NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) puts world-class science to work keeping military Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians safe through its Advanced Homemade Explosives Course. Instructor Virginia Manner, a Los Alamos staff scientist in the High Explosives Science and Technology group runs the course with co-leader Margo Greenfield of the Shock and Detonation Physics group.
EOD techs have a tough job. Their lives—and others’ lives, too—depend on how much they know. From all branches of the service, EOD techs routinely get the call to dismantle homemade explosives (HMEs) or neutralize HME factories in war zones.
The label “explosives” covers a wide range of substances that are characterized by liberating energy and producing heat under a stimulus, like an impact or spark. In the Los Alamos course, the EOD techs learn a lot about the homemade kind, defined loosely as any improvised concoction of readily available material that can blow up, often in an improvised explosive device (IED).
EOD techs talk about “getting left of the boom,” which means working before the bomb goes off. “Right of the boom” means it’s already blown up. The Los Alamos course is all about working on that left side, safely. To that end, every 6 weeks for 5 days, about 24 techs from the Air Force, Marines, and Navy come to learn more about how bad guys whip up explosives in makeshift labs.
The course provides an overview of general HME characteristics, the hazards, and related safety precautions. 45-minute lectures are balanced by 2-hour labs. Students also work with unidentified explosives on the outdoor range and explore simulated labs.
The HME course is made possible by the many scientists, engineers, and technicians in multiple divisions throughout the Laboratory. The diverse team of practicing bench scientists, who teach the course at Los Alamos, distinguishes it from other courses. The Lab currently has more than 20 instructors with expertise in explosives.
“Research can sometimes be isolated from current real-world applications,” Manner said. “It’s the most valuable thing I’ve ever done.”
Greenfield agrees: “All the instructors feel that way, and that’s why it’s so successful. We know we’re increasing the EOD techs’ overall safety. We’re using world-class science to save lives on today’s battlefields.”
Sandia National Laboratories and the California Fire and Rescue Training Authority (CFRTA) recently signed a memorandum of agreement to develop new concepts and capabilities for emergency planning, exercise and response.
The agreement was signed by Marianne Walck, vice president of Sandia’s California site and the Energy & Climate program, and by Ruben Grijalva, executive director of CFRTA, which includes the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District and the Sacramento Fire Department.
“The strong relationship between Sandia and the CFRTA is yielding a number of benefits,” Walck said. “The partnership provides Sandia with operational partners to help us transition technology to emergency managers and first responders. At the same time, the CFRTA is gaining access to technologies that can enhance preparedness across the state. This is a perfect opportunity for Sandia to deploy technology in the field to test operational concepts, evaluate readiness and refine technology requirements.”
Grijalva said the agreement between Sandia and CFRTA provides a framework of cooperation in a variety of vital areas of emergency response planning and training at the California Exercise Simulation Center (CESC) in Mather.
Scientists at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) use seismology to determine the details—location, yield, and type—of explosions, as part of its mission to identify and locate possible nuclear explosions.
For example, a country might hope its underground containment of a nuclear test allows it to go unnoticed, because the rest of the world thinks the resulting seismic event is an earthquake. In the interest of national security and global nuclear threat monitoring, NNSA scientists have developed the tools to differentiate between the two.
LANL has approximately 70 experts, organized into teams, who work to provide near real-time analysis and assessment of foreign nuclear weapons programs and tests. For example, the Ground-based Nuclear Detonation Detection (GNDD) team, comprising scientists from the lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences division, look in the atmosphere, oceans, and underground to analyze explosions.
The GNDD team develops measurement and analysis systems for nuclear-event monitoring agencies and provides analysis in direct support of NNSA’s nuclear treaty verification mission, including support for the Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, Threshold Test-Ban Treaty, and the current testing moratorium under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
“We have developed seismic expertise, and we apply it effectively to understand and monitor nuclear testing,” said Terry Wallace, LANL’s Principal Associate Director for Global Security. “The Laboratory is one of the places where we see people devoting careers to understanding what other nations are doing in the areas of nuclear testing and technology. We support the Nation in its efforts to monitor nuclear programs and verify adherence to nuclear arms control treaties.”
Understanding seismic events requires a detailed understanding of geology and the ability to predict subsurface reactions to the explosive shock of a nuclear blast. Seismologists can calculate the event location and yield by using data from seismic stations around the globe. Using techniques developed to study nuclear (and conventional explosives) tests, scientists analyze data to develop a more complete understanding of the nature of the explosion.
