniz and NNSA officials have repeatedly insisted that the US will abide by its commitment, changing the US disposal method will require reopening negotiations with Russia. “That dialog right now is not so simple,” Moniz admitted.

The state of South Carolina filed a lawsuit against DOE on 18 March in a bid to prevent the mothballing. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Harrington that there is no viable option to MOX that would be cheaper and meet the 2018 target date for beginning disposition. Graham called the administration “incredibly irresponsible” for breaking agreements with the Russians and the state of South Carolina. He added, “It’s going to create problems with weapons-grade plutonium in the hands of the Russians at a time when we need no more problems with the Russians.”

 C) And, let's not forget the ongoing WIPP site debacle:
 Associated Press / Susan Montoya Bryan / 9 May 2014

 The head of the recovery effort at the federal government’s nuclear waste repository in Southern New Mexico said Thursday it could be up to three years before full operations resume at the underground facility.
Recovery manager Jim Blankenhorn made the announcement when answering questions from the public during a weekly meeting in Carlsbad. He said the timeline continues to be a moving target, but full operations are expected to resume no earlier than 18 months from now.

Crews continue investigating the cause of a radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad that exposed some workers and halted operations in February. Specially trained workers have been making trips into the repository in an effort to pinpoint the source of the release.

Based on those trips, the focus has turned to a set of waste drums that came from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Officials at the meeting reiterated the possibility that there may have been a chemical reaction inside the drums. They were then questioned about what would happen to that waste if it’s deemed unsafe to store.

“If we find a problem with this waste stream, it’s a chemistry problem,” Blankenhorn said. The Los Alamos lab has “some of the best scientists in the world. It would be up to them to develop a path forward to give us treated, safe waste.” New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the theory of a chemical reaction is based on limited knowledge, and he urged officials during the meeting not to withhold any information. Flynn said he’s concerned the public will lose faith if federal officials change their story every couple of weeks about what might have happened.

“We need to know what happened. We absolutely need to know,” he said. “But we need to make decisions based on facts.” WIPP and Department of Energy officials vowed to continue to update the public on the recovery process and to keep the safety of their workers and the public in the forefront.

Officials have pointed to safety as the reason they decided earlier this month to halt shipments from Los Alamos to a temporary storage facility in West Texas. The shipments had been going on for about a month due to the closure of the plant. Los Alamos is under a tight deadline to get the plutonium-contaminated waste off its Northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks. The state of New Mexico pressured the lab to hasten the cleanup after a massive wildfire in 2011 lapped at the edges of lab property.

Lab Director Charlie McMillan said Thursday during a news conference in Albuquerque that the recent developments “are very much a cause for concern.” But he said it was too soon to tell if they will have any effect on the lab’s ability to meet the state’s deadline.

 D) Finally, it is shocking that the US Government's incompetence in the area of radioactive waste disposal, worthy of much public derision, is accompanied by its desire for public approval in the area of radioactive waste generation.

In this regard, consider the following letter from US Senator T. Udall of NM, dated 25 April 2014:

 Thank you for contacting me regarding S. 507, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act. I appreciate hearing from you on this important legislation.

The Manhattan Project was a secret scientific research project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Various facilities throughout the United States were established to facilitate this research, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

S. 507 aims to establish a National Historic Park to preserve historically significant Manhattan Project sites, and allow public access to the sites at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington, for interpretive public tours. S. 507 was introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) on March 7, 2013, and was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where hearings were held on June 27, 2013.  Since that time no further action has yet occurred.

I am a cosponsor of this bill because I believe the historical significance of the Manhattan Project warrants the preservation of the sites for future generations. Please know I will keep your thoughts* in mind as I continue to monitor the progress of this legislation.

*I had expressed very negative thoughts to Senator Udall about this pending legislation.

It is of some interest to speculate further about the makeup of this incompetence, on the part of the present Administration, as well as past Administrations, when it comes to the disposition of nuclear waste. This may be  a problem of the inability of a largely non-technical political leadership (principally the President) to cope with the technical parts of the nuclear waste disposal problem; e.g., to be able to understand and trust the technical advisers.  Or it may be a matter of the Administration's having been captured by its anti-nuclear power constituency, and/or by its anti-all-things-nuclear constituency. This would probably be more a problem for the present Administration than for the previous one and, as concerns the managing of the nation's nuclear waste disposal, this Administration does seem to be doing distinctly worse than its predecessor.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nuke Test Victims Sue USA

In April-May 2015, the 9th Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will meet in New York City to discuss global progress toward nuclear disarmament. Previous Review Conferences, which have occurred once every five years since the Treaty's inception in 1968, have sometimes been contentious.

