[About Sandia]
[Unique Solutions]
[Working With Us]
[Contacting Us]
[News Center]
[Search]
[Home]
[navigation panel]

[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 54, No. 22        November 1, 2002
[Sandia National Laboratories]

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

Back to the Lab News home page

Sandia, Cray team to build fastest computer Instant Shooter ID kit developed at Sandia helps solve five real crimes, including four murders Reactor experiment: used fuels not as reactive



Red Storm rising: Sandia/Cray team to create 40 teraOPS supercomputer

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

By Neal Singer

An announcement at Sandia -- long awaited by the nation's defense labs and computer industry -- confirmed last week that Sandia has teamed with Cray Inc. to develop and deliver Red Storm, a massively parallel supercomputer theoretically capable of reaching a peak performance of 40 trillion calculations (teraOPS) per second.

The agreement was formally announced at a Sandia-hosted news conference Oct. 21 at the new International Programs Building east of the Eubank gate. Speaking were Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.; Linton Brooks, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; Bill Reed, acting director of NNSA's Advanced Simulation and Computing Program; Jim Rottsolk, president and CEO of Cray Inc.; and Tom Hunter, Senior VP of defense programs at Sandia. Sandia President C. Paul Robinson made the opening remarks and introductions.

Said Tom, "It's wonderful to see a vision become reality."

Sandia reported in June that Cray had been selected for the award, subject to successful contract negotiations.

The machine's speed is based partly on its expected ability to deliver two calculations per clock cycle rather than one, which would total to 20 teraOPS. The new Red Storm architecture also relies upon a very high performance, specially designed 3-D mesh interconnect and Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD) Opteron processors.

Custom aspects of the machine are a departure from recent trends in supercomputing architectures, which have made a point of relying on off-the-shelf parts. Nevertheless, the machine is said to have an excellent price/performance ratio.

The computer, expected to be operational at Sandia in the summer 2004, will be approximately seven times more powerful than ASCI Red, Sandia's fastest computer now. It is also expected to have the capability to achieve 100 teraOPS with added hardware.

Nuclear weapon engineering simulations are the major driver of the computer, although it will also serve a broad spectrum of scientific and engineering applications.

For this reason, the installation at Sandia will operate in a dual-network configuration -- classified (Red) and unclassified (Black). The machine can be rapidly reconfigured to make all the compute nodes classified, all the compute nodes unclassified, or, in normal operations -- three quarters of the compute nodes available to either of the two networks and one quarter of the machine available to the other.

Currently, the world's fastest supercomputer is NEC's Earth Simulator (35.86 teraflops) in Japan, followed by ASCI White (7.22) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. - - Neal Singer

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.


Instant Shooter ID kit developed at Sandia helps solve five real crimes, including four murders

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

By John German

In Nassau County, N.Y., homicide detectives had a hunch. They wiped the back seat of a car with a swab, then doused the swab with a clear liquid chemical.

The blue specks that appeared on the swab seconds later gave investigators an important new piece of information: The person who killed the couple in the front seat had fired the gun from the back seat, not from the street as one witness had reported.

When faced with the new evidence, the witness confessed to committing the murders himself.

The case in September was the most recent of five crimes solved by police departments using, as part of each investigation, a new product called the Instant Shooter ID KitŪ created by Law Enforcement Technologies (LET), Inc., of Colorado Springs.

The kit employs a Sandia-developed concept for packaging a laboratory chemical detection technique useful for identifying minute traces of gunpowder residue left at the scene -- and on the shooter's hands, arms, and clothing -- whenever someone fires a gun (Lab News, Feb. 8, 2002).

Lab bench to police beat

Last summer Sandia explosives engineers, who routinely use similar chemistry to detect explosives in their laboratory, presented the concept to LET founder and CEO Greg MacAleese, a former Albuquerque Police Department violent crimes investigator.

MacAleese, who is working with Sandia to develop several other law enforcement technology projects, sponsored laboratory and live-fire tests at Sandia late last year. The results were promising, so LET licensed the technique from Sandia in February this year and turned it into a product that is compact, affordable, and usable right at the crime scene.

Soon after, LET began shipping samples of the kits to police departments for field trials. As word spread, demand grew, says MacAleese.

Each kit costs $17 and is about the size and shape of a VHS cassette.

Today there are more than 1,600 of the kits in the hands of police departments across the country, he says, with orders coming in every day.

"At first there was some resistance from the forensics lab community," he says, which traditionally analyzed gunshot residue samples in the laboratory using scanning electron microscopes (SEMs). But the forensics labs are underfunded and overworked, and each SEM analysis typically costs hundreds of dollars and takes a month or more, much too long for some police work.

"I think now they have begun to view the kits as a way to reduce their workloads and focus on the higher-profile crimes," he says. "Now we are seeing a lot of 40-kit orders from police departments that initially ordered a few."

Subsequent field trials conducted by LET have demonstrated that the kits are more than 90 percent accurate, adds MacAleese, another critical factor in the ID Kit's acceptance.

Blue on white

Each Instant Shooter ID Kit includes a round fiberglass swab that can be rubbed on the hands, arms, or clothing of someone suspected of firing a gun, or on the surfaces of a crime scene.

When the swab is soaked in a proprietary liquid chemical, spots where trace amounts of gunpowder residues are present turn blue against the white swab. A detection takes 3 to 5 minutes.

