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Lab News --July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

LabNews07/02/2010PDF (2 Mb)

Sandian Tom Friedmann awarded NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal

By Neal Singer

Tom Friedmann (01112) was one of six researchers awarded NASA’s Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal (EEAM) at a ceremony June 15 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He received the award for the quality of the diamond-like carbon thin films he contributed to the Genesis science mission. The other five winners were all members of JPL.

The purpose of the Genesis mission was to collect the solar wind that is ejected from the outer portion of the sun, itself thought a kind of fossil of the original nebula that transformed into our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. The captured materials could test the validity of solar-formation models. The EEAM award acknowledges Tom’s contributions as critical for mission success.

 “The films were selected due to their purity,”says Tom. “They made possible the sensitive determination of the composition of the solar wind that implanted itself in the samples during the mission.”

The Genesis collector arrays house the high-purity materials into which solar wind ions are implanted. The total surface area of the collector arrays is over 1 square meter (11 square feet). (NASA photo)

Because the solar wind is diffuse, the Genesis probe exposed the film samples on orbit for more than two years at the Earth-Sun Lagrangian point (the point where earth and sun’s gravity cancel) to obtain statistically significant implants. The satellite then folded up its collectors and returned to Earth for sample analysis.

“The reentry was supposed to be managed by deploying a parachute and gently catching the probe with a helicopter,” Tom told the Lab News. “Unfortunately, the parachute did not deploy due to the misorientation of an accelerometer that was supposed to be activated by the deceleration upon reentry.”

Because the sensor was installed backward, the satellite then crashed into the Arizona desert. Although this resulted in contamination of the samples, the Genesis team was able to recover and clean most of the samples and still accomplish much of its ongoing science mission, Tom says.

The Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal, established in 1991, is awarded to both government and nongovernment individuals for unusually significant engineering contributions toward achieving NASA’s mission.

 According to a NASA handout, “Accomplishments are far above others in quality, scope, and impact. Accomplishments are explicit, demonstrate results, and are perceived as outstanding or significant by peers and impacted target groups.” 

  For information regarding the Genesis mission see:  For information regarding NASA awards see:

-- Neal Singer

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Groundbreaking Sandia study ties climate uncertainties to economies of US states

By Neal Singer

You don’t tug on the cape of your insurance company to recompense you for damages unless you bought its product before the accident.

 Similarly, a new Sandia climate-change study that models the near-term effects of declining rainfall in each of the 48 continental US states makes clear the toll in agricultural, industrial, financial, and involuntary human population shifts that could occur unless an appropriate amount of initial investment — a kind of upfront insurance payment — is made to forestall much larger economic problems down the road.

Why tie climate change to economics? “In the absence of any idea about costs, the need to address climate change seems remote and has a diluted sense of urgency,” study lead George Backus (1433) says.

Downplaying the usual flash-points in climate-change discussion —  catastrophic events and legislative interventions  — the Sandia study uses probability techniques familiar to insurance companies to place dollar estimates on the effects of climate change in the absence of mitigation or other policy initiatives over the 2010-2050 time period.

The analysis used the results delivered by a variety of computational models reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment Report. From those, the Sandia report estimates the range of precipitation conditions — from lows to highs — that could occur across the states. The study then presents the consequence of those levels of precipitation on the states’ economies.

“On the one hand, there’s a lot of uncertainty in quantifying climate change,” George says. “Everyone sees that. It’s this uncertainty that presents the greatest difficulty for policy makers. If society knew how change would exactly unfold, we could undertake adaptation and mitigation responses.

“Yet,” George and his team write in the introduction to their paper, in other areas, “despite uncertainty about the future, cost-benefit analyses are conducted on a daily basis as aids for policymakers on issues of critical importance to the nation such as health care, social security, and defense.”

By summarizing consequences over the range of predicted change — from the smallest to the greatest — the Sandia study is able to present a coherent grouping of results. Then, using well-accepted computer models, the study projects the net effect of climate change on a state’s agricultural and industrial base, and the subsequent  movement of populations for livable wages.

California, the Pacific Northwest, and Colorado, for example, are the only states in the study that seem to benefit overall from the variation in precipitation that climate change might engender. That is because population would leave those states whose economy is hit hardest by reduced water availability, moving into and stimulating the economies of the less-affected states.

