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Sandia assumes role as Lead Lab for Repository Systems at Yucca Montain Project

Sandia’s ’determined and dedicated’ Yucca Mountain team is up and running. The team's challenge: to provide a defensible license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by 2008 for the use of the Yucca Mountain facility as a nuclear waste repository.

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Lab News -- January 5, 2007

January 5 , 2007

LabNews 01/05/2007PDF (650KB)

Sandia’s ’determined and dedicated’ Yucca Mountain team up and running

Related story: Tailoring Sandia IT systems for the Yucca Mountain effort

By Will Keener

It was the first Tuesday in October and Andrew Orrell worried that it was going to be a tough audience. The senior manager for Sandia’s Yucca Mountain Project office in Las Vegas (6780) and his staff of about 175 had spent the weekend moving into or readjusting to space in three buildings in the Summerlin area of Las Vegas. Now they were assembling for their first official all-hands meeting with Sandia as the lead laboratory for repository systems under the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM).

The team included new employees, veterans of Bechtel SAIC (the proj-ect’s M&O contractor), a number of relocated Sandians from Albuquerque, employees of Los Alamos and several other national laboratories. It also included a core of Labs employees in Las Vegas who were already at work on the mammoth project in Sandia’s previous role as one of several research institutions supporting the project.

Looking out at the expectant faces, Orrell launched into his talk — the official inauguration of Sandia’s role as lead laboratory. “The idea was to simultaneously introduce the management team, discuss Sandia culture and our business systems, and review management expectations and the current status of our effort to prepare the license application,” Andrew says.

At meeting’s end: “It was clear our workforce is a determined and dedicated group. I got a lot of feedback saying they appreciate the importance of the mission we have and they like the empowerment they get from Sandia and our management team.”

New era

With that, a new era at Yucca Mountain was off and running. Says Andrew, “It’s an excellent mix of people spanning Yucca Mountain, WIPP, and nuclear industry experience, with individuals from Sandia, subcontractors, and other national labs in staff or lead management roles. We created a team with the intent of bringing the right people to the right job in a way that’s largely transparent as far as who the actual employer is.”

Although the current effort — to provide a defensible license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by 2008 — may be as fraught with challenge as previous efforts, the new team is forging ahead, Andrew said in a recent Lab News interview.

Following a January 2006 announcement in Washington that Sandia was to become the OCRWM’s Lead Laboratory for Repository Systems, Andrew and other managers at Sandia had nine months to develop and put a transition plan in place. “That was very useful for us to put our business and management systems in place,” Andrew says. “But we didn’t get a lot of time to exercise these systems in the real world, so during the first few weeks we’ve had some expected — and some unexpected — bumps. These are mostly things we have to modify to accommodate unique project requirements.”

Cindy Huber (4538), Jerry Esch (4520), and John Zepper (4320) are working on the information technology transition issues for the site, including a shared systems agreement with Bechtel to bridge the gap until early this year, when Sandia’s own network will be fully operational. The large workforce, distributed around the world, needs a collaborative cyber environment, now nearing completion. (See ‘Tailoring Sandia IT’ on this page.)

“We were able to reach back into the corporation and get the systems and support we needed to make the Las Vegas office a full-fledged office for Sandia,” says Andrew.

License application

Can Sandia manage the delivery of a “credible and defensible” license application for Yucca Mountain to the NRC by June 30, 2008? “Our position is that it has to be done and that we can do it,” says Andrew. “There are numerous technical and political challenges besetting the project, as there have been in the past, but there is a strong sense we can, we have to, and we will do it.”

Sandia is responsible for “about half” of a 7,000-page license application. The application has a preclosure design, engineering, and operations section, which is the responsibility of Bechtel-SAIC. The long-term performance section, called the post- closure performance assessment will be Sandia’s contribution. The term “post-closure” spans the time when Yucca Mountain operations cease, in 50 years or so, up to one million years out.

Recent regulation changes have pushed the post-closure timeframe from 10,000 years to one million years. “The license application and underlying technical basis must take into account all of the significant physical processes that could affect the repository system for a long, long time,” says Andrew.