Among the issues for the next Review Conference to consider, will be the problems created by the continued existence of the N-Korean nuclear weapons program and by Iran's push toward a nuclear weapons capability, as well as by the growing Indian, Pakistani, and Israeli nuclear weapons programs. All of these five nuclear weapons programs currently exist outside the NPT regime.

Within the NPT regime itself, questions of the commitment of the advanced nuclear weapons states (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, and France) to the abolition of their own nuclear weapons arsenals and programs will surely arise again.

The economic costs of all the world's nuclear weapons programs, existing since ~1943 and continuing to exist today, have been estimated to be of the order of several trillion dollars. The cost in human lives has been estimated to be >200,000.

The costs in $ and human lives of a future all-out nuclear war are not predictable with any confidence, but are sure to pale the costs in $ and human lives of the destruction and death wrought by WW II.


Former U.S. test site sues nuclear nations for disarmament failure / (reprinted from Reuters)

The tiny Pacific republic of the Marshall Islands, scene of massive U.S. nuclear tests in the 1950s, sued the United States and eight other nuclear-armed nations on Thursday, accusing them of failing in their obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

The Pacific country accused all nine nuclear-armed states of "flagrant violation of international law" for failing to pursue the negotiations required by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It filed one suit specifically directed against the United States, in the Federal District Court in San Francisco, while others against all nine countries were lodged at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, capital of the Netherlands, a statement from an anti-nuclear group backing the suits said.

The action was supported by South African Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation said.

"The failure of these nuclear-armed countries to uphold important commitments and respect the law makes the world a more dangerous place," its statement quoted Tutu as saying."We must ask why these leaders continue to break their promises and put their citizens and the world at risk of horrific devastation. This is one of the most fundamental moral and legal questions of our time."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment on the suits.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is a U.S.-based non-partisan advocacy group working with the Marshall Islands and its international pro-bono legal team.

The Marshall Islands, a group of 31 atolls, was occupied by Allied forces in 1944 and put under U.S. administration in 1947.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted repeated tests of hydrogen and atomic bombs in the islands.

Bikini Atoll Blast /

One, on March 1, 1954, was the largest U.S. nuclear test, code-named Bravo. It involved the detonation of a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll, producing an intense fireball followed by a 20-mile-high mushroom cloud and widespread radioactive fallout. The Marshallese government says the blast was 1,000 times more powerful than that at Hiroshima.

The lawsuits state that Article VI of the NPT requires states to negotiate "in good faith" on nuclear disarmament.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation said the five original nuclear weapons states - The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - were all parties to the NPT, while the others - Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea - were "bound by these nuclear disarmament provisions under customary international law."

A copy of the suit against the United States made available to Reuters says that it is not aimed at seeking compensation from the United States for the testing in the Marshall Islands, which became an independent republic in 1986.

Under agreements between the United States and the Marshall Islands, a Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established to assess and award damages to victims of the nuclear tests. But it has never had the cash to compensate fully for the damage done.

The suit against the United States said it should take "all steps necessary to comply with its obligations ... within one year of the date of this Judgment, including by calling for and convening negotiations for nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities," the statement quoted Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum as saying.

"The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threaten us all."

(Reuters - Washington, DC, Thu Apr 24, 2014 - reported by David Brunnstrom; edited by Dan Grebler)

(reprinted from ) /

In 1955, the United States paid $2,000,000 as restitution for damage to the Lucky Dragon, its 23 crew members and its cargo.

And in 1988, the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established to grant compensation to Marshall Islanders for personal injury deemed to have been caused by nuclear testing. As of December 31, 1997, $63,127,000 had been awarded to or on behalf of 1,549 people. With more personal injury claims and several class action suits for property damage still pending, the Tribunal claims that the original terms of the settlement with the Marshall Islanders are grossly inadequate.

The Castle Bravo H-Bomb Test

The On March 1, 1954 the United States tested an H-bomb design on Bikini Atoll that unexpectedly turned out to be the largest U.S. nuclear test ever exploded. By missing an important fusion reaction, the Los Alamos scientists had grossly underestimated the size of the explosion. They thought it would yield the equivalent of 5 million tons of TNT, but, in fact, "Bravo" yielded 15 megatons -- making it more than a thousand times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The blast gouged a crater about a mile wide in the reef. Within seconds the fireball was nearly three miles in diameter. The illumination from the blast was visible for almost one minute on Rongerik, an island 135 miles east of the burst. It trapped personnel in experiment bunkers and engulfed the 7,500 foot diagnostic pipe array. Physicist Marshall Rosenbluth was on a ship about 30 miles away. He remembers that the fireball, "just kept rising and rising, and spreading... It looked to me like what you might imagine a diseased brain, or a brain of some mad man would look like on the surface... And the air started getting filled with this gray stuff, which I guess was radioactive coral."

An hour-and-a-half later a similar gritty, snow-like substance began raining down on a Japanese fishing vessel called the Lucky Dragon that was about 80 miles east of Bikini. The 23 fishermen aboard had no idea the ash was fallout from a hydrogen bomb test. When they returned to port two weeks later they were all suffering severe radiation sickness. The radio operator later died. One Tokyo newspaper headline demanded that the U.S. authorities "Tell us the truth about the ashes of death."

Marshall Islanders were also exposed to the fallout. One islander on Rongelap about 100 miles east of Bikini remembers hearing, "a loud explosion and within minutes the ground began to shake. A few hours later the radioactive fallout began to drop on the people, into the drinking water, and on the food. The children played in the colorful ash-like powder. They did not know what it was."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nuke Enthusiasts Promote Historic Nuke Park

It is well known that the US gov't works to maintain a world-wide status quo with respect to the number of nuclear weapons states, while also working hard to reduce the number of deployed nuclear weapons. Indeed, over the last 25 years the US has led the world toward a sharp reduction in the numbers of deployed nuclear weapons by entering into a series of carefully crafted agreements with Russia.

 However, it's difficult to see how the US can continue to encourage technically advanced, but currently non-nuclear weapons states, to refrain from developing their own nuclear weapons when the US itself seems ambivalent about the value of nuclear weapons as an element of national defense. I refer here to the fact that the US gov't may soon decide to memorialize the creation of its first nuclear bomb, 70 years ago, by setting up a national park to preserve "relics" from that era.

 This seems to me to be a wrong-headed attempt to stoke national pride, at the risk of moving the gov'ts of non-nuclear weapons states closer toward the development of their own nuclear weapons.

 It also seems to me to be a strange kind of national pride which celebrates the creation of a weapon which snuffed out the lives of ~200,000 innocent non-combatants. In spite of having been propelled by the fierce exigencies of the most destructive war in human history, it seems to me that having created the first nuclear weapon should remain for us more a source of national sorrow than of national pride.

 As reported in the APSNews, issue of April 2014 /

 "Cynthia Kelly, founder of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, remarked recently at an American Physical Society meeting that legislation this year might clear the way for the National Park Service to take over the birthplace of he atomic bomb. The Obama Administration must formally transfer control of the land from the DOE to NPS before the park can move forward. A bill authorizing the transfer got through the House in 2013, but was dropped in the Senate. It would have transferred sites in Hanford, WA, Los Alamos,, NM, and Oak Ridge, TN to NPS. 'It's been almost five years since any park legislation has been passed,' said Kelly."

 I hope that the US Senate will continue to oppose this wrong-headed legislation.

Friday, March 28, 2014

WIPP Reverse Timeline

28 March 2014 / The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico is in an unsettled state.

27 March 2014 / The Department of Energy said that it will unseal WIPP and enter the WIPP underground area to begin investigating the cause and extent of a mysterious radiation leak. DOE officials said that the shafts that workers will use to access the half-mile-deep repository will be inspected, and that a crew of eight will enter the mine early next week.

27 March 2014 / NM Sens. Udall and Heinrich asked US Dept. of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez why the Mine Safety and Health Administration had not done legally required regular inspections at WIPP.

 "The information about missed safety inspections was revealed in the DOE’s accident report on the Feb. 5 fire at WIPP. A specialized salt mine over 2,000 feet below ground, WIPP is covered by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. By law, the Labor Department’s MSHA is required to inspect WIPP no less than four times a year. Yet records in the accident report indicate that MSHA had performed inspections just twice in the last three years."

 ”The health and safety of the workers at WIPP and the surrounding community are our top priorities and it is extremely concerning to learn that a fire in the mining portion of WIPP was a preventable circumstance,” Udall and Heinrich wrote.

 The senators asked Perez to provide them with an explanation of the factors that led MSHA to miss inspections, a summary of the findings of the inspections that MSHA did complete, assurance that MSHA will follow the inspection process in the future, a summary of steps MSHA will take to ensure that such an accident does not occur again, and a pledge that MSHA staff will be available at WIPP throughout the recovery process to ensure the safety of the investigations, remediation, and future re-opening
of WIPP.

