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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 56, No. 12           June 11, 2004
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Sandia ranked No. 1 employer of choice in aerospace/defense industry, survey finds Columbia study review: Sandia shares many practices with NASA Sandia, Lawrence Berkeley unveil new guidelines to help guard airports against chem/bio threats Center for Integrated Nanotechnology's two-lab groundbreaking has broad international focus WIPP celebrates five years of accepting transuranic radioactive waste



Sandia ranked No. 1 employer of choice in aerospace/defense industry, survey finds

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By Ken Frazier

Sandia ranks first in the nation as an employer of choice in the aerospace/defense industry, according to a survey by Aviation Week and Space Technology.

Technological challenge and meaningful work ranks No. 1 in considerations by aerospace/defense professionals when looking at employment opportunities, the survey found. And Sandia ranked first in that technological challenge category. Raytheon, Hamilton Sundstrand, General Atomics, and Northrop Grumman followed.

The results are published in the May 3 Aviation Week and Space Technology. To get a better sense of the industry's makeup today -- and which companies may be doing the most to attract top engineers and technical people -- the magazine conducted a comprehensive survey in partnership with the Aerospace Industries Association.

Respondents considered four broad categories: technological challenge and meaningful work; opportunity for career growth and professional development; job stability; and leadership.

Those surveyed ranked the technological challenge category first, and Sandia qualified as best-in-class in that category on the basis of all the data points, said the magazine. It pointed out that Sandia is operated by Lockheed Martin for the US Department of Energy and that more than three quarters of Sandia's 8,000 employees work directly on R&D or engineering projects.

It said Labs Director and President Paul Robinson "can offer employees sustained funding for R&D projects linked to the hottest projects in energy, visualization, sensors, chip design, and, most fundamentally for Sandia, nuclear weapons -- and now, terrorism. Low attrition rates, high percentages of diversity, promotions from within, and a highly technical leadership team add to Sandia's attraction."

"People want to be part of the lab," the magazine quotes Paul as saying. "When you have the really hardest problems, you send them here to be solved. That challenge is what brings people here. Once they get a steady diet of it, it's pretty hard to go anywhere else." Plus, Paul told the magazine, "It's not just a job. It's your country."

"To say I was delighted would be an understatement," Paul told the Albuquerque Journal. "The part I'm most proud of was not only were we ranked No. 1 in challenge, but that factor was No. 1 in career choices. It gives me great hope for the next generation of scientists."

In looking at women and minorities in the workforce, Aviation Week identified three top companies: Vought Aircraft, Rockwell Collins, and Sandia.

At Sandia, the magazine says the push for diversity goes back decades and it notes that today, of the top 80 slots at the lab, 20 are filled by women, including Joan Woodard, Sandia's executive vice president and deputy director. -- ken Frazier

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Columbia study review: Sandia shares many practices with NASA

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By Chris Burroughs

A Labs review team that studied in detail a NASA report on the Feb. 1, 2003, explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia has concluded that Sandia shares many of the organizational factors that led to the accident.

"The Columbia Accident Investigation Board deduced that the management practices at NASA overseeing the space shuttle program were as much a cause of the accident as the foam that struck the left wing," says David Carlson, Director of Surety Assessment Center 12300, who led the Sandia review team. "Although there are important organizational differences, we follow many of these same management practices. In reviewing and discussing this accident, we all recognized ourselves in many respects."

The shuttle launched on Jan. 16, 2003, in what seemed to be a normal takeoff. Unknown was that insulating foam separated from the external tank, breaching the leading edge of the left wing. Upon re-entry the breach allowed superheated air to penetrate the leading edge insulation and progressively melt the aluminum structure of the left wing. This resulted in a weakening of the structure until increasing aerodynamic forces caused loss of control, failure of the wing, and breakup of the orbiter. The accident killed seven crew members.

Executive VP Joan Woodard and VP 2000 John Stichman tasked David to lead the review of the NASA investigation. Starting work on Sept. 1, team members -- all senior scientists and senior management -- spent some 60 hours each reviewing information.

Their review centered on four themes: risk assessment, adequacy of technical understanding, decision making, and organizational and safety culture.

The end of the Cold war eroded the urgency and sense of NASA's mission, much as it did Sandia's. There were significant budget pressures associated with the space shuttle program. Increasing costs and operational needs caused safety upgrades, in some cases, to be deferred. Also, a firm, Feb. 19, 2003, completion date was established to finish the US portion of the International Space Station, which was probably pushing the envelope, David says.

