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Lab News -- November 10, 2006

November 10, 2006

LabNews 11/10/2006PDF (650KB)

TRUPACT-III drop test nets valuable data on waste cask

By Will Keener

Taking a look at TRUPACT-III with David Miller, manager of

Sandia’s Materials Transportation Testing and Analysis Dept. 6765, the first adjective that comes to mind is “big.” The massive transportation container is impressive by any standard. TRUPACT-III is designed specifically to move large items to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant site near Carlsbad, N.M., David says. The 8.2- by 8.7- by 14-foot stainless-steel, 55,000-pound package is designed with multiple layers to protect its cargo.

Walking around TRUPACT-III, David points out the protected heads of giant bolts that hold its heavy, stainless-steel lid protection panel in place. (The actual lid is buried two feet into the package.) The energy-absorbing foam between inner and outer container boxes can’t be seen, but its presence is acknowledged by blowout plugs in the outer package. These plugs allow the foam to expand and escape in case it is caught in a fire, he says.

During the past two weeks, a team of Sandia researchers in remote Coyote Canyon have been testing the mettle of TRUPACT-III for its builder, Packaging Technology, Inc. (a subsidiary of Areva), to determine if it can qualify for Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification. A Sandia team has chilled the giant container to minus 40 degrees F, dropped it 30 feet onto an unyielding surface of battleship steel underlain by 24 feet of concrete, and attempted to puncture it at various angles of address.

Staff members from the Western Governors’ Association and the NRC, along with DOE officials, were on hand at Sandia’s Aerial Cable Site to view the tests.

The series of tests at the remote site are designed to attack all the weak points in the package, explains Doug Ammerman (6765), project manager for the testing. But the container is designed to take the beating. “It’s really a box inside a box inside a box inside a box,” says Doug. Energy absorbers between an outer and inner box will be crushed during the tests as they do their job, and although the package will look damaged, the inner containment boundary is expected to remain leak-tight. This will be confirmed when the test unit is returned to the fabricator, Engineered Products Division, in Carlsbad. Sandians Dave Bronowski (6315), Tom Gallegos, and Terry MacDonald (both 6765) used vacuum testing during the test series to spot-check the performance on an ongoing basis.

Phil Noss, licensing manager and project engineer for the Tacoma, Wash.-based container designer, views the testing as a critical step in a four-year process. The design is based on a French container, called a TN Gemini, with a rigid inner container and an integral overpack structure (see diagram below). “Layers of foam in varying thicknesses and puncture plates with an energy absorbing structure protect the package contents,” he says.

Waste won’t go directly into TRUPACT-III, but into a “standard large box” that fits in the inner TRUPACT-III container, Noss explains. The company successfully tested a half-scale version of the container three years ago at Sandia. The process had to be repeated at full scale, however, because the NRC did not accept half-scale leak test results as representative of the full-scale package. The current full-scale package is about two-thirds as long as the original Gemini package, allowing it to meet US highway transportation weight limits, Noss says.

He and his colleagues incorporated these changes and other refinements in the current version. It was fabricated beginning earlier this year in Carlsbad, under a strict quality assurance regimen. Preliminary load testing and leak testing to establish a baseline also occurred in Carlsbad before the container was shipped to Albuquerque for testing.

Marc Italiano, project manager for DOE at Carlsbad, says the containers will be used to move 5- by 5- by 8-foot boxes, containing items such as cut-up glove boxes and other odd-shaped materials from the weapons complex that will not fit into 55-gallon drums. “This will be waste from the old weapons program . . . byproducts from production, maintenance, and disposal,” says Italiano. “Most of it fits in 55-gallon drums and that’s what we use, but there is also a lot of big stuff that won’t fit.” Many items in 4- by 4- by 7-foot boxes and quite a few in 5- by 5- by 8-foot boxes remain at DOE‘s Idaho, Savannah River, Hanford, and Los Alamos sites.

“By using TRUPACT-III, we don’t have to size-reduce the stuff, which is a very complicated engineering feat,” Italiano says. Size reduction work is expensive and can involve using robots or workers dressed in protective gear. With NRC approval, TRUPACT-III can begin to move wastes to WIPP, he says.

Before gaining NRC approval however, Noss and others at Packaging Technology will write a Safety Analysis Report. The testing process, quality assurance information, and test data will be part of the SAR. Fire testing data is being provided by computer modeling and simulations rather than in a physical fire test, Doug says. NRC officials will then review the report before making a decision on the certification of the container.

