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  • Feds’ plan to make more nuke triggers at LANL raises questions, SFNM, 23 Aug 2014
    weapons halted production of plutonium pits in the U S for nearly two decades Production resumed in 2007 but only at Los Alamos which produced 11 that year The lab has never produced more than six in any year since then But the same nonproliferation treaties that halted the production of new weapons also prohibited the testing of existing stockpiles Those provisions have created uncertainty about the reliability of the aging bombs One popular analogy among frustrated factions in national defense circles likens the stockpile to a rusty old car in a driveway It might unexpectedly need to be driven someday but turning the key to test whether it will start is strictly forbidden The U S Department of Defense some in Congress and the National Nuclear Safety Administration an arm of the Department of Energy that manages the country s nuclear weapons program want to replace aging triggers with new ones to ensure the weapons will work if they re ever needed A debate has raged for years between nuclear hawks and nonproliferation advocates about whether the pits need updating Mello and other skeptics point to a 2006 report from the JASON Defense Advisory Panel an independent scientific group that said the useful life of a plutonium pit is up to 100 years That would give many of the existing pits another half century before they would need to be replaced For subscribers to that theory the roughly 15 000 plutonium pits manufactured at Rocky Flats and stored at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo Texas are already more than enough But proponents of increased production including some members of Congress say it is critical to have an arsenal they know will work And having new pits would provide that confidence Modernization of infrastructure and a robust plutonium science and technology program are key to our ability to respond to emerging issues and threats to ensure safety of our facilities and personnel and to assure the safety security and effectiveness of the U S nuclear deterrent said Kevin Roark a spokesman for the lab which supports the plan The Republican controlled U S House of Representatives believed enough in the stepped up pit production plan that it included it in the defense authorization bill adopted for fiscal year 2015 The Congressional Research Service report makes it clear that Los Alamos is the front runner if not the sole candidate to house those activities It describes Plutonium Facility 4 or PF 4 at Los Alamos as the only building in the United States with the combination of attributes required to make pits But the building constructed in 1978 over a seismically active fault would need expensive modifications to make it big enough and safe enough for increased production the report said In comments at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill in Washington last year Jack Mansfield a member of the federal Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board called the building brittle and not sufficiently constructed to survive a serious earthquake There

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_23Aug2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • New nuke pit report released, LA Monitor, 23 Aug 2014
    s report focuses on 80 ppy the upper end of this range And he explains what options are out there Various options might reach 80 ppy Successfully establishing pit manufacturing will require among other things enough laboratory space and Material At Risk MAR MAR is essentially the amount of radioactive material permitted in a building that could be released in an accident there must be enough MAR available for manufacturing within the MAR ceiling PF 4 the main plutonium building at Los Alamos National Laboratory LANL or other structures would house manufacturing Analytical chemistry AC which analyzes the composition of samples from each pit to support manufacturing will also require availability of MAR and space For an option to support 80 ppy MAR and space available for manufacturing and AC must exceed MAR and space required for 80 ppy Medalia goes on to explain that Margin is the amount by which an available amount exceeds a required amount And the report presents amounts of MAR and space potentially available for manufacturing under several options though they may require updating Calculation of margin needed to determine if an option passes a minimum test for feasibility also requires data on MAR and space required for 80 ppy yet these data have never been calculated rigorously As a result it is not known if an option would increase capacity too little making an option infeasible too much making an option too costly or by an appropriate amount Congress could direct the National Nuclear Security Administration to provide data on space and MAR required to manufacture 80 ppy These data would permit calculation of space margin and MAR margin as static numbers However the situation is dynamic uncertainties may materialize over time increasing or decreasing margin the report said Medalia said that AC poses