 21 March 2014 / The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board sent a letter to DOE Secretary E Moniz apprising him of their commission by NM Sens. Udall and Heinrich to study safety procedures at WIPP.

 13 March 2014 / A DOE accident board issued its report determining that the salt truck fire was preventable. Further, the board judged that the emergency response to the fire was inadequate in several ways.

 4 March 2014 / NM Sens. Udall and Heinrich asked the DNFSB to study WIPP site emergency procedures and to make recommendations for possible changes.

14 Feb. 2014 / A radiation release occurred in the WIPP underground area, with some of the released radioactive material finding its way above ground, and to the borders of the WIPP site. DOE said that the release of radioactive material was unrelated to the salt truck fire of a week ago. However, DOE also said that it did not yet know how radioactive material came to be released into the underground area, nor how it made its way above ground. The WIPP site was sealed by DOE until further notice.

7 Feb. 2014 / The DOE appointed a board to study the WIPP salt truck fire and to make recommendations.

5 Feb. 2014 / A salt truck fire occurred at WIPP in an underground area, leading to evacuation of that area by 86 WIPP workers. Thirteen of these workers suffered smoke inhalation and required emergency medical care. Of those requiring emergency medical care, six were transported to Carlsbad Medical Center and seven were treated on-site.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

WIPP Site Radiation Leak

A radiation leak was reported a week ago at the WIPP site.

The detection of above background levels of americium and plutonium was recorded by radiation detectors, both above ground near the facility perimeter, and below ground inside the facility close to the 2500 ft level.

DOE has closed the WIPP site until further notice, while it attempts to better understand the problem. Meanwhile, DOE says that there is no danger to the general public from the radiation release. A town hall meeting has been called for Monday, 24 February, 2014, in Carlsbad, NM to discuss the accident. Many concerned citizens from across the state of New Mexico are expected to attend.

The WIPP site has been a welcome source of income to many in the Carlsbad business community. However, many local residents, unattached to the business community, continue to be unhappy about the presence of a nuclear waste dump in their midst.

 It seems fair to say that the WIPP site has been a source of controversy since its inception. Unfortunately, it seems likely that this controversy will grow in the future, since there is a movement afoot now to extend the WIPP mandate, allowing new types of radioactive waste to be brought to WIPP.

Originally, WIPP was commissioned as a site where only low-level, and so-called transuranic (TRU) waste from nuclear weapons laboratories, would be permitted to be stored. More recently, however, it has been suggested that high level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants should also be allowed at WIPP. True to form, some in the Carlsbad business community seem to be responding positively to this proposal.

On 9 Feb., 2014, an article appeared in the New York Times concerning the modification and extension of WIPP's mandate ("Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds", by Matthew L. Wald.) I wrote to Sen. Heinrich asking for his opinion of this matter. A copy of my letter follows:

 To Sen. Martin Heinrich:

What is your position on the possible expansion of the WIPP-site mandate to allow for storage of high level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants at WIPP?

When the WIPP-site was originally commissioned, it was said by many public officials, as well as by the DOE, that high level nuclear waste would never be allowed at WIPP.

Meanwhile, the nation has continued to struggle with the knotty problem of the selection and development of a suitable site for the long-term storage of high level nuclear waste. This problem has been very much exacerbated by the well-known NIMBY phenomenon.

Yucca Mt., Nevada had been thought to be a suitable site for the storage of high level nuclear waste, and many billions of dollars have been expended in preparing this site for the acceptance of that waste. But, a critical mass of Nevadans were opposed to that idea.

Consequently, the Obama Administration, ruled that the Yucca Mt. site was unsuitable and would never be opened.

In the wake of this very negative development, a special presidential panel was convened to study once again the problem of the siting of the storage of high level nuclear waste. The panel opined that, given recent past experiences, it would be advisable in the future to first obtain agreement from local populations to the placing of a high level nuclear waste site in their backyard, before the development of the site could reasonably proceed.

Now, it appears that some number of citizens living in the vicinity of Carlsbad, NM, the town closest to the present WIPP-site, are in favor of the expansion of the WIPP-site mandate, allowing for the storage there of high level nuclear waste. That is, some elements of the local business community are in favor of this move. It is unclear, however, just what fraction of the local citizenry is in favor of this development.

Perhaps a survey of attitudes in New Mexico communities to the expansion of the WIPP-site mandate, conducted by a highly respected polling entity, would be in order?