"We, too, face schedule and budgetary pressures that challenge us to meet our many requirements," David says. "Among those requirements is safety in our designs. Safety is part of performance and not easy to judge. It's one of those things that seem easy to trade off. You can't weigh it, can't see it on the calendar, but it is very real."

He adds that the NASA people, just like Sandia's, have a "can-do attitude."

"This attitude is vital to our success, but it must be judiciously managed. It is essential to understand and manage our risks," Dave says.

Another issue with management was that some did not have a full understanding of technical difficulties associated with Columbia. This is not unusual in complex systems such as the space shuttle or in systems like those designed by Sandia.

"However, we must always provide proof that the design is safe rather than, as in the case of the shuttle engineers, expecting safety professionals to prove to the program management that its system is unsafe," David says.

The NASA engineers found themselves in the unusual position of having to prove that the situation was unsafe.

Sandia is subject to many of the same pitfalls in decision making and communications that contributed to the Columbia accident. These include reliance on past experience and technical expertise; communication barriers including a culture of "over-politeness" which may make it difficult for management to appreciate the depth of engineers' concerns; and potential erosion in our expectations of first-level management for technical leadership, direction, and judgment.

"The lessons from the Columbia accident speak to us as managers at Sandia," David says. "However, these are important issues to all of us -- not just managers -- in conducting our everyday work. Our review heightened our recognition of these issues. They are difficult to resolve but essential to recognize and address if we are to strengthen our safety culture."-- Chris Burroughs

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Sandia, Lawrence Berkeley unveil new guidelines to help guard airports against chem/bio threats

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By Nancy Garcia

Over the past few years, researchers at Sandia/California have helped improve San Francisco International Airport's (SFO) ability to thwart chemical and biological terrorist threats through the PROACT (Protective and Responsive Options for Airport Counter-Terrorism) program. The next logical step, it seemed, would be to take the expertise and lessons learned from PROACT to assist other airport facilities across the nation, and a newly published report may soon serve that very purpose.

Sandia has collaborated with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to develop Guidelines to Improve Airport Preparedness Against Chemical and Biological Terrorism, a 90-page report to aid airport planners in defending their facilities against chemical and biological attack. Early indications from SFO managers are that the report contains an ideal mix of information and direction, but Sandia has asked other airport managers to review the document to ensure the guidelines are broad enough to relate to a variety of airport designs yet specific enough to serve their individual needs.

Sandia/California's System Studies and Systems Research groups (8112 and 8114) are spearheading the project, with researcher Donna Edwards (8112) and new department manager Susanna Gordon (8114) taking the lead. The Indoor Environment department at LBNL, which enjoys a long and reputable history in airflow and contaminant transport modeling in buildings, contributed significantly to the publication and has previously published its own guidance document for protecting buildings from chem/bio attack.

The Federal Laboratory Consortium recently selected the Lawrence Berkeley/Sandia team to receive its Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer in 2004 for the work package "Minimizing Casualties from a Chem/Bio Attack: Preparation, Training, and Response Resources," which included the airport guidance document as a core component.

"We wanted to offer airport planners a user-friendly guide that gives them a clear understanding of chem/bio defense of their facilities and concrete steps they can take to assess and improve their current readiness level," says Donna. Readers of the guide, she says, will be armed with the information necessary to determine what kinds of physical or system upgrades are required for their facilities, or whether an outside consultant is needed. The guidance contained in the document is also intended to help airport personnel deter high-consequence chem/bio attacks through targeted physical security measures, and to mitigate the impact of an attack through passive protection (measures that reduce impact even in the absence of response) and active response measures.

Susanna, who served as the principal investigator during previous stages of PROACT (Lab News, May 2, 2003), points out that airports and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are already well equipped to deal with explosives and other conventional weapons. But the nature of a chem/bio threat, she says, is far different, and a comprehensive guide is needed to instruct airport facilities on how to deal with such a threat.

The guide begins with an overview of the chem/bio threat, including an examination of past incidents, specific chemical and biological agents, and potential scenarios that airport planners should consider. Subsequent chapter themes include vulnerability assessments, targeted physical security measures, passive protection measures, and active responses to mitigate the consequences of attack.

In developing the guide, Sandia drew extensively upon knowledge gained from its collaboration with San Francisco International Airport under the PROTECT and PROACT programs (both initiated by DOE and continued under the Department of Homeland Security). Insight was also gleaned from Sandia's participation in the Defense Department's Biological Defense Initiative and from guidelines Sandia developed for other sites. Existing guidelines for building protection by the Center for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center also were used.

