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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • PF-4 operations slowly return to normal

    The Plutonium Facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is slowly returning to normal operations.

    According to spokesman Fred DeSousa, “the lab is continuing to implement its plan to resume full programmatic operations at PF-4. We are resuming work in phases based on the priority of the work and our level of satisfaction that the processes and procedures are in good shape. Some work resumed as early as two weeks ago.”

    At the end of June, LANL Director Charlie McMillan announced that certain work operations at PF-4 would temporarily pause at the facility.

    A Department of Energy Inspector General audit reiterated concerns that watchdogs and a federal oversight board have long expressed about the lab’s main plutonium facility — which sits atop a fault line — being able to withstand an earthquake.

    And the Las Conchas Fire that burned its way to the edges of lab property two years ago highlighted the dangers of storing thousands of barrels of toxic waste on-site.

    The audit pushed the lab to move more quickly in securing the plutonium lab (PF-4). It also asks for more effective fire protection for the barrels, which are scheduled to be removed by the end of next year.

  • LANL launches express licensing

    With the launch of a new “Express Licensing” program, access to innovative technology invented at Los Alamos National Laboratory has gotten easier.
    The new licensing alternative was announced by David Pesiri, director of LANL’s Technology Transfer Division.
    “The Express License program offers an additional licensing resource for local entrepreneurs as well as national collaborators,” Pesiri said.
    “Our licensing and software teams have worked very hard to offer this specialized model for those wanting to quickly license Los Alamos technology.”
    The Express Licensing program at LANL is the first of several new initiatives under development by the Technology Transfer Division (TT) at Los Alamos that should streamline access to LANL innovations by potential partners and customers.

  • Fire doused near Area G

    The Los Alamos Fire Department quickly extinguished a small fire that broke out across from TA-54 at TA-18 on Pajarito Road about 4 p.m. Thursday.

    Pajarito Road, which has restricted access, was not closed during the incident, Los Alamos Fire Department Deputy Chief Justin Grider said.

    The fire was about 100 meters off the road and was about five feet by 40 feet, Grider said.

    “It was in the grass underneath some power lines,” Grider said.

    The cause of the fire is still under investigation but Grider has some theories.

    “I am not an electrician but it could be something involving the power lines,” Grider said. “I was looking for a downed line but I did not see one. There were no tire tracks so it is unlikely it was man made. And we also joked it might be a suicidal squirrel, which caused a small fire during the Las Conchas Fire two years ago.”

    Grider said originally five fire crews were dispatched but only one was needed.

    The fire also was about 600 meters northwest of Area G, which is located at TA-54.

  • This is only a drill

    Firefighters from the Los Alamos Fire Department take part in LANL’s “17th Annual Hazmat Challenge” this week. The competition wraps up Friday at Tech Area 49 with a lunch and awards ceremony. Be sure to pick up Sunday’s edition for the results. Crews from as far as Oklahoma are participating in the competition.

  • Officials eye nuke materials

    Just about everybody’s heard the old saw, “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

    So when is 98.34 percent not good enough?

    Apparently, it’s not good enough when it comes to accounting for the inventory of nuclear weapons materials.

    A Department of Energy manual (Nuclear Material Control and Accountability) mandates that facilities score at least 99 percent.

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory was off by .66 percent but the latest DOE Inspector General report said the lab has taken steps to correct the deficiencies.

    The latest report read, “Our inspection revealed that Los Alamos continued to experience problems with the accountability of certain nuclear materials controlled under its MC&A Program. Specifically, our testing of 15 MBAs (Material Balance Area) revealed instances in which nuclear materials were not maintained in the correct location, properly labeled or correctly identified in the Los Alamos MC&A (Material Control and Accountability) database.”

  • Lab celebrates 70th

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory let the public get a small peek behind the curtain this weekend as it wrapped up its week-long 70th anniversary celebration on the grounds of Los Alamos High School Saturday.

    Throughout the week, the public was treated to lectures from prominent scientists and government officials, such as U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and deputy administrators from the National Nuclear Security Administration, Anne Harrington and Don Cook.

