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August 2012

In just a few months, the NNSA’s National Security Campus in Kansas City, MO will be complete and ready for move in.

The new smaller, more efficient Kansas City Plant will reduce annual operating costs by $100 million and supports the NNSA vision of a more responsive and cost-effective nuclear security enterprise. As one of the only LEED Gold certified manufacturing campuses, the green facility will also cut energy consumption by 50 percent.

Pantex, West Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University have teamed up to conduct a study on understanding the impact of wind farms on birds of prey in the Texas Panhandle.

The program uses radio transmitters and satellite receivers to track the movements of Swainson’s Hawks. The recovered data will be compared to information gathered after the completion of the Pantex Renewable Energy Project (PREP) this fall to determine if the wind turbines affect the hawks, their environment and their home ranges.

Read more about the Pantex hawk study.

Governors' Liaisons at Joint Base Andrews

NNSA recently hosted a dozen governors' federal liaisons at Joint Base Andrews for a briefing and tour of NNSA Emergency Operations assets and capabilities. In attendance were governors' staff from Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico and Texas and a representative from the National Governors Association Homeland Security Committee staff. Through the display of specialized ground and maritime radiological monitoring assets, NNSA Emergency Operations demonstrated its ability to support states and other federal agencies in preventing radiological and nuclear incidents from occurring domestically.

About the photo:
NNSA Emergency Operations staff demonstrated how its aerial and ground monitoring assets and associated technical expertise manage and coordinate all federal radiological monitoring and assessment activities in response to a domestic radiological or nuclear emergency. Governors' staff commented on how NNSA's Emergency Operations capability extended far beyond its equipment to the high level of technical expertise that their governors could call on for support in making critical public health and safety decisions throughout a radiological or nuclear emergency.

LANL ships TRU waste to WIPP

For the fourth year in a row, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s TRU Waste Program has shipped a record number of transuranic (TRU) waste shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M., for permanent disposal.

LANL’s 172nd shipment of TRU waste this year left Los Alamos bound for WIPP last week. With two months left in the fiscal year, LANL has already surpassed last year’s fiscal year record of 171 shipments. LANL has transported more than 1,000 shipments to WIPP since that facility opened in 1999. 

Read more about the shipments.

About the photo:
LANL’s 172nd shipment leaves the lab on Aug. 2, headed for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.

Sandia monitors nuclear safety of mission to Mars

A team of Sandia engineers has worked behind the scenes to ensure the smooth launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

NASA's $2.5 billion MSL rover, the largest and most sophisticated vehicle to visit Mars, is powered by a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or MMRTG. The generator uses heat from the decay of 10.6 pounds of plutonium dioxide into 110 watts of electricity to move the rover and run a suite of 10 instruments, which can do things like find water 32 feet below the surface and analyze chemical composition of rocks three car-lengths away.

While the MMRTG significantly increases the rover's range and lifetime from previous rovers, which relied on solar panels, launching nuclear material requires diligent attention to safety, and Sandia has been tasked with conducting the safety analysis report.

Read more about Sandia's work with monitoring the mission in Sandia's Lab News (scroll down to third story).

Eye of ChemCamLos Alamos National Laboratory technology has landed on the surface of Mars. Sunday’s successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars marks the beginning of a nearly two-year-long mission that will use a rock-zapping laser device mounted on the mast of the SUV-sized rover to help unravel mysteries of the Red Planet.

The ChemCam laser characterization instrument, developed at LANL and the French space institute, IRAP, is one of 10 instruments mounted on the MSL mission’s Curiosity rover — a six-wheeled mobile laboratory that will roam more than 12 miles of the planet’s surface during the course of one Martian year (98 Earth weeks).

When ChemCam fires its extremely powerful laser pulse, it briefly focuses the energy of a million light bulbs onto an area the size of a pinhead. The laser blast vaporizes part of its target up to seven meters (23 feet) away. The resultant flash of glowing plasma is viewed by the system’s 4.3-inch aperture telescope, which records the colors of light within the flash. These spectral colors are then interpreted by a spectrometer, enabling scientists to determine the elemental composition of the vaporized material. ChemCam also has a high-resolution camera that provides close-up images of an analyzed location. It can image a human hair from seven feet away.

Curiosity is expected to investigate the Gale Crater located close to the equator near the boundary between the southern highlands and the more featureless northern low plains of Mars. The massive crater spans 96 miles in diameter, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. A towering mountain, informally named Mount Sharp, rises up nearly three miles above the crater floor. This mammoth feature will provide opportunities for ChemCam to sample geologic layers on the mountainside.

Probing this stratified geology with ChemCam could help researchers understand how the Red Planet transformed over time into a drier, less hospitable climate.

With a mass of nearly a ton, Curiosity is the largest rover ever deployed to another planet. Previously, NASA sent a pair of much smaller rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to Mars in January 2004. Both rovers gathered a wide range of rock and soil data that have helped provide important information about the wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable to supporting microbial life.

For more information about ChemCam, please visit its website:

Scientists from the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency meet with NNSA colleagues

Scientists from the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) met with colleagues from NNSA to work on on-going aerial and ground monitoring efforts following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.

A key element of the meeting was the discussion of detailed analysis techniques which could be applied to the data collected in Japan by the NNSA response teams during the first month following the earthquake and tsunami. The purpose of the analyses is to obtain a better understanding of the radiological conditions during the early response period. The results from these analyses can aid in efforts to model the doses that may have been incurred during the incident. The meeting was held at the NNSA Nevada Site Office in Las Vegas, Nev. In attendance were scientific experts from the  NNSA Consequence Management and Aerial Measuring System programs. The NNSA maintains the Aerial Measuring System (AMS) capability to respond to radiological and nuclear incidents in the U.S. The AMS uses specialized radiation detection systems mounted in aircraft to provide real-time measurements of ground contamination. These trained experts are in charge of maintaining a state of readiness to respond to a radiological emergency at any time. The teams are based out of Las Vegas, Nev., Washington, D.C., and Aiken, S.C.

Daniel B. Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy, today honored the five individuals from NNSA’s national laboratories who have been named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards (PECASE) for Scientists and Engineers. Poneman presented each recipient with a plaque and praised each recipient for receiving the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

The five PECASE recipients are Jeffrey W. Banks and Heather Whitley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Amy J. Clarke, Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Stanley Atcitty and Daniel B. Sinars, Sandia National Laboratories.

President Obama yesterday honored the recipients at the White House.

Read more about the awards.