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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • Existing facilities could be option for further plutonium work

    Second of a series
    During his talk in Washington last week, Jonathan Medalia, a specialist in nuclear weapons policy for the Congressional Research Service, talked about existing buildings in relation to pit production.
    Medalia said other sites away from LANL could be used including Livermore, Idaho and Savannah. Then he discussed the pros and cons of LANL’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4) and the Radiological Laboratory-Utility-Office Building, which was completed in 2010.
    A source said the idea of using existing facilities is nothing new and the lab actually has been doing that very thing.
    RLUOB has 19,500 square feet of lab space, plus office space. But as a Radiological Facility, it is permitted to hold 38.6 grams (plutonium) Pu-239E. WGPu (weapons-grade plutonium) is more radioactive than pure Pu-239.
    “The utility basement and the laboratory floor above it are made of heavily-reinforced concrete, while the office floors are built to the standards of an emergency response building like a fire station, so RLUOB is much more seismically robust than CMR (Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building). LANL estimates the cost of moving AC and related work from CMR to RLUOB and PF-4 to be $800 million,” he said.

  • WIPP officials say environment is safe 


    CARLSBAD (AP) — Officials investigating a leak from the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste dump tried to reassure skeptical southeastern New Mexico residents Monday night that their health is safe.
    More than 250 people attended a two-hour meeting to ask questions about back-to-back accidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and the first-known release of radiation from the repository.
    “I’m just a mom,” said Anna Hovrud, “and my first reaction was to start praying. ... Basically I am not understanding about two-thirds of what has been said here. Is there a chance we could be exposed to radiation, that we are being poisoned somehow, while we are waiting for these samples?”
    Joe Franco, who manages the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad office, told Hovrud “there is no risk from this event that would be a hazard to you or your children.”
    Farok Sharif, president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership that runs the plant, told Hovrud his family also lives in the community. And he said he has been to the site repeatedly in the past week — without protective gear — to gather readings “because I know it is safe.”

  • Nun, 84, sentenced to three years for breaking into Tennessee nuclear facility

    An 84-year-old nun was sentenced Tuesday to nearly three years in prison for breaking into a nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws at the Tennessee plant.
    Two other peace activists who broke into the facility with Megan Rice were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had much longer criminal histories of mostly non-violent civil disobedience.
    Although officials said there was never any danger of the protesters reaching materials that could be detonated or made into a dirty bomb, the break-in raised questions about safekeeping at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. The facility holds the nation’s primary supply of bomb-grade uranium and was known as the “Fort Knox of uranium.”
    After the break-in, the complex had to be shut down, security forces were re-trained and contractors were replaced.
    In her closing statement, Rice asked the judge to sentence her to life in prison, even though sentencing guidelines called for about six years.
    In 2010, Rice was arrested at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during a protest.

  • NMED, San I reach accord

    New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Pueblo de San Ildefonso last week announced the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and protocols that will establish procedures for access to Pueblo Lands, data sharing, sampling, and responding to inadvertent discoveries, and to formalize a process for government-to-government relations that is consistent between the NMED and the Pueblo.
    The MOA will allow for better environmental protections and certainties for the Pueblo de San Ildefonso while giving the state the ability to collect data within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblo and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    “This is a common-sense agreement where both parties win and the environment reaps the benefits,” says Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn. “We will now have an agreement and protocols in place to respectfully access and monitor Pueblo lands in an area that helps us better understand potential environmental threats. The agreement eliminates uncertainties and creates a more efficient way of protecting the environment while providing defined procedures for NMED operations on Pueblo land. ”

  • Plutonium found outside WIPP

    CARLSBAD (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy has appointed a team to investigate the detection of radiation in and near a southeastern New Mexico facility that’s the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository in operation.
    The assessment of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will be conducted by an accident investigation board consisting of department officials and representatives of health and safety agencies, the department said in a statement released late Wednesday.
    The board will be assisted by experts in fields such as fire protection, ventilation, and mine safety, the department said.
    An underground monitor at the plant near Carlsbad detected airborne radiation late Friday night, and an independent monitor center said Wednesday it found radioactive isotopes in an air sensor a half-mile from the plant.
    A filter from a monitor northwest of the plant had trace amounts of americium and plutonium, said Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an arm of New Mexico State University.
    The detected levels are highest ever detected at or around the site but also far below those deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency, Hardy said.

  • NNSA reaches milestone

    The National Nuclear Security Administration this week announced that Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories successfully completed the first full-system mechanical environment test of the B61-12 as part of the NNSA’s ongoing effort to refurbish the B61 nuclear bomb.
    This first full-system mechanical environment test is one of several critical milestones for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP).
    The B61-12 LEP is an essential element of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent and of the U.S.’s commitments to extended deterrence.
    “As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure and effective without the use of underground nuclear explosive testing,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook. “The first full-system mechanical environmental test of the B61-12 is a significant achievement and gives us confidence in our ability to move forward with our efforts to increase the safety and security of the bomb.”
    The B61-12 LEP is now in its second year of development engineering.
    The scope of this LEP includes refurbishment of both nuclear and non-nuclear components to address aging, ensure extended service life and improve security and reliability of the bomb.

  • LANL lecture set for Feb. 12

    Tanmoy Bhattacharya of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Theoretical Division will talk about the laboratory’s research in HIV genetics and how the deluge of new data is going to impact its future at 5:30 p.m., Feb. 12 at the Bradbury Science Museum. The talk is the second in a series of evening lectures planned this year at the museum, and is free and open to the public.
    “In biology, access to large amounts of genetic information about organisms revolutionized the way we could analyze their behavior and relationships; Los Alamos scientists contributed to this development on both the experimental and theoretical fronts,” Bhattacharya said.
    The talk, titled “Genetics in the Era of Big Data,” will examine how the laboratory’s ability to process massive amounts of data with supercomputers is helping scientists understand, among other issues, the HIV virus.

  • DOE information about WIPP fire

    The Department of Energy released a statement Wednesday on the fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
    According to the release, a mine rescue team entered WIPP and confirmed that the fire was extinguished.
    Late in the day, WIPP officials were working on a plan for safe re-entry to the underground storage area, but no time frame had been determined at that time.
    A joint information center was established in Carlsbad. Public inquiries about WIPP can be made to the center by calling 575-234-7380 or 800-336-9477.
    Other information can be found at WIPP’s website, wipp.energy.gov.

  • WIPP materials remain safe

    CARLSBAD (AP) — Crews declared a blaze at an underground nuclear repository in southeastern New Mexico snuffed out and determined that there was minimal damage after a truck hauling salt caught fire and prompted an evacuation.
    Two mine rescue teams went into the earth at the Carlsbad-area Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where the federal government seals away its low-grade nuclear waste, including plutonium-contaminated clothing and tools. The teams determined the fire was no longer burning and reported the air was clear and safe to breathe, a news release and Susan Scott, a spokeswoman who answered an emergency line, said late Wednesday.
    All employees were evacuated from the underground site after the fire broke out about 11 a.m. Wednesday, and none of the radioactive waste was affected, plant officials said.
    Six people were treated for smoke inhalation and released a short while later.
    Early Thursday, officials said the situation was stable and firefighting foam was applied to prevent embers from reigniting.
    Emergency response efforts wrapped up but an investigation is underway in an effort to get the plant safely back online, a statement said.
    A phone call to the plant early Thursday morning went unanswered.
    No information was released on what caused the blaze or when the site would reopen.

  • LANS awards Venture Fund grants

    A total of six Northern New Mexico Native American-owned and operated businesses received a total of $60,000 in grants through a new Native American Venture Acceleration Fund created by Los Alamos National Security and the Regional Development Corporation.
    The grants are designed to help the recipients create jobs, increase their revenue base and help diversify the area economy.
    Funding comes from LANS, which manages Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Native American Venture Acceleration Fund is managed by the Regional Development Corporation.
    “The positive responses and active engagement in the Native American Venture Acceleration Fund are encouraging,” said Kurt Steinhaus, director of the lab’s Community Programs Office. “These entrepreneurs and their companies are vital to the Northern New Mexico economy.”
    Among those receiving grants are the following companies:

    • NDN Energy of Jemez Pueblo, to provide lower cost energy to gaming tribes in deregulated states, development of website and print collateral and to develop an advertising plan.

    • Three Eagles Development Corporation of Picuris Pueblo, to provide packaging and barcoding for expansion of a new natural charcoal product.