Saturday, October 22, 2005

The conspiracy theorists might have gotten it right after all

It appears that the conspiracy theorists might have gotten it right after all. Or not. As far as the end result goes, it really doesn't matter. Bottom line, as is now clearly identified in John Fleck's Albuquerque Journal story, NNSA plans to turn Los Alamos into a pit factory by 2010.

In case you are having trouble remembering, the conspiracy theorists claimed that Nanos was brought in as LANL director, without the benefit of a national search, at the insistence of Admiral [Captain, whatever] Brooks for an express purpose. Nanos' mission: disrupt the shit out out of the lab, and by so doing run off as many people as possible, easing the transition of Los Alamos National Laboratory from a science laboratory into a pit factory. Oh, and by the way, coincidentally replacing the now shut-down Rocky Flats.

As I said, it really doesn't matter at this point whether the conspiracy theorists were correct or not, the end effect appears as if it will be the same.

What makes all of this interesting is the convoluted path we all had to take to get here. First, our out-of-control former laboratory director did everything in his power to run off as many non-DOE/NNSA customers as possible. Through this same process, he also managed to run off a large number of non-weapons scientists. Then, as soon as is was deemed an appropriate waiting period, NNSA announced that by 2010 LANL will be a Rocky Flats replacement pit factory, producing 30 - 40 new pits per year.

A very interesting question to ponder is where does this leave the two LLCs with respect to winning the contract for LANL? For that matter, in what new perspective does this news allow us to view Paul Robinson and Don Cook's recent "science mission statement"? If NNSA really does want to turn LANL into just a pit factory, without all that nuisance "science" getting the way, could it be that LANS really is the shoe-in as the next contractor?

Roderick Spode

Comments:
It would explain why Nanos got that sweetheart COS deal at DTRA, instead of the boot.
 
As stated earlier - the winning contractor need only convince DOE/NNSA they have the ability to carry out its mission. It will be the responsibility of their management to ensure they have the resources to carry out that mission.

In return for carrying out the mission, it will receive funding to pay its workers, and earn a fee based on how well it met mission objectives.

If the objective is R&D, then R&D workers will be needed. If the objective is pit manufacturing, then expertise in those areas will be needed.
 
Isn't Los Alamos the best place for pit manufacture? I don't think Nevada is a good choice. Livermore is too urban. There is more experience in Los Alamos than anywhere else. What's the issue ?
 
"Isn't Los Alamos the best place for pit manufacture? I don't think Nevada is a good choice. Livermore is too urban. There is more experience in Los Alamos than anywhere else. What's the issue ?" It's a fair question (most likely posed by a non-employee), and it deserves a serious answer.

There is indeed "experience" here with plutonium metallurgy, but very little expertise with industrial process. A change to a pit-manufacturing mission would require growing that expertise. No big problem as far as that goes; we weren't formed having expertise in accelerator physics or biosciences, but grew those kinds of expertise as the national well-being required them. The question is, what do you lose as that expertise grows? And that's what gives us the willies.

Consider Rocky Flats and Pantex. Nobody who acknowledges the need for nuclear weapons for national security would deny that those places have earned their pay and performed a national-security mission. They have their value. However, neither has ever done much to "push the envelope" -- advance the state of science, and solve tomorrow's problems as well as today's. We, on the other hand, have been positioned to do exactly that, and we believe collectively that we are earning our pay and supporting the nation when we do it.

The frightening thing about moving to a pit-manufacturing mission is not the mission itself, but rather the Pantex and Rocky examples, that raise the specter of that becoming our *only* mission. That would be incredibly destructive to job satisfaction for those of us who derive satisfaction from pushing the envelope -- and it would also cost the country something that many of us believe fervently that the country needs, and will continue to need into the future. You might say, "yeah, but I don't see any reason why the cutting-edge science can't co-exist with pit manufacture." Unfortunately, there are reasons to fear that it can't, or at least won't. Look at Pantex and Rocky, neither of which have done much cutting-edge science (and I intend no disrespect to the workers at either place, many of whom I've dealt with and found highly professional). More alarmingly, look also at the TA-18 mess, and the pressures on science at TA-55 as well; those are more local examples that don't sit well with a lot of us here. And there is very little evidence that good science *can* co-exist with industrial-scale pit manufacture.

Does this answer your question, ng? It is a question well worth asking, and my analysis of it can be challenged, but I think most lab employees who've thought the thing through feel as I do, and believe that going this way would be not only personally frustrating but bad for the country.
 
I don't buy this conspiracy stuff. Things started downhill when UC bought into the "Den of Thieves" lies of those two ex-cops. Brown stood up for us and then the DOE demanded that he be replaced. UC selected Admiral Butthead as a temporary replacement and that was probably OK given the urgency of the situation and the fact that the DOE would not accept an insider. When things started to go downhill was when UC made Nanos permanent without having done due diligence on his past or having actually thought out what it would mean to have a non-technical person leading a national laboratory.

I don't think that there was any conspiracy. Just a sequence of events that resulted from stupidity on the part of the DOE and incompetence on the part of UC.
 
It seems that some people do not think that the manufacture of pits and science can co-exist. What am I missing here?
 
" It seems that some people do not think that the manufacture of pits and science can co-exist. What am I missing here?"

Take a good look at what Rocky Flats was like. That's what you're missing.
 
"I don't think that there was any conspiracy. Just a sequence of events that resulted from stupidity on the part of the DOE and incompetence on the part of UC."

Ok, darhtman, then could you please explain why it is the former director Nanos got such a nice golden parachute with DTRA instead of getting his ass fired?

As far-fetched as the conspiracy thing sounds, all the after-the-fact evidence seems to support it.
 
