NNSA Blog

One of the gravest threats the world faces is the possibility that terrorists will acquire nuclear weapons or the necessary materials to construct a weapon. Part of the work of NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and the national laboratories is to support investigations into the diversion, trafficking, or illicit use of those materials using laboratory analysis and characterization of nuclear materials, commonly known as nuclear forensics.

This month, analytical chemists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) explain nuclear forensics in the cover feature article of the journal Analytical Chemistry. The publication’s podcast also features an interview one of the paper’s authors, LLNL Nuclear Forensics/Materials Analysis Associate Program Leader Michael J. Kristo.

What distinguishes nuclear forensics from traditional forensics, Kristo said, is the specific questions it is intended to answer.

“What is the material? What was its intended use? Where was the material last processed? Where might it have been produced or stored? And who might have been associated with the material?” Kristo said. “Analytical chemistry is employed throughout the process to make measurements of materials chemical and physical properties and composition to allow investigators to draw nuclear forensic conclusions relevant to those questions.”

The paper explains that because there is not currently any single method for identifying all unknown nuclear materials for forensic purposes, scientists must gather different types of information using multiple analytical techniques. The authors demonstrate the importance of nuclear forensics and the work NNSA and its labs do by detailing two occasions in which LLNL’s analytical chemistry techniques helped identify and trace the origins of nuclear material in international incidents.

Read the article in Analytical Chemistry here, and learn more about LLNL’s analytical chemists here.

Feb 25, 2016 at 3:19 pm

NNSA Blog

The team from Amarillo's Ascension Academy won $1,000 for the school science department and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. and the national competition

More than 200 students from 25 Middle and Junior High schools across the Texas Panhandle gathered together for a meeting and competition of the minds: Science Bowl 2016.

Set up like a game show with buzzers, toss up and bonus questions, these groups of 4 students with one substitute, were challenged by the questions and their counterparts at the Pantex Regional Middle School Science Bowl at West Texas A&M University.

The questions were based on subjects from life science, physical science, earth and space science, energy and mathematics… and these questions weren’t typical of what your mom and dad learned in school. Each round consisted of a moderator, timekeeper, rules judge and science judge in case questions and answers were challenged. All in all, a very serious competition based in the world of science and math.

Ascension Academy took home top honors, winning $1,000 for their science department and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. and the national competition.

Borger Middle School Team Red earned $500 for their school by garnering second place  and St. Andrews Episcopal School Team Red placed third, earning $250.

Pantex, which had about 100 volunteers staffing the event, has sponsored the regional competitions for more than 20 years with a goal to educate students.

Feb 24, 2016 at 1:00 am

NNSA Blog

Part of NNSA’s commitment to maintaining the nation’s safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent are relentlessly high standards for technically capable nuclear enterprise personnel qualifications for all aspects of Defense Nuclear Facility operations. In December 2015, the Department of Energy (DOE) granted Technical Qualification Program (TQP) Accreditation to NNSA’s Office of Safety (NA-51) for superior knowledge, skills, and abilities in technical personnel support, management, oversight, and operation of defense nuclear facilities.

Deputy Secretary Liz Sherwood-Randall presented NNSA’s Office of the Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety with the TQP accreditation plaques in a ceremony at DOE/NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Sherwood-Randall recognized NNSA’s Office of Safety as the first TQP-accredited DOE headquarters organization since the program’s inception in the early 1990s. TQP accreditation signifies an organization’s desire to further enhance technical capabilities and continuously improve performance in defense nuclear facility technical personnel qualification activities. The NNSA Office of Safety joins four other previous TQP-accredited NNSA organizations: the former Y-12 Site Office, Sandia Field Office, the former NNSA Service Center, and the Nevada Field Office.

It was NA-51’s rigorous commitment and pursuit of headquarters leadership in nuclear security enterprise technical personnel defense nuclear facility safety qualifications that pushed DOE’s unanimous TQP Accreditation Board approval of the TQP accreditation, according to the Deputy Secretary. 

Sherwood-Randall commended two NNSA employees who were responsible for aggressively pursuing the accreditation. Deputy Chair, DOE Federal Technical Capability Panel and senior advisor to the NNSA Office of Safety Capt. Dave Chaney, USN (Ret.)/Esq., and TQP Coordinator for the NNSA Office of Safety, Infrastructure, and Operations Shari Crandell received the plaques on behalf of NNSA commemorating the accreditation.

Learn more about DOE nuclear and facility safety directives here.

 

Feb 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm

NNSA Blog

Pantex Emergency Services now uses the Emergency Management Information System, or EMInS. From left: Maribel Martinez, Brenda Graham and Greg Roddahl.