Other crimes solved with assistance from the Instant Shooter ID Kit include:

Police departments all over the country are using the kits now, says MacAleese.

The kits have proven most useful in helping investigators quickly narrow the list of suspects right at the crime scene or piece together details of a crime so detectives can focus on the most plausible explanations, says MacAleese.

"Pretty good for a product that's been out only a couple of months," he says. "As police departments are confronted by an increasing number of violent crimes, there is a need for a fast and low-cost alternative to lab work. We are seeing a major increase in demand, and the feedback is all positive."

Sandians involved in the project include project leader Pam Walker, Phil Rodacy, Susan Bender (all 2552), and Kevin McMahon (1321). - - John German

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.


Sandia experiments with new reactor prove that spent nuclear fuel is less reactive than fresh fuel

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

By Chris Burroughs

Recent experiments by Gary Harms (6423) and his team using a new Sandia-built reactor in Tech Area 5 are providing benchmarks showing that spent nuclear fuel -- uranium that has been used as fuel at a nuclear power plant -- is considerably less reactive than the original fresh fuel. This could mean significant savings in the eventual safe transport, storage, and disposal of nuclear waste.

"The conservative view has always been to treat spent fuel like it just came out of the factory with its full reactivity," Gary, project lead, says. "This results in the numbers of canisters required in the handling of spent nuclear fuel to be conservatively high, driving up shipping and storage costs."

The more realistic view is that as nuclear fuel is burned, the reactivity of the fuel decreases due to the consumption of some of the uranium and to the accumulation of fission product poisons. Accounting for this reactivity decrease, called burnup credit, would allow for the spent nuclear fuel to be safely packed in more dense arrays for transportation, storage, and disposal than would be possible if the composition changes were ignored.

"Allowing such burnup credit would result in significant cost savings in the handling of spent nuclear fuel," Gary adds.

This seems obvious on the surface, but in the ultraconservative world of nuclear critical safety, an effect must be proven before it is accepted.

Thus, prior to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ever agreeing to the more realistic view, it would have to be proven in actual experiments and compared to computer models showing the same effects.

In 1999 Gary obtained a three-year grant from the DOE Nuclear Energy Research Initiative to make benchmark measurements of the reactivity effects that fission products have on a nuclear reactor. The project was called the Burnup Credit Critical Experiment (BUCCX). Rhodium, an important fission product absorber, was chosen for the first measurements.

To do this the BUCCX team first designed and built a small reactor, technically called a critical assembly, which uses low-enriched fuel. The control system and some of the assembly hardware for the reactor came from the 1980s-era Space Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (SNTP) Critical Experiment project, designed to simulate the behavior of a nuclear rocket reactor.

"It took us most of the three years to build the reactor and get authorization to use it. Only in the last few months have we begun actual experiments," Gary says. "Much of the time was involved in getting approvals from Sandia and DOE and to make sure it meets all ES&H concerns."

"It takes a pretty big team to bring up a new reactor, even a small one, in this day and age," he added. "The team included members from all of the Area 5 departments that do reactor work. We also got considerable support from purchasing, the shops, and several of the ES&H departments."

The core of the BUCCX consists of a few hundred rods full of pellets of clean uranium that originally came from the nuclear powered ship NS Savannah. Thirty-six of the rods can be opened to insert experiment materials between the fuel pellets. Prior to conducting experiments with the rhodium, the researchers loaded the reactor to critical with only the uranium fuel. This provided a baseline point of where uranium goes critical -- information that could be compared to later experiments.

Then, the BUCCX team added about 1,200 circular rhodium foils between the uranium pellets in the 36 rods. The intent was to measure the extent to which the rhodium reduced the reactivity of the uranium.

"We then compared the critical loading of the assembly with the rhodium foils to the critical loading without rhodium," Gary says.

And, not to anyone's surprise, it took significantly more fuel to reach critical with the rhodium-doped rods than without them.

Months before running the physical experiments on the reactor, Gary was modeling on Sandia's sophisticated computers to determine where the uranium doped with rhodium would go critical.

"I was curious," Gary says, "I did calculations ahead of time so I could lay out the experiment and get a peek at what the experiments would say. In the end, I was fairly impressed with how accurate the calculations were compared to the actual physical experiments.'

Of course, the computer codes weren't perfect, and had a small bias when compared to other critical safety benchmarks. And in analyzing the actual experiments in the reactor, Gary took that bias into account.

Gary says two other fission products absorb neutrons better than rhodium. However, he selected rhodium to run the experiments because it is one of the few byproducts of fission that has a single stable isotope, which means the experiment would not be contaminated by the effects of other isotopes. Also, no one else has done any experiments with rhodium in a critical assembly. Subsequent experiments could address the dozen or so other fission products that are important to burnup credit.

Also, to his knowledge, no other lab in the US is doing actual burnup credit experiments. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is running codes to determine how much the reactivity of spent fuel is reduced by fission products, but not doing actual experiments.

At the end of the three-year funding period, Gary says the Sandia program has come a long way in proving that the reactivity of spent fuel is considerably less than that of fresh fuel.

"In essence Sandia is helping pave the way for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to address the safe and cost-efficient transport and storage of nuclear waste," Gary says. -- Neal Singer

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.


Last modified: October 31, 2002


Back to the Lab News home page

Browse current and past Lab News articles

View Sandia news releases and fact sheets Back to top of page

Questions and Comments || Acknowledgment and Disclaimer