I do not believe that Nanos got his golden parachute because of some kind of conspiracy.

First, at least we can agree that UC is incompetent and takes care of their upper management regardless of how abusive the might be.

Second, except in extreme cases of malfeasance, the top executive ALWAYS! gets a golden parachute of some kind. The fact is that this is just a good business practice. Otherwise, they couldn't get the people that they want to take the job. Of course, UC wanted Nanos and still has Foley but that is another story.
 
So, I guess it boils down to what an agreeable definition of malfeasance might be, then.

Here's one that I find acceptable:
wasting $367M of taxpayers money on a shutdown based on false premises, and then "fibbing" to Congress about the specifics.
 
NO! Those things do not count as malfeasance. For instance, wasting large sums of the tax payers money is what is done every day in Congress.

Also, regarding the standdown, do not for get that the standddown was done with the full concurrence of the DOE.
 
This conspiracy theory like most fails the ho ho test by ascribing great wisdom and ability to those who the author feels are conspiring to advance their devious deeds.

To compare the current or proposed "pit" missions for Los Alamos as a thing that will turn us into Rocky II denies history and tries to make a connection that is not there. As already noted, Rocky did a good job for what they were funded to do, make "lots" of pits for the nuclear stockpile. In doing so, they were not commissioned to "push the envelope", they were to simply build quality pits. The Los Alamos history is intertwined with the building of pits, not for the stockpile, but for NTS, and the numbers are not all that different than current proposals. No one that I am aware of ever advanced the theory that we should not build pits, because it was destroying our science. Science and pit building have existed together quite well for the better part of our history, and I see no reason to believe that they will not exist together well in the future.
 
"This conspiracy theory like most fails the ho ho test by ascribing great wisdom and ability to those who the author feels are conspiring to advance their devious deeds."

I grudgingly concede the point you make. On the other hand, in order to pull off such a conspiracy as has been postulated, the additional iota of intelligence necessary to pull it off really isn't all that big a number.
 
darhtman-- the extreme malfeasance is not in the enormous waste of money or the lies that Nanos told before congress. The real loss is the death of Todd Kauppila. Make no mistake, Nanos, Jones, Seestrom, and Foley are all culpable for that loss. The rest of it is meaningless when compared to the pain and anguish that has been visited on the Kauppila family.
 
dhartman sputters:

"Also, regarding the standdown, do not for get that the standddown was done with the full concurrence of the DOE."

I feel compelled to point out that this actually supports the conspiracy claim.
 
Turning LANL into a "pit factory" can be traced back a lot further than Nanos. It goes back to Hecker/Jackson who pressed, with Domenici's help, to secure this business for LANL. LANL was chosen, over SRS, with Pete's help. The result was a disaster, with ever greater sums of money producing not pits, but alibis. We all know that the "pit factory" should have gone to SRS, because LANL is incapable of the management discipline to manage this project, which has actual deadlines and products.
At some point the pit production had to leave LANL, or different management had to come to LANL. It looks like new management is coming. This all goes back to Hecker/Jackson who chose to become a "full service weapons lab" instead of a science lab. They went for the money, but they haven't delivered the product. Don't blame those who now have to deliver the product; it is simply the bills coming due. And blame Senator Domenici, for wasting tax dollars by bringing missions to LANL that LANL can't perform.
 
"At some point the pit production had to leave LANL, or different management had to come to LANL. It looks like new management is coming."

Oops, lucky: it looks like we are getting both new management and getting turned into a pit factory.
 
To Lucky and Finknottle,
Now I finally get the gist. Pit factories are O.K. as long as they are not in my backyard. Got you.
 
Everybody should pay attention here: If the DOE wants LANL to make pits, LANL probably will. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

In fact, other than the fact that we will very likely crap it up in administration and management, LANL is probably the best place for such work.

Those who do not like it can join Sterling at LBL and live in the Peoples' Republic of Berkeley.
 
It would bother me to see my home town turned into a pit factory. Ever been to Rocky Flats? The site was thoroughly contaminated at the time it was finally shut down -- they are still finding and trying to clean up hot spots. The water table was contaminated.

That is the reality of production-scale plutonium processing.

-Doug
 
"Everybody should pay attention here: If the DOE wants LANL to make pits, LANL probably will. He who pays the piper calls the tune."
I agree, completely

"Those who do not like it can join Sterling at LBL and live in the Peoples' Republic of Berkeley."
I'm still watching those LBL job ads.
 
Any of you ever toured through PF-4 at TA-55? If you haven't, please don't compare LANL's operations to RFETS, esp. when it comes to radiological control and environmental compliance.
 
Doug,
Yes, I have been to RFP many times, and I'm not sure your depiction is correct, but you most likely will believe what you want to believe. You might me shocked to know just how many pits have been made in your little home town, apparently without you knowing it nor suffering your worst fears.
 
That was uncalled for, greybeard. I have also been to RFP many times. It was an unpleasant place. If you want to learn more about the environmental impact of RFP before it was shut down, do the research.

I also have a pretty good idea about LANL's production: I used to model it. So, how about keeping your insults to yourself. Or, if you cannot bring yourself to remain civil, use your own name.

My view remains the same, I would not like to see my home town turned into a production-scale Pu pit production facility.

-Doug
 
Doug,
Sorry if you feel my remarks were uncalled for. My feelings are the same also. If you are so aware of the LANL production vs the RFP production vs what the current projections are and you continue to equate them all to production scale, I just cannot agree with you. I'll keep quiet and let the myth persist.
 
Be careful, greybeard. You are, as I am sure you are well aware, skating uncomfortably close to classification issues.

-Doug
 
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