Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • Plutonium found outside WIPP

    CARLSBAD (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy has appointed a team to investigate the detection of radiation in and near a southeastern New Mexico facility that’s the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository in operation.
    The assessment of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will be conducted by an accident investigation board consisting of department officials and representatives of health and safety agencies, the department said in a statement released late Wednesday.
    The board will be assisted by experts in fields such as fire protection, ventilation, and mine safety, the department said.
    An underground monitor at the plant near Carlsbad detected airborne radiation late Friday night, and an independent monitor center said Wednesday it found radioactive isotopes in an air sensor a half-mile from the plant.
    A filter from a monitor northwest of the plant had trace amounts of americium and plutonium, said Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an arm of New Mexico State University.
    The detected levels are highest ever detected at or around the site but also far below those deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency, Hardy said.

  • NNSA reaches milestone

    The National Nuclear Security Administration this week announced that Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories successfully completed the first full-system mechanical environment test of the B61-12 as part of the NNSA’s ongoing effort to refurbish the B61 nuclear bomb.
    This first full-system mechanical environment test is one of several critical milestones for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP).
    The B61-12 LEP is an essential element of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent and of the U.S.’s commitments to extended deterrence.
    “As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure and effective without the use of underground nuclear explosive testing,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook. “The first full-system mechanical environmental test of the B61-12 is a significant achievement and gives us confidence in our ability to move forward with our efforts to increase the safety and security of the bomb.”
    The B61-12 LEP is now in its second year of development engineering.
    The scope of this LEP includes refurbishment of both nuclear and non-nuclear components to address aging, ensure extended service life and improve security and reliability of the bomb.

  • LANL lecture set for Feb. 12

    Tanmoy Bhattacharya of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Theoretical Division will talk about the laboratory’s research in HIV genetics and how the deluge of new data is going to impact its future at 5:30 p.m., Feb. 12 at the Bradbury Science Museum. The talk is the second in a series of evening lectures planned this year at the museum, and is free and open to the public.
    “In biology, access to large amounts of genetic information about organisms revolutionized the way we could analyze their behavior and relationships; Los Alamos scientists contributed to this development on both the experimental and theoretical fronts,” Bhattacharya said.
    The talk, titled “Genetics in the Era of Big Data,” will examine how the laboratory’s ability to process massive amounts of data with supercomputers is helping scientists understand, among other issues, the HIV virus.

  • DOE information about WIPP fire

    The Department of Energy released a statement Wednesday on the fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
    According to the release, a mine rescue team entered WIPP and confirmed that the fire was extinguished.
    Late in the day, WIPP officials were working on a plan for safe re-entry to the underground storage area, but no time frame had been determined at that time.
    A joint information center was established in Carlsbad. Public inquiries about WIPP can be made to the center by calling 575-234-7380 or 800-336-9477.
    Other information can be found at WIPP’s website, wipp.energy.gov.

  • WIPP materials remain safe

    CARLSBAD (AP) — Crews declared a blaze at an underground nuclear repository in southeastern New Mexico snuffed out and determined that there was minimal damage after a truck hauling salt caught fire and prompted an evacuation.
    Two mine rescue teams went into the earth at the Carlsbad-area Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where the federal government seals away its low-grade nuclear waste, including plutonium-contaminated clothing and tools. The teams determined the fire was no longer burning and reported the air was clear and safe to breathe, a news release and Susan Scott, a spokeswoman who answered an emergency line, said late Wednesday.
    All employees were evacuated from the underground site after the fire broke out about 11 a.m. Wednesday, and none of the radioactive waste was affected, plant officials said.
    Six people were treated for smoke inhalation and released a short while later.
    Early Thursday, officials said the situation was stable and firefighting foam was applied to prevent embers from reigniting.
    Emergency response efforts wrapped up but an investigation is underway in an effort to get the plant safely back online, a statement said.
    A phone call to the plant early Thursday morning went unanswered.
    No information was released on what caused the blaze or when the site would reopen.

