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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • IG pushes to enhance safeguards at Area G

    The Department of Energy Inspector General recently released a report addressing safety issues at Area G at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    It was the second inspection in two years of Material Disposal Area G, located in Technical Area 54. The site is one of Los Alamos’ active disposal areas for low-level radioactive waste. 

    The report reads, “We noted that Los Alamos developed corrective actions designed to address safety issues identified during the 2011 safety assessments. While progress had been made, our inspection identified opportunities for further improvements regarding training, the consistency of Area G operational activities with safety requirements and updating safety-related documents.”

  • LANL extends deadline

    In order to help students who have been contending with state testing as well as getting ready for spring break, Los Alamos National Laboratory officials are extending the registration deadline to April 12 for the Los Alamos STEM Challenge.
    It’s a contest meant to highlight LANL’s 70th birthday, as well as what students know about science, technology, engineering and math.
    According to the STEM Challenge website, stemarts.com, the contest is only open to students in grades six through 12 or home school equivalent.
    LANL officials prefer that teachers register the students as a team, but home school students are also welcome to join.
    After students register, the next step is to write an essay, create a video, design a poster or design an app and turn it in by April 30, according to Janelle Vigil-Maestas, an education specialist with LANL’s Community Programs division.
    The four categories must reflect these STEM categories: biology, chemistry, computer science, Earth science, environmental science, physics robotics or space technology.
    LANL employees will judge the designs for creativity and ingenuity. While the designs don’t have to necessarily work, they should be feasible enough to.

  • End of the Road for Roadrunner

    Roadrunner, the first supercomputer to break the once-elusive petaflop barrier—one million billion calculations per second—will be decommissioned on Sunday, March 31.

    During its five operational years, Roadrunner, part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program to provide key computer simulations for the Stockpile Stewardship Program, was a workhorse system providing computing power for stewardship of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, and in its early shakedown phase, a wide variety of unclassified science. The IBM system achieved petaflop speed in 2008, shortly after installation at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    "Roadrunner exemplified stockpile stewardship: an excellent team integrating complex codes with advanced computing architectures to ensure a safe, secure and effective deterrent," said Chris Deeney, NNSA Assistant Deputy Administrator for Stockpile Stewardship. "Roadrunner and its successes have positioned us well to weather the technology changes on the HPC horizon as we implement stockpile modernization without recourse to underground testing."

  • No cuts foreseen at laboratory

    As far as the budget and economy is concerned, Congress continues to kick the can down the road.

    In the past week, the House of Representatives and Senate approved a new stop-gap measure to continue funding the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year. President Barack Obama made it official Tuesday afternoon, signing the bill.

    So how will the continuing resolution affect the Los Alamos National Laboratory?
    Lab Director Charlie McMillan shed some light on the subject at a community leader’s breakfast meeting at Ohkay Owingeh Casino Tuesday.

    But there still was quite a bit of uncertainty on how the numbers will play out.
    McMillan said he expects that sequestration will result in reduction to lab funding, ranging between $100 million and $120 million.

    “Having said that,” McMillan said, “this is not a surprise because we did not expect 2013 to be a big budget year for the lab. We have managed our budgets in the past year to minimize the cuts this year.”

    He expects to see challenges in the cybersecurity front as well as in plutonium conversion. McMillan also foresees some possible cuts in the environmental program.

    But he also said it could be worse.

  • LANL’s Melton to head W. Va. Capitol agency

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An official at the Los Alamos National Laboratory will oversee the West Virginia Capitol and other state buildings.
    Administration Secretary Ross Taylor announced Gregory Melton as the new director of the General Services Division on Monday. Melton starts April 1.
    A West Virginia native, Melton has been a maintenance manager and group leader at Los Alamos. The New Mexico complex is 36 square miles with more than 1,200 buildings and 8 million square feet of facility space.
    General Services oversees the state Capitol building and its campus as well as other state government buildings around West Virginia.
    Melton is a West Virginia University graduate and a former U.S. Air Force officer. He succeeds David Oliverio, who helped oversee a major turnaround at General Services before his departure earlier this month.

