LANL receives $5 billion to upgrade aging facilities

Some facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory date to the 1950s, said Thom Mason, LANL director. Courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory via Associated Press

By now, most of the equipment from the dawn of the Atomic Age has found its way to a museum.

But some facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory — the nation’s foremost nuclear weapons research center — date to the 1950s, said Thom Mason, LANL director.

That reality, coupled with the lab’s evolving mission, is spurring a $5 billion upgrade to aging buildings and equipment still in use in the 21st century, Mason said in an interview this week. Though state of the art when built during the Cold War, some aging infrastructure is now outdated.

More than 300 of 740 buildings the lab uses were built before 1970. Another 474 were built before 1990 and 543 before 2000, according to the lab.

Although much of the attention about upgrades has centered on the lab’s PF-4 building, which processes plutonium, other structures that need updating include the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility, which studies nuclear samples in support of national security programs, including plutonium pit production. The first parts of the 550,000-square-foot facility were built in 1952.

“At the end of the Cold War, there was an infrastructure that had been built across the country to support the nuclear deterrent,” Mason said. “And that was sized for a different time and built a long time ago. And there was a period of time when … we coasted on that legacy infrastructure.

“I think there were hopes that we were heading into a new world where we may wind up in a different position in terms of the global position for nuclear weapons,” he said. “And now we’re reaching the point where that aging infrastructure is … no longer fit for service, and we’re having to kind of re-gauge and look at what’s the right size and scale of infrastructure for the 21st century.”

The $1 billion-a-year upgrades come as LANL gears up to meet an increased production target of 30 plutonium pits per year by 2026. The radioactive, grapefruit-sized pits are the core of nuclear weapons.

Upgrades could continue climbing to more than $13 billion over 1o years, with congressional budget approvals.

Mason said the lab also is working on safety upgrades and two new parking structures to accommodate about 1,000 new workers hired every year. About half are to replace retiring workers, Mason said.

The plans raise concerns of some critics who say they’ve been unable to obtain site plans detailing the nature of the work to be done for the next five years and beyond.

“A lot more transparency is needed because this is a big program, and even if it were just restoring old Cold War buildings, the scale of the effort and the planned expansion of the lab by a few thousand people is a major undertaking,” said Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.

The lab, which for the past several years has struggled with safety problems — a 2019 Department of Energy report outlined persisting safety problems that went unresolved for more than a decade, including fire-protection issues, improper shipments of atomic materials and mislabeled hazardous waste — has made some improvements, said Mason, who took over as the lab’s director in late 2018.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve gotten to where we want to be this year,” he said. “It’s going to take several years to get that baked into the system. We need to be best in class, and we’re not yet.”

Mason said the LANL upgrades include work on constructing a new supercomputer called Crossroads that will replace the lab’s existing supercomputer, Trinity.

The computer is a key piece of technology that will be used in keeping tabs on the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile after Trinity nears the end of its lifetime in 2021.

Crossroads will aid in “the ever-increasing computing requirements to support the weapons program,” according to a LANL document.

Show what you're thinking about this story

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.
1
0
1
0
0

(5) comments

Erich Kuerschner

Note to editor. erichww IS Erich Kuerschner (the erichwwk was autogenerated by the paper). There were a few typoos, corrected here, and I request this version be submitted instead. Thank you

*************

It does seem clear we need better reporting.

This report does not help readers to understand why Northern New Mexicans are poor, what can be done to alleviate the poverty, and especially the role LANL plays in that poverty. As resources devoted to the nuclear weapons programs at LANL increases, those direct recipients of that WELFARE do indeed benefit, but as economic reasoning suggests (all the way back to Adam Smith, one of the first to recognize that it is productive OUPUT, not money or job that is the source of wealth,) that increase of the few comes at the expense -is theft from. as DDE put it) the rest of the population. While a few can indeed cheat and steal themselves richer, that increased wealth comes at the expense of making the rest of the population poorer. There was a time when the SF New Mexican was at the forefront of reporting on LANL. I strongly urge the paper to return to that reporting. The LANL community already ranks well above the rest of New Mexicans in their share of income and wealth. It would be VERY helpful if the paper could report on whether LANL contributes to raising or lowering or lowering median household income. As the ABQ Jrnl editorial staff wrote in their opinion piece on June 5, 2018 “Wasting billions in federal tax dollars just the pits” “…there are also billions of reasons to take a hard, unbiased look at what the nation truly needs to keep its nuclear deterrence vibrant. And what is just expensive and dangerous busy work.” https://www.abqjournal.com/1180661/wasting-billions-in-federal-tax-dollars-just-the-pits.html

How about taking that hard, unbiased look, Santa Fe New Mexican?

Erich Kuerschner

It does seem clear we need better reporting. This report does not help readers to understand why Northern New Mexicans are poor, what can be done to alleviate the poverty, and especially the role LANL plays in that poverty. A resources devoted to the nuclear weapons programs at LANL increases, those direct recipients of that WELFARE do indeed benefit, but as economic reasoning suggests (all the way back to Adam Smith, one of the first to recognize that it is productive OUPUT, not money or jobs) that is the source of wealth. While a few can indeed cheat and steal themselves richer, that increased wealth comes at the expense of making the rest of the population poorer.

There was a time when the SF New Mexican was at the forefront of reporting on LANL. I strongly urge the paper to return to that reporting. The LANL community already ranks well above the rest of New Mexicans in their share of income and wealth. It would be VERY helpful if the paper could report on whether LANL contributes to raising or lowering or lowering median household income.

As the ABQ Jrnl editorial staff wrote in their opinion piece on June 5, 2018 “Wasting billions in federal tax dollars just the pits”

“…there are also billions of reasons to take a hard, unbiased look at what the nation truly needs to keep its nuclear deterrence vibrant.

And what is just expensive and dangerous busy work.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1180661/wasting-billions-in-federal-tax-dollars-just-the-pits.html

How about aaking that hard, unbiased look, Santa Fe New Mexican?

Alfonso Duran

WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU. I BET YOU GO HOME TO A WARM COZY PLACE WHILE THOUSANDS OF OUR NEIGHBORS IN THE ESPANOLA AND SANTA CRUISE VALLEYS STRUGGLE TO PUT FOOD ON THEIR TABLE. THIS INCLUDES ALL THE GRANDPARENTS RAISING GRAND CHILDREN (66 PERCENT OF ALL CHILDREN). WE NEED WORK AND YOU ARE SITTING BACK WELL PAID AND TRYING TO STOP EXPANSION OF LOS ALAMOS. WE NEED THOSE CONSTRUCTION JOBS AND THE ONES THAT FOLLOW.

Tom Aageson Aageson

It would be important to dedicate some of these funds towards correcting the vulnerability of our power systems.

Greg Mello

It is not really fair to assign a brand-new reporter who knows nothing about the issue to write about this topic on a very short notice. It appears there was a strong political agenda involved, namely to support LANL and its expansion into new missions as well as overall. Yes, transparency is lacking, but Triad and NNSA, which owns LANL, have also said a great deal. This article is fundamentally misleading -- fake news, to use the current lingo. It selectively omits facts to give quite a mistaken impression of what is going on. Please do better. I know you can.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.