With the successful launch of the Mars Science Laboratory on Saturday, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and scientists from the French space institute IRAP are poised to begin focusing the energy of a million light bulbs on the surface of the red planet to help determine whether Mars was or is habitable.

The international team of space explorers that launched the Mars Science Laboratory last week is relying in part on an instrument originally developed at Los Alamos called ChemCam, which will use blasts of laser energy to remotely probe Mars’s surface. The robust ChemCam system is one of 10 instruments mounted on the mission’s Curiosity rover.
When ChemCam fires its extremely powerful laser pulse, it will vaporize an area the size of a pinhead. The system’s telescope will peer at the flash of glowing plasma created by the vaporized material and record the colors of light contained within it. These spectral colors will then be interpreted by a spectrometer, enabling scientists to determine the elemental composition of the vaporized material.
 Chemcam team ChemCam can deliver multiple pulses in extremely rapid succession to a single area or quickly zap multiple areas, providing researchers with great versatility for sampling the surface of the planet. ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life. The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface as well as carbon—a basic building block of life as well as a possible byproduct of life.

See more.
Nov 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Launchpad Mars

Twenty-four federal, contractor and laboratory personnel from throughout NNSA – including the Savannah River Site Office, Nevada Site Office, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and ORISE-Oak Ridge -- supported the NASA Mars Scientific Laboratory launch this weekend at Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s newest Mars rover is powered by a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermal Generator made up of just more than 10 pounds of plutionium-238, and NNSA personnel were there in the unlikely event of an accident involving the Atlas V Rocket carrying the Curiosity rover. The plutonium provides heat and power for the components during the flight to Mars and once Curiosity begins its mission on the surface of the red planet, which is scheduled for August 2012.

SignLos Alamos also provided the plutonium canisters that will provide power and heat to the rover, an effort that comprised the expertise of nearly 50 researchers and technicians. The power sources, called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), will give Curiosity several times as much electricity as earlier rovers, and are necessary for the much larger and more-advanced payload on Curiosity.




Nov 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Group photo

Members from the NNSA’s Office of Emergency Operations and the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) from the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) continue to conduct consequence management training around the globe. Most recently the RSL and NNSA team conducted training for the international community with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.

The International Consequence Management (I-CM) training course provides attendees with information and data on means and methods for setting up and establishing a monitoring and assessment program to deal with a nuclear/radiological incident or event.

NNSA provided the training to 25 participants from 19 countries and the IAEA. The training course also included hands on equipment training in techniques for monitoring and data collection and analysis.

NNSA currently collaborates with more than 80 foreign governments and 10 international organizations with projects ranging from providing assistance to foreign governments in improving their emergency preparedness and response programs, to joint collaborative activities to improve emergency management infrastructure worldwide.
The team plans to conduct additional training in the spring with the IAEA.

The RSL is a center for advanced technologies, focused on the scientific, technological, and operational disciplines necessary to ensure the success of national security missions. Originally called “Aerial Measurements Operations," the laboratory was created in the 1950s in Las Vegas, Nevada, to serve as an integral part of the worldwide emergency system to provide rapid response to radiological emergencies. The RSL emergency responders represent the Department of Energy's Accident Response Group and the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. The responders can deploy to emergencies related to crisis management including nuclear power plant accidents and searches, NASA launches, and transportation accidents involving nuclear materials.

Nov 22, 2011 at 8:00 am


Over at the White House blog, Laura Holgate, Senior Director for WMD Terrorism and Threat Reduction, writes about prepreations for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Seoul, South Korea.  

She writes:

"Even though I’d been aware of many of these events as they happened, it was really impressive to see the progress piled up: over 400 kg of highly enriched uranium removed from over 10 countries – enough for 16 nuclear bombs.  A dozen new countries joining the key international treaties.  Over a dozen new nuclear security training and research “centers of excellence” opening their doors.  Key tools for international cooperation on nuclear security, such as UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction extended into the next decade.  Increased resources for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s support to its member states to improve security on nuclear materials.  Tens of tons of Highly Enriched Uranium permanently destroyed by Russia and the US – raw material for thousands of nuclear weapons.  Nuclear industry players adopting “Principles of Conduct” including commitments to secure materials at their facilities, and working together through the World Institute of Nuclear Security to identify and promote best practices in nuclear security.  INTERPOL setting up a new radiological-nuclear center to bring law enforcement tools to bear more effectively on nuclear smuggling. "

Click through to the White House blog to read more about her work leading up to the 2012 NSS.  

