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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • World's largest single crystal of gold verified at LANL

     When geologist John Rakovan needed better tools to investigate whether a dazzling 217.78-gram piece of gold was in fact the world’s largest single-crystal specimen — a distinguishing factor that would not only drastically increase its market value but also provide a unique research opportunity — he traveled to Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Lujan Neutron Scattering Center to peer deep inside the mineral using neutron diffractometry. Neutrons, different from other probes such as X-rays and electrons, are able to penetrate many centimeters deep into most materials.
    “The structure or atomic arrangement of gold crystals of this size has never been studied before, and we have a unique opportunity to do so,” the Miami University professor said.
    Revealing the inner structure of a crystal without destroying the sample—imperative, as this one is worth an estimated $1.5 million—would allow Rakovan and Lujan Center collaborators to prove that this exquisite nugget, which seemed almost too perfect and too big to be real, was a single crystal and hence a creation of nature. Its owner, who lives in the United States, provided the samples to Rakovan to assess the crystallinity of four specimens, all of which had been found decades ago in Venezuela.

  • Klotz confirmed as NNSA administrator

    Lieutenant General Frank G. Klotz, United States Air Force (Ret), was confirmed by the Senate this week, as the Department of Energy’s Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
    “Lieutenant General Klotz’s confirmation comes at a critical point for the National Nuclear Security Administration,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “His breadth of military and national security leadership experience makes him uniquely suited to lead the NNSA, fulfilling its commitments to the management and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, naval reactor programs, and nuclear and radiological emergency preparedness efforts. I thank the Senate for their attention to Lieutenant General Klotz’s nomination, and I look forward to working with him. I also thank Acting Administrator Bruce Held for his outstanding leadership of NNSA as Acting Administrator.”
    As Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, Lt. Gen. Klotz is responsible for the management and operation of the NNSA, as well as policy matters across the Department of Energy and NNSA enterprise in support of President Barack Obama’s nuclear security agenda. Acting Administrator Held will return to his position as Associate Deputy Secretary.

  • LANL included in nuke consortium

    A consortium led by the University of Michigan that includes Los Alamos National Laboratory as a partner has been awarded a $25 million grant by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The consortium of 13 universities and eight national laboratories is dedicated to the research and development (R&D) of nuclear arms control verification technologies, including nuclear safeguards effectiveness.
    “Los Alamos is excited to participate in the consortium as it will help us bring our long and unique history of nuclear expertise to a new generation of researchers who are passionate about national-security science,” said Nina Rosenberg, director of the laboratory’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Security Program. “Moreover, we will see significant benefit to our Laboratory through strengthened connections with the academic community.”
    The new grant of $5 million a year for five years was announced this week by the NNSA.

  • Audit cites faults in N.M. labs

    A new federal audit has found Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories failed to monitor nuclear weapons designs as well as the reliability of parts being used to build them, the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday.
    The U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General’s report states both sites could not consistently locate drawings for nuclear weapons and components in official repositories.
    In the March 26 report, officials said they were concerned about incorrect parts being used for nuclear weapons.
    Without safeguard and proper information, the National Nuclear Security Administration “loses confidence in its nuclear weapons stockpile,” officials said.
    The NNSA said in a written response that it wasn’t disputing any findings and is agreeing to the report’s recommendations.
    The report cites several examples, including when 11 nuclear warheads damaged during production were sent to the Navy in 2010 had to be returned.
    Auditors said they couldn’t find design drawings for neutron generators used in 16 of 36 weapons at Sandia using the NNSA’s record system. The time it takes to track them down could become very time consuming, auditors said.
    The report said of Los Alamos:

  • NNSA may take more action in ethics scandal

    The official DOE Inspector General report finally came out last week regarding the ethics scandal involving former Los Alamos National Laboratory deputy director Beth Sellers, who resigned March 7.
    The Los Alamos Monitor reported last month that Sellers was the subject of a draft IG report that revealed Sellers and husband William failed to notify lab officials of a potential conflict of interest. William Sellers eventually was awarded a sole-source contract and according to the report, he billed the lab for work that was never performed.
    In the final report, there is a response from acting NNSA administrator Bruce Held regarding the investigation.
    Held listed the corrective actions the lab had made in regard to the situation.
    Then he said, “findings identified in this report were considered in developing the
     lab’s FY13 Performance Evaluation Report and we are evaluating whether any additional management action may be necessary given the results of the Inspsectors’ review.
    “We take seriously our responsibility to ensure our federal and contractor staff adheres to the highest standards for ethical conduct and will ensure that lessons learned from this incident are shared across the nuclear security enterprise.”

