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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • 'Unauthorized visitors' spur SOC firings

    More details have emerged concerning the five members of the Los Alamos National Laboratory security force that were terminated two weeks ago for the improper use of the live fire shooting range located at Technical Area 72.

    The lab security force is called Securing Our Country or SOC.

    The lab was asked if it could provide any more background about what the inappropriate conduct was and it responded, “Unauthorized visitors were allowed access to the shooting range and allowed to operate a variety of firearms.”

    The lab said the incident was discovered when it received information from an anonymous source, that was then verified by LANL and SOC.

    As far as the contract between the lab and SOC and whether there would be any further action or otherwise, the response was, “The inquiry is ongoing and we will determine what further actions are needed, if any.”

    The lab said it is not identifying the guards involved because it is a personnel action and that it would not characterize the relationships between the involved parties who were on the shooting range.

    NNSA spokesperson Josh McConaha said, “We’ve been closely involved with LANL as they have investigated the incident and taken corrective action.”

  • Cleanroom inventor dies at 92

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Willis Whitfield, an award-winning physicist known for inventing the modern-day cleanroom, has died. He was 92.

    Sandia National Laboratories, where Whitfield worked for three decades, announced Monday that Whitfield died in Albuquerque on Nov. 12.

    Lab President Paul Hommert says Whitfield’s concept for a new kind of cleanroom came at the right time during the early 1960s to usher in a new era of electronics, health care and scientific research.

    Dubbed Mr. Clean, Whitfield was born in Rosedale, Okla. He was the son of a cotton farmer.

    Whitfield had his initial drawings for the new cleanroom by the end of 1960. His solution for dealing with the turbulent airflow and particles found in cleanrooms of the day was to constantly flush out the room with highly filtered air.

  • Researchers test power system for space travel

    A team of researchers, including engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has demonstrated a new concept for a reliable nuclear reactor that could be used on space flights.

    The research team recently demonstrated the first use of a heat pipe to cool a small nuclear reactor and power a Stirling engine at the Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility near Las Vegas. The Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions experiment produced 24 watts of electricity. A team of engineers from Los Alamos, the NASA Glenn Research Center and National Security Technologies LLC conducted the experiment.

    Heat pipe technology was invented at Los Alamos in 1963. A heat pipe is a sealed tube with an internal fluid that can efficiently transfer heat produced by a reactor with no moving parts. A Stirling engine is a relatively simple closed-loop engine that converts heat energy into electrical power using a pressurized gas to move a piston. Using the two devices in tandem allowed for creation of a simple, reliable electric power supply that can be adapted for space applications.

  • Unresolved costs at lab trouble Inspector General

    The Department of Energy Inspector General issued an audit report on costs incurred by the Los Alamos National Laboratory during Fiscal Year 2010 and the National Nuclear Security Administration management team agreed with it.

    Millions of dollars in questioned and unresolved costs at LANL have been under review for some time. The final IG report released this month does not point to any clear path for resolution in terms of how the millions in taxpayer money may have been expended at the national lab.

    The report stated, “We identified approximately $50,000 in questioned and unresolved costs claimed by Los Alamos during Fiscal Year 2010. We also identified nearly $24 million in subcontract costs requiring audit; nearly $1.4 million in unresolved questioned subcontract costs; and, approximately $10.7 million in unresolved costs pertaining to a potential Anti-Deficiency Act violation.

    “Finally, we identified more than $434 million in previously reported unresolved costs from prior years. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s management agreed with the findings and recommendations and provided proposed corrective actions.”

    As of July 2012, the contracting officer and NNSA’s Office of Field Financial Management were working with Los Alamos to resolve the questioned costs.

  • Lab to pursue fix in botched security system

    Los Alamos National Security, LLC, is bringing in outside counsel to help it deal with the botched construction of a security upgrade at the lab.

    Originally, the system was supposed to cost $213 million, but cost overruns have jacked the project up to $254 million, according to a memo written by Lab Director Charlie McMillan, to employees.

    The National Nuclear Security Administration is holding LANS, LLC accountable for the projected $41 million in cost overruns.

    Last month, NNSA spokesman Josh McConaha said in a statement, “The performance on this project has been unacceptable and we will hold LANS fully accountable for all costs.  

    “We take our responsibility to protect taxpayer dollars seriously and we will use all the tools available to correct the situation.”

    According to the trade journal Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, LANS hired attorneys to help the lab pursue claims against subcontractors that did the work on the security system.

