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Feds probe thefts at labs

By Associated Press

The Associated Press

Federal officials say workers have stolen radioactive materials from Los Alamos National Laboratory multiple times this year.
Items were taken from an area that stores contaminated materials before they’re shipped elsewhere. A federal court filing says there have been 76 thefts by Los Alamos personnel in 2015.
An affidavit says lab officials contacted federal investigators on Sept. 30 to say a subcontractor’s employee had stolen items.
The Los Alamos Police Department had responded to a larceny call the previous day at another technical area, TA-18, where a witness had seen a man throwing items from the trunk of his car into bushes along the roadside. Los Alamos police found a bandsaw, garden hose, Truefit gloves, screwdriver set and conduit, some of them marked “TA-54.”
The Los Alamos officer immediately notified radioactive control technicians to survey for contamination. Both the individuals and items found were positive for alpha-emitting isotopes, and two individuals at the spot where the items were discovered were taken to the lab’s occupational health clinic for decontamination.
One individual who was interviewed said some contaminated gloves left in a LANL vehicle the week before had gone missing.

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Curiosity rover confirms existence of a large ancient lake on Mars

New findings released Friday in the journal Science show substantial bodies of water likely existed on the surface of the planet in its early history – including long-lasting lakes that built up deposits at least 250 feet deep, and likely much deeper.
The findings are based on analysis of images that were returned by NASA’s Curiosity rover over a 2.5-year period and show finely layered sediment in Gale crater, Curiosity’s landing site, that could only have been deposited by water flows.
“Skeptics have often asserted that evidence of water on Mars could be attributed to ephemeral, local wet episodes,” said Roger Wiens, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who is a co-author on the paper. “But based on these images from Curiosity, we know that, in fact, Mars had a rainy and snowy environment billions of years ago for an extended period of time. We wouldn’t see the millions of layers of contiguous fluvial sediment otherwise.”
Before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, scientists proposed that Gale crater had filled with layers of sediments. Some hypotheses proposed that the sediments accumulated from wind-blown dust and sand, while others asserted that sediment layers were deposited in an ancient lake.

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Los Alamos lab running out of storage for nuclear waste

By Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Los Alamos National Laboratory has only a narrow time frame before it runs out of room to store its nuclear waste.

The lab's radioactive transuranic waste is supposed to be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, but that site was shut down last year after the underground storage area was contaminated, reported the Albuquerque Journal. Transuranic waste can include items like protective boots and gloves, machinery and sludge.

A Los Alamos waste drum at WIPP popped open because it contained an incorrectly packed mix of combustible materials, creating an estimated half-billion dollars of clean up work. The state Environment Department fined the lab $36.6 million for the accident and DOE cut its fee to the lab's contract operator by 90 percent.

The Los Alamos lab is expected to reach its maximum waste storage capacity sometime in the federal fiscal year that begins in fall 2016, according to a report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The storage facility was initially slated to reopen in March 2016. This summer, however, the U.S. Department of Energy said safety concerns and equipment setbacks delayed the opening indefinitely.

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New DOE/NNSA procurement system disadvantages small vendors.

Coalition supports subcontractors' initiatives

By Arin McKenna

At its Sept. 11 meeting at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities voted unanimously to support LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Major Subcontractors Consortium initiatives that would help its members compete for Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration contracts.
MSC Vice Chairman Jeff Lunsford delineated the challenges New Mexico’s subcontractors have faced since DOE instituted a centralized procurement system called the Supply Chain Management Center in 2006, which NNSA developed in an effort to lower the cost of procuring goods and services at DOE/NNSA facilities nationwide.
MSC is comprised of Northern New Mexico businesses that hold LANL contracts valued at $5 million or more. MSC members have been heavily impacted by SCMC and are looking for ways to compete within that system.
“In this world, we’re moving to national contracts. That’s what SCMC is about: fewer contractors, fewer bids, a lot of efficiencies to be gained,” Lunsford said.
“The national focus is a challenge. We really believe it misses the point that each of these DOE and NNSA sites is a member of the community that they’re in, that the community has made tremendous investments in supporting these sites and their partners.”

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Donations: More than 225 groups get $162,650 in donations

Nonprofits benefit from LA National Security help

More than 225 nonprofit organizations received $162,650 from Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which manages Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The LANS contributions are determined by the number of volunteer hours logged by Laboratory employees and retirees through an organization called VolunteerMatch.
“The genuine care and commitment Laboratory employees and retirees have for their communities are clearly demonstrated by the number of hours volunteered to these nonprofit organizations,” said Kathy Keith, director of Los Alamos’ Community Programs Office, which oversees the volunteer program.
In 2014, Laboratory employees and retirees logged 282,268 hours of volunteer service. Since the Laboratory joined VolunteerMatch in 2007, Los Alamos employees and retirees reported more than 1.8 million volunteer hours.
A list of nonprofits receiving monetary donations is at lanl.gov/community-environment/community-commitment/giving/_assets/docs/lanl-volunteers-2014.pdf.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security,

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Multi-institutional project to study climate change’s effect on tropical forests

Tropical forests play a major role in the planet’s carbon cycle, but there are large uncertainties over how they will respond over the next 100 years as the planet’s climate warms.
An expansive new project called Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics, or NGEE-Tropics, aims to bring the future of tropical forests into much clearer focus.
“Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists are playing a major role in the project, specifically in relation to quantifying, understanding, and modeling drought impacts on tropical forests, and improving the next-generation of models” said scientist Nate McDowell, project leader of the Los Alamos components.
The project’s goal is the development of a model that represents how tropical forests interact with Earth’s climate in much greater ecological detail than ever before. This will help scientists explore, more accurately than is possible today, how rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, increasing greenhouse gas levels and other natural and human-induced changes affect tropical forests’ influence on Earth’s climate.
Scientists know less about the flux of carbon, water and energy between tropical forests and the atmosphere than about most other biomes. These processes are also poorly represented in climate models.

