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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • Watchdog critical of WIPP delays

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste repository say it could be more than three years before all operations resume at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
    The department and Nuclear Waste Partnership detailed the timeline for decontaminating parts of the plant and resuming the disposal of Cold War-era waste from sites around the country during a meeting Wednesday.
    Full operations will depend on a new ventilation system, something that could take until 2018 to complete.
    Watchdog Don Hancock says there’s a lot of uncertainty around the recovery schedule and costs.
    The repository has been closed since February 2014, when a canister of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory leaked in one of the storage rooms and contaminated more than 20 workers.

  • DOE challenging fines from NMED

    CARLSBAD (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy is contesting more than $54 million in fines, the largest penalty levied by New Mexico for numerous violations that resulted in the indefinite closure of the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.
    The Energy Department and the contractors paid to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Los Alamos National Laboratory said Friday that they want a hearing on the matter.
    Energy officials are also asking for the penalties to be reduced or forgiven.
    The New Mexico Environment Department said discussions of a settlement are ongoing. The state alleges more than 30 violations occurred at both facilities.
    On. Feb. 5, a truck hauling salt at WIPP caught fire. Nine days later, a canister of waste from Los Alamos leaked, forcing the facility’s indefinite closure.

  • WIPP to take a funding hit

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — The contractor that runs the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository is being denied millions of dollars in performance pay as part of the financial fallout from a radiation leak that forced the closure of the facility.
    Federal officials have said it could take years and a half-billion dollars to restart operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad because of the February leak.
    The U.S. Energy Department said in documents released Tuesday that it is paying Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC just $21,576 of the $8 million of potential performance incentives for the past fiscal year. The partnership manages the plant under a contract that pays more than $140 million annually.
    The leak occurred when a container packed with radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured in an underground storage area and contaminated more than 20 workers.
    The performance award for Nuclear Waste Partnership was announced shortly after the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration docked the contractor that runs Los Alamos lab, Los Alamos National Security, for its failures related to the radiation leak.
    LANS received $6.25 million in incentives, just a fraction of the more than $63 million that was possible for the last fiscal year.

  • There were big discoveries at LANL this year

    It was a big year for scientific disoveries at Los Alamos National Laboratory, from transferring foolproof computer encryption techniques to market, to using social media for forecasting diseases, creating a virtual human body that could end animal drug tests and even helping pave the way for human visitation to Mars.
    “The breadth of scientific expertise and range of disciplines necessary for supporting Los Alamos’s national security mission can be seen when reflecting on some of the year’s more visible accomplishments,” said Alan Bishop, Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology and Engineering. “Los Alamos remains proud of its legacy of using world-class science to address some of the world’s most pressing and difficult problems.”

    Using Wikipedia to forecast disease

  • 'Performance failure' leads to big loss of funds for LANS

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — The contractor that runs one of the nation's premier national laboratories has lost out on tens of millions of dollars from the federal government because of what officials call a serious performance failure.

    The National Nuclear Security Administration finished its annual evaluation of Los Alamos National Laboratory earlier this month and the overall results aren't positive. The fee earned by Los Alamos National Security LLC for the 2014 fiscal year was slashed to $6.25 million, a fraction of the $63.4 million the contractor could have earned, according to documents made public Monday.

    The NNSA singled out a mishap in February at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico. That's where a container packed with radioactive waste from Los Alamos ruptured and forced the plant's indefinite closure.

    Lab Director Charlie McMillan acknowledged the weight that the WIPP mishap had on the evaluation in a memo sent Monday to employees. He said the severity of the event resulted in an unsatisfactory rating when it came to the lab's operations and infrastructure.

    "Although this was a very tough year for the laboratory, I am optimistic that next year will be better. I am determined to do all that I can to make it so," he told employees.

  • Software shows molecules in 3-D

    Scientists are making it easier for pharmaceutical companies and researchers to see the detailed inner workings of molecular machines.
    “Inside each cell in our bodies and inside every bacterium and virus are tiny but complex protein molecules that synthesize chemicals, replicate genetic material, turn each other on and off, and transport chemicals across cell membranes,” said Tom Terwilliger, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist. “Understanding how all these machines work is the key to developing new therapeutics, for treating genetic disorders, and for developing new ways to make useful materials.”
    To understand how a machine works you have to be able to see how it is put together and how all its parts fit together. This is where the Los Alamos scientists come in.
    These molecular machines are very small — a million of them placed side by side would take up less than an inch of space.
    Researchers can see them however, using x-rays, crystals and computers. Researchers produce billions of copies of a protein machine, dissolve them in water, and grow crystals of the protein, like growing sugar crystals except that the machines are larger than a sugar molecule.

  • LANL employees give back to the community

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation has had a busy year, but took a little time to celebrate last week as some of those who benefit from its work stopped by.
    The LANL Community Programs Office hosted an open house, an annual affair, for northern New Mexico residents and others who wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
    “We like to look at ourselves as a way to reach the community,” said Carole Rutten, deputy director at the CPO. “This has special meaning to us, building morale.”
    On the day of the open house, those stopping by included some of the direct beneficiaries of LANL’s generosity. That included the Ohkay Owingeh’s Boys and Girls Club, which sent a delegation to collect toys and other holiday donations to the kids the club serves.
    “This fulfilled a lot of wishes for us,” said club representative Maggie David.
    The club, located on the reservation, includes about 60 kids between the ages of 5 and 13, many of them who were in need this holiday season.
    Immediately following their pick-up at the CPO, members of the Ohkay Owingeh club were already preparing a Christmas celebration to distribute the donated gifts.

  • One million Curies found

    Los Alamos National Laboratory expertise helped the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) Radiological Material Removal Program’s Off-Site Source Recovery Project (OSRP) recover more than 1 million curies of radioactive sources since 1999.
    The accomplishment represents a major milestone in protecting our nation and the world from material that could be used in “dirty bombs” by terrorists.
    “Taking disused, unwanted and, in limited cases, abandoned nuclear materials out of harm’s reach supports the laboratory’s mission of reducing global nuclear danger,” said Terry Wallace, principal associate director for global security at Los Alamos. “This milestone represents tremendous progress in removing a potentially deadly hazard from all corners of the globe. Los Alamos helped usher in the nuclear age, so it’s quite appropriate that this laboratory continues to use its nuclear expertise to assist the DOE in stewardship of nuclear materials.”
    Off-Site Source Recovery Project personnel recovered several high-activity sealed radioactive sources from a Maryland facility in November, which pushed the total recovered radioactivity above 1 million Curies.

  • Los Alamos names new laboratory Fellows for 2014

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows list expanded by five this week as a new group of high achievers was named.
    The honorees this year are Christopher L. Fryer, Herbert O. Funsten, John C. Gordon, Jaqueline L. Kiplinger and David S. Moore.
    “The sustained scientific excellence demonstrated by the work of Chris, Herb, John, Jaqueline and David exemplifies the outstanding people and capabilities we apply to today’s national security mission, and positions the laboratory to be prepared to meet future challenges,” said laboratory director Charlie McMillan. “I applaud each of them for being recognized by their peers for considerable high-level achievements and congratulate them for this very distinguished and honorable career milestone.”
    The committee ranked this year’s nominations on several factors, including sustained, high-level achievements in programs of importance to LANL, fundamental or important discoveries that have led to widespread use, having become a recognized authority in the field, including outside recognition and an outstanding record of publications.

  • Surplus sale canceled

    Los Alamos National Laboratory's monthly surplus property sale which was scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled. Weather permitting, the next scheduled surplus property sale is Jan.15.