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Lab News -- March 17, 2006

March 17, 2006

LabNews 03/17/2006PDF (650KB)

Global Nuclear Energy Partnership: Another step on a long and winding road

By Will Keener

To many citizens, the announcement of a nuclear energy partnership in President Bush’s February State of the Union address was news. For Sandians involved in helping to shape and achieve the vision of an environmentally and politically safe future fueled by nuclear power, it was another step in a decade-long journey.

The start of the journey came in the winter of 1996, when then-VP Tom Hunter made a presentation, embracing a vision he and colleagues Roger Hagengruber and Joan Woodard had developed, to the DOE’s Bruce Twining. This was followed by some earnest discussions with Sen. Pete Domenici after what Tom Sanders (6020) describes as “the zeroing of the nuclear energy R&D budget” in Congress in 1997.

Sandia has continued to participate, often quietly in the background, in dozens of studies, meeting, briefings, and collaborations to further the cause of nuclear energy. Tom Sanders, manager of Sandia’s Global Nuclear Futures initiative, stacks dozens of documents and presentations on his desk as he thinks back over the years.

“Basically, if you run through the chronology, we have been urging some of the things that came out of GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) since 1996,” he says. “Our concern as a national security lab has always been that you can’t influence nuclear safety, security, and proliferation risks at the global level if you’re not in the nuclear business. By that I mean we, as a country, have to be on the leading edge of research in both the universities and the labs and have an American-based nuclear supply industry that is capable of being a leading supplier across the globe.”

Invisible leadership

With Tom as chief strategist and with help from dozens of Sandians from across the labs, Sandia set in motion a plan to work with nongovernmental organizations, other labs, DOE, Congress, and other decision-makers. “Our role has been invisible leadership,” says Tom, “organizing and articulating the arguments for US leadership from the perspective of the national security implications of what might happen, domestically and globally, if we don’t go forward with nuclear energy.”

By 2001, Sandia had established a relationship with the Kurchatov Institute in Russia to develop and articulate an argument for the original nuclear powers providing global nuclear services together. This effort was later expanded at a Vienna, Austria, meeting, chaired by Sandia’s then-Director C. Paul Robinson, to involve seven US and nine Russian federation laboratories (Lab News, Aug. 20, 2004).

More recently, the effort took on new momentum with growing support of the White House and other leaders. A “kitchen cabinet” made up of high-level private advisors helped press the ideas forward. President Bush’s August signing of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 at Sandia (Lab News, Aug. 19, 2005) further propelled the nuclear power agenda.

Uniquely positioned

GNEP will provide opportunities for Sandia to continue its efforts in a number of areas, says VP for Energy, Security, and Defense Technology Les Shephard (6000). “We are uniquely positioned to lead the efforts in nuclear facility safety, security and reliability, nonproliferation, current and future safeguard practices, and the myriad of issues associated with the disposal of radioactive waste.” In addition, Les expects Sandia to be actively engaged with various laboratory, university, and industry partners in modeling and simulation using high-performance computing capabilities, advanced manufacturing, a center for transuranic fuel, and the development of small transportable reactors.

“This is a time for the multilab complex to really come together,” says Les.

In fact, a seven-laboratory action plan — produced as a Sandia report in 2003 — set a tone of cooperation among DOE’s laboratories and strongly advocated for measures that are included in the partnership proposal. (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia comprise the group.)

One conclusion of that report was that the US needs “a technology leap to the 21st century” to reestablish global influence. Such a leap involves a new generation of large reactors with twice the efficiency of the current generation, with smart manufacturing to:

• reduce wastes by 90 percent,

• provide renewable fuel supplies for several centuries, and

• enable export of long-lived right-sized reactors to developing world markets.

Many roles to play

Some possible roles for Sandia include:

• Demonstrating new, smaller reactor systems for a substantial international market. By teaming with Los Alamos, Argonne, and others, Sandia can leverage its small-reactor design experience to support development of a new US nuclear supply industry.

• Using Sandia’s Power Tower to study processes for hydrogen generation, Sandia can create a fast-track large-scale demonstration of the feasibility of hydrogen production in a nuclear reactor.

• Developing, testing, and qualifying new materials and electronics for the extreme radiation and thermal environments of next-generation nuclear reactors.

• Contributing to the management and integration of repository science supporting Yucca Mountain, and in security, safety, and licensing efforts.

• Using science-based engineering to model and simulate the fuel cycle to improve the process of moving from raw materials to fuel to reprocessing and provide technology for process controls and transparent operations.

