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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • No fine for LANL after contamination incident

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory will not be fined by the Department of Energy’s Office of Enforcement after a contamination incident at the Neutron Science Center last year.

    According to a federal report, 30 workers were contaminated with radioactive Technetium-99 in an incident last August.

    According to a letter sent to Lab Director Charlie McMillan from the DOE Office of Enforcement, LANS identified beta contamination at the LANSCE Luján Center and adjoining building 622. The highest contamination levels were found at the Luján Center, inside experimental area room ER-1, with levels exceeding 240 million disintegrations per minute (dpm) per I00 cm 2 (i.e., the maximum reading for the measurement device used).

    Offsite, at least nine homes were found with beta contamination, at levels up to 64,000 dpm. Five employees were identified with skin contamination at levels up to 16,800 dpm, and 25 employees had contaminated personal clothing and items with levels up to 980,000 dpm.

    The federal accident investigation called the contamination completely preventable and described a culture of lax adherence to typical safety procedures at the lab’s Neutron Science Center, where a technician unknowingly reused a canister that had contained radioactive Technetium-99, triggering the contamination.

  • Report details diesel spill at RLUOB

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory recently submitted a report to the New Mexico Environment Department, detailing a diesel spill outside the Radiological Laboratory/Utility Office Building that occurred Jan. 22.

    According to the lab, about 350 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from piping connected to an above ground storage tank located outside the RLUOB.

    A statement from the lab said, “We shut the tank system down and immediately removed approximately 5 cubic yards of impacted soil,” said Tony Grieggs, manager with the laboratory’s Environment Safety and Health organization. “We also measured the air around the tank, as well as the basement of the RLUOB, to make sure no diesel vapors were in the air inside or outside of the building.

    “We’re continuing our investigation to determine the extent of the impact on the soil. In addition, the tank manufacturer is going to address the issue with the pipe fitting and re-check the equipment to make sure it is working properly before we bring the tank system back online.”

    According to a 14-day report that was submitted to NMED by Feb. 8, LANL representatives discovered the presence of a diesel spill from an aboveground storage tank system at Technical Area 55. The 12,000-gallon AST system is used for the RLUOB emergency generator.

  • IG scrutinizes cyber security

    The Department of Energy Inspector General has been monitoring the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s cyber security safeguards and those costs.

    And it still has a fair amount of concerns.

    The report said, “We were unable to obtain an accurate amount due to the laboratory’s limited ability to track its IT spending.  The audit found that while additional action is needed, LANL had taken steps to address concerns regarding its cyber security program raised in prior evaluations. 

    “However, our audit identified continuing concerns related to LANL’s implementation of risk management, system security testing and vulnerability management practices.”

    The report said the issues identified occurred, in part, because of a lack of effective monitoring and oversight of LANL’s cyber security program by the Los Alamos Site Office, including approval of practices that were less rigorous than those required by Federal directives.  In response, NNSA management concurred with the findings and recommendations and agreed to take necessary corrective actions. 

    LANL, meanwhile, released the following statement concerning the cyber security audit.

  • Report details sequestration fallout

    The Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a report on sequestration.

    The news did not look as bad for Los Alamos as it did for other National Nuclear Security Administration sites.

    The report indicated that LANL would have to enact a furlough for more than 500 employees for about two weeks if Congress does not come up with a resolution before March 1.

    It’s worse at other sites, according to the report.

    Sequestration would require the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to furlough 700-1,000 of 4,500 employees for a period of up to six months.

    The Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas will furlough up to 2,500 employees for 3 weeks. and Sandia National Labs will lay off up to 100 positions and forgo hiring staff to support the B61 bomb life extension program.

    The report stated, “the NNSA plays a critical national security role in developing and maintaining the Nation’s nuclear deterrent. In the area of our nuclear weapons stockpile, efforts to refurbish and extend the life of several weapons systems would be delayed, including the B-61, leading to increased costs and impacts to deployment and readiness in the future.

  • Funding available for N.M. businesses

    The Venture Acceleration Fund of Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the company that manages and operates Los Alamos National Laboratory for the National Nuclear Security Administration, is accepting applications for the 2013 calendar year.

    Companies selected will receive awards that can range from $10,000 to $100,000 in order to commercialize technology and take it to market faster.

    VAF helps innovative companies reach the next level of success through business and technology development activities, such as proof-of-concept, prototyping, securing initial customers or obtaining additional funding. Companies located in the Northern New Mexico counties of Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Sandoval, Rio Arriba, Taos, San Miguel and Mora are given preference for funding, as are projects associated with Los Alamos technology or expertise.

    The application deadline is March 1.

    “The quality of applications has increased greatly over the years, so we expect the process will be competitive for 2013,” said David Pesiri, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technology Transfer Division leader. “Nevertheless, our team often assists those companies that aren’t selected by connecting them with other resources to meet their specific needs and achieve good commercialization outcomes for the most customers possible.”

  • Education conference set for Santa Fe

    Up to 300 students from middle and high schools in Northern New Mexico will explore science and math through hands-on experiments and presentations at the 34th annual Expanding Your Horizons Conference, from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. March 2 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, Marcy Street, Santa Fe.
    LANL partners with the New Mexico Network for Women in Science and Engineering, Los Alamos Women in Science, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the LANL Foundation, Santa Fe Institute and Flow Science Inc., in Santa Fe, for EYH to increase awareness of, and interest in science, technology, engineering and math activities and careers. The Santa Fe City Council also is a co-sponsor.
    Early registration for this year’s conference ends Friday, but additional registrations will be accepted up to Feb. 25 as space is available. Walk-in registrations may be taken on the day of the event, but contact the registrar first by writing to eyh-registrar@lanl.gov by email.
    For more information, send an email to eyh13@lanl.gov by email or go to the EYH web page at nmnwse.org.

  • Manhattan Project Park still possible

    All hope was not lost as bills to create the Manhattan Project National Historic Park stalled in Congress last session.
    The legislation appears to have a new lease on life and supporters are optimistic about the chances of seeing a new national park by the end of the current session.

    The proposed park would encompass historical sites in Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., and together they tell the story of the secret project to build the first atomic weapons during World War II.

    New Mexico’s recently retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) sponsored the bill in the Senate last session. Bingaman was chair of the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources, where bills regarding public lands receive a first hearing.

    The committee’s new chair, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has expressed support for the proposed park in the past.

    Supporters were also excited to learn that newly elected Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who voted for the bill as a member of the House last session, was named to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

  • McMillan: Workforce reduction not viable

    Sequestration impact scenarios continue to dominate the news.

    Sequestration was enacted in the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

    The debt ceiling was raised in 2011 in exchange for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, which were to be determined by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives, known as a “super committee.”

    If no deal is reached by the committee, automatic, across the board cuts of 10 percent will go into effect.

    The next deadline is fast approaching March 1.

    Meanwhile, there has been quite a bit of speculation as to how sequestration may impact the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    In a memo to employees Wednesday, Lab Director Charlie McMillan said workforce reduction was not a viable option in dealing with sequestration impacts.

    “In the coming days and weeks you will likely see media reports about possible budget reduction scenarios and their impacts to the laboratory, McMillan wrote.

  • New process speeds conversion of biomass to fuels

    Scientists took a major step forward recently toward transforming biomass-derived molecules into fuels. The team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers elucidated the chemical mechanism of the critical steps, which can be performed under relatively mild, energy-efficient conditions. The journal Catalysis Science & Technology published the research.
    “Efficient conversion of non-food biomass into fuels and chemical feedstocks could reduce society’s dependence on foreign oil and ensure the long-term availability of renewable materials for consumer products,” said John Gordon, one of the senior Los Alamos scientists on the project.
    “Also, efficient conversion could decrease the production of greenhouse gases. However, current technologies to convert biomass into fuels require extreme conditions of high temperatures and high pressures, both of which make the conversion process prohibitively expensive.”
    The study provides important insight into a critical step in biomass fuels synthesis and it may enable the design of better, non-precious-metal catalysts and processes for large-scale transformation of biomass into fuels and commodity chemicals.
    For more than a century, chemists focused on a “more is better” approach, adding functionality to molecules, not removing it.

  • 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.