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  • Nuclear Weapons Council Debating Expanding Scope of W88 Alt 370, NSDM, 20 Jun 2014
    the Alt 370 in Fiscal Year 2015 and expects a First Production Unit on the warhead to be completed by 2020 Benedict said refreshing the high explosive alongside the arming fusing and firing system work could save money and flight and ground qualification testing could be done at the same time The replacement would not involve insensitive high explosive Benedict said It gives us more life on that asset Benedict said Eventually you have to deal with it either in a full blown life extension program or you know an IW interoperable warhead concept but it would give us more time Cost a Big Question Benedict did not say how many years replacing the high explosive now would save the Navy down the road citing classification concerns and he also did not say how much such a move would cost There is a lot of cost pressure right now he said It s near term cost versus long term cost Hans Kristensen the director of the Federation of American Scientists Nuclear Information Project said that adding near term costs to the Alt 370 could ultimately doom the idea That s obviously an issue he said Fine they might save some money 10 to 15 years down the road but the predominant issue right now is sort of the short term costs of putting pressure on the military services in terms of these very expensive programs Kristensen said that because of the budgetary pressure on the NNSA and life extension programs Congress might only be willing to support increasing the cost of the W88 Alt 370 if there was a pressing issue Congress is pretty weary right now with these crash fixes he said Gee we ve got to do double or triple the project because now we can do it

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/NSDM_20Jun2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Environment chief: WIPP leak probe likely to reveal LANL lapses, SFNM, 10 Jun 2014
    course corrections Waste generated at Los Alamos during decades of Cold War nuclear weapons research ceased being shipped to WIPP the nation s lone below ground nuclear waste storage site after the Feb 14 radiation leak was detected Since then investigators have concentrated on a burst drum stored at WIPP that is the suspected source of the radiation leak Investigators have not pinpointed the cause of the leak but they are focusing their attention on a half dozen drums including the suspected source of the leak at WIPP that contain organic kitty litter rather than the traditional clay based variety and unusually acidic waste derived from evaporators used in the development of nuclear weapons The switch to plant based kitty litter as an absorbent material has been a leading theory in investigators quest to find the source of the chemical reaction that caused the leak But Flynn said the kitty litter was most likely the fuel that burned in a dramatic heat event following a chemical reaction and not the element that triggered the initial reaction Scientists have been unable to duplicate the reaction in experiments conducted during their investigation The waste stream currently under scrutiny by investigators was the subject of email messages between waste packaging contractor EnergySolutions and Los Alamos lab personnel made public last month by the New Mexico Environment Department that illustrate gaps in the lab s processes that worry Flynn he said The messages sent last summer were initiated by EnergySolutions which sought permission to change acid neutralizers mixed with the waste they packaged in order to more easily measure the acidity of the mixed waste Despite an EnergySolutions representative s suggestion that the lab consult a chemist during its consideration of the request the lab authorized the switch When the messages became public outside chemists promptly criticized the authorization saying it should have been evident that introducing the neutralizer to strong oxidizers contained in the lab waste made for a volatile mix In fact in the manufacturer s warnings on the neutralizer which EnergySolutions provided to the lab when it sought permission for the switch it was explicitly stated that the neutralizer was incompatible with oxidizers Flynn said to date the investigation has shown that EnergySolutions followed proper steps for authorization to change composition of the waste mix calling into question whether LANL procedures ultimately contributed to the release of toxic radiation at WIPP If you re dealing with a particularly nasty waste stream Flynn said the people who are actually doing the remediation work need to have access to people with scientific backgrounds who can understand the interaction of the chemistry when you introduce different agents WIPP is temporarily mothballed and could remain at a standstill for months if not a couple of years according to some federal estimates Waste shipments there ceased following the radiation leak Nonetheless a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday approved a request from the U S Department of Energy for an additional 120 million for recovery efforts at WIPP