"We understand that no airport will look identical or respond in precisely the same fashion," Donna says. "But the starting point for any facility is the same: gaining a thorough understanding of the specific threats and the characteristics of those threats, which in this case involves chemical and biological agent attack. Only then can you begin to look at plausible responses and facility 'hardening' measures. The ultimate goal, of course, is to protect airport facility users and save lives in the event of a terror attack."

Because Sandia's experience working with SFO played such a key role in the lab's development of the document, managers at that facility were offered a "sneak peek" at the guide and asked to offer recommendations and insight. SFO's response, Donna says, was just what she had hoped for: an enthusiastic endorsement.

While acknowledging the urgency of getting the document into the hands of airport planners as soon as possible, Donna says Sandia and LBNL plan a thoughtful rollout of the guide. "We want to gain feedback from the building protection community and a few major airports to ensure we give the best possible advice before sending it to every airport in the country," she says. -- Nancy Garcia

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Center for Integrated Nanotechnology's two-lab groundbreaking has broad international focus

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By Neal Singer

Over the past few years, researchers at Sandia/California have helped improve San Francisco International Airport's (SFO) ability to thwart chemical and biological terrorist threats through the PROACT (Protective and Responsive Options for Airport Counter-Terrorism) program. The next logical step, it seemed, would be to take the expertise and lessons learned from PROACT to assist other airport facilities across the nation, and a newly published report may soon serve that very purpose.

Sandia has collaborated with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to develop Guidelines to Improve Airport Preparedness Against Chemical and Biological Terrorism, a 90-page report to aid airport planners in defending their facilities against chemical and biological attack. Early indications from SFO managers are that the report contains an ideal mix of information and direction, but Sandia has asked other airport managers to review the document to ensure the guidelines are broad enough to relate to a variety of airport designs yet specific enough to serve their individual needs.

Sandia/California's System Studies and Systems Research groups (8112 and 8114) are spearheading the project, with researcher Donna Edwards (8112) and new department manager Susanna Gordon (8114) taking the lead. The Indoor Environment department at LBNL, which enjoys a long and reputable history in airflow and contaminant transport modeling in buildings, contributed significantly to the publication and has previously published its own guidance document for protecting buildings from chem/bio attack.

The Federal Laboratory Consortium recently selected the Lawrence Berkeley/Sandia team to receive its Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer in 2004 for the work package "Minimizing Casualties from a Chem/Bio Attack: Preparation, Training, and Response Resources," which included the airport guidance document as a core component.

"We wanted to offer airport planners a user-friendly guide that gives them a clear understanding of chem/bio defense of their facilities and concrete steps they can take to assess and improve their current readiness level," says Donna. Readers of the guide, she says, will be armed with the information necessary to determine what kinds of physical or system upgrades are required for their facilities, or whether an outside consultant is needed. The guidance contained in the document is also intended to help airport personnel deter high-consequence chem/bio attacks through targeted physical security measures, and to mitigate the impact of an attack through passive protection (measures that reduce impact even in the absence of response) and active response measures.

Susanna, who served as the principal investigator during previous stages of PROACT (Lab News, May 2, 2003), points out that airports and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are already well equipped to deal with explosives and other conventional weapons. But the nature of a chem/bio threat, she says, is far different, and a comprehensive guide is needed to instruct airport facilities on how to deal with such a threat.

The guide begins with an overview of the chem/bio threat, including an examination of past incidents, specific chemical and biological agents, and potential scenarios that airport planners should consider. Subsequent chapter themes include vulnerability assessments, targeted physical security measures, passive protection measures, and active responses to mitigate the consequences of attack.

In developing the guide, Sandia drew extensively upon knowledge gained from its collaboration with San Francisco International Airport under the PROTECT and PROACT programs (both initiated by DOE and continued under the Department of Homeland Security). Insight was also gleaned from Sandia's participation in the Defense Department's Biological Defense Initiative and from guidelines Sandia developed for other sites. Existing guidelines for building protection by the Center for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center also were used.

"We understand that no airport will look identical or respond in precisely the same fashion," Donna says. "But the starting point for any facility is the same: gaining a thorough understanding of the specific threats and the characteristics of those threats, which in this case involves chemical and biological agent attack. Only then can you begin to look at plausible responses and facility 'hardening' measures. The ultimate goal, of course, is to protect airport facility users and save lives in the event of a terror attack."

Because Sandia's experience working with SFO played such a key role in the lab's development of the document, managers at that facility were offered a "sneak peek" at the guide and asked to offer recommendations and insight. SFO's response, Donna says, was just what she had hoped for: an enthusiastic endorsement.

