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Safety issues > Watchdog group says more resources needed to repair roof cave ins

WIPP storage plan draws concern

By Tris DeRoma

A nuclear watchdog group raised concerns Friday with a plan to build above-ground storage of transuranic waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

The U.S. Department of Energy has applied for a permit with the New Mexico Environment Department for the new storage facility. 

Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety said the DOE should be concentrating on ongoing safety issues at WIPP, not expanding the facility with another above ground, permanent waste facility at the site. 

WIPP already has a similar facility for the same purpose.

“They never needed to use that surge to be able to store extra waste, so we don’t understand why DOE is proposing it,” Arends said.  

She also said that with the recent series of ceiling cave-ins that has caused the DOE to phase in a shut down of the southern part of the facility, safety should be the first priority. 

“We think that for worker safety and protecting the environment and human health, resources need to be put into closing that part of the mine where the roof falls have taken place,” Arends said. 

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LANL releases its top-10 science stories of 2015

From supercomputers and climate modeling, to cybersecurity and cancer treatments, Los Alamos National Laboratory worked hard in 2015 to advance science that helps address many of the most pressing challenges.
“Our commitment to delivering science and technology for the public good is underscored by the range of this year’s list of top achievements,” said Alan Bishop, principal associate director for science, technology and engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “We are proud to serve the country with our unique multidisciplinary capabilities, commitment to excellence and remarkable scientific talent.”        
Below is LANL’s top-10 list of Los Alamos’ science stories for 2015:
In Supercomputing:
1. Trinity to Trinity: From the first test of a nuclear weapon to a new supercomputer

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Uncertain future > County discusses potential impacts of new contract at LANL

Change in LANL contract could affect taxes

By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Tucked into the mountains of northern New Mexico is one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, home to scientists, engineers and other contractors who have kept a federal laboratory that was the birthplace of the atomic bomb humming for decades.
However, the state and community of Los Alamos — long bankrolled partly by millions of dollars in tax revenue from operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory — may now have to prepare for more slender coffers as federal officials weigh the future of the lab’s management contract.
Federal officials recently confirmed that the $2 billion contract now held by a consortium that includes the University of California, Bechtel Corp. and other for-profit companies will be put out for bid due to repeated failures over the past four years to meet performance goals.
Just this month, the lab managers were warned they would be docked nearly $8 million in incentive fees for potential contamination stemming from the handling of highly enriched uranium at a Nevada facility and for an incident that left one worker with burns over 30 percent of his body.
That followed losses the previous year that stemmed from lab failures that resulted in a radiation leak and the indefinite closure of the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.

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Contract to manage LANL up for grabs after 2017

By Associated Press

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — The $2 billion contract to manage one of the federal government's premier nuclear weapons laboratories will be up for grabs after 2017.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has decided not to grant an extension of Los Alamos National Security's contract to run the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation say the reasons cited by the agency include a serious safety incident involving a worker, and the handling of enriched uranium at a Nevada facility in 2014.

The lab also has shared blame for errors that led to the indefinite closure of the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository in 2014.

The current contract expires in September 2017.

Lab Director Charlie McMillan told employees the lab's latest review was better than the previous two but not good enough to ensure an automatic contract extension.

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LANL’S portable MRI named Top 10 breakthrough

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s portable MRI was named one of the Top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year by Physics World, the member magazine of the Institute of Physics.
Portable MRI, also called Battlefield MRI (bMRI), uses ultra-low-field magnetic resonance imaging to create images of injured soft tissues, such as the brain.
The bMRI is lighter and less expensive than hospital-based MRIs, making them much lighter, less expensive and low-power alternative that can be deployed to hard-to-reach places like the battlefield and remote hospitals in poor countries, according to Michelle Espy, the bMRI project leader.

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Los Alamos National Laboratory receives second Presidential Award as a climate champion

Federal and contractor staff of Los Alamos National Laboratory received the GreenGov Presidential Award Nov. 30 in recognition of their proactive commitment to protecting the environment of northern New Mexico from the potential impacts of a changing climate.
“We recognized the need for a different approach after a devastating wildfire and a series of impactful environmental events,” said Michael Brandt, associate director for the Laboratory’s Environment, Safety and Health directorate.
Recent events such as bark beetle infestations, a series of wildfires and flooding on the Pajarito Plateau prompted efforts to reduce future impacts. The Laboratory’s approach to environmental stewardship includes long-term planning, wildfire mitigations, additional environmental monitoring and implementation of new land, storm water and forest management plans.

