DOE Stockpile Report: Lab workforce to stabilize

-A A +A

Stockpile plan > DOE and NNSA unveil plan for LANL

By The Staff

The Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration unveiled its 2014 Stockpile Stewardship Management Plan, and in so doing it revealed some of its plans for the Los Alamos National Laboratory and provided a forecast for the LANL workforce in the next five years.

A big part of the NNSA plan was the issue of the aging nuclear security enterprise.

And the report revealed the thinking behind deferring the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility for five or more years.

The report reads, “This deferral is only possible by leveraging previous investments such as the new radiological laboratory for analytical chemistry; conducting the plutonium characterization work at LANL and possibly other available laboratories, as necessary; and accelerating plans to process, package, and ship excess special nuclear material out of the plutonium facility at LANL.

“NNSA plans to phase in capabilities sooner than planned for CMRR-NF by adding equipment in the existing infrastructure. NNSA is also evaluating the feasibility of constructing small laboratory modules connected to existing nuclear facilities that could accommodate higher risk plutonium operations in more modern space. This solution would provide NNSA with continuity of the current capabilities essential for meeting future plutonium manufacturing and characterization requirements. When combined with equipment and infrastructure upgrades to pit manufacturing capacity, this plutonium strategy would meet the needs of the stockpile defined in this 25-year plan.”

The president’s budget request to Congress will increase funding by 9 percent in the areas of modernizing and sustaining the infrastructure and the stockpile. This fiscal year (FY) 2014 SSMP, however, does not include the impact on planning and budget of the FY 2013 budget sequestration, which would lead to adjustments to out-year plans.

The report detailed the scope of the life extension programs (LEPs) currently planned.

The Nuclear Weapons Council has conveyed a number of changes to DOD’s requirements. Among these changes are the following.

The W76-1 LEP production will be completed in FY 2019 rather than in FY 2021, while still meeting the Navy’s schedule for the operationally deployed units.

The first production unit of the B61-12, consolidating the B61-3, -4,-7, and -10, is planned for completion in FY 2019.

NNSA plans to complete the first production unit for the W88 Alteration, which comprises improvements to arming, fusing, and firing components and provides for sufficient logistical spares through the weapon lifetime by early FY 2019 rather than by late FY 2018. NNSA is conducting a study for an interoperable warhead, the W78/88-1, to meet the DOD requirement for a first production unit in FY 2025 rather than in FY 2023.”

The management report also detailed forecasts for LANL employees.

Beginning in FY13, LANL’s total management and operating workforce consisted of 7,605 positions with the majority working in weapons activities.

The report said, “Overall retention of employees at LANL is not an issue at this time. LANL has a good retention rate for its career employee population and a better retention rate for employees supporting weapons activities with essential skills. Historically, LANL has been able to recruit and replenish the workforce considered essential to Defense Programs.

“However, projections over the next five years indicate the need to replace approximately 600 scientists, engineers, and technicians to support weapons activities. Some essential-skills areas, such as nuclear design and evaluation, underground experimentation, threat reduction, lasers, pulsed power, and accelerators, are expected to lose over 40 percent of their current population within the next five years. These essential-skills areas, along with computer and computational sciences, computational physics, and high-performance computing, are long-term vulnerabilities.”

The report said that LANL’s ongoing efforts to hire and retain employees with essential skills cover a broad range of programs and initiatives. LANL has formed several institutes, each with a partner university or a consortium of universities.

“LANL sponsors extensive workforce development “pipeline” education programs for students and postdoctoral researchers. The internal pipeline is used to ensure employees with the essential skills are developed to meet future needs.

“Seventy-one percent of all new R&D staff hires and conversions in the last 5 years have been from the internal pipeline (students, postdoctoral fellows, and limited-term employees). Fifty-three percent of all current R&D employees were at one time students or postdoctoral fellows at LANL.”