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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • 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.

  • Tuberculosis focus of LANL lecture series

    Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Harshini Mukundan will discuss the re-emergence of tuberculosis in a series of three lectures called “The Microbe Strikes Back: The Return of Tuberculosis.”
    The talks, which focus on how effective diagnosis can prevent its spread and save lives, take place in Los Alamos, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The first scheduled talk is 7 p.m. today at the Duane Smith Auditorium.
    “Human evolution and persistent diseases have existed side-by-side,” said Mukundan, who works in LANL’s Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy Group. Mukundan said that tuberculosis is one of the oldest and most challenging diseases known to man and “effective diagnosis can save lives and prevent its spread. A new laboratory and nature-inspired strategy can detect tuberculosis equally well in human and animal populations.”
    Mukundan’s other talks will be April 3 at the James A. Little Theater in Santa Fe, on the New Mexico School for the Deaf campus, and April 6 at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque.
    All Frontiers in Science presentations are free of charge. The presentations are sponsored by the Fellows of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

  • NNSA releases its stewardship plans

    The National Nuclear Security Administration released its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) for the 2016 fiscal year Thursday.
    The NNSA, which is part of the Department of Energy, is tasked with managing the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
    The 2016 plan is similar to the one proposed by the NNSA last fiscal year, but the new report did not some significant changes. One of those changes directly affects Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    Specifically, additional resources have been devoted by the NNSA to executing the country’s plutonium strategy.
    That will change the timeline of work at the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building at LANL to cease programmatic operations by 2019.
    Activity from the CMR building will be moved to the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility. The goal for the change is to bump up war reserve production capacity to as many as 80 plutonium pits by 2030.
    Funding for CMRR was deferred by the federal government in 2012.
    Preparing for CMR shutdown will include maximizing the use of the RLUOB facility by installing additional plutonium-handling equipment and repurposing underused space at PF-4.
    NNSA stated it may also take the step in the future to construct additions to TA-55 to aid in the transfer.

  • Radiation damage evolution spotlighted in pair of reports

    A pair of reports from Los Alamos National Laboratory this week in the “Nature” journal “Scientific Reports” are helping crack the code of how certain materials respond in the highly-damaging radiation environments within a nuclear reactor.
    The goal of these efforts is to understand at an atomistic level just how materials develop defects during irradiation, and how those defects evolve to determine the ultimate fate of the material.
    “The new insights provided by these studies will aid in both predicting and designing materials for improved performance and ultimately cost savings for nuclear energy production,” said Blas Uberuaga, lead author of one of the reports.
    Together, these results highlight the complex behavior of defects even in the simplest of materials. Further, “they provide insight into how defects evolve, properties that must be accounted for in predicting the performance of materials under irradiation,” said Enrique Martinez Saez, lead author of the second report.
    The first report is “The relationship between grain boundary structure, defect mobility, and grain boundary sink efficiency,” which was authored by Uberuaga, Martinez Saenz, Louis Vernon and Arthur F. Voter.

  • Report: wind power will be viable source

    The Department of Energy released a report looking into the future of wind power and the economic benefit that may come with it last week.
    The DOE put together the report following President Barack Obama’s strategy to take a look at all energy options for the country, including diversifying sources.
    The report, “Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States,” states that with technological advances, wind power could be an economically-viable source of renewable energy throughout the country.
    It states that those technological advances could be made in a relatively short period of time and could make wind power more cost effective and the infrastructure to deliver wind power could be up and running.
    “Every year, wind becomes cost competitive in more states,” said Dan Utech, deputy assistant to the president. “The United States is uniquely poised to accelerate development of this important resource and technology and the report will help us continue to build on the strong progress we’ve already made.”
    Currently, wind power capacity is at 60 gigawatts, which is enough energy to power approximately 16 million homes.

  • Lab reduces water usage

    Los Alamos National Laboratory reported Monday that it had decreased its water usage by 26 percent in 2014, with about one-third of the reduction attributable to using reclaimed water to cool a supercomputing center.
    “Our goal during 2014 was to use only re-purposed water to support our mission at the Strategic Computing Complex (SCC), and we achieved that goal,” said Cheryl Cabbil, associate director of Nuclear and High Hazard Operations, which administers the Sanitary Effluent Reclamation Facility (SERF).
    The reclamation facility contributed more than 27 million gallons of re-purposed water to the SCC, a secured supercomputing facility that supports LANL’s national security mission and is one of the institution’s larger water users.
    “Using reclaimed water from SERF substantially decreased our water usage, supporting our overall mission,” Cabbil said.
    SERF collects industrial wastewater and treats it for reuse. A video that explains how SERF works is available online at links.govdelivery.com.
    In addition to the strategic water reuse program at SERF, LANL reduced water use in 2014 by focusing conservation efforts on areas that use the most water, repairing leaks identified in routine surveys and upgrading to water-conserving fixtures.

  • LANSCE students get hands-on experience

    One of the challenges for Los Alamos National Laboratory is to recruit young talent to continually replenish its workforce of scientists.
    And one of its tools for doing so is by hosting such events as the recent LANSCE school to bring in that young talent and show them what it’s like to work in a world-class laboratory with world-class scientists.
    The event at LANSCE is held annually — this was the 11th consecutive year — and attracts some of the brightest and most motivated young scientists throughout the country.
    This year’s school was the School of Neutron Scattering for Mesoscale Sciences — neutron scattering is a technique for investigating materials used by biophysicists and materials research scientists, among others.
    It’s a competitive school to get into, as well. The school receives applicants from all over the world to take part in the roughly week-long curriculum of lectures and hands-on experiments.
    For Ben Holladay, who is currently a graduate physics student at California-San Diego, it was an easy decision to apply for this year’s school.
    “I have collaborators that I work with who work here,” he said. “My adviser is a long-standing member and he recommended it to me as a way to expand my toolbox of techniques to understand the world.”

  • Gelles to manage DOE's EM-LA office

    Christine Gelles was named the acting manager for the new Environmental Management Los Alamos office Tuesday.
    The announcement was made by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management.
    “Christine has been engaged in the radioactive waste management challenges at Los Alamos and is actively involved in all aspects of transition planning,” said Mark Whitney, EM’s Acting Assistant Secretary, in a press release announcing the move. “Christine’s significant managerial expertise in all aspects of the EM legacy cleanup mission will enable a smooth transition of activities from NNSA to EM oversight.”
    Also Tuesday, the DOE announced that Pete Maggiore, who has served as manager for the federal environmental cleanup effort since May 2011, will remain with the National Nuclear Security Administration.
    Transition activities are currently underway, according to the DOE, and the process of selecting a permanent manager is also underway.
    The NNSA had previously managed the EM office. Now, the EM-LA office will report directly to the EM headquarters and managed legacy environmental cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory.