We share good ideas and conversation here.   Login, Join Us, or Take a Tour!
comment

I was gonna do the same but it's taken me a while to read to the end and I didn't wanna engage with it until I'd read all of it.

A few notes:

    Two billion of that goes to hunting down weapons-grade plutonium and uranium at loose in the world so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists.

It's processed here. Growing up, this was one of three roads to take to my oboe teacher's house (the community at the lower right is White Rock, where the nicer houses of the scientists who work at LANL live). About 2003-2004 they put up gates that Google wasn't allowed to drive up to.

    Anyway, he figured out soon enough that the D.O.E., though created in the late 1970s, largely in response to the Arab-oil embargo, had very little to do with oil and had a history that went back much farther than the 1970s.

It was created as the AEC in 1946 as a way to draw down the military budget and keep the weapons labs alive in a time when nobody had nukes but the US. During the late '60s/early '70s things got politically hot enough that it got folded into the DoE but it was abundantly clear growing up that we were still the AEC. The signage was everywhere, well into the '90s.

    It sent teams with equipment to big public events—the Super Bowl, for instance—to measure the radiation levels, in hopes of detecting a dirty bomb before it exploded.

This is NEST, who employed my father from '92 until he retired last year. They aren't all legit jump-out-of-helicopters realtree-wearing Rainbow 6 ninjas (my dad sure isn't) but they have them on salary.

    Why do I, as an incoming official at the D.O.E., need to be worried about North Korea?

Oddly enough, North Korea interfaces with the national labs more than they do with the US government. Sig Hecker, who shows up whenever North Korea is mentioned, ran LANL from '86 to '97. Bill Richardson, former head of the DOE, remains one of the primary points of contact with North Korea. During the last crisis during the Bush administration, North Korea asked for him by name and he's been the point man on many hostage exchanges. This is one reason all the alarmist shit coming out about North Korea lately doesn't impress me - it's mostly that dipshit in Connecticut that hasn't been a part of the process.

    Late one night, just southeast of San Jose, at Pacific Gas and Electric’s Metcalf substation, a well-informed sniper, using a .30-caliber rifle, had taken out 17 transformers. Someone had also cut the cables that enabled communication to and from the substation. “They knew exactly what lines to cut,” said Tarak Shah, who studied the incident for the D.O.E. “They knew exactly where to shoot. They knew exactly which manhole covers were relevant—where the communication lines were. These were feeder stations to Apple and Google.”

...all I will say is that growing up in the house of environmental scientists at a nuclear weapons lab, particularly those involved in nonproliferation, teaches you a lot about the fragility of every major system in your life... and convinces you that the principle thing keeping us all safe is a lack of intent. The vulnerability of American infrastructure is not a secret, but exploiting it remains an act of war and contrary to Republican fantasies, few countries in the world want war with the US.

    Anyway, when I had asked him for the fifth risk he thought about it and then seemed to relax a bit. I realized later that the fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. To begin, he said simply, “Project management.”

It's worth noting that the principle criticism political appointees have about the national labs is their unaccountability to politics. They're run for cowboys by cowboys and they have no patience for your 4-year-horizon bullshit. When they get in trouble, it's generally for not following the rules set by political appointees. So while Lewis is not wrong about the biblical-grade clusterfuck that is Hanford, the fact that nobody's at home in Washington doesn't really play into it.

It's also worth noting that the Rocky Flats cleanup was largely successful, and they found something like 60lbs of weapons-grade plutonium in the goddamn ductwork. Clearly, Hanford is a different scale of contamination (greater volume, lower toxicity) but don't count the DOE out when it comes to aggressive cleanup.

    The barrel with organic kitty litter in it had burst and spread waste inside the cavern.

Note that the WIPP site is largely intended for low-level products. A glove that has touched plutonium goes to WIPP. The plutonium goes somewhere else. Where? Well, that's been a problem for half a century now. But the kitty litter thing is pretty much how cowboys run things.

    The driver of a heavily armed unit assigned to move plutonium around the country was pulled over, on the job, for drunken driving.

Which is one reason LANL, at least, is hated to fuck by everyone else in New Mexico. Note that he was not charged with drunken driving - but Santa Fe hates the shit out of everything that comes out of the lab (going as far as demanding DOE pay for a 40-mile road that bypasses Santa Fe with all of the waste intended for the WIPP plant) and that the local Native American tribes will gladly hassle any citizen with Los Alamos stickers on their license plates. Rolling a WIPP shipment is baller but entirely within the profile of every tribe I grew up with.

Magnolia released a hell of a documentary about nuclear non-proliferation, by the way; learning about why you want the DOE fully funded is just two entertaining hours away: