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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • ECA peer exchange tackles environmental issues

    The Energy Communities Alliance (ECA) had a peer exchange in Los Alamos last week. It was the first time ECA has met here in more than five years.

    The main topic of discussion was environmental management (EM), although other issues of concern to the participants were also discussed in length.

    Seth Kirshenberg, executive director of the ECA, began a series of panel discussions Thursday with a summary of current issues.

    Kirshenberg reported that Congress is expected to pass a six-month continuing resolution until a new budget is passed, with provisions that could impact DOE communities.

    The main concern was a new limitation that prevents agencies from moving money around. In the past, Department of Energy Environmental Management (DOE-EM) had considerable flexibility in directing money to the most urgent environmental cleanup needs at each site.

    “The bottom line is, we don’t have that flexibility to move money between the major control elements if the CR passes as it is today,” Kirshenberg said.

  • Scientist gives his two cents on plutonium plan

    As in most public hearings regarding anything that has to do with the Department of Energy, activists were in attendance Tuesday to put in their two cents worth.

    That was the case at the Holiday Inn Express as they came out to let their feelings be known about the Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

    Interestingly enough, however, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist also stood up to give his opinion.

    Those occasions are rare.

    But David Clark was ready.

    “I’ve devoted my career to developing knowledge and expertise on the science and technology of plutonium,” Clark said. “I’ve come tonight as a citizen and a scientific expert on matters related to plutonium. As a leader in plutonium science, I remind everyone that there is well over 2,000 metric tons of plutonium throughout the world in various forms. 

    “Regardless of your views on how this situation came to be, it is clear that these large inventories must be prudently managed for many centuries and we must secure it against theft and diversion. To succeed, we will have to stabilize, store, and/or destroy excess plutonium. 

  • Astronomer enlightens audience

    Astronomer Alex Filippenko knows his audience. At the Duane Smith Auditorium Monday night, he wowed the crowd with his talk about dark matter, expanding universes and supernovae black holes — and even included a little extra

    “I gave more details tonight and went on longer than I usually do because I wanted to give this much more scientifically literate audience some more of the details,” Filippenko said. “When I give this lecture to a much more generalized audience, I leave out particular things because it confuses them; but I felt like I owed it to this particular audience.”

    But he also brought along his sense of humor, too. At one point during the lecture, he showed a wall of stars on his presentation screen and started to seriously tell the audience that dark matter is what you see between the stars. He then started to count the dark spaces in between the clusters of stars and galaxies before a ripple of laughter in the audience grew louder, signaling the jig was up.

    After that, though, things got serious as he described dark matter as something everyone should be paying attention to, whether award-winning astronomers or not.

  • Coalition adopts bylaws and looks for funding

    The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities adopted a pair of resolutions that will help it better conduct its business at a meeting last week in Española.

    Under the guidance of its new executive director DeAnza Valencia Sapien of the MVM Group, the coalition unanimously approved a resolution establishing the bylaws of the Board of Directors and established standards of reasonable notice to the public for all coalition meetings.

    Valencia Sapien was hoping to announce that the coalition would receive $100,000 in funding from the Department of Energy. “We should have it next month,” she said.

    A presentation was made to the coalition, concerning the radiological environmental monitoring around Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    David Fuehne, LANL’s team leader for environmental radiation protection, said there are 28 stacks continuously monitored and air is monitored at more than 50 AIRNET stations. Analysis is done for radioactive particulates including plutonium, americium, uranium, tritium and metals. Fuehne said more than 30,000 analyses were made in 2010.

    He said extensive wildfire monitoring was done after Cerro Grande, Taos and Las Conchas with more than 9,000 analyses. He also said there was “no-fire-related LANL effects measured at the laboratory perimeter or regional.”

  • Laser shoots first Martian target

    NASA’s Curiosity rover has zapped its first Martian rock, aiming its laser for the sake of science.

    During the target practice on Sunday. Curiosity fired 30 pulses at a nearby rock over a 10-second window, burning a small hole.

    Since landing in Gale Crater two weeks ago, the six-wheel rover has been checking out its instruments including the laser. During its two-year mission, Curiosity was expected to point the laser at various rocks as it drives toward Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising from the crater floor.