While the uncertainty in climate change predictions because of the wide range of model results are often given as a reason by those skeptical of climate change to ignore the problem, the study’s authors take a point of view more common to insurance companies.

In insurance, George says, greater uncertainty means greater risk. In such cases, insurance companies merely reflect the higher risk in a higher insurance premium. For example, the rates for well-understood risks, such as taking a commercial airline flight, are far lower than those for less-understood risks, such as taking a privately funded rocket flight.

 “The real effect of climate-change doubters in emphasizing the limitation of the models is to accentuate risk,” George says. “To an insurance company, this would mean this area is more dangerous, not less. The proper action for those skeptics who want to halt government initiatives in climate policies is to reduce the uncertainty and demonstrate, if possible, that the future climatic conditions will remain below dangerous levels.”

Thus far, the only existing models say that if nothing is done now, “By the time the negative effects of climate change significantly affect populations,” George says, “it will be too late to prevent the escalating damage.”

Though the study stops short of applying its techniques to address effective mitigation techniques, its writers mention the early building of sea walls against the expected rise of oceans, planting crops resistant to drought, and removing carbon from the atmosphere through reforestation or geological sequestration.

A further limitation is that the study only considers the impacts of near-term climate change on the US, disregarding worldwide impacts. It also has the imprecisions that result from neglecting a large number of influencing factors. It does not provide a risk analysis or reliability study of amelioration techniques. But the study concludes that “the larger challenge lies not in the technical difficulties of such [analyses] but rather in the communication of the risk and uncertainty in a manner that connects to the vital concerns of the policymakers.”
The take-away point: “It is the uncertainty associated with climate change that validates the need to act protectively and proactively.” [Emphasis in original text] -- Neal Singer

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NNSA saves $4 million disposing of contaminated excess machine tools at Sandia/California

By Mike Janes

NNSA announced in June that it has removed contaminated excess machine tools at Sandia’s California site by forging an innovative partnership with an outside vendor that saved taxpayers millions.

“After overcoming several disposition challenges, we successfully executed a strategy that resulted in significant savings to NNSA and American taxpayers,” says Randal Scott, NNSA’s deputy associate administrator for Infrastructure and Environment. “The removal of the contaminated tools at Sandia/California is another example of NNSA’s commitment to turning a Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise.”

Sandia/California’s Bldg. 979 housed machine tools that had been used to support a wide array of research and development projects since the early 1990s. Ken Buck (8236) and Jerry Fordham (8236-2) were the owners of the operation and equipment and initiated the clean-up project in 2007.

IN A PARTNERSHIP among Sandia, NNSA, and Oak Ridge-based Toxco Inc., a suite of machine tools contaminated during their period of mission-related work has been safely removed from the California site, saving taxpayers some $4 million in recycling and disposition costs. Here, the crated tools are loaded onto a truck for transport to Toxco’s facility in Tennessee. (NNSA photo).

Toff Garcia (8517) negotiated all aspects of the clean-up activities, while others such as Wendy Dolstra (8516), Kelly Wendell (8236-2), and Pam Williams (8525) also played critical roles. “It was a real team effort, one that we had to have in order to pull this off,” Toff says.

The R&D work supported by the machine tools was completed in recent years, resulting in a determination that the tools were no longer needed by DOE and NNSA and could be disposed of as excess.

“It was important that we execute a disposition plan for a number of reasons, such as potential regulatory concerns and the loss of revenue-generating space,” explains Ken. “But first and foremost, the contaminated equipment represented unnecessary health and safety risks to Sandia personnel.”

NNSA selected Toxco Inc. of Oak Ridge, Tenn. — a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed vendor — for its ability to receive the equipment for processing and release from regulatory control. One of the world’s leading battery recyclers, Toxco and its facilities are approved and permitted, operating under strict guidelines from state and federal environmental protection agencies.

Potential reuse of the tools was complicated because of contamination, but the cost for disposing the tools at the Nevada Test Site was estimated at more than $4 million. Looking to most efficiently use taxpayer dollars, Sandia contacted NNSA’s Office of Infrastructure and Environment to determine if there was a lower-cost method to dispose of the tools.

Toxco agreed to take title to the equipment “as-is, where-is” at Sandia and transport the items to its licensed facility in Tennessee for reclamation. The total cost of this plan is roughly $70,000, and the vendor provided all transportation, processing, and waste disposal services necessary to disposition the equipment either as waste or reusable equipment. -- Mike Janes

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