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NMED > Flynn estimates cleanup will cost far more than $1.2 billion

State official: Feds’ estimate on Los Alamos Lab cleanup too low

POJOAQUE — Cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory will cost far more than the $1.2 billion estimate made by the federal Department of Energy, according to a top New Mexico official.
The Department of Energy’s cost projection is “far too low” and “a bare minimum,” state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said at a meeting of the Los Alamos National Laboratory citizens advisory board on Thursday.
The laboratory is expected to receive $181 million for environmental cleanup in the next federal budget, the Albuquerque Journal reported
Flynn called on everyone involved to “have an honest conversation about the extent of the problem” as the state and Department of Energy work on revising a 2005 agreement that said the cleanup should be finished by this year. That didn’t come close to happening.
The cleanup of the 40-square-mile site involves waste that dates back to the 1940s Manhattan Project.
Flynn said he wants to move beyond the investigation and characterization of waste at the Los Alamos lab. Instead, his department wants to see a series of discrete campaigns to attack various cleanup problems, prioritized based on factors like the risk to people or the environment and available funding.

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State official: DOE estimate on Los Alamos cleanup too low

By Associated Press

POJOAQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico official says cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste at Los Alamos will cost far more than the $1.2 billion estimate by the federal Department of Energy.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said at a public meeting Thursday that the DOE's cost projection is "far too low" and called for the state and federal governments to have an honest conversation about the issue.

Even with the DOE's estimate, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is expected to receive $181,000 for environmental remediation in the next federal budget. That means the lab wouldn't be cleaned up for many decades.

The state and DOE are revising a 2005 agreement that said the cleanup should be finished by this year. That didn't come close to happening.

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Labs collaborate to shape next set of supercomputers

Three of the Department of Energy’s leading national laboratories are working together to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems by ensuring that the nation’s scientific community has access to leading edge computing systems to carry out their research.

Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley and Sandia national laboratories, have formed the Alliance for Application Performance at Extreme Scale to focus on the design, acquisition and deployment of future advanced technology high performance computing systems.

Over the years, each of the laboratories has independently deployed world-leading supercomputers to support their respective scientific missions.
In joining together, they aim to work even more closely with vendors to shape the future of supercomputer design to deliver ever-more capable systems to solve problems of national importance.
“The supercomputing community is entering a time that is both exciting and challenging as architectures evolve to move us closer to exascale systems,” said Gary Grider, High Performance Computing Division leader at Los Alamos.

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U.S. regulations: If New Mexico doesn’t comply, changes could be implemented

Passport for LANL entry may be required

Los Alamos National Laboratory may require visitors to show passports or other forms of identification for entry if New Mexico does not comply with U.S. regulations for driver’s licenses by Jan. 10.
A spokesman at LANL said Thursday the national research laboratory was closely coordinating with the Department of Energy, which oversees the lab, to ensure that the facility would continue to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act.
“Should the State of New Mexico not come into compliance with the requirements of the federal REAL ID Act by Jan. 10, Los Alamos National Laboratory will have alternate access control options in place, such as a valid U.S. Passport, for when individuals present IDs from non-compliant states or territories,” the spokesman, who was not authorized to use his name, said.
Sandia Labs also said they would need an alternative government-issued form of identification.
The move comes after the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday denied New Mexico an extension from implementing the stricter rules passed in 2005. The decision means state driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted at federal facilities starting Jan. 10.
The Obama administration also is expected to announce next year that New Mexico driver’s licenses won’t be accepted for security screenings at airports.

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LANL eyes options after Real ID decision

By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Los Alamos National Laboratory is looking into options after the federal government denied New Mexico an extension from tougher federal requirements on state driver's licenses.

One of the nation's premiere nuclear weapons research labs said late Wednesday if New Mexico doesn't come into compliance it will begin requiring U.S. passports for entry.

Sandia Labs also says those planning visits should get an alternative government-issued form of identification.

The federal government's decision means New Mexico driver's licenses won't be accepted at federal facilities like military bases starting Jan. 10.