    Its goal is to determine whether the Martian environment was habitable.

    In several days, flight controllers will command Curiosity to move its wheels side-to-side and take its first short drive.

    Members of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover ChemCam team have received the first photos from the instrument’s remote micro imager. The successful capture of ChemCam’s first 10 photos sets the stage for the first test bursts of the instrument’s rock-zapping laser in the near future.

  • Plutomium hearings begin this week in LA

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration begins public hearings this week on the Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SPD Supplemental EIS).

    The first one is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Express in Los Alamos.

    The Draft Supplemental EIS analyzes the potential environmental impacts of alternatives for the disposition of 7.1 metric tons (MT) of additional weapons-usable plutonium from pits that were declared surplus to national defense needs in 2007 but were not included in DOE's prior decisions as well as 6 MT of surplus, weapons-usable non-pit plutonium.

    The SPD Supplemental EIS analyzes four alternative disposition pathways: disposition of plutonium using the can-in-canister vitrification approach, involving small cans of material, which would be placed in a rack inside a Defense Waste Processing Facility canister and surrounded with vitrified high-level radioactive waste at the Savannah River Site (SRS); disposition of non-pit plutonium via H-Canyon and DWPF at SRS; disposal of non-pit plutonium at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico; and fabrication of pit and some non-pit plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for use in domestic commercial nuclear power reactors.

  • Bishop to lead LANL STE Directorate

    Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charles McMillan announced Friday that after a yearlong, nationwide search, Alan Bishop has been selected to be the laboratory’s next principal associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering (PADSTE). Bishop has been acting in that role since Aug. 29, 2011.

    Over the course of a distinguished 30-year career as a research scientist and leader, Bishop has more than 700 publications in archival journals and has served as a guest scientist, guest scholar and visiting professor.

    He has received Distinguished Fellow awards from the American Physical Society, Humboldt Foundation, the Institute of Physics and American Association for the Advancement of Science and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    “Alan is uniquely qualified to help shape the laboratory’s future. He has skillfully guided this critical and complex organization through challenging and uncertain times,” McMillan said.

    Bishop came to Los Alamos in 1979 and has been a group leader, division leader and finally associate director for Theory, Simulation and Computation before being named acting principal associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering last year.

  • A rose by any other name …

    It all depends on how one looks at it.

    Some are saying the Department of Energy is actually paying some anti-nuclear groups to raise awareness about environmental cleanup.

    The anti-nuclear groups are saying they would never receive any money from DOE and they are receiving funds through grants provided by the New Mexico Community Foundation.

    But here is the fact.

    Through a partnership with the Department of Energy, the New Mexico Community Foundation launched the Community Involvement Fund last year.

    And according to the NMCF website, the five-year agreement was intended to increase public awareness and participation in the DOE’s environmental cleanup at nuclear waste sites nationwide.

    In 2011, grants totaled $797,991 with recipient organizations in the states of New Mexico, Vermont, Idaho, New York, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Maryland and Washington.

    Taking advantage of the grants was a variety of anti-nuclear groups in this state.

    They include the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in Santa Fe, Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping in Albuquerque and the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque. Partnering with SRIC are the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Watch New Mexico in Santa Fe.

  • Lab weighs in on safety infractions

    According to a weekly Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board memorandum, lab director Charlie McMillan provided a final response to a September 2011 NNSA Site Office letter regarding criticality safety infractions last month.

  • Scientists, residents cheer Mars landing

    NASA’s Curiosity rover on Monday transmitted a low-resolution video showing the last 2 1/2 minutes of its white-knuckle dive through the Mars atmosphere, giving Earthlings a sneak peek of a spacecraft landing on another world.

    As thumbnails of the video flashed on a big screen on Monday, scientists and engineers at the NASA Jet Propulsion let out “oohs” and “aahs.” The recording began with the protective heat shield falling away and ended with dust being kicked up as the rover was lowered by cables inside an ancient crater.

    It was a sneak preview since it’ll take some time before full-resolution frames are beamed back depending on other priorities.