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/LAMonitor_23Aug2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • DOE IG questions possible biosafety labs at LANL, LA Monitor, 19 Aug 2014
    BSL 3 facility in a previously constructed building and is in the early planning stage for constructing a BSL 2 facility at Los Alamos Under NNSA s proposal LANL would open a BSL 3 facility in February 2015 without the need for additional BSL 3 capacity being fully evaluated and confirmed The facility was originally built in 2003 however it was never opened due to litigation and a seismic safety concern Opening LANL s BSL 3 facility will increase NNSA s net BSL 3 laboratory space from 640 to 1 240 square feet a 94 percent increase The report said To justify opening the facility LANL reported to NNSA that there was a mission need and that work for the facility would come from customers of LANL s WFO program However neither NNSA nor LANL officials provided quantitative projections of demand for WFO projects at the facility or analyzed the current BSL 3 capacity within NNSA LANL officials explained that most of its WFO projects were obtained by submitting proposals in response to Federal agencies announcements for research awards The report said that LANL issued two reports that assessed the need for a new BSL 3 facility In 2011 a Parent Organization Functional Management Review concluded that there was a clear mission need for an onsite BSL 3 facility at LANL LANL also issued a Bioscience Capability Review in 2011 According to that report an external panel found that the BSL 3 facility was essential to LANL s mission However neither of these reviews considered empirical data such as available NNSA capacity at other locations a critical factor for opening a new facility or provided estimates of projected use from WFO sponsors Despite LANL s assertions we found outside demand for a new BSL 3 facility to be less certain Specifically we contacted two of the three Federal agencies that LANL told us were prospective WFO customers and officials representing those potential customers stated that they did not have any specific plans to contract for BSL 3 research at LANL Further officials at both agencies indicated that other existing BSL 3 facilities could satisfactorily meet their needs In fact one official told us that generally other existing BSL 3 laboratories were less expensive than expected at the new LANL facility and that several had comparable security Most striking to us was the fact that an official from the second Federal agency informed us it was building its own BSL 3 facility within the next two years While our query was limited it did indicate that demand may not be nearly as likely as LANL suggested and that additional analysis regarding use by potential external customers needs to be completed before additional federal funds are committed to this project The report made the following recommendations Direct NNSA sites to measure and report on their BSL 3 and BSL 2 facility utilization and capacity and establish a process to use this information effectively in future BSL facility decisions Revisit and document the

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/LAMonitor_19Aug2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Feds blast plans for biodefense labs at LANL, SFNM, 13 Aug 2014
    s findings end any plans to conduct research on biological agents at Los Alamos Let us hope this report is the end of these misguided ambitions Mello said LANL is not the place to do biodefense work The NNSA is considering a 9 5 million expansion at Los Alamos that would open a biosafety lab to study high risk agents that cause serious and potentially lethal infections and medium risk agents according to the report The lab for high risk agents would be housed at a building erected at LANL in 2003 but never opened because of litigation and vulnerability to seismic activity Minimizing the earthquake threat to the building alone would cost about 437 000 according to the report The NNSA s plan also calls for a lab to study medium risk biological agents A new building would be necessary for this purpose at a cost of 8 million Los Alamos National Laboratory has issued several reports to justify the need for expansion but their veracity came under fire in the federal audit Despite LANL s assertions we found outside demand for a new facility to be less certain auditors reported The audit noted that LANL s reports ignored the prevalence of biosecurity services throughout the country and officials with federal agencies that LANL plans to rely on for business at the expanded labs told auditors they would be unlikely to use it because less expensive equally secure options already exist In our judgment NNSA needs to fully reassess its need for biological research facilities auditors reported Auditors also questioned cost estimates LANL provided for the proposed expansion LANL s current cost allocation practices may have understated the costs of biological research personnel running afoul of the Energy Department s cost recovery policies by applying funds allocated for specific

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_11Aug2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Los Alamos admits ‘potential’ permit violations on WIPP waste drums, The Energy Daily, 22 Jul 2014
    process used when highly acidic and alkaline liquid wastes were found in some drums The permittees conclude that the processing of the unconsolidated nitrate salt bearing waste drums falls outside the permit exemptions for treatment activities required by NMED rules Los Alamos said in the letter The processing of the nitrate salt bearing waste involved adding neutralizing agents to a waste stream and did not qualify for the elementary neutralization permit exemption because this waste stream was assigned multiple Environmental Protection Agency designated hazardous waste characteristics and was not a hazardous waste solely due to the corrosivity characteristics or listing The letter also referred to the adding of absorbent to soak up free liquids in the drums but did not point to the change to the organic kitty litter absorbent as the potential noncompliance with NMED rules Rather Los Alamos said the noncompliance involved adding the absorbent during the repackaging of the waste into new drums and the locations in the drums I think this should be locations i e drums where the absorbent was placed The second step of the nitrate salt bearing waste processing involved the addition of absorbents in some deviating locations that do not appear to meet the permit exception that absorbent be added the first time the waste is placed in a container For these reasons the permittees conclude that the processing of the remediated nitrate salt bearing wastes constituted a noncompliance that resulted in unpermitted treatment Los Alamos also said it may have violated permit requirements that it re evaluate composition of wastes whenever there is a change in the waste generating process or when testing shows a change in wastes In this case Los Alamos noted that initial characterization of the legacy nitrate salt bearing wastes occurred in the early 1990s and that lab workers should have reviewed that historical knowledge base after testing showed the wastes included free liquids including some that were highly acidic Based on those analytical results the permittees conclude they had an obligation to re evaluate the unconsolidated nitrate salt bearing waste to assess the accuracy of the initial waste characterization in accordance with permit requirements the lab said While acknowledging the potential violations of its permit which appear to conform with the leading theory as to why the one nitrate salt bearing waste drum burst at WIPP the Los Alamos letter suggests the violations may not have caused the accident At this time there is insufficient information to conclude that these noncompliances relate to the radioactive release at WIPP the lab told NMED without elaborating That statement comes amid general assertions by state and federal officials in various media reports that Los Alamos and a special DOE investigatory team have not been able to pinpoint the cause of the burst drum despite hundreds of experiments aimed at replicating the suspected chemical reaction that caused the drum to overheat Notably Los Alamos site inspectors with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board DNFSB an independent federal agency that oversees