While acknowledging the urgency of getting the document into the hands of airport planners as soon as possible, Donna says Sandia and LBNL plan a thoughtful rollout of the guide. "We want to gain feedback from the building protection community and a few major airports to ensure we give the best possible advice before sending it to every airport in the country," she says. -- Neal Singer

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WIPP celebrates five years of accepting transuranic radioactive waste

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By Chris Burroughs

Editor's Note: On March 26, 1999, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), 30 miles east of Carlsbad, began accepting transuranic radioactive waste from the research and production of weapons at DOE facilities around the country. In commemoration of this fifth anniversary, Lab News writer Chris Burroughs recently toured the WIPP site with several other Sandians and wrote the following account about her experiences. For more on WIPP, see pages 5 through 7 of this pdf file.

Flat, dry desert land and an occasional land formation punctuate the 30-mile drive from Carlsbad to WIPP. It's oil and gas country, and wells are scattered around the landscape.

Our tour guide, Sandia DMTS Frank Hansen (6820) -- who began working on WIPP repository sciences in 1975 -- tells us how 225 million years ago, when early dinosaurs roamed the planet, this part of the world was the Permian Ocean. This ancient ocean deposited enormous beds of salt extending over several hundred miles, including the 2,000-foot salt formation where WIPP is located. He points out skeletal structures of a declining potash industry -- mines that at one time were the heart of the Carlsbad economy.

WIPP's official boundary is four miles by four miles square around the repository, evidenced by a lack of drill rigs on the property. If not for that, it would be difficult to tell when you've reached it, as all you see are miles and miles of dry brown desert.

Frank parks the government van in a large parking lot, and we enter a white building that looks much like any Sandia or DOE facility. Entry into the site is guarded, and we are subject to random search before proceeding. The first stop is a large viewing room where we watch a safety video about what to expect underground. We are told we have to wear solid, closed-toed shoes and a miner's hard hat equipped with a light so we can see (and be seen) in the semi-dark. Following the safety briefing, we are cleared to go to the waste handling building where waste is received, inspected, and moved to a shaft for transfer underground. We learn that as many as 20 trucks carrying waste arrive each week -- more than 2,500 waste shipments have been received in the last five years. WIPP has already received 19,000 cubic meters of waste. The waste comes from DOE facilities around the country, with 10,000 cubic meters alone from Rocky Flats in Colorado.

Outside the waste handling building are stored empty stainless steel TRUPACT containers, 8 feet in diameter and 10 feet high, that arrive on flatbed trucks. Each TRUPACT holds up to 14 of the 55-gallon drums carrying waste.

As we enter the building Frank tells us that the waste in the drums is called "transuranic" waste resulting from the production of nuclear weapons. The displayed waste looks like ordinary items found at any industrial site: tools, gloves, and protective suits. Transuranic refers to the "heaviness" of the element. Elements with an atomic number greater than that of uranium (92) are considered transuranic. "Trans" means "beyond," so transuranic can be thought of as "beyond uranium."

The waste forms vary: The display drums exhibit conventional lab debris, such as tools and gloves, bagged in plastic. Other waste packages look substantially different.

The waste handling building is bustling with activity. Waste handlers are preparing the 55-gallon drums for their journey underground. A rope keeps us far away from the containers for safety reasons, but we watch as the workers unload the drums of waste from the TRUPACT-II transuranic waste transport containers. The waste is transported in a seven-pack arrangement, in which seven barrels are bound together with sturdy plastic wrap and transported to the underground the same way.

I wanted to know how they get underground, and Frank says a huge elevator takes them down. It's the same elevator that transports large equipment, like trucks and excavation machinery. The larger equipment is transported in pieces and reassembled underground.

Seeing this major facility topside and knowing what lies beneath, I marveled at what it took to make WIPP a reality.

"WIPP was a long time coming," Frank says. "Planning started in the early 1970s after the Atomic Energy Commission's proposition for a 'Salt Vault' near Lyons, Kan., was unsuccessful. The Carlsbad city fathers proposed the option to place the nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad, and initially the proposal was to use potash mines. Sandia was engaged early on as the science advisor."

As the scientific advisor for the WIPP, Sandia conducted the performance assessment for the initial compliance certification application and just recently completed another performance assessment for the re-certification application, which is required by regulation every five years or at the demand of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Next we get ready to make the trip 2,150 feet down inside the earth. We go to a cloaking room where we are given the miner's hardhat with a light and a belt containing a battery for the light and a "self rescuer" that converts carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide in the event of a fire.

We're also each handed a brass coin with a number on it to place in our pockets. We learn that this is an accountability technique. In case of a mine fire, a person could be identified by the brass coin carried in his pocket.