To do this requires the documentation of technical analyses, field data, testing, and modeling/simulation work — all integrated into a final product called the post-closure performance assessment. Sandia’s business and management systems underpin the entire technical effort, providing quality assurance, project management, and other support functions.

The performance assessment technical basis effort, managed by Kathryn Knowles (6781), is supported by hundreds of workers from Sandia, subcontractors, other national labs (principally Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories), the US Geological Survey, consultants, and universities. Andrew’s rough “member of the workforce” calculations show that the project actually involves contributions from more than 600 people, or about 350 full-time equivalents.

As an example of the work involved, consider the project’s approach to the waste packages that will hold the spent-fuel rods beneath Yucca Mountain. The large corrosion-resistant steel containers will be exposed to an evolving environment, with thermal, chemical, and hydrological aspects. Researchers need to assess and predict how long these containers will last before they corrode and what the consequences of breached containers might be.

“Kathryn and her team have to take into account the nominal environment as well as possible disruptive events such as volcanic or seismic activity,” says Andrew.

“This requires multidisciplinary expertise involving math and science, engineering, software, field and lab testing, as well as business systems and quality engineering specialties,” Kathryn says.

“All the supporting data and models developed over the years by numerous participants are then integrated in a total system performance assessment, which tells us if we comply with the regulations the NRC has set. It’s very analogous to what we did at WIPP; and that’s one of the reasons we have been asked to manage here,” Kathryn says.

Once all the performance assessment work is done, it must be captured in the license application document. Tito Bonano (6783) has the job of compiling the license application safety analysis reports. “The license application, and its defense in licensing hearings before the NRC, will be the culmination of three decades of technical work,” Tito says.

“We are working closely with our counterparts at DOE and Bechtel,” Tito adds, “to produce a license application that is truly credible and defensible in a rigorous and demanding regulatory environment.”

“We know the work and we have the most relevant management experience in performing and managing work to support the regulatory process,” Andrew says. “There are many talented technical people available, but few have managed a repository process of this type. DOE has asked Sandia to assume this responsibility and we look forward to successfully bringing that experience to bear on the project.”

Tailoring Sandia IT systems for the Yucca Mountain effort

John Zepper, Jerry Esch, and Cindy Huber have accepted a real information technology challenge: working with the new Las Vegas office to adapt corporate systems to the demands of Sandia as lead laboratory for the Yucca Mountain Project.

“We are trying to use existing systems where possible, rather than duplicating or reinventing the wheel,” says John, senior manager in Computing Systems and Technical Integration Dept. 4320. The site at Las Vegas has presented numerous challenges to the leaders and staff working on the project.

“The Las Vegas site is a lot more collaboratively based and we have to move our existing applications into that collaborative environment,” says John. Cindy, a technical staff member from Enterprise Database Administration Dept. 4538, has been traveling to Las Vegas weekly for the past several months. She acts as the forward point, working to understand the site’s IT requirements. The rest of the team then works to deploy those requirements in existing or new IT systems.

The team is adapting SharePoint to allow researchers to collaborate on scientific documents and share information, says Cindy. It also allows discussions outside of email using discussion boards and provides a document versioning and a check-in/check-out function. Sandia’s familiar training program, TEDS, will also be used in Las Vegas, along with the addition of some specially designed scientific courses.

“People must be appropriately trained to do the quality work needed to support the license application,” says Cindy. As a result, multiple classes designed specifically for Yucca Mountain will be added.

To allow the Las Vegas staff access to Sandia business policies, the team created a special category, allowing Yucca Mountain staff access to the business rules, but restricting other data. “We have a significant number of foreign nationals and that is combined with the fact that we have 200 staff members in Las Vegas, a sizable workforce in Albuquerque, and another 300 to 500 at other labs, colleges, and institutions. All of them need access for the work they need to do,” says Cindy.

The team is addressing various configuration management applications, project management software, and a new Lead Lab Connect Website (deployed to show Sandia’s presence as lead.) Sandia is working on an analysis of an existing technical data management system and will submit a proposal to redevelop that system next year.