“We had a big decision about where to test initially,” says Noss. “We had considered testing at Oak Ridge and also in France. But because of the size and the complexity of the container, Sandia became the choice.” -- Will Keener

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Sandia National Laboratories applies rich legacy of engineering, science, and technology to today’s most pressing national security challenges

By Julie Hall

The formation of the Defense Systems & Assessments strategic management unit at Sandia National Laboratories last year from the merger of the Military Technologies & Applications SMU and most of the Nonproliferation and Assessments SMU represents the latest chapter in a long history of the Labs’ national security work for agencies other than DOE.

From its humble beginnings in 1950, Sandia’s military work for others (WFO) has grown to represent the majority of its “work for others” funding and a mainstay for the Laboratory, where once it was considered peripheral, even controversial, by some who thought Sandia should stick to its core business — nuclear weapons engineering.

Today it represents a growing line of business for Sandia at a time of declining nuclear weapons funding. The 2005 reorganization put most of Sandia’s work for the Department of Defense and other national security agencies in the DS&A SMU, with the goal of further enhancing the management and growth of this work.

‘As if we’ve awakened from a deep sleep’

“The work that we’ve done for other federal agencies [besides DOE] has historically been at a relatively small level, a fraction of what we do overall at the Lab,” says DS&A VP Jerry McDowell. “Today, it’s as if we’ve awakened from a deep sleep to discover we’re a much larger piece than we were in the past . . . so the management of the work that we do deserves more rigor and more interaction at the national level than we’ve probably ever done before.”

Sandia’s military WFO represents about 80 percent of DS&A’s budget. In FY06, DS&A managed $490 million, or 65 percent, of the Labs’ $759 million WFO funding. DS&A’s WFO work is expected to continue to grow in coming years, with FY07 projections bringing it to 71 percent of total WFO.

The history of military WFO at Sandia is studded with numerous high-profile programs and accomplishments, such as work on the VELA satellite program in the 1960s, development and testing of reentry vehicles spanning four decades, the invention of the clean room, arms control and treaty verification work, and development of numerous technologies used in conflicts in Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In many WFO projects for defense community customers, Sandia typically plays a supporting role, a small but integral cog in a bigger machine.

“Is there a Sandia thunderbird stamped on the side [of these various systems]? No,” Jerry says. “We have contributed key parts and components and in that spirit we’re part of a team that serves the interest of the defense community, and that’s the theme that pervades everything we do.

“Sandians, both past and present, have to get satisfaction in knowing they influenced a system,” he says. “We’re likely not to be known as having created a system — we don’t do operations work. But we can take tremendous pride in serving as supporters of the guardians of peace and freedom.”

Defining WFO

Many people think of WFO as “nonnuclear” work, such as work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Department of Homeland Security. But all of Sandia’s military WFO traces its roots to capabilities developed through the nuclear weapons program.

“I know of no venue that we are involved with today in the defense and national security community that isn’t directly related to a nuclear weapons activity in some way,” Jerry says. “Our ability to help these customers has flowed from the investment in the engineering, science, and technology capabilities that underpin the nuclear weapons program.”

The widely accepted definition of WFO focuses on the funding source: Basically, any work funded by an agency or entity other than DOE/NNSA is considered to be WFO.

While not disputing the close ties between military WFO and nuclear weapons work, retired Sandian Jerry Allen also sees a reciprocal benefit between the two types of work.

“There’s another side of the equation that says . . . the weapons program is greatly helped by the WFO program,” says Jerry, who managed both weapons and WFO programs during his Sandia career. “In other words, we couldn’t be the lab we are today had we not had the WFO program because it provided the funding to develop these capabilities which are used in the weapons program.”

A controversial program

WFO started inauspiciously in 1950 with Sandia’s first “reimbursable” project. With the Atomic Energy Commission’s permission, Sandia received money from the Defense Department to study nuclear weapons effects. The weapons in existence at that time were low yield compared to later designs, and the military wanted to understand their effects on adversaries.

When the US and the Soviets agreed to suspend nuclear testing in 1958, many worried about its impact on Sandia and its funding. Sandia managers began to explore branching out into other areas. The Labs’ early opportunities to diversify came from its partner laboratories requesting engineering assistance for peacetime projects. In 1961, Sandia President Monk Schwartz formed a small directorate to examine a variety of areas of potential work for Sandia.

By 1976, reimbursable projects funded by other agencies had grown to approximately $50 million, or 18 percent of Sandia’s $280 million budget at the time. The growth was spurred in part by a concerted effort on the part of Sandia President Morgan Sparks, and later by his successor, George Dacey, to cultivate new business and new sponsors in the wake of a 10 percent “reduction-in-force” that occurred in 1973.

