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Nuclear Watch of New Mexico

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Los Alamos National Laboratory

Management Issues

FY 2010 Performance Evaluation Plan for LANS, LLC Management of LANL - April 28, 2010

Also see:
NWNM Comments on Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board Reports
New Mexico Hazardous Waste Permit Issues

Brief History

Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico was founded to coordinate the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons research during World War II.  Preliminary studies to develop the first nuclear weapons were conducted at universities across the country.  The difficulties in managing a secret project scattered in many locations indicated the need for a centralized laboratory dedicated to that purpose.  Manhattan Project scientific director J. Robert Oppenheimer along with General Leslie Groves and physicist Ernest Lawrence decided on the location for the Lab.  Originally known as “Site Y,” the Lab has also been called the Los Alamos Laboratory and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.

The work of the Manhattan Project culminated in the atomic device tested near Alamogordo, New Mexico and the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Following the 1940s the Lab was key in the development of many nuclear weapon variations including thermonuclear weapons, the modern “H-bombs.”

The University of California has managed Los Alamos for most of the Lab’s history. However, in 2003 the Department of Energy opened the management contract up to other bidders.  In June of 2006 management of the Lab was taken over by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a for-profit corporation of partners that include the University of California, Bechtel Corporation, Washington Group International, and BWX Technologies.

Current Mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory

The Laboratory currently:

  • conducts research, design, and development of nuclear weapons;
  • provides assessments and certification of stockpiled weapons;
  • maintains production capabilities for limited quantities of plutonium pits for delivery to the stockpile;
  • maintains capabilities for R&D and fabrication of enriched uranium, depleted uranium, and other uranium isotope mixtures for hydrotests and joint test assemblies and fabrication of components for secondary assemblies.
  • manufactures nuclear weapon detonators for the stockpile
  • conducts tritium R&D
  • conducts hydrodynamic testing
  • conducts high explosives R&D
  • conducts environmental testing
  • maintains Category I/II quantities of SNM
  • designs and tests advanced technology concepts

Major Facilities at LANL

            Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR)

The CMR Building, located within TA-3, has facilities in support of programs at TA-55, including analytical chemistry involving destructive and nondestructive analysis; metallographic analysis and measurement on the basis of neutron or gamma radiation; actinide research and development that may include separation of medical isotopes from targets and processing of neutron sources.  In February 2004, the NNSA decided to replace the CMR Building with a new CMR Replacement Facility at TA-55 and to completely vacate and demolish the old CMR Building.

            Plutonium Complex

TA-55 hosts PF-4 the only fully functioning plutonium facility used for pit manufacturing in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex.  These capabilities include plutonium casting, fabrication and machining; plutonium recovery; analytical chemistry; metal preparation; and destructive and nondestructive analysis in support of surveillance and certification.  An SNM storage vault is also located at TA-55.  Within TA-55 and in close proximity to PF-4 is the CMRR radiological light lab and office building, currently under construction.  The proposed CMRR Nuclear Facility, if built, would also be located in TA-55 adjacent to PF-4.

            Sigma Complex

Also within TA-3, Sigma Complex hosts research, development, and characterization on materials; fabrication from metals, ceramics, salts, beryllium, enriched uranium, depleted uranium, and other uranium isotope mixtures; analysis and fabrication of tritium reservoirs; fabrication of  nonnuclear components for hydrotests and joint test assemblies; fabrication of components for pits and secondary assemblies.

            Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation

The Metropolis Center is rooted in the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative.  The infrastructure of this facility utilizes extremely fast supercomputers, high-speed networks, visualization centers and interactive data analysis to support the Stockpile Surveillance program.

            Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility (DARHT)

DARHT is used to perform non-nuclear hydrodynamic experiments to study and measure dynamic aspects of implosion systems, shock physics and high velocity impacts.  Although the NNSA announced in May of 2008 that DARHT was fully operational, there have been significant difficulties and delays in getting the second axis online and available for conducting  tests.

            Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE)

LANSCE hosts a high intensity proton linear accelerator and the Weapons Neutron Research facility where high energy un-moderated neutrons and protons are used for weapons-related basic and applied research.  Also at LANSCE is the Lujan Center, which employs moderated spallation neutrons for research and engineering in condensed-matter science.

            High Explosives Processing

These facilities spread across several Technical Areas are used to evaluate stockpile returns; develop and characterize new explosive materials; research waste treatment methods; and to fabricate materials and parts for hydrodynamic tests.

            High Explosives Testing

Firing sites for explosive tests at several Technical Areas are used to conduct explosive experiments and studies using depleted uranium in dynamic experiments, and hydrodynamic tests.

            Weapons Engineering Tritium Facilitiy (WETF)

Tritium operations at WETF include high-pressure gas fills; processing and testing operations for gas boost systems of nuclear weapons.  The facility supports the surveillance of the gas delivery systems in the legacy stockpile and stores, in environmental conditions, gas transfer systems to study the aging of these systems in the legacy stockpile.

            Bioscience Facilities (previously called Health Research Laboratory)

Located in several Technical Areas, the Bioscience Facilities conduct research into detecting and countering biological threats; modeling disease management, infection and immune response; surveillance of disease spread; protein engineering; theoretical science for development of new vaccines and genome-scale measurements and analysis.

            Target Fabrication Facility

The Target Fabrication Facility at TA-35 conducts target material characterization and technology development for weapons production and laser fusion research.

            Radiochemistry Facility

Located in TA-48 the Radiochemistry facility conducts radiological and chemical analyses of samples and produces medical isotopes.

            Material Sciences Laboratory

The Material Sciences Laboratory at TA-3 develops and improves materials formulation and chemical processing technologies, mechanical testing, research, synthesis, and characterization.

            Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF)

This facility treats transuranic and low-level radioactive liquid wastes generated at LANL facilities.  The (RLWTF) also manages the final disposition of these treated wastes.

            Area G

Area G, in TA-54, is the Lab’s largest disposal area.  It has been in operation since 1957.  Area G is currently the site of the active low-level waste dump.

LANL in NNSA’s “Complex Transformation”

Under Complex Transformation LANL’s mission will include plutonium R&D and pit production; detonator production; contained high explosiveR&D; supercomputer hosting; materials research for radiation damage science and materials qualification in extreme environments. The capabilities of the Sigma Facility will be required to support requirements for increased manufacturing. Capabilities that would be eliminated or reduced at the Laboratory include tritium operations and major environmental testing.