  • LANS awards Venture Fund grants

    A total of six Northern New Mexico Native American-owned and operated businesses received a total of $60,000 in grants through a new Native American Venture Acceleration Fund created by Los Alamos National Security and the Regional Development Corporation.
    The grants are designed to help the recipients create jobs, increase their revenue base and help diversify the area economy.
    Funding comes from LANS, which manages Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Native American Venture Acceleration Fund is managed by the Regional Development Corporation.
    “The positive responses and active engagement in the Native American Venture Acceleration Fund are encouraging,” said Kurt Steinhaus, director of the lab’s Community Programs Office. “These entrepreneurs and their companies are vital to the Northern New Mexico economy.”
    Among those receiving grants are the following companies:

    • NDN Energy of Jemez Pueblo, to provide lower cost energy to gaming tribes in deregulated states, development of website and print collateral and to develop an advertising plan.

    • Three Eagles Development Corporation of Picuris Pueblo, to provide packaging and barcoding for expansion of a new natural charcoal product.

  • Report: Possible conflict not disclosed in contract award

    The Department of Energy Inspector General is investigating an allegation from the Los Alamos Field Office concerning a possible conflict of interest in a consultant agreement awarded to an individual who was the spouse of a senior manager at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    According to documents obtained by the Los Alamos Monitor, in a memorandum to the acting manager of the Los Alamos Field Office from Sandra D. Bruce, the assistant Inspector General for Inspections, it was alleged that neither the consultant nor the senior manager disclosed their spousal relationship to LANL.
    The document went onto to say that it was further alleged that work was performed before the consultant agreement was signed and also that hours were charged by the consultant for work that was not performed.
    The inspection, meanwhile, substantiated all aspects of the allegation.
    “We found that LANL inappropriately awarded a sole source consultant agreement to an individual who was the spouse of a senior LANL manager.”
    The inspection also said, “we also discovered that the consultant did not disclose his spousal relationship with the senior LANL manager at the time of the award.”

  • Pantex HPFL work done under budget

    Work on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s High Pressure Fire Loop (HPFL) project at its Pantex Plant, located near Amarillo, Texas, was completed in December 2013 on schedule and more than $5 million under budget.
    The HPFL is designed to enhance the reliability of safety-class fire suppression systems to ensure that the Pantex Plant will be able to meet mission assignments in critical production areas.
    According to a press release issued by the NNSA, this project reduces the risk of unplanned facility system outages, reduces system maintenance requirements and represents NNSA’s broader efforts to improve project management.
    “The successful completion of the High Pressure Fire Loop saved taxpayers millions of dollars while ensuring that critical NNSA mission work can be completed safely and on time,” said Bob Raines, NNSA’s associate administrator for acquisition and project management. “We have worked hard to get better at project management, and as our nuclear security enterprise ages and we continue to undertake similar projects, our work at Pantex should serve as an example moving forward. The dedication and teamwork demonstrated by B&W Pantex and the Federal project team were instrumental in the successful completion of the project.”

  • IG targets security project

    Last week, the Department of Energy Inspector General released a special report regarding the NNSA’s management of the $245 million Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrades Project Phase II at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    The project has struggled with cost tracking, estimates, and construction defects.
    In a statement, lab spokesman Fred DeSousa said, “We’ve acknowledged that there were deficiencies and we’re committed to correcting them, not only in the specific ways mentioned in the Inspector General’s report but in a broader sense on project management lab-wide. In fiscal year 2013, we achieved official project completion (CD-4) on five projects, each on or ahead of schedule and under the agreed costs. That’s what the government expects and that is our goal on each project.”
    On Nov. 15, LANL project managers declared construction completion on the NMSSUP system surrounding its primary plutonium facility, and the first portion of the system’s Entry Control Facility is now in use.
    The upgrade is now in the activation and testing phase and security officers are receiving training on the new equipment and software while activation and testing, continued during the holiday break.

  • Herrera elected chair

    Susan Herrera, CEO of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, has been elected chair of the Board of the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers.
    The association serves foundations and private philanthropists throughout New Mexico. It hosted a conference “Finding Common Ground: Joining Together to Improve New Mexico” late last year at Tamaya Resort for grantmakers and nonprofits. The conference was partially funded by a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
    Other officers are Dolores Roybal, executive director of Con Alma Health Care Foundation; immediate past board chair; Adam Rubel, steering committee member of the Kindle Project, vice-chair; Laurie Betlach, program director of the Lannan Foundation, secretary; and Bob Mang treasurer of Jessica’s Love Foundation, treasurer.
    The association plans to hire a new executive director by March.