One of NNSA’s missions is emergency response, so it only makes sense that our sites and labs excel at emergency management on the local level. When an emergency strikes, communicating accurate and timely information is essential to effective response and resource management. Thanks to a system newly implemented at NNSA’s Pantex Plant, superior coordination efforts are the new normal at two NNSA sites—Pantex and Y-12.

The Emergency Management Information System, or EMInS, is a computerized system to manage disaster response. It pulls together meteorological data, site maps, building and material guides, video capabilities, and status boards. EMInS also gives responders in the field an easy means of communicating multifaceted, real-time information with emergency managers in operations centers and other locations.

During its initial implementation at Y-12, site communicators improved the system by adding public information functionality, including social media updates.

“This is all a result of our collaborative team scrutinizing every step and questioning how we could do things better,” said Steven Wyatt, NNSA Production Office public affairs manager about the Y-12 implementation. “EMInS is perfect for delivering information as quickly as possible. Now we’re sharing our successes with sites around the Nuclear Security Enterprise.”

In bringing the system to Pantex, emergency managers are including local responders in cooperative emergency planning. The collaboration via EMInS will help NNSA sites and the local community remain ready in case of an emergency, and effectively communicative during both drills and real events.

Read more about the system’s new implementation at Pantex here.

Feb 23, 2016 at 1:00 am

NNSA Blog

The micro-architectured, ultra-lightweight supercapacitor material is able to retain energy on par with those made with electrodes 10 to 100 times thinner.

For the first time ever, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Santa Cruz have successfully 3D-printed supercapacitors using an ultra-lightweight graphene aerogel, opening the door to novel, unconstrained designs of highly efficient energy storage systems for smartphones, wearables, implantable devices, electric cars and wireless sensors.

Using a 3D-printing process called direct-ink writing and a graphene-oxide composite ink designed at the Lab, the LLNL team was able to print micro-architected electrodes and build supercapacitors able to retain energy on par with those made with electrodes 10 to 100 times thinner.

Learn more about this breakthrough.

Feb 22, 2016 at 1:00 am

NNSA Blog

From left, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers Ibo Matthews, a principal investigator leading the lab’s effort on the joint open source software project; Wayne King, director of the Accelerated Certification of Additively Manufactured Metals Initiative; and Gabe Guss, engineering associate — examine a 3D-printed part manufactured using the selective laser melting process.

While the most common method of metal 3D printing is growing exponentially, moving forward from producing prototypes to manufacturing critical parts will only be possible by reaching a fundamental understanding of the complex physics behind the process, according to a new paper authored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers. 

The powder bed fusion process, also known as selective laser melting (SLM), requires thin layers of a metal powder to be spread across a build area, where they are fused by a laser or electron beam based on a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) model. The process is repeated until a part is produced, layer-by-layer from the bottom up.

Even though the method has quickly progressed into a production technology, 3D printing of metal parts (also known as metal additive manufacturing) for industries such as aerospace and health care is hampered, according to the LLNL’s Wayne King, by a lack of confidence in the finished parts. This hurdle, he said, can be overcome by a combination of physics-based modeling and high-performance computing to determine the optimal parameters for building each part.

Learn more about it at this link.

Feb 19, 2016 at 1:00 am

NNSA Blog

The Supply Chain Management Center (SCMC) has been an important tool for NNSA to save taxpayer dollars. At the event on Feb. 18, NNSA leadership and the New Mexico congressional delegation were well represented. From left, Scott Bissen, SCMC Director; Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM); NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz; Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM); Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM); Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM); and Mark Holecek, manager of NNSA's Kansas City Field Office.

In 2006 NNSA established the Supply Chain Management Center (SCMC) to pool spending across the Nuclear Security Enterprise on commodity purchases such as office supplies, commercial software, travel and safety glasses.

This week the SCMC hosted several current and potential small business partners in New Mexico to generate dialogue about the tools used by SCMC and how local small businesses can engage with NNSA and broader DOE opportunities. About 350 people attended with 15 persons watching online. In addition, the SCMC website trended up with eight suppliers submitting applications online.

Since its inception, the SCMC has awarded over 60 percent of its agreements to small businesses and just last fiscal year NNSA contractors saved the taxpayer over $185 million – and more than $600 million since its inception -- by using SCMC tools and agreements and other strategic sourcing efforts. 

New Mexico and its local communities are important to the NNSA in small business engagement, economic health, and employment at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. There have been many successful small business engagements, including a $200 million national-level agreement for Dell computers awarded to Wildflower International of Santa Fe and a $35 million, multi-year regional agreement for industrial supplies awarded to Frank’s Supply Company, a local, woman-owned small business.