  • Watchdog asks for WIPP inquiry

     A watchdog group is calling for an independent investigation in the fire and radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
    “We do know that the radiation release was never supposed to happen, and the federal government is unprepared to safely address the situation. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with determining whether WIPP would leak in 10,000 years, said it would not,” said Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens of Nuclear Safety.
    “We understand that plans needed to be prepared in order to ensure the safety of the workers re-entering the mine, and we applaud the Department of Energy (DOE) for being thorough. On the other hand, for more than 15 years, CCNS has pressed DOE and the New Mexico Environment Department to enhance the emergency preparedness requirements in the hazardous waste permit in anticipation that such an event could happen. We were ridiculed by the agencies. And now we see that our concerns were more than justified.”
    Arends said an Accident Investigation Board was formed to investigate the vehicle fire, which was composed of DOE employees and consultants.

  • Crews scheduled to enter WIPP

    CARLSBAD (AP) — Crews investigating a radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico hope to make a second trip into the half-mile-deep repository Friday.
    The Department of Energy detailed the plans at a community meeting Thursday evening.
    Officials said workers who went into Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on Wednesday to install air monitors and communications equipment found no airborne radiation. On Friday, however, they said workers are prepared to encounter contamination as they make their way further into the mine.
    If all goes well Friday, officials say that should set the stage for a third entry, when crews will try to figure out what caused the release.

  • Security system finally complete

     Federal officials say the problem-plagued $244 million security system to protect the most sensitive areas at Los Alamos National Laboratory is finally complete.
    The advanced security upgrade for the lab’s plutonium complex was supposed to be done almost two years ago at a cost of $213 million. But as it was nearing completion officials acknowledged there were major problems, and said they needed an additional $41 million to fix it.
    The NNSA and Los Alamos National Security, LLC, paid $10 million to reimburse the government to fix some of the problems.
     The National Nuclear Security Administration said Thursday the system was ultimately completed for $244 million.
    The modern system protects what is known as Technical Area 55, the only place in the country where nuclear weapon triggers can be made. The area is one of the most sensitive at Los Alamos and includes a cement, bunker-like complex that houses two aging labs where most of the work with dangerous plutonium is done.
    NNSA, meanwhile, hailed the completion of the project in a press release Thursday.

  • Flipping a switch on magnetism

    Interest in oxide-based semiconductor electronics has exploded in recent years, fueled largely by the ability to grow atomically precise layers of various oxide materials.
    One of the most important materials in this burgeoning field is strontium titanate (SrTiO3), a nominally nonmagnetic wide-bandgap semiconductor, and researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found a way to magnetize this material using light, an effect that persists for hours at a time.
    “One doesn’t normally think of this material as being able to support magnetism. It’s supposed to be useful — but magnetically uninteresting — stuff. So when we started shining light on it and saw what appeared to be extremely long-lived magnetic signals — that persisted for hours even after we turned the light off — it came as quite a surprise,” said Scott Crooker, lead scientist on the project at Los Alamos.

  • LANL makes first shipment to Texas

    Los Alamos National Laboratory resumed shipments of transuranic waste yesterday from Technical Area 54 Area G. The shipments are part of an accelerated shipping campaign to remove 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste stored aboveground at Area G by June 30, 2014. Nearly 3,200 cubic meters of the waste have already been removed since the 3706 campaign began in January 2012.
    The waste was received at Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Andrews, Texas, Wednesday morning where it will be temporarily staged until it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico for final disposal.
    Shipments to WIPP ceased following a Feb, 5 underground truck fire and a Feb, 14 radiological event. The temporary staging arrangement is part of an agreement between WCS and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operating contractor at WIPP. The transuranic waste from Los Alamos to be stored at WCS meets their license requirements and has been coordinated and approved by the appropriate regulatory authorities.