Nov 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Admiral James A. Winnefield, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) recently. Winnefield is a four star Navy Admiral, and as Vice Chairman is the second highest-ranking U.S. military officer.

Winnefield was at LANL to receive a wide variety of classified briefings that covered the broad spectrum of national security science at LANL. Winnefield was briefed by the LANL’s senior leadership including director Charlie McMillan, and Principal Associate Directors Bret Knapp and Terry Wallace. The briefings included details of the LANL’s Nuclear Weapons Program and Global Security portfolio.

In addition to the briefings, Winnefield was given a tour of LANL’s Plutonium Facility at Technical Area 55.

WinfieldAs commander of Carrier Strike Group Two/Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, Winnefield led Task Forces support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and maritime interception operations in the Arabian Gulf. Winnefield also served as commander, United States 6th Fleet; commander NATO Allied Joint Command, Lisbon; and, commander, Striking and Support Forces NATO. Winnefield also served as the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).




Nov 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Harrington Group

Anne Harrington, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Rhys Williams, NNSA Deputy Director, Nonproliferation and Verification Research & Development, visited Sandia National Laboratories on Nov. 15 to see the results of NNSA's Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development Program at Sandia.

NNSA’s Office of Nonproliferation Research and Development is the principal organization in the U.S. government that conducts long-term basic and applied research, development, testing, and evaluation into new nuclear nonproliferation, counterproliferation, and counterterrorism technologies.  It work to reduce the threat to national security posed by nuclear weapons proliferation and illicit nuclear materials trafficking by developing new and novel technologies that can be translated into useful tools.

Nov 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

A select group of early-career safeguards professionals from across the NNSA enterprise came together in September for networking and a hands-on learning experience about safeguards inspection challenges and resources. The event at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and facilities in the surrounding area was designed to increase NNSA’s future capacity by building the diverse understanding young professionals need in nuclear safeguards. The activity, now in its third year, is an annual highlight of NNSA’s Next Generation Safeguards Professional Network.
Safeguards experts are responsible for ensuring that all quantities of nuclear materials are accounted for in nuclear processes, facilities, and equipment. Their success is crucial in ensuring that such materials are not lost, or diverted for nefarious use.

This highly specialized field requires nuclear engineers, statisticians, physicists, chemists, information technology professionals, analysts, and policymakers. “Because of the variety of backgrounds, many young professionals benefit from additional development opportunities to become well rounded in these disciplines,” said Melissa Scholz, Office of Nuclear Safeguards and Security.
For the four-day event, Scholz accompanied nonproliferation staff from six DOE national laboratories that support the NNSA mission. “We designed this experience to increase their familiarity with the facilities, capabilities, and resources available across the NNSA complex,” she said.

Participants saw the inner workings of nuclear production, reactors, reprocessing, and uranium enrichment in real and test facilities. A highlight was discussing real-life inspection challenges with PNNL staff members who formerly worked as inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Participants came away with a much stronger understanding of how safeguards play into the entire fuel cycle,” Scholz said. “This is exactly what we’re aiming for—ensuring a sustainable safeguards capability for the global security mission.”

Nov 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm

As your Chief Information Officer, I lead a talented and dedicated team in delivering the NNSA Network Vision (2NV) as a key element of the OneNNSA transformation strategy.

We must change the way we use and view information, and when leveraged effectively, information becomes a strategic asset which enables us to do our jobs faster and more effectively. But almost more important than the information itself, is the security of that information.