NNSA looks forward to many more such success stories.

NNSA Blog

At the SCMC event, Klotz had a chance to chat with Mayor Richard J. Berry of Albuquerque.

NNSA Blog

Gen. Klotz, Mayor Berry and Kay Carrico of the National Association of Women Business Owners-Northern New Mexico visited at the SCMC event.

Feb 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm

NNSA Blog

EOD technician using XTK from within his response vehicle during a training exercise.

NNSA’s Sandia National Laboratories won the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s (FLC) 2016 Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for a decontamination product that neutralizes chemical and biological agents and for software that helps emergency responders disable improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The image processing and analysis software, XTK, helps emergency responders better perform in the high-stress, time critical mission of disabling improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It is estimated that XTK is now in the hands of over 20,000 end users in most of the 467 recognized non-military bomb squads across the U.S.

By offering the software for free, and developing efficient ways to supply the application, hardware accessories, and training, XTK has saved the emergency response community millions of dollars in licensing fees and training costs. Even more importantly, XTK is helping to save the lives of emergency responders and those they serve and protect.

Read more about the award and the lab professionals whose work made it possible here.

NNSA Blog

EOD technicians use XTK to help analyze and disable an IED.

Feb 17, 2016 at 1:00 am

In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) successfully established the Uranium Lease and Take-Back (ULTB) program, as directed in the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012, to support the commercial production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in the United States using low enriched uranium (LEU).  With the establishment of the ULTB program, DOE ensures that commercial producers of LEU-based Mo-99 will have access to material and services needed from DOE to produce this important medical isotope in the United States.

Through the ULTB Program, DOE will make LEU available, through lease contracts, from the Department’s excess uranium inventory for irradiation for the domestic production of Mo-99 for medical uses. In addition, through take-back contracts, DOE/NNSA will retain responsibility for the final disposition of spent nuclear fuel created by the irradiation, processing, or purification of leased LEU and take title to and be responsible for the radioactive waste created by the irradiation, processing, or purification of leased LEU, for which the Secretary of Energy determines the producer does not have access to a disposal path.

Managed by the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation’s Material Management and Minimization Program, with support from the DOE Environmental Management Program, the ULTB Program is a critical element of the DOE/NNSA’s ongoing support for the establishment of a domestic, commercial Mo-99 production capability that does not use proliferation-sensitive highly enriched uranium (HEU).  To support this goal, DOE/NNSA is currently supporting four commercial projects for Mo-99 production in the United States by providing up to $25 million for each project on a 50-percent/50-percent cost-share basis.

“The establishment of the Uranium Lease and Take-Back Program is an important milestone that demonstrates DOE/NNSA’s ongoing commitment to facilitating the production of Mo-99 in the United States without the use of HEU,” said Anne Harrington, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. “The ULTB Program will provide services needed to make new, commercial sources of Mo-99 in the United States available for patients in a way that is consistent with the goals outlined through the Nuclear Security Summit process and strengthens the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.”

The ULTB program is part of the DOE/NNSA’s strategy to ensure reliable, commercial supplies of Mo-99 are produced in the United States without the use of HEU. Mo-99 is an important material, because it’s radioactive decay product is technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging. Tc-99m is used in approximately 80 percent of nuclear diagnostic imaging procedures, equating to about 50,000 medical procedures in the United States every day.  

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhancesthe safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.energy.gov for more information.

Feb 16, 2016 at 1:00 am

NNSA Blog

The winner of the 2016 Nevada Science Bowl was the team from Reno's Davidson Academy of Nevada. From left: Matthew Bauer, Rinik Kumar, Haydn Bradstreet, Paolo Adajar, Eric Liu, and Coach Brett Guisti.

While sports fans across the U.S. prepared for last weekend’s game day, 160 Nevada high school students went head-to-head in a different kind of competition. Sponsored and hosted annually by the NNSA’s Nevada Field Office, the Nevada Science Bowl pits high schoolers against each other to buzz in quick answers to tough questions in all branches of math and science. After nearly 11 hours of competition among 32 teams, Davidson Academy of Nevada took home the trophy for the 25th Annual Nevada Science Bowl.

The Davidson Academy team also receives $5,000 for their school’s math and science department along with an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C., for the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl in April. 

“Nevada Science Bowl is celebrating 25 years of encouragement and support for science and math education in Nevada,” NNSA Nevada Field Office Public Affairs Director Darwin J. Morgan said. “The students and parents gathered here for the Nevada Science Bowl are working for a better and brighter future and we are proud to help them.”

Read more about the competition, and the success of the other teams, on the Nevada Field Office’s news page.

 

Feb 15, 2016 at 4:00 pm