Friday, June 11, 2010

An unending mission to contain the stuff of nuclear nightmares

he task at the core of nonproliferation efforts remains what it has been for decades: keeping track of nuclear materials and sites to ensure that countries do not make bombs, either in secret or under the pretext of developing nuclear power. It's a daunting scientific and technological challenge.

Since the 1960s, Los Alamos National Laboratory has spearheaded the development of safeguards aimed at preventing another Hiroshima. "It is an enduring mission that has become increasingly important," says William Rees, principal associate director for global security at LANL. "With commercial reactors making a comeback, it's vital that we have foolproof systems in place to insure that the nuclear materials don't fall into the wrong hands." (
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LANL scientists working on Venus mission

Computer enhanced image of the planet Venus. Credit: NASA/JPL

esearchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are developing a laser tool that could be used on an exploratory mission to Venus. Lab scientists are making instruments that would quickly measure areas of the planet's surface — and below the surface. Because the Venus environment is so hostile, scientists say any lander likely would be destroyed within a few hours of arrival. (
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Copper, Heal Thyself
Nanocrystalline structures help materials self-repair radiation damage

When exposed to radiation, a conventional material (left) slowly deteriorates. But the same material made of nanocrystals (right) behaves differently. American Scientist Illustration.

fter irradiation the size can increase up to 10 percent because of the atoms moving to the surface," says Blas Uberuaga, a materials scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "And that's bad because if you make parts that all fit together, and then they swell, nothing fits together like it's designed to." (
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Science Podcast Interview

rom the Science Podcast: an interview with Science's Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on the new tools and analyses that scientists and inspectors are using to detect clandestine nuclear-weapons research. (
Listen to Podcast here)

LANL helps create ‘virtual’ nuclear reactor

This diagram shows components of a nuclear reactor that will be modeled as part of the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL

Los Alamos National Laboratory is participating in a five-year, $122 million project to create a virtual nuclear reactor that could lead to a new generation of safer, longer-lasting and less-expensive nuclear power plants. (Full Story)

LANL and nation need new research facility

In the last month, we have seen dramatic steps toward the emergence of a national consensus on our nation's nuclear-security strategy and the investments needed to support it. That is good for our nation, and for New Mexico.

Los Alamos has a proud history of working on both of these issues. Today, we are home to the nation's only plutonium-processing capability. Unfortunately, the facilities where our scientists, researchers and engineers conduct this critical work date as far back as the Manhattan Project, and the signs of age and decay are becoming more apparent every day. (
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Tauscher: Quick U.S. Senate Nod for START Unlikely

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama would like the new nuclear arms reduction treaty to be ratified by the Senate this summer, but a senior State Department official conceded June 9 that seems increasingly unlikely.

Rounding up the 60 votes needed to pass anything has proven extremely difficult in the polarized Senate. And the treaty needs 67 votes for ratification, said Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

In remarks to a gathering of scientists from three U.S. nuclear laboratories, she touted progress that Obama's administration has made on nuclear matters so far this year: the START treaty signed by the United States and Russia in April; release of a new nuclear posture review that emphasizes reducing the number of nuclear weapons; and a nuclear summit in which 47 nations agreed to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. "It has been quite a nuclear spring," Tauscher said, but "we may run out of days for a summer ratification." (Full Story)

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