Despite the funding boost the programs provided, in the 1980s a cadre of people argued “vehemently” against having a WFO program, says Jerry Allen, regarding it as “distracting” to Sandia’s core mission. Some supported the program if it was kept to 10 percent or less in dollar value of the Labs’ budget. Its champions regarded it as “insurance” against what they saw as inevitable nuclear weapons funding declines and fought not only to keep the program but to expand it.

“I can remember many arguments about whether the satellite program ought to be any kind of mainstay for the laboratory,” Jerry says. Much of that perspective was driven by the desire to keep the laboratory small and fears among those who had gone through the painful layoffs of 1973 of taking on a program where funding could fluctuate year by year. With nuclear weapons funding, Sandia had a year or two advance notice on funding based on congressional appropriations, but in the WFO program, “they [the customers] don’t have to come back to you . . . We used to say we earn our bread every year,” Jerry says.

“It took a lot of the Roger Hagengrubers and Gerry Yonases to say ‘Look, industry can manage those kinds of things and so can we.’ Do we provide exceptional service to the nation only through the nuclear weapons program or do we take some risks?” Roger (ret.) led Sandia's national security work for others efforts in the mid-1980s. In 1993 the DoD portion was split off and assigned to Gerry, now 7000 vice president and principal scientist.

WFO eras

Placed on a timeline, Sandia’s major military WFO efforts would mirror capabilities developed at Sandia from the nuclear weapons program, says Jerry McDowell. “It was always deliberately our intent that work we did for the military or national security community drew on the fundamental capabilities of the laboratory that were part of the nuclear weapons program because doing so exercises them and makes them stronger,” he says.

Early on, WFO focused on testing because “testing was what was known and understood and we were really good at it.”

Missile defense work also started about the same time, growing out of Sandia’s experience using rockets to launch instruments used to observe nuclear explosions. In 1962, the Kauai Test Facility, which had been serving as a launch site for these instrumentation rockets, was established as a resource Sandia could use to do research for other agencies as well.

Military space work, which includes Sandia’s satellite work, arose in the 1960s from Sandia’s capability to detect and characterize “optical transient events,” — flashes of light — which in turn stemmed from analyzing the flashes of light accompanying a nuclear detonation.

“You’d think it would be easy to detect a nuclear explosion, but when you’re in space staring at the earth that’s illuminated by the sun, that’s a fairly bright object, so the flash from a relatively small, or even megaton-class bomb, is a dim flash,” says Andy Boye, senior manager of National Space Programs at Sandia. “On top of that, the flash lasts only thousandths of a second.”

Sandia continues to provide sensors to the military to detect atmospheric nuclear tests, supplemented by ground stations for gathering sensor data, and assistance to the military in interpreting the data gathered by the sensors.

VELA signaled the start of Sandia’s arms control and nonproliferation-related work, but it picked up momentum during the late 1980s and early 1990s as the Cold War thawed and eventually ended. Sandia provided not only technologies and hardware but also consultation.

Sandians participated in managing and advising on treaties that involved nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons all over the world. In several instances Sandians, such as Paul Stokes, Roger Hagengruber, and Stan Fraley, were directly involved in treaty negotiations in Geneva and the Soviet Union.

“Sandia recognized this obligation as a part of its custodianship of the stockpile. Custodianship doesn’t just mean you make them [nuclear weapons] reliable and safe and secure,” says John Taylor, manager of Integrated Technologies & Systems Strategic Planning. John joined Sandia in 1975 and began working in nonproliferation starting in 1983. “It also means that you understand that controlling them is an international obligation and you work to do that responsibly.

“I think we can be justifiably proud of this work because it reflects the real classic case of what I consider ultimate stockpile stewardship and that is, we build these weapons but we also understand that you have to work to eliminate them in a reasonable and appropriate way.”

Technologies such as development of the laminar airflow clean room grew out of internal needs that could not be met by technology available at the time. The advanced manufacturing group needed a way to remove dust that might contaminate close-tolerance weapons parts. Willis Whitfield had the idea to use a uniform flow of filtered air from the ceiling to the floor, or wall to wall, to remove dust from the air. His idea, which was patented in 1964, became the foundation for the $1.2 trillion electronics industry, according to figures from SEMATECH.