The team is working on a new people management application to help cope with extensive reporting requirements at the site required by DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Another proposal addresses a video conferencing capability, critical to the collaborations that are hallmarks to the project. “As our Sandia IT presence here expands, people are contacting us regularly with new requests for IT support,” says Cindy.

Sandia will unveil a new computer network at the site this month. In addition to deploying the Sandia common operating environment, Sandia will be staffing three to four full-time desktop support positions in Las Vegas. “The schedule is happening very quickly,” says John. “It’s a very tight schedule and there’s a lot to be done.”

Also helping on the IT team are: Steve Gossage (4336), Susan Sackinger (4343), Tim Spears (4334), Phil Cox (4329), and additional staff across Sandia networking, desktop, server, cyber security, application, and database organizations, with involvement from application development groups in Division 6000 as well. -- Will Keener

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A safer food supply: Sandia and FDA team to make it so

By Neal Singer

Like Johnny Appleseed of yore, the Food and Drug Administration is planning on scattering computerized food-defense programs across the US early this year so that the country’s million or so food processors can better secure their food against possible contamination by terrorists.

A team of Sandians is leading the nearly completed effort to computerize the FDA program so that it can be distributed as widely as possible.

The soon-to-be-downloadable program, called “CARVER + Shock,” provides a series of interactive questions. Food-processing employees can learn it in a few hours. The program helps companies of any size determine vulnerabilities along their food-processing chain. It also warns of the attractiveness of each production step to an invader.

“People who used the [initial test, or] beta version said it was easy to use and fun,” says David Acheson, director of the FDA’s Office of Food Safety, Defense, and Outreach, which funded the work. “You build flow charts by dragging icons onto the screen.”

The point is to enable the large number of companies that may be unskilled in risk assessments to make evaluations on their own.

Attacking the jugular

CARVER was originally developed by the US military to evaluate targets to determine which would be most attractive to an adversary. Its current use, computerized under the supervision of Sandia researchers, applies this method to food production from the target’s point of view.

“In warfare, the military must attack the jugular of its opponent,” says principal investigator Phil Pohl (6766). “Here, we ask the same tough questions, but to identify the food supply jugular and protect it."

Specifically, the CARVER questions follow its acronym to ask how critical, accessible, recognizable, and vulnerable each part of any food process is, as well as the physical effect of an unwanted intervention and how long it would take to recover from it.

“Shock” rates the degree to which a specific attack on the food chain would raise public apprehension.

“An attack on a baby food plant would produce more emotional shock than one on a frozen pizza plant,” says Sandia researcher Susan Carson (6766), who worked on software that helped develop the questions needed for a one-size-fits-all program. “We factor that in.”

Shadowing the FDA staff

The conversion from questions-asked-in-person to questions-asked-by-computer began with Susan and Phil shadowing FDA staff at meetings with industry personnel and writing down the questions asked.

Former Sandian Regina Hunter and son Madison Link, through their Albuquerque-based company Ducks in a Row, also took part in some interviews and then, with Phil and Susan, put together the design interface.

As Hunter colorfully puts it, “How do you reproduce the process of a bunch of guys gassing around the table and put it into a series of questions that needs to be asked by computer?”

(Earlier work led by Hunter on a Sandia code called RAMPART, which asked risk-based questions about natural disasters, gave her experience in developing icons and testing for program bugs always present in any complex software.)

Robert Browitt of Albuquerque-based Architrave Software, who also attended some interviews, put the questions into code. “Sandians have brilliant ideas and I implement them into a usable professional product,” he says.

Access by terrorists?

But could CARVER’s questions — “more than a hundred, less than 200,” says Susan — be useful to terrorist groups in determining where to attack?

“The software [by itself] is not a checklist,” says Sandia manager Jeff Danneels (6766), whose background is in risk and security assessments. “It won’t tell you where vulnerabilities in a process are. The companies who use it will have to control access to their results. But the only way many stay in business — particularly for the largest — has always been to keep their products proprietary and secret. They’ll have to do the same here.”

The food-defense project began in longhand, in effect, in response to the federal Bioterrorism Act of 2002, which said the industry should be prepared to defend against any contingency that might arise.

