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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • Lab halts some work at plutonium facility

    In a memo to employees Thursday, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan announced that certain work operations at the Plutonium Facility would temporarily pause programmatic activities.

    McMillan’s action comes on the heels of another federal report criticizing Los Alamos for not doing enough to protect the public from dangerous releases of radiation in the event of wildfires or an earthquake.

    An audit released Thursday by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General 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 on-site thousands of barrels of toxic waste.

    The audit pushes 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.

    “Because of the nature and importance of the work we do, it is important to regularly assess all aspects of our operations to ensure we are executing our procedures and operational processes appropriately,” McMillan said in the memo.

  • U.S., Russia reach nuke fuel pact

    The National Nuclear Security Administration earlier this week announced that it has monitored the elimination of more than 475 metric tons (MT) of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU) under a landmark nuclear nonproliferation program, commonly known as Megatons to Megawatts. With today’s 475 MT HEU milestone, deliveries under the U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement of low enriched uranium (LEU) produced from Russian HEU are 95 percent complete, and HEU roughly equivalent to 19,000 nuclear weapons has been permanently eliminated.
    “The HEU Purchase Agreement has reached yet another important milestone on the path towards blending down and eliminating 500 metric tons of Russian weapons HEU. The HEU Program has been one of the most successful nonproliferation and material disposition programs in U.S. history and is a success we share with our Russian partners,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The President’s nonproliferation goals have been advanced by the hard work and dedication of both U.S. and Russian personnel under the landmark 1993 agreement.”

  • LANL taking steps to remediate chromium plume

    Los Alamos National Laboratory environmental program experts are one step closer to determining the best way to remediate a chromium plume in groundwater beneath Mortandad Canyon. Members of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and laboratory environmental cleanup offices began pumping tests last week at the well known as R-42. The well is east of the lab’s Technical Area 55. These tests are the first key steps directed at addressing the chromium contamination.

    Juan Griego, deputy manager of NNSA’s Los Alamos Field Office, congratulated the employees working on the project.

    “It’s an honor to be here today to represent the NNSA in this important endeavor,” he said as employees opened the valve from which treated water spilled into a fenced-off reservoir. “Congratulations for taking on the challenge and getting us to where we are today.”

    “This is a critical step in our move from investigation to remediation,” said Jeff Mousseau, associate director of the laboratory’s environmental programs directorate, pointing out R-42 is one of several wells that will contribute to the effort.

  • Portable imaging system created

    Los Alamos National Laboratory and Tribogenics, the pioneer of innovative X-ray solutions, have partnered to create a lightweight, compact, low-cost X-ray system that uses the MiniMAX (Miniature, Mobile, Agile, X-ray) camera to provide real-time inspection of sealed containers and facilities.

    The technology will be featured at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Conference on Nuclear Security: Enhancing Global Efforts, July 1-5, in Vienna, Austria.

    “Cost and portability are the major barriers to expanding the use of X-ray imaging,” said Scott Watson of Los Alamos’s Nuclear Engineering and Nonproliferation Division. “We designed MiniMAX to demonstrate that such a system will open up new applications in security inspection, field medicine, specimen radiography and industrial inspection.”

    Los Alamos has developed MiniMAX as an alternative to the large, expensive and fixed facilities presently required for security inspections using X-ray imaging.

    The complete MiniMAX portable radiography system weighs less than five pounds, compared to much larger and heavier systems currently available.

    Los Alamos Physicists demonstrated MiniMAX using a conventional X-ray source, a radioisotopic source, and a prototype source from Tribogenics operating at 90 keV.

  • Society names LANL's Porterfield ASTM fellow

    The American Society for Testing Materials presented Donivan Porterfield of LANL’s Actinide Analytical Chemistry group the 2013 Award of Merit, which confers the rank of ASTM Fellow.
    ASTM’s Award of Merit was established in 1949 and is the highest award granted by the Society to an individual member for distinguished service and outstanding participation in ASTM International committee activities.
    The award recognizes Porterfield for his extensive knowledge and commitment to excellence in standards development. Porterfield serves on both the ASTM Nuclear Fuel Cycle International Committee and the ASTM Water International Committee. He has led or contributed to the development of dozens of ASTM standards, methods and practices. Porterfield has received Standards Development Awards, Awards of Appreciation, and Awards of Achievement from the ASTM.
    He won the Harlon J. Anderson Award, the highest award the Nuclear Fuel Cycle International Committee may bestow on an individual, and the Max Hecht Award, the highest award the Water International Committee can bestow on an individual.
    Porterfield has held Membership Chair, Subcommittee Chair, and Task Group Chair positions for both committees.
    Porterfield received a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Texas – Austin.

