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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • State may add to fines

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — New Mexico's top environment officials and the U.S. Energy Department are wrangling over more than $54 million in fines levied in the wake of a radiological leak at the federal government's underground nuclear waste repository.
    Now, state officials are threatening even more fines if the Energy Department doesn't accept responsibility for numerous violations outlined in compliance orders issued by the state last year. The New Mexico Environment Department is working on a new compliance order that could include fines of more than $100 million.
    Because negotiations with the federal government are ongoing, officials said the total penalties that could be assessed remains unclear.
    Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn and other community leaders from New Mexico were in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to discuss cleanup efforts in the wake of last year's mishap at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico. The facility has been closed since February 2014 when a container of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured, contaminating 22 workers and parts of the underground waste dump.

  • LANL unveils detection expertise

    Having long kept details of its explosives capabilities under wraps, a team of Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists is now rolling out a collaborative project to defeat explosives threats through enhanced detection technologies.
    According to LANL, the team is aiming to create a collaboration of strategic public and private partners focused on the innovations in and education about explosives detection technologies. Through the Los Alamos Collaboration for Explosives Detection (LACED) online portal and related collaborations, the team will be able to provide expertise in some extremely specialized fields.
    The LACED site serves as a virtual gateway to world-class expertise and capabilities designed to counter all types of explosives threats, predominantly through enhanced detection capabilities.
    The site went public online in January and is beginning to attract attention among specialty audiences.
    The explosives detection collaborative is made up of 57 scientific experts, spanning 18 technical divisions at LANL. Ranging across 11 unique fields of expertise, these scientists have published more than 100 explosive-detection-related publications.
    And what, besides making the windows rattle in Los Alamos County, do these experts do?

  • Moniz: 'Irresponsible' countries are a threat

    Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the United States could face “grave danger” from foreign entities in his response to President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy.
    Of particular concern to the DOE, Moniz said, was the proliferation of nuclear weapons by “irresponsible” foreign states and terrorists.
    The strategy highlighted several points, number one of which was the advancement of the “security of the United States, its citizens and U.S. allies.”
    The NSS was presented by National Security Advisor Susan Rice Friday at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.
    Among the most important aims of national security, outlined in the president’s strategy were maintaining a strong national defense, reinforcing homeland security, developing the capacity to prevent, detect and respond to biological threats and striving for a world without nuclear weapons.
    In addition, the NSS states the importance of ensuring nuclear materials “don’t fall into the wrong hands.”
    Moniz said he was behind the strategy outlined.

  • Scientists call for a 'bar code' for antibodies

    More than 100 researchers from around the world, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, have collaborated to craft a request that could fundamentally alter how the antibodies used in research are identified, a project potentially on the scale of the now-completed Human Genome Project.
    “We propose that antibodies be defined by their sequences, just as genes are,” said Andrew Bradbury, a researcher at LANL, “and they should be made recombinantly in cell lines.”
    Referring to antibodies according to the sequences encoding their various subunits, their concentrations and the standardized experimental buffers used for each assay would enable researchers world-wide to employ the same affinity reagents under the same conditions.
    The sequence of an antibody or binding reagent is the ultimate “bar code” for that reagent, ensuring that everyone can use the same reagent for the same target.
    Deriving the bar code involves either selecting antibodies from in vitro libraries, or cloning and sequencing antibody genes from hybridomas, the cells that traditionally make monoclonal antibodies.
    However, it will require a paradigm shift in the way antibodies are supplied.

  • Secret info gets misclassified

    LOS ALAMOS (AP) — A Los Alamos National Laboratory employee misclassified information that should have been kept secret but instead was made public, federal investigators said.
    The review by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General found that an official at the bomb-building lab didn’t adequately protect classified information in six instances, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Tuesday.
    Those included an employee’s remarks to a public gathering in which the employee unknowingly included material that should have been classified.
    Another involved an employee’s article that included material that should have been classified but wasn’t.
    The review said the classification officer was lax about keeping his staff current on guidelines for determining what information must be kept secret.
    Specific details about the classified material were not provided.
    The report criticizes the consortium of private contractors that manages the lab for ignoring the problems, even though it was aware of them.

  • Talk to focus on forests

    There was a time when Nathan McDowell would listen politely as those who say global climate change was nothing more than either a statistical anomaly or a farce.
    He’s not so quiet anymore.
    McDowell, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and an expert in southwest forests, knows what global climate change has done to nearby vegetation and said the problem isn’t going to get any better by itself.
    That will be the subject of his talk Thursday is “Accelerating Global Vegetative Mortality.” It will be at Mesa Public Library. Talk time is 7 p.m.
    McDowell said he was aghast, but hardly surprised, by the recent reported issued by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association that stated 2014 was the warmest year across the planet since records began being kept in 1880.
    “There was no surprise at all,” he said of the report. “It’s very alarming, but we knew this was coming…it only told us stuff we already know.”
    According to the NOAA, global land temperature was 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average and more than a full degree warmer than the average above the seas.

  • Subarctic forest talk is set for Wednesday

    Annika Hofgaard of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research will give a presentation Wednesday at the Research Park.
    The presentation, “Subarctic Forest Advance — Empirical-Based Results vs. Modeled Predictions,” is scheduled for 1 p.m. on the second floor of the Research Park. The presentation will focus on the northward movement of subarctic forests.
    According to research, a larger proportion of the earth’s surface area may become darker and thus absorb more heat and change of this nature could have a major impact on global climate. The assumption is that a warmer climate will cause the forest-tundra ecotone to advance steadily northward. Empirical-based results, however, do not confirm such an assumption outright.
    Hofgaard is a leading figure in the International Arctic vegetation science community. Currently, her main research interests include impacts of changing climate on vegetation, focusing on Arctic ecology at the tree line.

  • 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.