Cyber security has become a buzz word these days, but the funny thing is that you can’t just go buy some cyber security.  Rather, increasing our Cyber Security posture is the result of an effective, well-managed architecture which combines our IT investments with cyber tools and talented professionals.  Because we protect some of our nation’s most sensitive information, our network has to be managed unlike any other!

So in order to transform our computing environment, we developed 2NV, which has three strategic pillars 2NV, JC3, and CSL, and once delivered, will set the stage for a transformation in how we actually do our work!


Pillar one: 2NV
2NV “modernizes our current computing environment” by providing a secure, mobile, agile, and adaptive IT infrastructure which will allow the NNSA workforce to perform their duties from any device, anywhere, any time.

Pillar two: JC3
The Joint Cybersecurity Coordination Center (JC3) allows us to “understand the health” of our sytems, data and networks within our computing environment

Pillar three: CSL
The Cyber Sciences Laboratory (CSL) provides a capability to “protect our future” by establishing a process through which theoretical research in IT and cyber security can be rapidly applied to operational computing environments.

We aim to leap from our current, desktop centric computing environment to a “best in class” mobile, capable and secure computing environment which will carry NNSA into the future.

Check back often to track our progress as we deliver this vision!

Nov 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

SRS groundbreaking

NNSA Defense Program and Savannah River Site Office officials recently broke ground on two new buildings at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, S.C.

The two buildings will receive personnel from prime tritium process real estate, enabling the next steps in the Tritium Responsive Infrastructure Modifications (TRIM) program, a plan to remove processes and equipment from Cold War-era buildings into more modern facilities that provide enhanced security and advanced technologies to support the facility mission.

In addition to the two new buildings, the ten year TRIM program includes consolidation of existing processes and facilities, deployment of new technology and process equipment, and decontamination and decommissioning of the old structures. Implementation of this effort will result in an overall lifecycle cost reduction and assurance of continued safe and secure national security tritium mission at SRS.

“Today we're here to break ground on facilities that show the national commitment, and the NNSA's commitment, to modernizing our nuclear enterprise.” said NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application, Brigadier General Sandra Finan, who participated in the ceremony.

“Today is a historic day, but what you do every single day is just as historic. I am very proud and honored to be here to share this with you today,” said General Finan. “But more importantly, I'm very proud to be associated with what you do every single day, and thank you for your dedicated service.”

The Process Support Building is a 10,000 square-foot building that will house forty-seven tenants and replace offices, briefing rooms and control room simulators from other buildings. The Tritium Engineering Building will consolidate the engineering function into a single 16,000 square-foot structure, accommodating 94 personnel. Both buildings will be constructed through a contract with Akima Construction Services, LLC, and are scheduled to be completed by October 2012.

Future projects within the TRIM program will relocate and modernize operational process equipment, allowing deactivation and decommissioning of several 1950s era structures.

Tritium is a heavy isotope of hydrogen and a key component of nuclear weapons, but it decays radioactively at the rate of 5.5 percent each year and must be replenished periodically. This is accomplished by recycling tritium from existing warheads and by extracting tritium from target rods irradiated in a nuclear reactor that are operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Recycled and extracted gases are purified to produce tritium that is suitable for use. The SRS Tritium Facilities occupy approximately 29 acres in the northwest portion of H Area. Operations began in 1955.

Nov 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

NNSA’s most recent quarterly summary of experiments conducted as part of its science-based stockpile stewardship program is now available here.

The quarterly summary prepared by NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs provides descriptions of key NNSA facilities that conduct stockpile stewardship experiments. These include some of the most sophisticated scientific research facilities in the world. These include, for example, the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories. The summary also provides the number of experiments performed at each facility during each quarter of the fiscal year.

The U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program is a robust program of scientific inquiry used to sustain and assess the nuclear weapons stockpile without the use of underground nuclear tests. The experiments carried out within the program are used in combination with complex computational models and NNSA’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Program to assess the safety, security and effectiveness of the stockpile. An extraordinary set of science, technology and engineering (ST&E) facilities have been established in support of the stockpile stewardship program.

Nov 15, 2011 at 11:00 am