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_10Jun2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Our View: WIPP accident requires look at LANL culture, SFNM, 31 May 2014
    at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant and Fukushima Japan We don t know the final cause of the radiation release at WIPP but we do know the system to deliver waste from scattered locations around the United States including Los Alamos National Laboratory is largely for profit privatized and very bureaucratic with layers and layers of contractors and subcontractors Did one decision by a subcontractor at one place such as Los Alamos lead to the temporary closure of a multimillion dollar project which might be stalled for years It sure looks like it New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn deserves credit for being proactive and out front in trying to get to the bottom of the accident even as the U S Department of Energy and its contractors are still gathering information But finding the precise cause will not be enough Increasingly there are other questions about safety at LANL We have to ask if outsourcing and the performance based bonus culture that has taken hold since privatization is partly responsible In his introduction social scientist Perrow writes Most high risk systems have some special characteristics beyond their toxic or explosive or genetic dangers that make accidents in them

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_31May2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Feds will miss deadline to remove LANL nuke waste, SFNM, 30 May 2014
    S Department of Energy during the investigation into the Feb 14 radiological release state Environment Department spokesman Jim Winchester said He said the state will review potential options regarding the consent order that imposed a June 30 deadline for removal of the waste from Los Alamos The head of a watchdog group that monitors activities at the lab was not terribly concerned about the missed deadline I don t think we should shed any tears about that because it was an arbitrary deadline said Greg Mello executive director of Los Alamos Study Group Shipments from LANL to WIPP of transuranic waste radiation contaminated remnants from decades of nuclear weapons research were suspended following detection of the radiation leak at WIPP the nation s primary below ground nuclear waste storage facility Subsequently waste from the lab was shipped to a Waste Control Specialist site in Andrews Texas pending resumption of WIPP operations Those shipments too stopped when federal investigators zeroed in on a drum of waste from LANL as a possible cause of the radiation leak at WIPP Investigators are reviewing whether a switch last year from clay based kitty litter to an organic type of absorbent packing material could have triggered the chemical reaction that led to the radiation leak The laboratory fully supports the Department of Energy s efforts towards safely reopening the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant LANL spokesman Matt Nerzig said We are determined to meet our obligations to the state of New Mexico and must ascertain what caused the release at WIPP to prevent any recurrence In order to enhance investigations underway here at Los Alamos we have joined the experts from a group of five national laboratories to determine the cause of the radiological release The fact that the Las Conchas Fire burned within 3 5

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_30May2014a.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Newly uncovered changes in LANL processes examined in WIPP probe, WCM, 30 May 2014
    not only did the packaging personnel absorb the liquids but prior to absorbing them they were neutralized using various neutralizing agents states the document posted by NMED It adds The chemicals used for neutralizing the acids or bases have not been considered in the acceptable knowledge record These chemicals not being considered could lead to an incomplete acceptable knowledge record which could be a violation of the WIPP hazardous waste facility permit requirements When asked this week at a town hall meeting held in Carlsbad N M whether the switches in processing materials at LANL were approved by CCP or DOE officials DOE Carlsbad Field Office Deputy Manager Dana Bryson said That s a question on an ongoing investigation The accident investigation team is on site at LANL right now I m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation where interviews are ongoing in real time When questioned again he said Rather than give you a response that is not from that board I think the best response is to wait for the report from the accident investigation board and then we will have a documented clear concise report LANL and NWP did not respond to requests for comment about the approval process at the lab or the neutralizer changes EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said in a statement While the issue remains under investigation we will wait and comment once the test results are made known Technician Issues Not My Area of Expertise In requesting approval for switching an acid neutralizer from a Chemtex formula to Spilfyter Kolorsafe neutralizer last August an EnergySolutions technician said he did some limited research and found no reactivity issues with the liquid neutralizer and plutonium if solidification steps are taken But he added as the water reactivity of plutonium and criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weigh in on these issues as well according to the August 2013 email to LANL officials by EnergySolutions Industrial Hygienist Zeke Wilmot LANL Subcontract Technical Representative Andy Ezell approved the change in September noting in an e mail that EnergySolutions should perform initial surveys and or exposure monitoring to identify appropriate Personal Protective Equipment Neutralizer Could React With Metallic Nitrates The base neutralizer was switched in April 2013 from a Spilfyter Kolorsafe neutralizer to a Pig Base Encapsulating Neutralizer The Safety Data Sheet accompanying that product states Depending on the chemical being neutralized significant quantities of heat may be generated including some off gassing Additionally metallic nitrates is included under a list of incompatible materials It appears that the previous neutralizers came in solid and liquid form and were both organic and inorganic but the document is not clear NMED is reviewing the report and still has questions Winchester said DOE Finalizing Panel Closure Plan Meanwhile DOE is expected late this week to submit a plan to NMED for accelerated closure of open panels in the WIPP underground that contain hundreds of additional suspect drums from

