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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • NNSA may take more action in ethics scandal

    The official DOE Inspector General report finally came out last week regarding the ethics scandal involving former Los Alamos National Laboratory deputy director Beth Sellers, who resigned March 7.
    The Los Alamos Monitor reported last month that Sellers was the subject of a draft IG report that revealed Sellers and husband William failed to notify lab officials of a potential conflict of interest. William Sellers eventually was awarded a sole-source contract and according to the report, he billed the lab for work that was never performed.
    In the final report, there is a response from acting NNSA administrator Bruce Held regarding the investigation.
    Held listed the corrective actions the lab had made in regard to the situation.
    Then he said, “findings identified in this report were considered in developing the
     lab’s FY13 Performance Evaluation Report and we are evaluating whether any additional management action may be necessary given the results of the Inspsectors’ review.
    “We take seriously our responsibility to ensure our federal and contractor staff adheres to the highest standards for ethical conduct and will ensure that lessons learned from this incident are shared across the nuclear security enterprise.”

  • Watchdog asks for WIPP inquiry

     A watchdog group is calling for an independent investigation in the fire and radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
    “We do know that the radiation release was never supposed to happen, and the federal government is unprepared to safely address the situation. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with determining whether WIPP would leak in 10,000 years, said it would not,” said Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens of Nuclear Safety.
    “We understand that plans needed to be prepared in order to ensure the safety of the workers re-entering the mine, and we applaud the Department of Energy (DOE) for being thorough. On the other hand, for more than 15 years, CCNS has pressed DOE and the New Mexico Environment Department to enhance the emergency preparedness requirements in the hazardous waste permit in anticipation that such an event could happen. We were ridiculed by the agencies. And now we see that our concerns were more than justified.”
    Arends said an Accident Investigation Board was formed to investigate the vehicle fire, which was composed of DOE employees and consultants.

  • Crews scheduled to enter WIPP

    CARLSBAD (AP) — Crews investigating a radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico hope to make a second trip into the half-mile-deep repository Friday.
    The Department of Energy detailed the plans at a community meeting Thursday evening.
    Officials said workers who went into Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on Wednesday to install air monitors and communications equipment found no airborne radiation. On Friday, however, they said workers are prepared to encounter contamination as they make their way further into the mine.
    If all goes well Friday, officials say that should set the stage for a third entry, when crews will try to figure out what caused the release.

  • Security system finally complete

     Federal officials say the problem-plagued $244 million security system to protect the most sensitive areas at Los Alamos National Laboratory is finally complete.
    The advanced security upgrade for the lab’s plutonium complex was supposed to be done almost two years ago at a cost of $213 million. But as it was nearing completion officials acknowledged there were major problems, and said they needed an additional $41 million to fix it.
    The NNSA and Los Alamos National Security, LLC, paid $10 million to reimburse the government to fix some of the problems.
     The National Nuclear Security Administration said Thursday the system was ultimately completed for $244 million.
    The modern system protects what is known as Technical Area 55, the only place in the country where nuclear weapon triggers can be made. The area is one of the most sensitive at Los Alamos and includes a cement, bunker-like complex that houses two aging labs where most of the work with dangerous plutonium is done.
    NNSA, meanwhile, hailed the completion of the project in a press release Thursday.

  • Flipping a switch on magnetism

    Interest in oxide-based semiconductor electronics has exploded in recent years, fueled largely by the ability to grow atomically precise layers of various oxide materials.
    One of the most important materials in this burgeoning field is strontium titanate (SrTiO3), a nominally nonmagnetic wide-bandgap semiconductor, and researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found a way to magnetize this material using light, an effect that persists for hours at a time.
    “One doesn’t normally think of this material as being able to support magnetism. It’s supposed to be useful — but magnetically uninteresting — stuff. So when we started shining light on it and saw what appeared to be extremely long-lived magnetic signals — that persisted for hours even after we turned the light off — it came as quite a surprise,” said Scott Crooker, lead scientist on the project at Los Alamos.

  • LANL makes first shipment to Texas

    Los Alamos National Laboratory resumed shipments of transuranic waste yesterday from Technical Area 54 Area G. The shipments are part of an accelerated shipping campaign to remove 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste stored aboveground at Area G by June 30, 2014. Nearly 3,200 cubic meters of the waste have already been removed since the 3706 campaign began in January 2012.
    The waste was received at Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Andrews, Texas, Wednesday morning where it will be temporarily staged until it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico for final disposal.
    Shipments to WIPP ceased following a Feb, 5 underground truck fire and a Feb, 14 radiological event. The temporary staging arrangement is part of an agreement between WCS and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operating contractor at WIPP. The transuranic waste from Los Alamos to be stored at WCS meets their license requirements and has been coordinated and approved by the appropriate regulatory authorities.