Sandia's current research on synthetic aperture radar and automatic target recognition can be traced back to Sandia’s work on radar fuzes and advanced navigation, guidance, and control systems for missile-delivered nuclear weapons applications. Sandia-developed SAR systems and image processing techniques are routinely deployed around the world in high-profile conflicts and have operated under every US military command. Key Sandia firsts that have pushed the envelope in SAR technology include advances in real-time, fine-resolution image formation and autofocus, fine-resolution 3-D terrain mapping, and leading-edge data exploitation techniques such as the detection of ultra-fine changes in the surface of the earth.

Another longstanding program comes from the Conventional Munitions Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed in 1985 between DOE and DoD. The MOU provides a funding mechanism for NNSA and DoD labs to jointly pursue R&D for advanced conventional munitions technology. DoD funds are matched by DOE, effectively leveraging DOE/Sandia expertise and funding. Sandia is slated to receive $14 million in FY07 through the MOU.

“It has allowed us to work collaboratively . . . on munitions technology of interest to both agencies,” says DS&A Deputy David Keese. “It’s an excellent example of cross-agency collaboration.

Looking to the future

Jerry McDowell says the DS&A SMU is at an “interesting junction.” While nuclear deterrence remains the principal strategic national security challenge for the US, the DoD and elements of the national security community are undergoing intense restructuring and transformation in response to changing strategic national security threats. For example, one of US Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) new mission areas focuses on protecting the nation’s information infrastructure from cyber threats.

Sandia is helping the military assess and counter the threats these computer systems and networks face. “We have a rich understanding of vulnerabilities to computer networks because we have historically worried and continue to worry about use and misuse of nuclear weapons,” Jerry says.

“Defensive counter space” as it applies to protecting US satellites is another emerging mission area for STRATCOM in which Sandia is involved. This might take the form of a laser threat warning system, for example, that would detect an adversary shooting a laser at a satellite. This could disable or confuse the satellite, potentially affecting precision-guided munitions and global-position systems used by soldiers.

“Our military capability depends a lot on our space assets and so if you destroy or deny their use you hinder the military’s ability to execute its mission,” says Andy.

Sandia will continue to build on its legacy of success in anticipating, understanding, and addressing such challenges, says Jerry.

“The tradition we’ve always turned to and will continue to turn to is to anticipate the strategic threats our nation faces, to rely on our rich science and technology community to create new ideas and discover new capabilities, to challenge our engineers to convert that technology into something useful and innovative for our customers, and to be engaged throughout the national security community in helping inform the national debate on security choices, because technology enables a whole new way of thinking about our future,” Jerry says. “The DS&A SMU is at the forefront of meeting these new challenges and as this work grows, the DS&A will increasingly be called upon to establish relationships with the defense and national security communities that strengthen investments in science and technology, and Lab infrastructure. This is a great time to be at the Lab and to be involved in the work of the DS&A SMU. As the motto on our seal says, we are the ‘new order for the ages.’” -- Julie Hall

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LDRD Day highlights new research directions

By Neal Singer

Martial arts masters in days of old were reputed to hold practices in difficult places to make sure only the most dedicated students would receive instruction.

So perhaps Sandia VP Rick Stulen (1000) revealed the Zen side of his nature when he chose Friday — a day when half the staff is absent — to hold the first-ever LDRD Day. “We wanted to see who would come,” he says. (LDRD is a Sandia National Laboratories program to use discretionary funds for cutting-edge R&D.)

One reason to attend would have been to see presentations selected to represent the new, more imaginative trend in LDRD’s direction.

“They’re beginning representations of the new direction,” says LDRD manager Hank Westrich (1011). Although the highlighted research projects were of LDRDs completed last year, “To be chosen, they had to map into the new investment areas.”

Sandia Fellow and presenter Jeff Brinker (1002) analyzed, “The direction seems to be to highlight LDRDs that can be explained to the outer world as having impact, rather than another widget.”

“One objective [of LDRD Day] is to enhance collaboration between staff,” Rick tells the Lab News. “Without a public show, there’s no visibility between investment areas. This way, staff can come and listen to talks and learn what is going on.”

“It’s critically important that Sandians learn about each other’s work,” says Wendy Cieslak, manager of ST&E Strategic Initiatives (1010). “Communication across technical and programmatic areas raises the impact.”

A fluctuating audience of approximately 200 Sandians did so learn, alternating among 10 presentations and 23 posters in the Steve Schiff Auditorium.

What were those presentations? The Lab News is limited in what it could cover in the few hours, but here were some to give a flavor of the desirable, chosen by happenstance:

Six awards for projects ending in the past three years were given across the self-evident LDRD themes of Discover, Create, and Prove. They were also shared equally across the two major LDRD program areas of Science, Technology & Engineering and Mission Technologies. -- Neal Singer

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