The 2016 theme for the Earth Day observance raises expectations for everyone: “Earth Day, Every Day.” Instead of observing Earth Day only on April 22, the theme encourages us to think regularly about ways to save energy and live sustainably.
As NNSA celebrates Earth Day this week, its leaders are demonstrating that NNSA is taking the 2016 Earth Day theme seriously. NNSA’s Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure and Operations Jim McConnell explains NNSA’s commitment and progress towards making facilities and infrastructure more sustainable and energy efficient. He also challenged all NNSA team members to commit to doing their part.
“There is always an opportunity for each of us to make a small change at home or on-the-job and see improvements,” McConnell said. “It’s the small increments that make a big difference over time. We each have an opportunity to be good stewards of the Earth every day.”
In response to McConnell’s challenge, NNSA team members will make personal pledges this week to protect the Earth’s resources both at home and at work. Such pledges might include changes such as adjusting our thermostats and expanding our recycling to turning off unneeded lights and electronics.
In 2015, President Obama directed federal agencies to work toward making facilities compliant with the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings. NNSA is pursuing the challenging high performance sustainable buildings goals and currently has 61 buildings that meet compliance, with 190 more buildings on their way to being compliant. NNSA is on track to meet or exceed sustainability goals for greenhouse gas reduction, energy intensity, water intensity, fleet, and renewable energy.
Improving the sustainability of NNSA facilities and infrastructure is an important part of NNSA’s ongoing efforts to modernize the enterprise and reduce annual operating costs. NNSA’s overarching strategy is to integrate sustainability goals into NNSA decision making and business processes. This strategic approach helps ensure all infrastructure investment decisions are made with sustainability in mind.
Teams working throughout NNSA sites and labs, partnering with academic institutions and industry experts, are using cutting-edge research to advance NNSA’s core missions, reduce environmental impact, and advance the body of knowledge on climate change and sustainability. During Earth Week, NNSA is highlighting some of the most innovative ongoing activities across the enterprise supporting environmental sustainability.
Recent research from NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) fine-tuned climate change measuring models for a more reliable snapshot of how the earth is changing. This helps identify more effective action to mitigate climate change effects. It adds to the long list of ways LLNL has improved climate research, from rainfall studies and plankton investigations, to award-winning pioneers of the global water cycle and underground batteries.
Recent research from NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) demonstrates that environmental factors and concerns affect every aspect of society. The recent White House Water Summit featured a LANL safe water project. Other LANL work focuses on earth-saving carbon nanomaterials, forest health, permafrost, and photosynthesis. LANL also sponsors small businesses working to create clean technologies.
Sandia National Laboratories recently developed groundbreaking technologies to make adoption of renewable energy smaller, cheaper, and better. Sandia’s work in engine efficiency has been nationally recognized, while its findings on water levels, ice sheet modeling, and offshore energy are literally making waves in the advancement of energy efficiency and modernization.
The Pantex Plant’s achievements in additive manufacturing greatly reduce waste, cost, and environmental impact while advancing NNSA’s mission. Migratory bird conservation efforts at Pantex have also earned national recognition.
NNSA's Y-12 National Security Complex recently received awards from the local chamber of commerce for its huge reductions in water usage, energy savings, corrosion control, and recycling programs, while powering the mission and giving back to the grid through a wind energy program.
NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) recently was recognized for having seven buildings with the highest level of sustainability certification and for its green fleet of vehicles.
These highlights demonstrate how the employees at NNSA’s sites and labs work diligently to advance mission while maintaining NNSA’s commitment to be good environmental stewards.
In late March, the NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP) Alumni Forum brought together current and former fellows with leaders from across the national laboratories and the nuclear security enterprise. The annual event invites participants to share their career experiences as developing leaders within NNSA and fosters a network of professionals within the broader nuclear security community.
The event welcomed guests including NNSA Administrator Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz (Ret.) and NNSA Associate Administrator for Management and Budget Randall Hendrickson. The current class of fellows attended a roundtable hosted by Klotz, who discussed modern nuclear security challenges and the momentum NGFP fellows add to the future of NNSA.
Following the roundtable, current fellows, NGFP alumni, and invited guests convened for a networking and poster-display session. The current class of fellows, who began in June and comprise 38 students placed at locations across the country, shared accomplishments during their fellowships. This was the first year that two fellows were placed at the Department of State. The fellowship term for the current class concludes in June.
