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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • Scrap metal plan draws fire

    SANTA FE (AP) — The federal government is drawing opposition from the steel industry and others for its proposal to commercially recycle scrap metal from Los Alamos National Laboratory and other nuclear sites.
    The Department of Energy recommends that scrap metal exposed on its surface to radiation be recycled if the metal is uncontaminated or if radiation levels are low enough. The department released a draft environmental assessment in December.
    According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the proposal includes about 350 metric tons of scrap metal at Los Alamos.
    The scrap would include metal from file cabinets, tools, equipment and structural steel from demolished buildings. It would be mixed with other scrap metal and melted down for use in new products.
    The head of a steel producers group said the proposal could risk contamination of food cans, building beams and car parts.
    “Scrap metal that is potentially contaminated by radiation should not be released into the general stream of commerce. Period,” Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said in a Jan. 30 statement.
    A public comment period on the draft assessment ends Monday.
    In 2000, Bill Richardson, who was U.S. energy secretary at the time, decided against allowing sales of contaminated scrap metal.

  • Lawmakers seek reformer

    Members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, are asking President Obama to nominate a candidate to lead the Nuclear National Security Administration who will work with Congress to reform the agency and maintain the highest scientific and technical capabilities at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories.
    In a letter to President Obama, the federal lawmakers who represent the two labs say, “The NNSA has recently suffered from a series of ongoing management, security and budgetary problems and effective new leadership is needed now to restore the confidence of the public and of their representatives in Congress.”
    “We believe there is an opportunity now to make substantial improvement in NNSA’s management and oversight responsibilities and we urge you to nominate someone with the leadership ability to help guide the transformation.”  
    In their request, they emphasize the need to maintain adequate budgets for LANL and SNL in light of current federal budget constraints to support and grow the missions of the labs, maintain a strong employee workforce and complete environmental cleanup.

  • LANL security remains tight

    Residents that routinely drive through the gates of the Los Alamos National Laboratory at the intersection of Diamond Drive and West Jemez Road probably have noticed one key security change: having to present a photo ID. Vehicles are now also subject to random searches.

    According to Michael Lansing, associate director for Safeguards and Security for LANL, that change started in late December, and LANL has been implementing other, less public changes based on recent information.

    “We want the community to know what we’re doing,” Lansing told attendees at a recent business breakfast hosted by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce. “We know that does impact the community when we do things in a security space and we’re sensitive in ensuring that what we do is one, you’re informed, and two, just as importantly, we take into consideration the impacts on the community the things we’re going to do,” he said.

    As far as the vehicle searches go, Lansing said there is no rhyme or reason to the increased scrutiny.

  • DOE falls victim to hackers, some employee info compromised

    The Department of Energy notified its employees Monday of a recent cyber incident that occurred in mid-January.

    The cyber-attack targeted the headquarters’ network and resulted in the unauthorized disclosure of employee and contractor Personally Identifiable Information.

    NNSA spokesman Josh McConaha said no further information was available on the situation.

    The email to employees said no classified data was compromised.

  • TA-55 project resumes

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory announced on its website that it has resumed the troubled Nuclear Material Safeguards and Security Upgrade Project at Technical Area 55 and it is shooting for a completion date in September.

    Workers from the laboratory and four subcontractors will complete construction and commissioning of the critical security project in the September timeframe, managers said.

    “We’ve mobilized the subcontractors and will have two phases of construction,” said project manager Ty Troutman. “The first starts in February, and it involves things that are not impacted by the weather. I expect a full restart in the late March timeframe.”

    Originally, the system was supposed to cost $213 million, but cost overruns increased the project to $254 million, according to a memo written by Lab Director Charlie McMillan to employees. The revised cost is now $244 million, according to lab spokesman Fred DeSousa.

    According to officials, the lab discovered and reported to the NNSA a construction defect from the 2010 timeframe, and a pair of separate technical issues, resulting in a completion delay for the TA-55 Plutonium Facility security perimeter upgrade project.

    The lab sought legal counsel to help deal with the original botched construction of the project.

  • Heinrich, Udall request LANL cleanup funding

    Martin Heinrich has made plenty of trips to Los Alamos in the past.

    But on Friday, he made his first trip to the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a U.S. senator.

    “We talked about cleanup and a number of issues related to my committees,” Heinrich said in a brief phone interview Friday. We went through some budgetary issues and covered a broad spectrum of issues associated with the lab today.

    “Most of the visit was presentations by staff at the lab. There was not a lot of back and forth.”

    After being sworn in at the beginning of the year, Heinrich also got the following committee assignments — Energy and Natural Resources, Intelligence and Joint Economic Committee.

    And he has been busy getting acclimated to his new role as senator.

    “I look at this as a whole new set of opportunities to work Los Alamos,” Heinrich said. “I had a great visit today and we are continue to work hard with Los Alamos. We talked about cleanup and an number of issues related to my committees. We went through some budgetary issues as well.”

  • Watchdogs dispute plutonium shipment proposal

    Nuclear watchdog groups met in Livermore, Calif., this week to discuss a federal proposal they say would allow the transport weapons-grade plutonium from Los Alamos to California.

    Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan, who was on the panel, said he and Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Marylia Kelley were in Washington D.C. to discuss the plan with Don Cook, the head of NNSA Defense Programs.

    “We stand behind the fact this plan indeed exists, which NNSA now seems to be backpedaling from,” Coghlan said.
    Kelley told the San Jose Mercury News that although no plan has been formalized, the idea has been discussed by U.S. Department of Energy officials and in documents from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

    “There’s no question that this is the proposal,” Kelly told the newspaper. “What would be the fair thing to say is that the final decision hasn’t been made.”

    NNSA spokesman Joshua McConaha said such a plan does not exist for now.

  • Business owners speak out

    Small business owners attended a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Chris Fresquez, the new head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Small Business Office, was introduced and took questions from the business owners.

  • Computer parts probe continues

    Court papers allege that somebody fraudulently obtained more than $1 million in parts from Dell Computers by making hundreds of calls while pretending to place orders for Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico.

    The Albuquerque Journal reports that the alleged fraud reportedly started in 2007 and continued until 2010.

    The case was turned over to the Secret Service that year after a Dell security investigator contacted Albuquerque police.

    Two Albuquerque men were indicted last May on 131 state counts each of fraud up to $20,000. Ronald Campus and Allan Friedt have pleaded not guilty.

    The newspaper reported that a caller who identified himself as Andy Tyler made more than 600 calls to Dell between 2007 and 2009, using serial numbers of the lab computers to place orders.

    It appears a Dell Computers security agent broke the scheme.

    According to the affidavit obtained by the newspaper:

    The U.S. Secret Service got the case in February 2010 from the Albuquerque Police Department, which had been contacted by Don Samuels, a Dell security investigator.

  • Report points to Tritium facility issues

    The Department of Energy Office of Enforcement conducted an independent review of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Weapons Engineering Tritium Facility Safety Significant Tritium Gas Containment System recently.

    The Los Alamos Site Office made the assessment and it evaluated the functionality and operability of the TGCS (a vital safety system) and to ensure that the system complied with DOE orders and standards.

    Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen, used in research, fusion reactors and neutron generators. The radioactive properties of tritium can be useful. By mixing tritium with a chemical that emits light in the presence of radiation, a phosphor, a continuous light source is made and it is commonly used in exit signs or gun sights, for instance. However, as with any radioactive substance, limiting exposure is recommended.

    After the two-week assessment, which took place last year, LASO and the Independent Oversight committee came away with nine findings.