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December 4, 2017 

Bulletin 237: NNSA doubts LANL pit production; Nobel peace prize get-togethers Sunday Dec. 10 (Santa Fe & Albuquerque)

Dear friends and colleagues –

First this news (for Sunday’s Nobel get-togethers, see farther down):

  • Breaking tonight: “It’s Los Alamos v. South Carolina site for making ‘pits’.” Albuquerque Journal, Dec 4, 2017
  • Breaking tomorrow in some form: two-year study examines 41 options for making up to 110 pits per year (ppy) plus simultaneous pit reuse, “surge” capabilities and “backup” options

Responding to reporters’ inquiries in this rare moment of (partial) transparency, Senators Heinrich and Udall and Congressman Ben Ray Luján issued a joint statement saying they “strongly support Los Alamos National Laboratory’s role as the nation’s Center of Excellence for Plutonium Research [sic].”

We have had concerns that the evaluation process undertaken by NNSA that led to this report was deeply flawed from the start. The Pentagon’s independent cost accountability office conducted this same [sic] assessment in 2013 and concluded that Los Alamos is the only option to meet cost and schedule requirements. We would be deeply skeptical of any alternative that contradicts that independent assessment, and we will fight for full justification required by the most recent NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] that will be signed into law any day now.

The 2013 AoA was not at all the same as this one. The 2013 assessment was set up to have only one reasonable alternative, namely augmenting LANL’s existing facilities with underground production “modules.” It included refurbishment of LANL facilities but not options involving refurbishment of non-LANL facilities.

These LANL/NNSA “plans” were the subject of a scathing Government Accountability Office (GAO) report last summer (“Congressional auditors flay Los Alamos plutonium plans,” Los Alamos Study Group, Aug 10, 2016).

This more recent study was requested by the Obama White House over two years ago. It examines 41 options at four NNSA sites, including refurbishment as well as new construction.

Unfortunately, the proposed pit production capacity appears to be increasing, from “50-80” to “80” to “110.” It was always that, because multiple shift operations were always implied for larger capacity. But now multiple shift operations might mean more still.

The New Mexico delegation would very much like to turn back the clock to four years ago when the LANL scheme could, they thought, be sold with impunity. They would like Congress and the new Administration to be gullible. They want to erase four years of history and learning.

This history includes the $2 billion LANL-caused 2014 accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and the litany of LANL safety problems and mismanagement uncovered in the blockbuster “Nuclear Negligence” series by the Center for Public Integrity and at other times by our New Mexico reporters.

Safety failures and project mismanagement cost Los Alamos National Security (LANS) its contract.

Our delegation would like to wish away the analysis by NNSA in this more thorough AoA as well as the body of work produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the GAO (in addition to the above study see also here), the JASONs, and others (see this page).

We interpret the new AoA's "FY33 - 38" estimated date for LANL to commence production of 80 ppy to mean NNSA believes that achieving 80 ppy at LANL is impractical, even with new “modules.”

This does not mean it will not happen. No decision has been made. The New Mexican senators are working hard as they say to increase plutonium processing and manufacturing at LANL (see: Bulletin 236: Defense bill on Trump's desk contains Heinrich/Udall amendment seeking fresh mandate for plutonium pit factory at LANL, Nov 17, 2017).

While refurbishment options at other sites are judged to be quicker and cheaper than new construction at LANL, NNSA has also concluded that ramping up pit production in only a decade is improbable at any site.

Pit production is not needed any time soon, even for today’s large nuclear arsenal (See “Expansion of Los Alamos Plutonium Warhead “Pit” Factory Eyed,” LASG fact sheet, updated Oct 2017). It is not needed at LANL, or at any other site.

The sole near-term stockpile need for any pit manufacture appears to derive from the schedule and required quantities of the first Interoperable Warhead (IW-1). Not to put too fine a point on it, IW-1 is a make-work project for the nuclear labs, especially Lawrence Livermore.

IW-1 – as a Life Extension Program (LEP) as opposed to a mere "study" – is not supported by the Navy. (See, for example, this video clip from the May 25, 2017 House Armed Services Strategic Forces hearing.)

Stay tuned.

Nobel peace prize get-togethers, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Sunday December 10, 3:15 and 6:30 pm respectively

This coming Sunday, December 10th, at 3:15 pm at The Commons, 2300 W Alameda St (map) in Santa Fe, the Study Group is sponsoring a get-together to celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony that is taking place in Oslo, Norway earlier that day. We will serve light refreshments.

As you know, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which the Los Alamos Study Group has been one of the most active partner organizations in the US for several years.

On Sunday we can answer your questions about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as well as take the all-too-rare opportunity to socialize with one another. We work long hours and don’t often have the opportunity to see some of you. If there is time we can talk about other breaking issues and make further plans with you.

Then at 6:30 pm, we will have another get-together in Albuquerque here at the World Headquarters, 2901 Summit Place NE (map). Again, we will serve light refreshments. Please come!

See you then!

Greg and Trish, for the Study Group


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