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Community briefs 1-8-15

Craig Martin to discuss county Open Space plan


Craig Martin will give a talk about his plan for the Los Alamos Open Space System, a plan he’s been working on for 15 years. The talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center on Orange St.
The purpose of the plan is to identify the key features of county open space that make Los Alamos a desirable place to live and visit, and to outline ways to protect those important resources. The features identified by the plan are vistas and viewpoints, natural resources, cultural and historical resources, the Los Alamos County Trail Network and open space as trail corridors and “Neighborhood open space.”
The work on this plan began in the late 1990s when the county established two open space planning committees. Martin’s plan relies heavily on the work of those committees, which represents about four years of work.

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State levies $54M in fines over WIPP incident; Lab accounts for more than $36M in fines

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico on Saturday levied more than $54 million in penalties against the U.S. Department of Energy for numerous violations that resulted in the indefinite closure of the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository.

The state Environment Department delivered a pair of compliance orders to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, marking the state's largest penalty ever imposed on the agency. Together, the orders outline more than 30 state permit violations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico and at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The orders and the civil penalties that come with them are just the beginning of possible financial sanctions the Energy Department could face in New Mexico. The state says it's continuing to investigate and more fines are possible.

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McMillan responds to reports of alleged missteps by LANL


Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan denounced a published report earlier this week that exposed missteps at the lab that played a part in a radiation leak at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.

In an internal memo to staff, obtained by the Los Alamos Monitor, McMillan dismissed suggestions that the lab was withholding scientific theories about the Feb. 14 accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

“I want to assure you that nothing is further from the truth, and scientific integrity is valued above all else at this institution,” he said in the memo.

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Labs, partners commit to STEM

Following up on a joint CEO proclamation on STEM education, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and several partners are hosting a discussion on “STEM Education in New Mexico” at 10 a.m. Saturday at Highland High School in Albuquerque.
Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan, Sandia National Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, and other CEOs of top employers in the state, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, Intel, PNM Resources and Northrop Grumman, signed a proclamation that recognizes the importance of the STEM fields in New Mexico and commits Los Alamos and its STEM partners to lead the way in sparking math and scientific inspiration in New Mexico residents and engage students in hands-on, minds-on STEM activities.
“Through this partnership, we continue to inspire and cultivate the curiosity of students as they consider STEM as a career option,” said Kurt Steinhaus, Los Alamos’ Community Programs Office Director. “This discussion — and a proclamation signed by the partners — emphasizes the importance of working together as we ‘grow our own’ and help meet workforce needs in New Mexico.”

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Unusual dark space found by LANL, NASA



By looking at the dark spaces between visible galaxies and stars the NASA/JPL CIBER sounding rocket experiment has produced data that could redefine what constitutes a galaxy.

“What was very surprising is the brightness of many fluctuations that appear between stars and galaxies,” said Los Alamos scientist Joseph Smidt, part of the data analysis team that studied the data from CIBER. “These fluctuations are having us rethink what goes on between stars and galaxies. The data suggests that galaxies shed many more of their stars into the intervening space than was originally thought.”

Results from two of four CIBER flights, launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2010 and 2012, appear in today’s issue of the journal Science.

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DOE IG IDs 'major weaknesses' at LANL

By Associated Press


A report issued Wednesday by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Energy squarely places blame for the shutdown of the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository on failures at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The inspector general's office identified several major weaknesses in the lab's procedures for packing contaminated gloves, tools and other radiological wastes that were destined for permanent storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico.

Not all of the lab's procedures were properly vetted and some procedures didn't conform with environmental requirements, according to the findings.

The report reinforces the findings of internal reviews done by the lab and the Energy Department following a Feb. 14 release of radiation from a barrel of waste that came from Los Alamos. The release contaminated 22 workers and forced the indefinite closure of the nuclear waste repository.

"Our review identified several major deficiencies in LANL's procedures for the development and approval of waste packaging and remediation techniques that may have contributed to the radiological event," the inspector general said.

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DOE releases WIPP recovery plan


Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) released the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Recovery Plan, outlining the necessary steps to resume operations at the transuranic waste disposal site outside of Carlsbad, N.M. WIPP operations were suspended following an underground truck fire and a radiological release earlier this year.                                                         

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WIPP: Second drum didn't breach


 Recent news reports have incorrectly suggested that there is a second breached drum in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) underground facility. 

According to a WIPP press release, there is no evidence to suggest a release from a second drum. The site conducted initial surveys that showed no evidence of a radiological release from Panel 6, and we have seen no evidence since then that suggests anything different. 

“Worker safety is the Department’s highest priority and workers entering radiologically controlled areas of the WIPP underground facility are trained and equipped with state of the art protective equipment. Safety measures are being taken to protect all workers during every entry into the underground facility,” the press release stated.

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LANL achieves low radioactive emissions rate


Los Alamos National Laboratory achieved its lowest radioactive air emissions rate in 20 years in 2013, according to annual air quality results released recently.

According to a lab press release, each year, the laboratory measures air emissions through a comprehensive system of 40 air monitoring stations located at the laboratory and in neighboring communities that provide data about ambient air quality. The laboratory monitors 80 minor sources and 29 major sources at the laboratory, such as exhaust stacks from radiological and nuclear facilities.

In 2013, the Los Alamos offsite dose rate was 0.21 millirem, about 2 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act limit of 10 millirem. This 20-year low is attributed to focused, more efficient operations and the cleanup of legacy environmental sites.

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