The first computers to contribute to the nation’s nuclear security work used thousands of vacuum tubes—which resembled fat light bulbs that gave off lots of heat—and consumed 125 kW of power to perform around 1,900 operations per second. This month NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) received a first-of-its-kind scalable supercomputing platform that can process the equivalent of 16 million neurons and 4 billion synapses and consume the energy equivalent of a hearing aid battery—just 2.5 watts.
The 16-chip IBM TrueNorth platform is “neuromorphic” – modeled after a brain – and capable of pattern recognition and integrated sensory processing. Each of the 16 chips in the system consists of 5.4 billion transistors wired together to create an array of 1 million digital neurons that communicate with one another via 256 million electrical synapses.
The new system will be used to explore new computing capabilities critical to NNSA’s missions through its Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program. ASC is a cornerstone of NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without underground explosive testing.
“Neuromorphic computing opens very exciting new possibilities and is consistent with what we see as the future of the high performance computing and simulation at the heart of our national security missions,” said Jim Brase, LLNL deputy associate director for Data Science. “The potential capabilities neuromorphic computing represents and the machine intelligence that these will enable will change how we do science.”
Learn more about the new True North system on the LLNL website.
Earlier this month, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington traveled to Ukraine to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine (STCU) and visit the Neutron Source Facility at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology.
The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt; diplomats from Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and the European Union; STCU Governing Board Chair Eddie Maier; STCU Executive Director Curtis Bjelajac; and Ukraine Deputy Minister for Education and Science Maksym Strikha spoke at the event, noting the center’s history, the 12,000 former Soviet weapon scientists it engaged in peaceful research projects, and the its future role in the region.
The STCU was established under a multilateral agreement in 1993, and became operational in 1995 with a mission to engage former weapons scientists and engineers in research and development for peaceful applications. Since then, the STCU has helped NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation program implement several initiatives with STCU member states. These included $30 million in joint projects involving U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory experts and Ukrainian and Georgian scientists. STCU also managed conceptual design studies with Argonne National Laboratory and the Kharkiv Institute for a Neutron Source Facility at the institute.
NNSA continues to play a major role in the center’s effort to address the threat of proliferation of nuclear and radiological materials. Working in close coordination with the State Department and the members of the STCU Governing Board, NNSA is funding several targeted initiatives focused on specific nuclear security priorities, including seismic monitoring, hazard mitigation, and radiological source risk mitigation in well-logging applications.
Harrington, with Assistant Deputy Administrator for Material Management and Minimization Peter Hanlon and Director for Strategic Planning/Integration Andy Hood, also traveled to the Kharkiv Institute to visit the Neutron Source Facility. The NSF is a state-of-the-art experimental facility consisting of an accelerator-driven subcritical assembly using low enriched uranium fuel that will allow for advanced scientific research and medical isotope production when fully operational.
DOE funded the construction of the NSF in exchange for the removal of the remaining 230 kilograms of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Ukraine prior to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit.This fulfilled a pledge made at the 2010 Summit.
This cooperation follows Ukraine’s long and significant history in supporting nuclear nonproliferation. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the newly independent Ukraine inherited the third-largest nuclear warhead stockpile in the world. However, in 1994, Ukraine joined the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (as a non-nuclear weapon state and began voluntarily transferring its inherited nuclear weapons to Russia for elimination. Today, Ukraine is one of 29 countries and Taiwan to have eliminated all HEU from its territory through cooperative efforts with the United States.
NNSA is focused on the mission first, people always, and NNSA’s people make a difference, both on and off the clock. During National Volunteer Week, we recognize those across the enterprise who are active, energetic, and engaged in their communities. Every day, members of America’s nuclear security enterprise team across the country realize their potential to make a difference by embracing service to others.
From building wheelchair ramps to starting a middle school robotics program, volunteers and managers at NNSA’s labs and sites are devoted to going the extra mile to make a difference in local communities. NNSA volunteers have given thousands of hours of community service through annual service programs—like Savannah River’s Project Serve and Days of Caring—and educational community outreach for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM)—to include science bowls in Kansas and Nevada, hip-hop physics education, STEM career introductions for young women, and giving away free microscopes.
In addition to giving their time, the workers and leaders of NNSA’s nuclear security enterprise provide material support for a plethora of charitable causes, like United Way in South Carolina and Texas, Coats for Kids, scholarships for college and high school students, pets for veterans, and food for hungry children in both Texas and Nevada.