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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • Report: Safety lapses, management at fault in WIPP leak

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — A radiation leak that forced the indefinite closure of the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository could have been prevented, a team of investigators said Thursday.

    A combination of poor management, lapses in safety and a lack of proper procedures were outlined in a final report released by the U.S. Department of Energy's Accident Investigation Board. Officials planned to review the findings Thursday night during a community meeting in Carlsbad.

    The investigators spent more than a year looking into the cause of the radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.

    Like a separate team of technical experts, they too found that a chemical reaction inside a drum of waste that had been packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory forced the lid open, allowing radiation to escape. The contents included nitrate salt residues and organic cat litter that was used to soak up moisture in the waste.

  • DOE issues WIPP report

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) released the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) Phase II Report related to the Feb. 14, 2014, radiological event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
    The AIB completed an exhaustive investigation at WIPP and Los Alamos National Laboratory to examine the cause of the radiological release at WIPP and identify managerial controls and safety measures necessary to prevent or minimize the probability or severity of a recurrence of this type of accident. Based on post-event chemical, radiological, and fire forensic analyses, the AIB concluded that the release was caused by an exothermic reaction involving the mixture of organic materials and nitrate salts in one drum that was processed at LANL in December 2013. The Board also concluded that an underground salt haul truck fire that occurred at WIPP on Feb. 5, 2014, did not cause or contribute to the radiological release event. The AIB’s findings identify shortcomings within both contractor and federal processes at LANL, WIPP, EM, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

  • Community office gives an update

    On Friday, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities heard on update on the Los Alamos National Security (LANS) Community Commitment Plan (CCP) from Community Programs Office Deputy Director Carole Rutten.
    Rutten’s presentation highlighted last year’s accomplishments.
    Funding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs is a major priority for CCP funding.
    Last year, 60 STEM programs received $74 million, impacting more than 4,000 students and 341 teachers. Those programs were either coordinated by LANL or sponsored through other partners.
    Two of the most successful programs were RoboRAVE, a robotics competition in its second year, and the Math and Science Academy.
    This year’s RoboRAVE competition drew 1,480 students competing in 85 teams. Only 35 teams competed the first year.
    The Math and Science Academy — a three-year program that helps teachers better understand and deliver math and science to their students−has graduated 1,440 participants.
    The CCP also offers regional business support. In 2014, program results included:

  • Coalition hears update from EM

    ESPAÑOLA — On Friday, Pete Maggiore updated the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities on the transition of the Los Alamos Environmental Management office from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s to the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM).
    Maggiore is with the NNSA Los Alamos Field Office. He helped develop the transition plan and will be involved in coordinating the transition.
    For the most part, Maggiore reviewed information already released to the public.
    In September 2014, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz directed that oversight of the EM-LA office and legacy cleanup would be transferred to Environmental Management.
    That office became operational on March 10, with Christine Gelles appointed acting EM-LA field manager until a permanent field manager can be appointed. Recruitment for that and other EM-LA positions is currently underway. Los Alamos EM employees have been reassigned to the new EM-LA Office.
    Negotiations with Los Alamos National Security over the sole source bridge contract are ongoing. The bridge period is expected to be between 18 and 24 months, the anticipated time required to conduct competitive procurements.

  • Superconductivity research nets results

    Taking understanding of quantum matter to new levels, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are exposing high-temperature superconductors to very high magnetic fields, changing the temperature at which the materials become perfectly conducting and revealing unique properties of these substances.
    “High magnetic-field measurements of doped copper-oxide superconductors are paving the way to a new theory of superconductivity,” said Brad Ramshaw, a Los Alamos scientist and lead researcher on the project. Using world-record high magnetic fields available at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) Pulsed Field Facility, based in Los Alamos, Ramshaw and his coworkers are pushing the boundaries of how matter can conduct electricity without the resistance that plagues normal materials carrying an electrical current.
    The eventual goal of the research would be to create a superconductor that operates at room temperature and needs no cooling at all. At this point, all devices that make use of superconductors, such as the MRI magnets found in hospitals, must be cooled to temperatures far below zero with liquid nitrogen or helium, adding to the cost and complexity of the enterprise.