    Then there were the tours of the top-secret facilities, which included the “Tunnel Site” in Los Alamos Canyon, a facility built in 1948 to house a research lab and a bomb shelter among other things. Other tours included the lab’s accelerator site and the High Magnetic Field Laboratory as well as other locations rarely open to outsiders.

    The buses were even stopping at the “New Mexico Consortium,” a research center on Entrada Drive that had sort of an unofficial opening a few weeks ago. According to its director of community development, Shannan Yeager, the center is a scientific research center where LANL, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University can collaborate on cutting-edge research projects such as turning algae into fuel and creating faster, more efficient supercomputers.

  • Van Allen probes pinpoint driver of speeding electrons

    Researchers believe they have solved a lingering mystery about how electrons within Earth’s radiation belt can suddenly become energetic enough to kill orbiting satellites. Thanks to data gathered from an intrepid pair of NASA probes roaming the harsh space environment within the Van Allen radiation belts, scientists have identified an internal electron accelerator operating within the belts.
    “For years we thought the Van Allen belts were pretty well behaved and changed slowly,” said Geoffrey Reeves of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Intelligence and Space Research Division. “With more measurements, however, we realized how quickly and unpredictably the radiation belts change, and now we have real evidence that the changes originate from within the belts themselves.”
    In a paper released today in Science Express, Reeves and colleagues from the University of New Hampshire, University of Colorado at Boulder, NASA Goddard Flight Center, Aerospace Corporation, University of California-Los Angeles, and University of Iowa, describe a mechanism by which electrons suddenly accelerate to fantastic speeds within the Van Allen belts— a pair of donut shaped zones of charged particles that surround Earth and occupy the inner region of our planet’s Magnetosphere.

  • India honors Raju

    The government of India honored former Los Alamos scientist and Laboratory Fellow Mudundi Raju with a Padma Shri award this year for his distinguished service in science and engineering, providing cancer radiation treatment to the poor of rural India.

    “The aim of science is to improve the human condition,” said Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine, and Raju has taken this statement to heart. Raju works “with a hope to build a small bridge between rapid developments in medical advances and the life of a common man,” he said, and he is an internationally known scientist in the field of radiation treatments for cancer. He retired from the laboratory in 1994 to devote himself to providing appropriate cancer radiation treatment to residents of rural India.

    The Padma Shri is the fourth highest civilian award after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan, given by the Indian government at the Rashtrapati Bhavra in New Delhi.

    The scientist now serves as managing trustee of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical Trust, dedicated to serving the needs of the rural poor in the West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh, India.

    In the cancer radiation treatment center, 2,788 patients, 65 percent of them women, have been registered between 2004 and 2012.

  • McMillan talks of lab's past, present, future

    Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan offered a bit of a history lesson this week when the lab hosted a series of lectures and tours to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

    McMillan cited the first Los Alamos Primer, which came out in 1943 and made up a second primer, which came out this week.

    The first primer, though, relived what it was like for those recruited that made their way to Los Alamos to take part in the Manhattan Project.

    “The U.S. entry into the Atomic Age had been slow and cautious. But when the United States entered World War II and faced the carnage of the war, fighting and genocide had already claimed millions of lives,” McMillan wrote.

    “Obtaining the bomb before Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan was imperative. The brightest students (their average age was 24) were recruited from the nation’s best colleges and universities.

  • Hurricane season: Predicting in advance what could happen

    A Sandia National Laboratories team with the help of the Los Alamos National Laboratory is gearing up for hurricane season, readying analyses to help people in the eye of a storm.
    The Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), jointly housed at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, studies how hurricanes and other disasters disrupt critical infrastructure, such as roads, electricity and water systems.
    Hurricane season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. It generally peaks in August and September, notwithstanding Superstorm Sandy’s appearance late last October.
    With the onset of hurricane season, NISAC has two jobs: conducting annual “hurricane swath” analyses of probable impacts on the Gulf Coast and East Coast and providing quick analyses of crisis response in the face of an imminent hurricane threat to the United States.
    A swath analysis looks at how a hurricane might interrupt critical services and at impacts to infrastructure specific to an area, such as petroleum and petrochemical industries in Houston or financial services in New York City. It also looks at such things as the economic impact of the storm or how it could upset food deliveries.