In partial response, the FDA increased its work with the food industry to determine any overlooked vulnerabilities. The joint meetings are time- and labor-intensive; it may take key employees of a given plant several days to discuss food production with an eye to determining the site’s most vulnerable points.

Thus, working person-to-person, the agency only was able to reach a limited number of those in the food industry.

Getting a handle on vulnerabilities

“The computerized tool will allow many more industries and states to get a better idea of where their vulnerabilities lie in food processing and manufacturing,” says Acheson.

“This is the best thing to come out of Washington in a long time,” says David Fish, plant manager of Breedlove Dehydrated Foods, a large nonprofit food processor in Lubbock, Texas. “We’re all aware of vulnerabilities in our food chain, even if it’s unintentional, like the [harmful E. coli on spinach] that killed several people and sickened hundreds.”

“This is the only quantifiable tool I know of for the food industry,” says Frank Busta, director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, a federally funded consortium of six universities headquartered at the University of Minnesota. “I don’t know if it’s the be-all-to-end-all. There’ll be evaluations of the system as we move forward — what’s incidental, what’s extremely important — to refine it into a better and better instrument. But the Sandia project to computerize [the questions] should ease its use a lot. This is the first computerized step.”

FDA employees Don Kautter and Amy Barringer contributed to the work, as did Cory Bryant, Sarah Davis, and Fred Shank of the Institute of Food Technologists.

Acheson says the FDA is working up a marketing plan to increase awareness of the program, which should be available in late January on the FDA’s website at -- Neal Singer

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Nuclear Weapons team celebrates milestone: ISO certification

By Stephanie Holinka

Members of the Nuclear Weapons SMU, Centers 2400, and 2700 celebrated an important milestone on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The Nuclear Weapons SMU, including its Manufacturing Science & Technology and Neutron Generator Production activities, has been registered by BSI, Inc., North America's leading provider of management systems registration, to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2000 management standard.

This represents a milestone for the Laboratories, and was the result of great effort by team members charged with its undertaking, says Deputy Director for the Nuclear Weapons Program Joan Woodard.

“Usually we are the world innovators, but in this case we needed to steal the best ideas from business in order to honor the critical nature of the work we do,” Joan says. “We’re in a serious business and the taxpayers of this nation demand this of us.

“When you consider the importance and the sensitive nature of our work, can you think of any better reasons to have standardized products, services, and processes? Any better reasons for continual improvement?,” she says.

ISO was established in 1947 as a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from more than 140 countries. It promotes standardization of business practices and products as a way to foster economic prosperity. ISO’s work results in international agreements that are published as international standards for every thing from manufactured products to businesses processes.

Dave Carlson, chief operating officer of the Nuclear Weapons SMU, explained the importance of standards setting to industry, talking about how standardization of such ordinary things as railroad gauges and screw threads contributed to the ability of industry to innovate.

“ISO standards make a positive difference,” Dave says. “Not just to engineers and manufacturers for whom they solve basic problems in production and distribution, but to society as a whole.”

Patty Wagner, NNSA Sandia Site Office director, reminded audience members about the standards clauses in Sandia’s contract with the DOE, and expressed hope that the internalization of the standards process would allow SSO to “change the way we do oversight.”

The NWSMU began the process of ISO certification in 2001, and partnered with an external lead ISO lead auditor and consultant to develop their certification plan.

Chuck Meyers, who led the ISO process, pointed out that the reward for the effort is not really the certificate.

“The real power comes from improving our management system through predictable, repeatable, measured processes that reduce rework and errors,” says Chuck.

Gene Morrison, BSI’s Regional Vice President for the West USA, came from Chicago to present the registration certificate and warned the group that this was only the beginning of their journey. “You have established a foundation.”

Other groups at Sandia have gone through the certification process of ISO certification including Telecommunications Operations Dept. 9334, International Contracts and Import Export Control Dept. 10257, Manufacturing Enterprise Departments 14181, 14186, and 14111 and the Material Processing and Coatings Laboratory. -- Stephanie Holinka

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