  • Climate lectures scheduled

    Los Alamos National Laboratory climate researcher Nate McDowell will discuss climate change and its effects on forest systems in a series of Frontiers in Science lectures beginning Wednesday at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque.
    “The data we have suggests that forests of the Southwest and many other areas are in jeopardy of a massive die-off in the next few decades,” McDowell said. “I was a doubter of these results until we generated more than three estimates, all independent, which came to the same conclusion.”
    The talk, titled “It’s not easy staying green: Forests and climate change,” will focus on the increasing climate temperature and the imposing threat it poses to forests.
    Because of climate warming, forests are facing threats unlike any other they have seen in thousands of years. Warming dries the forests so that, from the perspective of the trees, even short droughts are severe. No forests appear to be immune to this challenge.
    In his talks, McDowell will explain the scientific basis for these conclusions and discuss the options for maintaining forests in the face of this threat. McDowell talks about his research and the upcoming Frontiers in Science lectures in a video. All Frontiers in Science lectures begin at 7 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Scholarship recipients

    2014 Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund Recipients
    In 2014, 73 students were awarded scholarships totaling $419,500.
    $30,000
($7,500 per year for four years)
    Raymond Fasano, Bernalillo High School
    Gold Scholars: $20,000
($5,000 per year for four years)
    Greta Miller, Santa Fe High School

    Alexandr Wang, Los Alamos High School
    Silver Scholars: $10,000
($2,500 per year for four years)
    Sarah Colvin, New Mexico School for the Arts

    Na Hyun Park, St. Michael’s High School
    Jesse Yelvington, Pojoaque Valley High School
    Domenici Scholars: $10,000
($2,500 per year for four years)

    Angelica Aragon, Mora High School
    Nicolette Gonzales, Pecos High School

    Eliana Griego, McCurdy High School
    Zoie Hensley, Taos High School
    Leonard Horan III, Escalante High School
    Amanda Mercer, Los Alamos High School
    Milo Ventura, V. Sue Cleveland High School
    Leadership Scholars: $10,000
($2,500 per year for four years)
    Ju Hyun Lee, Los Alamos High School
    Adrianna Martinez, Española Valley High School

    Ryan Toma, Taos High School

    Issa Wilson, Taos High School
    Bronze Scholars: $4,000
($1,000 per year for up to four years)

    Elisa Abeyta, Mora High School


  • 73 students to receive LA Employees Fund scholarships

    Raymond Fasano of Bernalillo High School is the recipient of the 2014 Platinum Scholarship awarded through the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund (LAESF).
    Fasano is one of 73 students from seven Northern New Mexico counties receiving LAESF scholarships, which are funded through pledges from Los Alamos National Laboratory employees and a matching amount from Los Alamos National Security, LLC.
    “These scholarships are awarded to deserving students who excel in academic achievement, whose leadership potential is highlighted by his or her dedication to community service and extracurricular activities and whose career goals reflect the future needs of our laboratory and communities,” said Jeff Mousseau, the laboratory’s Environmental Programs director and champion of the Laboratory’s 2014 LAESF campaign.
    Fasano is the first Bernalillo High School student to receive the Platinum scholarship, which provides $7,500 a year for four years. Los Alamos High School senior Alexander Wang and Santa Fe High School senior Greta Miller are this year’s Gold Scholarship recipients. They will receive $5,000 a year in financial assistance for four years.

  • ‘It’s not just a fence’

    It’s really close.
    That was the assessment of Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan when he talked about the Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrade Project at Technical Area 55.
    “We are very close to completing a complex project,” McMillan told those gathered at a regional leaders breakfast at Buffalo Thunder Resort last week. “I can’t take you out there to show it to you, but I can tell you, it is very cool.”
    The project has an interesting history and because of cost overruns, it was one of the reasons why the lab did not receive another year on its contract during its evaluation by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
    “It’s not just a fence,” McMillan said. “It is a very integrated system complete with sensors.”
    According to the Nuclear Deterrence Monitor, the lab is expecting to remain just under the project’s $244.2 million cost cap. That came from an industry official who had knowledge of the project and shared that knowledge with the trade publication.