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/WCM_30May2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Los Alamos Study Group
    Any change at all like this has to go through someone who knows this waste very well Conca was the first to publicly announce the theory that a switch from clay based kitty litter as an absorbent in the packaged waste to an organic kitty litter could be responsible for the chemical reaction that blew open a drum of LANL waste at WIPP and caused the radiation leak The revelations contained in the documents that other incompatible substances were mixed with the waste didn t change Conca s mind Of course this waste is a strong oxidizer This is a classic case of not following directions or even following the vendor s instructions he said Had the correct kitty litter been used it would have been all right This is a LANL problem and a contractor problem LANL spokesman Matt Nerzig said We re looking into all possible causes including the contents of the drums and will continue to do so until we are satisfied that we know what caused the radiological release New Mexico Environment Department spokesman Jim Winchester said The kitty litter change is still one of the factors being considered Among the documents released by the New Mexico Environment Department were a chain of emails exchanged last summer between Zeke Wilmot an industrial hygienist for EnergySolutions and Andrew Ezell a subcontract technical representative for LANL Wilmot requested approval to use liquid acid and base neutralizers to make it easier to test the pH of the waste He recommended that LANL s experts on chemical compatibility review the request which was submitted complete with manufacturers warnings about incompatible chemicals As the water reactivity of plutonium and criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weigh in on these issues

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_30May2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Nuclear Weapons Are Like the Wedding at Cana, Foreign Policy in Focus, 20 May 2014
    Approximately 9 percent of all warheads retired prior to 2009 but not yet dismantled are scheduled to be reinstated to the stockpile in 2013 and after The dismantlement process typically results in reusable hard to make nuclear and non nuclear components such as thousands of pits that are kept for possible future use The GAO found there is no system of tracking warhead retirement dates making it doubly impossible to assess progress toward NNSA s previous goal adopted during the Bush Administration in 2006 but now apparently meaningless of dismantling all warheads retired prior to 2009 by 2022 Nor do we know exactly which warheads and bombs are being dismantled or the arms control and disarmament significance of these dismantlements Furthermore Mello reproduces a table that shows the average dismantlement rate under President Obama is less than that of the three previous presidents Meanwhile here s what elicited the comparisons with the miracles of Jesus warhead retirements under Obama have been made contingent on new warhead production capacity and on successful completion of warhead modernization projects neither of which can be done before the late 2020s Not only have the concept of warhead retirement and the data quality concerning the size of the stockpile been eroded but The budget and program prioritization of modernization over dismantlement is not at all new although it is certainly new in this extreme degree What is new is that warhead retirements and dismantlements are being held politically hostage to the approval and success of modernization programs Come to think of it a better comparison might be the Sorcerer s Apprentice segment of Fantasia Whatever the case disarmament that depends on developing new nuclear weapons is obviously not true disarmament Still while the shrinking space available for nuclear weapons in the national budget might not

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/FPIF_20May2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • House Considering Record Spending on Nuclear Weapons, IPA press release, 20 May 2014
    the administration to design and build new nuclear weapons components and high dollar factories sooner rather than later and without further ado The Committee wants to start design of a new cruise missile warhead three years sooner than the administration believes is desirable To take another example the bill mandates ramping up production of plutonium warhead cores pits to 30 pits per year by 2023 independent of any actual need The new idea is production for production s sake Without this there would be no need for production or new factories since pits will last several decades more The U S also has at least 15 000 surplus pits thousands of which are reusable Fortunately the bill also requires a detailed study of ways to produce more pits and dispose of surplus plutonium that don t require new factories The National Nuclear Security Administration operates several plutonium facilities at great cost and extra capacity of various kinds Even the supremely hawkish House Armed Services Committee wants to know if it is really prudent to build new plutonium facilities Overall the policy shifts in this bill go towards maintaining jobs in the warhead complex and especially at the big three nuclear

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/IPA_press_release_20May2014.html (2016-02-16)
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