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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • 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.

  • 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.