We walk to an elevator shaft just south of great mounds of salt piled several hundred feet away. The salt has been dug up from more than 2,000 feet below, making way for rooms to store the waste that's coming. Six of us pile into a yellow metal-meshed elevator, which was the first shaft completed in 1982. We're "cozy," and I have to hold my camera and purse close to my body. Then we start the descent.

The elevator makes a kind of whinnying noise as it proceeds downward. At about 1,000 feet the sound changes, becoming dampened as the elevator goes from a lined shaft to the unlined salt section. Our ears pop for the first time. As we exit the elevator in a large hallway that serves as a road, the first thing we see is a sign that says, "Welcome to the WIPP underground. You have just entered an environment committed to safety." It reminds all of us -- as did the brass coin we received above -- that this could be a dangerous place if proper ES&H procedures aren't followed.

It's eerie to think this underground roadway, slightly smaller in width than streets above ground, was once all salt -- even though we know the walls are salt, the ceiling is salt, and the floor is salt. It's even more eerie to realize that in a few decades it will be all salt again. The salt is constantly creeping inward in all areas of the repository.

But of course we know that the fact the salt closes in is a primary reason the WIPP site was chosen for the waste repository. In a relatively short period of time the waste will be totally encapsulated by the salt.

We notice that at this entry point the walls are covered by a mesh netting, much like we see in roads going through mountains in New Mexico. And for the same reason -- to keep chunks of salt (in the mountains, rocks) from falling on workers.

We see by dim orange-like lighting, scattered industrial lights hanging from the ceiling. We can see but are grateful for the additional lights on our hardhats. At the shaft entrance underground we feel fresh air blowing in. As we continue our trip in the underground tunnels, the air follows us. Frank says the entire underground facility is well ventilated. "The ventilation system," he notes "is designed with a 'negative pressure' gradient such that all air flow has a preferential path toward the disposal area and then out the exhaust shaft."

We all hop on a small open cart and drive through the salt tunnels. Every time we turn a corner our driver, Ron Parsons (6820), who serves as facility manager and facility security officer at Sandia/Carlsbad, honks the horn to let people in other vehicles who may be approaching the same point from the other direction know that we are there. Ron pulls a cord and we go through a rubber-flapped steel door. We enter a small area, and Ron pulls another cord, opening another door. These air locks are part of the sophisticated ventilation system that ensures that any radionuclide contaminant would pass "downstream" through a high efficiency filter system.

Off we go down another corridor. We stop outside a panel, which we learn comprises seven rooms where waste barrels are stored. We can't get too close, but we can see the 55-gallon barrels. The room is the length of a football field, 33 feet wide and 13 feet high. One panel is already filled with waste. The second, where we are, is half filled. A third panel is currently being excavated. Eventually eight such panels will be excavated and filled with waste, then the entry drifts equivalent to two more panels will be filled, and then WIPP will be sealed and the waste left safely underground.

Each panel holds up to approximately 1,500 seven packs of 55-gallon drums arranged in a hexagonal configuration. Placed on top of the drums are huge white bags of magnesium oxide that keep the pH levels high, if brine should ever infiltrate the repository. The magnesium oxide was selected because of a regulatory requirement to provide an engineered barrier in addition to the natural barrier (salt).

We drive through another tunnel and Ron stops the truck. We all jump out. At this site we dislodge some large single crystals of halite, which look like giant diamonds. We each put our salt in plastic bags given to us above to carry home as souvenirs. I couldn't help it and had to lick one of my fingers. Sure enough, I tasted salt.

We get back in the truck and move on, stopping in front of another room. This, Frank says, is the panel that is completely filled and closed off. The entrance is blocked by a substantial wall of concrete block.

We return to the elevator shaft where we started and see (and hear) huge dump trucks rumbling through, carrying tons of salt recently mined from a panel. We go back up to the surface, but the adventure isn't quite over. After we turn in our brass coins, hard hats, and belts, we see several flatbed trucks carrying TRUPACT containers lined up and ready to drop off their shipments at the waste handling building. All the trucks have to be checked out by security guards before they can enter the area. I fall behind the group, because I'm taking pictures. Suddenly everyone started shouting for me to come. I hurried over and saw what they saw. One of the trucks was carrying a demonstration TRUPACT that allowed us to view the multiple elements of the shipping container through a window. And indeed, I saw tools, gloves, and protective suits.

The waste being disposed at WIPP is only a small amount of the radioactive waste existing in this country.

The tour is over, and we return to Carlsbad, following the four-lane highway the waste-laden trucks travel to WIPP. I wonder what will this land be like in 10,000 years. Will anyone know that WIPP exists? -- Chris Burroughs

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