  • Coalition presses D.C. for dollars

    The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities announced today that it is leading a 13-member delegation to Washington, D.C. to push for more cleanup funding for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    The group will meet with members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, as well as top officials at the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration to press for increased federal funding to continue environmental remediation across northern New Mexico.

    “This type of work is incredibly important for the Regional Coalition and our effort has already had a direct impact through the millions of additional dollars LANL received for cleanup funding this year,” said Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, Chairman of the Regional Coalition. “Without this funding, we would have been even further away from the amount of cleanup dollars that we need for our communities and we could have seen a loss of up to 140 jobs.”

    The Regional Coalition is advocating for at least $255 million in FY14 to maintain ongoing environmental management efforts at LANL.

    The Regional Coalition will likely have a receptive audience when talking with the state’s Congressional delegation.

  • Novel cellulose structure requires fewer enzymes to process

    Improved methods for breaking down cellulose nanofibers are central to cost-effective biofuel production and the subject of new research from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).
    Scientists are investigating the unique properties of crystalline cellulose nanofibers to develop chemical pretreatments and designer enzymes for biofuel production from cellulosic-or non-food-plant derived biomass.
    “Cellulose is laid out in plant cell walls as crystalline nanofibers, like steel reinforcements embedded in concrete columns,” says GLBRC’s Shishir Chundawat. “The key to cheaper biofuel production is to unravel these tightly packed nanofibers more efficiently into soluble sugars using fewer enzymes.”
    An article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests-counter-intuitively-that increased binding of enzymes to cellulose polymers doesn’t always lead to faster breakdown into simple sugars. In fact, Chundawat’s research team found that using novel biomass pretreatments to convert cellulose to a unique crystalline structure called cellulose III reduced native enzyme binding while increasing sugar yields by as much as five times.

  • DOE Stockpile Report: Lab workforce to stabilize

    The Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration unveiled its 2014 Stockpile Stewardship Management Plan, and in so doing it revealed some of its plans for the Los Alamos National Laboratory and provided a forecast for the LANL workforce in the next five years.

    A big part of the NNSA plan was the issue of the aging nuclear security enterprise.

    And the report revealed the thinking behind deferring the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility for five or more years.

    The report reads, “This deferral is only possible by leveraging previous investments such as the new radiological laboratory for analytical chemistry; conducting the plutonium characterization work at LANL and possibly other available laboratories, as necessary; and accelerating plans to process, package, and ship excess special nuclear material out of the plutonium facility at LANL.

  • Laser-driven neutrons used to stop nuclear smugglers

    Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have successfully demonstrated for the first time that laser-generated neutrons can be enlisted as a useful tool in the War on Terror.
    The international research team in February used the short-pulse laser at Los Alamos’ TRIDENT facility to generate a neutron beam with novel characteristics that interrogated a closed container to confirm the presence and quantity of nuclear material inside. The successful experiment paves the way for creation of a table-top-sized or truck-mounted neutron generator that could be installed at strategic locations worldwide to thwart smugglers trafficking in nuclear materials.
    “We have demonstrated for the first time a novel approach for generating a record number of neutrons driven by a laser directed into a beam over a very small area that could provide proof positive of a large variety of nuclear items,” said Los Alamos physicist Andrea Favalli, an Italian researcher who led the February experiment.

  • House appropriators propose cuts to nuclear weapons spending

    WASHINGTON — House appropriators are looking to provide nearly $200 million less than the Obama administration has sought for nuclear weapons programs in fiscal 2014, even as fellow Republicans on other committees argue the administration is not requesting enough.

    The draft energy and water spending bill released by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday would provide $7.7 billion for nuclear weapons activities, nearly $193 million less than the $7.87 billion the White House requested. It is nearly $400 million less than the $8.08 billion that would be allowed by the annual defense authorization legislation drafted by the House Armed Services Committee and approved by the House on Friday.

    Republicans on the House Armed Service Committee have argued that the administration’s request is not enough to meet the terms of a 2010 deal made during lawmaker negotiations on ratification of the New START arms control deal with Russia, in which the president agreed to spend $85 billion over 10 years on nuclear arms complex modernization.