REAL ID Act requirements require proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use them to access certain areas of federal buildings.

New Mexico state law allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegal to obtain driver's licenses.

Read Friday's edition of the Los Alamos Monitor for the latest on this story.

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Feds probe thefts at labs

By Associated Press

The Associated Press

Federal officials say workers have stolen radioactive materials from Los Alamos National Laboratory multiple times this year.
Items were taken from an area that stores contaminated materials before they’re shipped elsewhere. A federal court filing says there have been 76 thefts by Los Alamos personnel in 2015.
An affidavit says lab officials contacted federal investigators on Sept. 30 to say a subcontractor’s employee had stolen items.
The Los Alamos Police Department had responded to a larceny call the previous day at another technical area, TA-18, where a witness had seen a man throwing items from the trunk of his car into bushes along the roadside. Los Alamos police found a bandsaw, garden hose, Truefit gloves, screwdriver set and conduit, some of them marked “TA-54.”
The Los Alamos officer immediately notified radioactive control technicians to survey for contamination. Both the individuals and items found were positive for alpha-emitting isotopes, and two individuals at the spot where the items were discovered were taken to the lab’s occupational health clinic for decontamination.
One individual who was interviewed said some contaminated gloves left in a LANL vehicle the week before had gone missing.

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Curiosity rover confirms existence of a large ancient lake on Mars

New findings released Friday in the journal Science show substantial bodies of water likely existed on the surface of the planet in its early history – including long-lasting lakes that built up deposits at least 250 feet deep, and likely much deeper.
The findings are based on analysis of images that were returned by NASA’s Curiosity rover over a 2.5-year period and show finely layered sediment in Gale crater, Curiosity’s landing site, that could only have been deposited by water flows.
“Skeptics have often asserted that evidence of water on Mars could be attributed to ephemeral, local wet episodes,” said Roger Wiens, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who is a co-author on the paper. “But based on these images from Curiosity, we know that, in fact, Mars had a rainy and snowy environment billions of years ago for an extended period of time. We wouldn’t see the millions of layers of contiguous fluvial sediment otherwise.”
Before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, scientists proposed that Gale crater had filled with layers of sediments. Some hypotheses proposed that the sediments accumulated from wind-blown dust and sand, while others asserted that sediment layers were deposited in an ancient lake.

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Los Alamos lab running out of storage for nuclear waste

By Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Los Alamos National Laboratory has only a narrow time frame before it runs out of room to store its nuclear waste.

The lab's radioactive transuranic waste is supposed to be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, but that site was shut down last year after the underground storage area was contaminated, reported the Albuquerque Journal. Transuranic waste can include items like protective boots and gloves, machinery and sludge.

A Los Alamos waste drum at WIPP popped open because it contained an incorrectly packed mix of combustible materials, creating an estimated half-billion dollars of clean up work. The state Environment Department fined the lab $36.6 million for the accident and DOE cut its fee to the lab's contract operator by 90 percent.

The Los Alamos lab is expected to reach its maximum waste storage capacity sometime in the federal fiscal year that begins in fall 2016, according to a report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The storage facility was initially slated to reopen in March 2016. This summer, however, the U.S. Department of Energy said safety concerns and equipment setbacks delayed the opening indefinitely.

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New DOE/NNSA procurement system disadvantages small vendors.

Coalition supports subcontractors' initiatives

By Arin McKenna

At its Sept. 11 meeting at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities voted unanimously to support LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Major Subcontractors Consortium initiatives that would help its members compete for Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration contracts.
MSC Vice Chairman Jeff Lunsford delineated the challenges New Mexico’s subcontractors have faced since DOE instituted a centralized procurement system called the Supply Chain Management Center in 2006, which NNSA developed in an effort to lower the cost of procuring goods and services at DOE/NNSA facilities nationwide.
MSC is comprised of Northern New Mexico businesses that hold LANL contracts valued at $5 million or more. MSC members have been heavily impacted by SCMC and are looking for ways to compete within that system.
“In this world, we’re moving to national contracts. That’s what SCMC is about: fewer contractors, fewer bids, a lot of efficiencies to be gained,” Lunsford said.
“The national focus is a challenge. We really believe it misses the point that each of these DOE and NNSA sites is a member of the community that they’re in, that the community has made tremendous investments in supporting these sites and their partners.”

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