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/TheEnergyDaily_22Jul2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Nuclear criticality safety report: LANL ‘inadequate’, SFNM, 15 Jul 2014
    Study Group a watchdog organization that monitors the lab Contacted late Tuesday afternoon a LANL spokesman referred questions to the NNSA Phone calls to NNSA seeking comment were not returned Tuesday Of the six sites reviewed in the report LANL was one of only two where the criticality safety program was inadequately staffed Despite that finding the report notes that the criticality safety staff at LANL is at an all time high and that the lab is in the second year of a long term plan to correct the shortage The lab instituted a mentoring program with experienced criticality safety professionals instructing new hires about hazards and has relied on subcontractors to fill some roles Relying on subcontractors for your criticality safety expertise does not define a sound program Mello said They need to have their own people who are going to be there and they can t just patch in the missing expertise Some of the report s findings were particularly bothersome in light of what has happened since the assessment was conducted last year Mello said In February a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant stopped the nation s primary underground nuclear storage site from receiving new shipments of waste generated during Cold War nuclear weapons development The source of that leak remains under investigation but the probe has focused on a drum containing waste that originated at LANL Investigators are scrutinizing the mix contained in that waste stream It includes nitrate salts a neutralizer added by contractor EnergySolutions with LANL approval that some chemists say made the mix more volatile and organic kitty litter which was used instead of the traditional clay variety and is being viewed as a possible fuel for the reaction that caused the leak LANL has known weaknesses in providing personnel

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_15Jul2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • New supercomputer will test aging nukes, ABQ JRNL, 11 Jul 2014
    between Los Alamos and Sandia national labs and is part of the NNSA s Advanced Simulation and Computing Program Trinity will cost about 174 million to build and install That does not count the roughly 20 million annually for electricity to power it and water to cool it nor does it count the cost of manpower and expertise to run and maintain the supercomputer said Gary Grider the High Performance Computing Division leader at Los Alamos The way we do science based stewardship of the weapons is we spend time tearing them apart and we have to certify that they are useful and safe and will provide a deterrent without testing them via a nuclear blast Grider said The age of the nuclear weapons some of them more than 40 years old requires ever more complicated calculations which cannot be performed on either Cielo or the Sequoia supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore in California Trinity which is expected to come on line in phases in 2015 and 2016 will also be the first supercomputer to be cooled by an evaporative water system that uses recycled county sewer water Grider said The water will be cycled through the system three times before being treated and sent to a wetlands area It will eventually work its way back to the Rio Grande Also a first Grider said is Trinity will have a burst buffer of three levels of memory and storage Not everyone is excited about this latest generation of supercomputers Greg Mello executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group a nuclear policy think tank and nuclear weapons disarmament lobbying group said the Stockpile Stewardship Program is nearly two decades old We ve not really changed the design of nuclear weapons so we don t really need the extra computing power and

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/ABQJRNL_11Jul2014.html (2016-02-16)
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  • LANL report admits errors in packing waste, SFNM, 3 Jul 2014
    the environment and they still do State Environment Department officials said in a statement that they are reviewing these initial violations and plan to take appropriate actions following an independent review of the incidents at WIPP and LANL Lab officials said in a statement As part of our ongoing internal investigation we have identified shortcomings in the processing procedures that led to actions not covered by the Los Alamos National Laboratory Hazardous Waste Facility Permit The focus is now on correcting these processes in addition to ongoing recovery work Federal and state investigators narrowed down the leak at WIPP to several drums from LANL Chemists have said a combination of nitrate salts in the waste a pH neutralizer and a wheat based kitty litter used as an absorbent material in the drum could have caused a chemical reaction that cracked open the lid of the container Investigators still haven t confirmed that a bad chemical mix is what caused the leak The eight page report filed by the lab and federal officials details how the waste was handled and repackaged at the lab The report concludes that adding the pH neutralizer and the organic kitty litter violated the lab s hazardous waste permit from the state The lab approved the use of the neutralizers and a switch from inorganic clay absorbents to the wheat based kitty litter in 2013 according to documents The lab and the Energy Department also found the waste stream should have been re evaluated when technicians realized there was corrosive liquid in the drums that could react with other chemicals The lab has stopped processing the nitrate salt bearing drums while officials continue to investigate A total of 86 of the drums are stored in domes at the lab s Area G waste facility Of those

    Original URL path: http://lasg.org/press/2014/SFNM_3Jul2014.html (2016-02-16)
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