  • LANL sleuth on trail of Martian mystery

    When it comes to examining the surface of rocks on Mars with a high-powered laser, five is a magic number for Los Alamos National Laboratory postdoctoral researcher Nina Lanza.
    During a poster session today at the 44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas, Lanza described how the laser-shooting ChemCam instrument aboard the Curiosity rover currently searching the surface of Mars for signs of habitability has shown what appears to be a common feature on the surface of some very different Martian rocks during Curiosity’s first 90 days on the Red Planet.
    But exactly what that common feature is remains an intriguing mystery — and one that Lanza intends to solve.
    The ChemCam instrument uses an extremely powerful laser to vaporize a pinpoint of rock surface. The instrument then reads the chemical composition of the vaporized sample with a spectrometer. The highly accurate laser can fire multiple pulses in the same spot, providing scientists with an opportunity to gently interrogate a rock sample, even up to a millimeter in depth. Many rocks are zapped 30 to 50 times in a single location, and one rock was zapped 600 times.
    Members of the ChemCam team generally discard results from the first five laser blasts because of a belief that after the first five blasts.

  • Flyovers find no increase in radioactivity

    Measurements from two recent aerial flyovers to determine the presence of background and man-made radioactivity brought good news for Los Alamos County and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    The radiological surveys, conducted in August 2011 and June 2012, found that radioisotopes and their associated exposure rates are consistent with those expected from normal background radiation.

    “These surveys were well worth the effort,” said Juan Griego, acting manager for the Los Alamos Field Office. “The results are good news and the information will benefit the lab and the community for years to come as we work toward cleanup and sustainability.”

    The 2011 survey focused on the White Rock community and Los Alamos National Laboratory, over which a specially equipped helicopter from Nevada’s Remote Sensing Lab flew approximately 150-feet above ground to gather radiological data.

    The 2012 survey concentrated on the Los Alamos town site. That survey gathered data from 300 feet above the ground in order to limit noise to residents and animals, specifically the horses on North Mesa. Measurements taken from the flyover are equivalent to measurements taken from one meter above ground.

  • NMED takes action on WIPP

    The New Mexico Environment Department took final administrative action on a Class 2 permit modification request to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Hazardous Waste Facility Permit Wednesday.
    NMED has approved the modification with changes regarding the mandatory testing of all mixed waste containers. This permit modification is not related to the recent news regarding an anticipated permit modification request for the Hanford tank waste.
    The Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office and Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC (the permittees) submitted a Class 2 PMR to the NMED on Dec. 12, seeking to revise the waste analysis plan waste characterization methods.
    NMED did a review of the proposed changes on waste analysis plan waste characterization methods. This included the review of comments submitted during a 60-day public comment period, which began Dec. 19 and ended Feb. 18.

    From a press release 

  • Exercise planned Thursday at LANL

    Los Alamos National Laboratory will conduct an emergency-preparedness exercise Thursday. It is only an exercise. The lab routinely conducts emergency exercises to test the preparedness of emergency response and other LANL personnel who would respond to an actual emergency.
    The majority of the exercise is on LANL property and shouldn’t affect the public. Signs will be placed outside the Los Alamos Medical Center alerting the public that an exercise is under way. LANL employees in affected facilities will be notified before the exercise begins and when it is completed. Los Alamos County also has been notified of the emergency exercise.
    For more information, call Steve Sandoval at 665-9206.

  • Physicists say they have found a Higgs boson

    The search is all but over for a subatomic particle that is a crucial building block of the universe.

    Physicists announced Thursday they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.

    The elusive particle, called a Higgs boson, was predicted in 1964 to help fill in our understanding of the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang. The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but it later became popularly known as the “God particle.”

    One Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist could not have been happier.

    Michael Graesser has done extensive research on the Higgs boson particle and gave a series of lecture on the topic late last year.

    Back in October, Graesser said, “A new particle was discovered last summer at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. The Higgs boson gives mass to quarks and the electron but we don’t know yet if this new particle is the Higgs boson.”

    But now, the rest of the science world knows the new particle is the Higgs boson.