Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • LANL team lends helping hand in Fukushima

    Christopher Morris and his fellow group of Los Alamos scientists will not forget their trip to Japan anytime soon.

    The team was in Japan to lend credence to their research that muon imaging may offer the best hope of assessing damage to the reactor cores and locating the melted fuel.

    Muon imaging, which utilizes naturally occurring muons created in the atmosphere by cosmic rays to image dense objects, should solve the problem of determining the spatial distribution of the reactor fuel in the short term, the LANL team said.

    “Muons are scattered more strongly by high-Z materials such as uranium fuel in Fukushima’s reactor,” explained LANL researcher Haruo Miyadera. “By measuring the scattering angle, and understanding the physics of Coulomb multiple scattering, one can assess the locations and amount of the melted fuel.”

    While they were excited about their research, Morris said they were equally stunned by what they saw on a trip to Fukushima last summer.

    “We left from Tokyo, spent the night in the hotel and went up the coast the following day,” Morris said. “As we drove up the coast, I noticed there were a lot of concrete paths. Then I realized this is where the houses were before the tsunami.

  • Lecture to focus on Parsons

    Los Alamos National Laboratory historian emeritus Roger Meade talks about William S. “Deak” Parsons, one of wartime Los Alamos’ first division leaders and the contributions he made as an ordnance engineer to the success of the lab — including his role as the Little Boy weaponeer — at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 14, at the Bradbury Science Museum.
    The talk is part of Los Alamos’ 70th anniversary lecture series.
    Meade said Los Alamos’ first director, J. Robert Oppenheimer, described Parson’s work by saying, “I believe it is impossible to overestimate the value which Capt. Parsons has been to the project to which he is engaged, nor the loss we should have incurred without his services.”
    Parsons, the leading military ordnance expert at the beginning of World War II, came to the lab to oversee the engineering of Fat Man and Little Boy to be combat weapons. Parsons also served as one of the first two associate directors of the laboratory. Meade also will discuss Parsons’ experience arming Little Boy aboard the Enola Gay.
    Parsons also was instrumental in the first post-war atomic bomb test, as well as Operation Crossroads and the 1948 Sandstone tests. 

  • Reactor cleanup poses risks, rewards

    A team of Los Alamos scientists are helping in the recovery efforts after the devastating effects of the 2011 tsunami that heavily damaged Japan’s Fukushima reactor. They are helping assess the severity of damage within the reactor’s core.

    Damage of the reactor cores has attracted worldwide attention to the issue of the fundamental safety of atomic energy. A cold shutdown was announced by the Japanese government in December 2011, and a new phase of cleanup and decommissioning was started.

    However, it is difficult to plan the dismantling of the reactors without any realistic estimate of the extent of the damage to the cores, and knowledge of the location of the melted fuel.

    In the case of Three Mile Island, it took more than three years before a camera could be put into the reactor, and about 10 years before the actual damage to the reactor could be assessed. Since access to the reactor buildings is very limited due to high radiation fields, imaging the reactor cores from outside the buildings will be a valuable step, and can reduce the time required to dismantle the reactors significantly, resulting in cost savings and lower total worker radiation dose.

    A study in the journal AIP Advances by a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) provided some clarity to the problem.

  • Litigant settles for $100K

    The case between employee Marlayne Mahar and Los Alamos National Security, LLC apparently is over.

    The Los Alamos Monitor obtained a settlement agreement between Mahar and LANS where Mahar was awarded $100,000 for alleged emotional distress.

    A jury back in March awarded Mahar $1 million in punitive damages but the Albuquerque Journal reported that district court Judge Sarah Singleton reduced the award in June.

    The lab did not comment on the case.

    According to Mahar’s attorney Timothy Butler of Santa Fe, LANS filed four post trial motions, which were briefed and argued before Singleton.

    First, LANS sought a new trial, arguing that there were problems with the jury selection process. Singleton denied LANS’ motion.

    Second, LANS filed a motion to set aside the jury verdict on the basis that there was supposedly no contract between Ms. Mahar and LANS which dealt with workplace violence. Singleton denied LANS’ motion.

    Third, LANS filed a motion to set aside the jury verdict, arguing that even if there existed a contract between Mahar and LANS dealing with workplace violence, then LANS did not breach this contract. Singleton denied this motion as well.

  • Former LANL employee picked to head NSF

    France Anne Cordova, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory Deputy Group leader, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to head the National Science Foundation.
    “As the first Latina nominated to head the NSF, Dr. Cordova brings a distinguished record of accomplishment from her work at Los Alamos National Laboratory to her many positions in academia,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan said.
    Cordova was a member of the staff of the Space Astronomy and Astrophysics Group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1979 to 1989, where she also served as Deputy Group Leader.
    Cordova became the eleventh President of Purdue University on July 16, 2007. She was installed on January 23, 2012, to a three-year term as Chair of the Smithsonian Institution’s governing board, The Board of Regents. She had been appointed to The Board of Regents for a term of six years by a Joint Resolution of Congress in 2009.

  • 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.”