    There are reports that the cost overruns could be paid for by money that had been earmarked for the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility or the bonus that LANS, LLC receives for running the lab.

  • Manhattan Project website launches

    Stories about living in secret cities erased from the map and working on a top-secret project to make an atomic bomb are now available in video and transcripts on the Internet. “Voices of the Manhattan Project” is a new website with a variety of oral histories, which provide new insights into this history.

    The Atomic Heritage Foundation and the Los Alamos Historical Society are launching a new website on the 70th anniversary of Gen. Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s search for a site for a research laboratory.

    Stirling Colgate was a senior at the Los Alamos Boys Ranch School when Oppenheimer visited there. According to his oral history, Colgate recognized the man in the porkpie hat right away and suspected what might be in store for the isolated mesa. Colgate thought Los Alamos was “a crazy place to do any war thing.” The rest is history.

    The collection of nearly 30 oral histories is just the beginning. AHF and LAHS hope to add some 200 from their collections and perhaps many more from organizations at the other Manhattan Project sites and elsewhere. Eventually, the site should provide a rich tapestry of people and perspectives on one of the most significant developments in modern history.

  • Venture Fund makes awards

    Two local biotech start-ups, a water and power company and a hardware inventor are the latest recipients of $165,000 in Venture Acceleration Fund awards from Los Alamos National Security, LLC.
    Mustomo, Inc., IX Power, Synfolia and Tape-Ease will receive funding to take their products and services to the next development level. Three of the four companies are commercializing technology and intellectual property developed by New Mexico’s national laboratories and educational institutions.
    “Although the program was originally intended to commercialize lab technologies, VAF frequently funds companies with no tie to LANL or research institutions,” said David Pesiri, the laboratory’s Technology Transfer Division leader. “This round of VAF funding represents a special opportunity to push national lab and research institution technology into the marketplace and to build upon other tech transfer efforts such as Labstart.”

  • LANL names 2012 Fellows

    Three members of the Los Alamos National Laboratory scientific staff are being honored with appointment as Laboratory Fellows for 2012.

    The new Los Alamos Fellows include Charles Farrar,  Steven Elliott and Mikhail Shashkov.

    The committee ranked a collection of nominations on the basis of:
    •  Sustained, high-level achievements in programs of importance to the laboratory;
    • A fundamental or important discovery that has led to widespread use;
    • Having become a recognized authority in the field, including outside recognition and an outstanding record of publications.

    “Chuck, Steven and Mikhail have made exceptional contributions in their fields and to national security,” Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan said. “To be honored by their peers is a testament to their work. I congratulate the 2012 Laboratory Fellows and thank them for their service.”

    Farrar, of the Los Alamos National Security Education Center, is one of the preeminent structural health monitoring pioneers in the world.

  • LANL names 2012 Laboratory Fellows

    Three members of the Los Alamos National Laboratory scientific staff are being honored with appointment as Laboratory Fellows for 2012. The committee ranked a collection of nominations on the basis of:

    1) Sustained, high-level achievements in programs of importance to the Laboratory; 2) A fundamental or important discovery that has led to widespread use; 3) Having become a recognized authority in the field, including outside recognition and an outstanding record of publications.

    The new Los Alamos Fellows are

    •  Charles Farrar
    •  Steven Elliott
    •  Mikhail Shashkov

    "Chuck, Steven, and Mikhail have made exceptional contributions in their fields and to national security,” said lab Director Charlie McMillan. “To be honored by their peers is a testament to their work. I congratulate the 2012 Laboratory Fellows and thank them for their service.”

  • Coalition gets heads-up on D.C.

    Attorney Seth Kirshenberg has his finger on the pulse of Washington.

    The D.C. based attorney has helped Los Alamos County with issues regarding the Department of Energy. And he also is the director of the Energy Communities Alliance of which the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is a member.

    Kirshenberg was in town Friday to address the coalition and offer it a glimpse in what to expect in Washington now that the election season is over.

    Kirshenberg told the coalition that there are three things it needs to be doing as the New Year approaches.

    He said the coalition needs to plan ahead, identify priorities and understand the environment in Washington.

    “And that is not always easy,” said Kirshenberg, who works at the firm Kutak Rock in Washington.

    Primary issues facing the lame-duck Congress is a possible fiscal cliff where sequestration might take effect if a budget agreement is not in place by the end of the year. Sequestration would trigger mandatory budget cuts of $1.2 trillion and would cause massive financial headaches for DOE facilities including the Los Alamos National Laboratory.