|"Forget the Rest" blog|
December 12, 2012 (edited Dec 17, 2012)
Letter from Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the Los Alamos management and operating (M&O) contractor, written between 12/6/12 and 12/12/12 regarding the 12/6/2012 Los Alamos Study Group press release (“Plutonium in Warhead Cores (“Pits”) Stable to 150 Years; Aging Tests at Nuclear Weapons Lab Extend Earlier Results, Increasing Confidence; Results Highlight Lack of Need for New Pit Production Facility”).
Reference: Los Alamos Study Group press release: “Plutonium in Warhead Cores (“Pits”) Stable to 150 Years; Aging Tests at Nuclear Weapons Lab Extend Earlier Results, Increasing Confidence; Results Highlight Lack of Need for New Pit Production Facility”, 12/6/2012We did not depend entirely on that one publication.
The bullets below are intended to provide a Los Alamos perspective for the key points made by the Los Alamos Study Group.This does not contradict us. It's true: "it is the aging of the plutonium components themselves, not anything else, which is germane to plutonium infrastructure decisions.” We did not extrapolate from plutonium to pits.
We have answered their second point ("...infrastructure decisions are primarily germane due to a degrading infrastructure that must be kept operational in an escalating regulatory environment (CMR to CMR-Replacement being an example)" extensively elsewhere.
There is no "escalating regulatory environment." There is not even a regulatory environment, period. The only external body with any authority, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), is advisory.
LANS should not be allowed to let needed infrastructure degrade, as they have done while wasting at least one-half billion dollars on CMRR-NF design over the past decade.
LASG: “The probability of prior results being mistaken (despite the extensive peer review they had) and therefore of acute pit failure, is now lower than ever.”Our statement followed Livermore's interpretation, and LANL's does not contradict it. Greater confidence about key aging effects means greater confidence overall, even if the recently-reported experiments and observations were not comprehensive. Other data exists, some in the public domain (especially here, pdf), as they are well aware. Besides, these were always the primary aging mechanisms invoked by LANL and NNSA as justifications for programs, specifically for MPF (see Appendix G, here, pdf) but also in other contexts.
LASG: “Pit production for the stockpile is not needed…”This is a new and useful admission.
LASG: “…..unless somehow a grossly uneconomical scheme is devised in which the present inventory of roughly 5,000 backup pits, beyond the roughly 5,000 pits now in the nuclear stockpile, is deemed insufficient”No, if we had made that statement we would have used a larger number of excess pits -- over l5,000. We supplied a table (pdf, p. 19) as a reference with the estimated population, by type, of the pits we chiefly meant.
The facts are that all pits are not equal and some are more difficult than others to “promote” in order to achieve modern safety requirements. These requirements include the use of insensitive high explosives [IHE], the resistance to plutonium dispersion in the event of a fire and others intended to minimize the consequences in the event of an accident.These are not requirements. They are preferences, to be applied in selected cases. The Navy chose not to use IHE in the W76-1. One of the most frequent ways unnecessary nuclear weapons spending is generated for the contractors is by the artful use of tacit, unexamined assumptions.
LASG: “Barring such artificial, created “needs,” no large new plutonium pit manufacturing capability is needed to maintain an extremely large, diverse nuclear stockpile for the foreseeable future -- for generations.”Good. I could also have accurately said that a large, diverse stockpile can be maintained without any near-term stockpile pit production at all.
The NNSA faced the decision to construct a “large”(meaning a capacity of hundreds of pits per year) production facility in 2007 and the project known as either the Modern Pit Facility (MPF) or the Consolidated Plutonium Complex (CPC) was terminated. The article in Science and Technology Review summarizing Livermore's plutonium aging study, along with an earlier study at Los Alamos, re-affirms the DOE decision not to build a large-capacity "Modern Pit Facility" and instead pursue a limited manufacturing capability in existing and planned facilities at Los Alamos. A continued limited manufacturing capability is essential as noted in the S&T article.Not: "will require." The proper verb is "might require." This is the same problem. LANS hopes that repetition of unexamined tacit assumptions will hammer them home for most busy, distracted readers. They will then be much as General Groves described President Truman's decision-making in 1945, "like a little boy on a toboggan."
This could lead to pit manufacturing at the limited rates determined by the NNSA through the NEPA process and described in the SSMPEIS.Yes, it could. It could also lead to lower rates of stockpile production, or to no stockpile production at all.
LASG: “It would be counterproductive to plan or design for such a large facility now because the planning and design bases would change so much prior to any necessity for construction that the effort would need to be updated again and again."We are applauding more than that.
LASG: “These results are being reported by LLNL, not LANL, and they are only being reported now. ….”Importantly, these are not sorted, weighed, official pronouncements in the sense of the 2006 JASON report, and none of them is likely to include any classified aging mechanisms that might arise in the warheads themselves, to which LANL cryptically alludes.
LASG: “The plutonium laboratory which is producing these results is slated to be downgraded from a secure nuclear facility under current National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans. This would leave LANL as the sole arbiter of pit aging.”Good. Perhaps we were wrong, happily.
LASG: ”Why were these evolving results withheld until now, instead of being released, say, annually?Yes, but the general impression given to Congress in the context of spending decisions is quite different.
Scientific results are properly released when a study is completed. Interim reports are always shared and discussed within the scientific community, and the final results are submitted and peer reviewed for completeness. This is the normal mechanism of science, and we expect the LLNL scientists will be submitted these data for publication, at which time the data will be properly disclosed to the scientific community.On 3/21/12 there was this sharp exchange in Senate Energy and Water:
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Let's talk a little bit about pit production. In 2007 [sic – 2006] the JASONs found that the plutonium in pits can last up to 100 years without affecting nuclear weapons' performance. And recent assessments, I'm led to believe, may indicate that pit lifetimes may even approach 200 years. Has NNSA conducted pit aging studies in the last five years?Senator Feinstein, and we, have wanted NNSA's and LANS’ professional, official, findings – not a pile of scientific papers.
It is interesting that nowhere here does LANS mention the 2006 JASON findings (pdf), in which they concurred. NNSA's cover letter to that report states, among other findings, that "[w]e can, therefore, conclude that pit lifetimes do not at present determine warhead lifetimes." The new LLNL results add confidence to that conclusion, as they and we stated.