• Using Sandia’s materials know-how to develop new fabrication techniques for specialty reactor components, providing a competitive advantage to US industry.

• Finding new approaches to physical security systems and new technologies needed to ensure control of materials in all phases of the nuclear energy process.

Far to go, but future is bright

While there is far to go along the road, Tom Sanders is optimistic that the vision of a nuclear-powered world is achievable, even inevitable. “There’s no way that there’s a future without global nuclear energy. You can’t ignore the energy achievable from fission and fusion resources. It is renewable and sufficient to supply mankind for thousands of years,” he says. In the short term, he plans to continue what he’s been doing — staying on message, building an expanding constituency, leading from behind the scenes. “Leadership is earned not delegated,” says Tom, “and we must keep moving forward, leading by doing.” -- Will Keener

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Report: Address global water scarcity, water quality issues around the world now

By Chris Burroughs

The time is now to address the devastating effects of increasing water scarcity and declining water quality around the world. This is according to a recently released white paper written jointly by Sandia and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The paper, “Addressing Our Global Water Future,” came about following two conferences last year in Washington. There, representatives of high-profile influential companies, government officials, and technical experts discussed US policies in regions of the world where the US has strategic interests. Discussions centered on countries with dwindling fresh water supplies and the technologies needed to help resolve the water problems.

The primary white paper authors are Howard Passell (6115) of Sandia and Laura Keating of CSIS. Numerous others from both Sandia and CSIS contributed to the document.

Why does Sandia care if there is adequate potable drinking water in places other than the US?

The reason, says Ray Finley, manager of Geohydrology Dept. 6115, is that Sandia, as a national security laboratory, has the responsibility to help provide for the security of the US. That includes regions of the world that are of strategic importance to the US and can impact this country’s national security.

“The lack of clean water can create conditions that lead to destabilization in regions of the world that are already poor and having problems,” he says. “Lack of potable water can result in famine, conflict over resources, and poor governance. This threatens the security of those countries and ultimately the security of the US.”

Examples can be seen in the instability in the Middle East and Africa — both places where fresh water is in short supply for both consumption and sanitation.

The report expands this theme, saying that “global trends of increasing population, increasing resource consumption, and decreasing natural resource availability — including fresh water — have pushed many human social, economic, and political systems to an important tipping point. . . . We face large-scale future dislocations and crises unless significant action is taken now by leaders in both developed and developing countries.”

The white paper made several other findings. They include:

• Water is a foundation for human prosperity. Adequate, high-quality water supplies provide a basis for the growth and development of human social, economic, cultural, and political systems. Conversely, economic stagnation and political instability will persist or worsen in those regions where the quality and reliability of water supplies remain uncertain.

• Water problems are geopolitically destabilizing. Water scarcity and poor water have the potential to destabilize isolated regions within countries or regions sharing limited sources of water. There is an increasing likelihood of social strife and armed conflict resulting from pressures of water scarcity and mismanagement.

• Poor governance and poor economies in regions around the world where water is scarce impair the application of innovative technology and innovative policies.

• Solutions must be innovative, revolutionary, and self-sustaining. Traditional technologies for improvement of freshwater availability and quality are inadequate to meet global needs in a timely way.

• Effective water planning and management at local and regional levels require collaboration from a variety of people, including farmers, urban developers, environmentalists, industrialists, policy makers, citizens, and others.

• No single government agency, nongovernmental organization, corporation, international organization, or academic institution can provide all the expertise required to meet the challenges of solving the water challenges. Partnerships are required.

• New ways of funding water projects internationally need to be developed.

• Solutions must be tailored to the socioeconomic, political, and geographic conditions of a region.

• Water can be a powerful and effective foreign policy tool. Finding solutions to water problems can significantly support many US strategic objectives.

To help resolve many of the world’s water issues, the white paper recommends the US government develop a long-range strategy for how it engages internationally in water resources.

The paper also says the US should carry out an inventory of existing international water-related policies and projects, identify a lead agency to coordinate the development of an integrated strategy, undertake a region-by-region review of resources, and engage regional experts, third-party groups, and the community to come up with solutions.

“Ultimately what the report says is that we must acknowledge that US international water policy has implications that transcend traditional humanitarian and foreign assistance interests,” Finley says. -- By Chris Burroughs

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California site celebrates 50 years and rededicates

By Nancy Garcia


Sandia/California’s 50 years of accomplishments were feted in three days of celebration last week, including a rededication ceremony in which Mim John, VP of the California Laboratory, looked to the past and future and welcomed back pioneering employees and four former vice presidents of the site.