  • NNSA guests take tour of LANL sites

    Last month, the National Nuclear Security Administration hosted representatives from 11 members of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and one representative from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, who visited facilities in Los Alamos.
    The officials from non-nuclear-weapon states visited not only Los Alamos National Laboratory facilities, but also Sandia National Laboratories facilities related to U.S. implementation of the NPT.
    The NNSA laboratories gave an overview of the multidisciplinary work involved in maintaining a smaller stockpile of nuclear weapons in a non-explosive testing environment through science-based stewardship. They also showed activities that increase confidence in the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and ultimately allow for future reductions.
    The party visited facilities and observed R&D demonstrations illustrating U.S. efforts to meet future nuclear arms control monitoring and verification requirements.
    These activities highlighted laboratory capabilities supporting a wide variety of other national and international security goals, including nonproliferation and nuclear security.

  • Two LANL organizations receive recognition

    Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Nuclear Material Control and Accountability Group and the Quality and Performance Assurance Division received 2014 Performance Excellence Recognition awards from Quality New Mexico and will be recognized at QNM’s annual learning summit and awards ceremony April 7-8 in Albuquerque.
    “These organizations are striving for world-class excellence and providing the best service to their customers,” said Quality New Mexico Executive Director Julia Gabaldon. “We are very proud of them and I encourage organizations in every sector to follow their lead.”
    The Material Control and Accountability program at Los Alamos provides graded levels of control for accountable nuclear material and special nuclear material based on material type, quantity and form. The program also seeks to deter and detect theft or diversion of accountable material.
    “The award validates the progress we have made and reinforces our path forward,” said Michael Kaufman, Nuclear Material Control and Accountability Group Leader.

  • HAWC observatory to study the most energetic phenomena known

    Supernovae, neutron star collisions and active galactic nuclei are among the most energetic phenomena in the known universe.
    These violent explosions produce high-energy gamma rays and cosmic rays, which can easily travel large distances, making it possible to see objects and events far outside our own galaxy.
    Construction is now complete on the newest tool available to study these explosive events and learn more about the nature of high-energy radiation. The High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory, located 13,500 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mexico’s Volcán Sierra Negra, will soon begin collecting data at full capacity. The milestone was marked with an inaugural event at the observatory last week.
    “The HAWC observatory will detect the highest energy photons ever observed,” said Brenda Dingus, the principal investigator of the U.S. Department of Energy funding for HAWC and a research fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “These photons point back to astrophysical sources that accelerate particles to energies millions of times higher than man-made particle accelerators. These photons could also be produced by dark matter, which would tell us about these as yet unknown type of fundamental particles that compose most of the mass of the universe.”

  • LANL drum was root of WIPP accident

    Drum 68660, shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad from Los Alamos National Laboratory was where all the trouble started.
    The Technical Assessment Team (TAT) 277-page report was released Thursday afternoon by the Department of Energy. The TAT’s mission was to find out the root cause of the problems that led to the breach of a waste drum at WIPP, which released radioactive fumes that sickened 21 workers in February 2014.
    The TAT’s overarching conclusion was that “chemically incompatible contents of Drum 68660 from Los Alamos National Laboratory in combination with physical conditions (e.g., the configuration of the materials in the drum) supported exothermic chemical reactions leading to a thermal runaway)….”
    Thermal and pressure effects resulted in the movement of material during the release event.
    Drum 68660, as far as TAT could determine, was the sole cause of the release. According to the report, the thermal runaway was internal in that drum and not cause by outside phenomena.
    According to the report’s fact sheet, Drum 68660 breached as a result of internal chemical reactions.

  • Report: Feds to exceed costs for cleaning up nuke waste

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — The cost of cleaning up radioactive waste at one of the federal government’s premier nuclear laboratories has already exceeded expectations and more cost overruns are expected, according to a report released Monday by a government watchdog.
    The National Nuclear Security Administration spent about $931 million as of the end of the last fiscal year to remove contaminated rags, tools, equipment and soil from Los Alamos National Laboratory. That’s $202 million over 2006 expectations, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
    The GAO said the nuclear agency is also on track to outspend the latest cost predictions set back in 2009 and needs to improve its estimates to better reflect current conditions, including the indefinite closure of the government’s only underground nuclear waste repository due to a radiation leak last year.
    “Maintaining an updated cost estimate is critical so that officials making decisions about the future management of a project have accurate information for assessing their alternatives,” the report states.