“Our work has been shaped by our engineering and science missions and the events of the world,” Mim noted, saying she felt both proud and humbled. The site was officially established March 8, 1956, to provide engineering oversight for nuclear weapons whose explosive “physics packages” were being developed across the street at what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

From a couple of dozen employees who initially worked in a former Navy barracks, the site grew by the 1960s to a workforce that has stayed at about 1,100. Programs branched from strictly defense to include energy, bioscience, and microfluidics. Sponsors expanded to include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and interactions spread to involve industry, academia, and the state and region.

Labs President and Director Tom Hunter, himself a former California site VP, was the first to speak at Wednesday’s rededication ceremony. He said the world has changed remarkably in the last five decades but he is convinced “the nuclear deterrent will capture and maintain an enduring peace that can contribute to a more confident and secure world. . . . I think we can set the stage for looking at security in a whole new way.”

Mel Bernstein, who had just been named the previous week as acting director of the DHS Office of Research and Development (and was once offered work at Sandia/California), acknowledged that transformation and promise by observing the California laboratory has “an incredible gift — the ability to adapt and to be flexible.”

At the close of the event, retired Sandia Executive VP John Crawford, who also was a vice president of the California site, noted that the site’s talented staff enjoys access to well-equipped facilities and responds with agility to opportunities, expertly melding science and engineering.

‘Pound for pound you’re the best’

Keynote speaker Johnny Foster, retired director of LLNL, also lauded that uniqueness, saying, “Pound for pound, you’ve outperformed the other labs.”

He recalled the question posed to him by the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1962: whether LLNL should concentrate on nuclear work and LANL should focus on science? He responded after a moment that he believed both should continue competing and cooperating.

Foster said he still believes competition is critical for technological leadership in the face of new potential adversaries.

As nuclear weapons age and are retired from the stockpile, he said, the deterrent threat must still be viewed as credible. There are less than one-tenth the number of active warheads and warhead types in the current stockpile than during the Cold War. With approval of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, new components and features may be introduced, but the possibility that unknown failure modes would be introduced requires a higher standard of reliability, Foster said.

He offered four suggestions:

• Create an improved process for learning from past failure modes and competitively develop a new learning process.

• Apply the new process to the design and production of refurbished weapons and the RRW.

• Provide additional assurance of reaching targets by using two different warhead types for each weapon system.

• Introduce an incentive reward system for Red and Blue teams during the annual certification of the stockpile.

He said ensuring the stockpile is safe, secure, reliable, and credible is so important that Sandia’s California and New Mexico laboratories should compete in addition to LANL and LLNL and directors of all four laboratories should be called upon when certifying the stockpile.

“This is a first-class lab in a beautiful setting,” Foster concluded. “I give great credit, particularly to all the folks who have worked here over the years.”

Gayle Cain, one of the 82 Sandians who worked at the California site in 1956, marveled at the tremendous growth. He said the city had 6,000 residents and he had to wait two months for a house to go on the market, buying one of the two that went up for sale. Also present at the ceremony were Sandia pioneers Frank Murar and Pat Gildea, as well as about 900 employees or retirees and guests.

The audience heard remarks from LLNL’s Bruce Goodwin, associate director for Defense and Nuclear Technologies; Jerry Paul, principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; Jim Decker, principal deputy director of the DOE Office of Science; and Garry George, head of the Engineering and Systems Division of the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Forming a vision for the future

Former California Laboratory VP Tom Cook commented that he was particularly proud the slate of speakers made so much mention of the role of science. His successor to head the site, retiree Dick Claassen, said he was gratified by the interaction with all the outside groups (for instance, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors had a proclamation presented at the event).

“It was a time to look back at both the people and the challenges that frame this laboratory,” commented Tom Hunter, who was vice president of the site just prior to Mim. “Now it’s really important to take those and form the vision for the future. We see Sandia/California as an important part of that. The strong relationship with Lawrence Livermore was recognized by all the speakers. It’s deeper than the mission in how people engage each other; there is camaraderie as they collaborate and compete.”

Added John Crawford, “So many organizations recognized the value of this laboratory over a long period of years, it confirms they are adding a lot of value. Hopefully these kinds of comments will make people understand their work is appreciated.”

Mim summed up factors in that success: exceptionally committed staff, leadership, outstanding partners, and a very supportive set of sponsors. -- Nancy Garcia

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