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Micro-fission reactor moves closer to powering settlements on Mars Engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY system). LANL photo. “We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said David Poston of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the chief reactor designer KRUSTY is a compact fission reactor that can generate between one and ten kilowatts of electricity continuously for 10 years or more. NASA began building the reactor to support deep space travel in 2015. (Full story) The majority of the nation’s production of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons would take place at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina under a plan certified by the Nuclear Weapons Council and announced Thursday, but a lesser number of plutonium “pits” would still be made at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The two-pronged approach “is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking,” according to a statement Thursday by Ellen M. Lord, Department of Defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment and chairwoman of the Nuclear Weapons Council, and Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Department of Energy undersecretary for nuclear security, administrator of the NNSA and a member of NWC. 

“Furthermore, by maintaining Los Alamos as the Nation’s Plutonium Center of Excellence for Research and Development, the recommended alternative improves the resiliency, flexibility, and redundancy of our Nuclear Security Enterprise by not relying on a single production site,” the statement said. (Full story) Los Alamos National Laboratory is still on track to ramp up its nuclear weapons work, but on a smaller scale than outlined by the Obama administration. Officials for the National Nuclear Security Administration announced Thursday that the agency will set up a larger plutonium-pit production center in South Carolina, and the mission will be split between the two sites.


Under the new plan, as many as 30 pits per year will be produced at Los Alamos, while the Savannah River Site in South Carolina will be tasked with producing at least 50 pits per year. (Full story)


Neutron decay may hint at dark matter Decay of neutrons into dark matter particles could solve a long-standing discrepancy, UCSD image. Neutrons decay within about 14.5 min, but their exact lifetime is still debated, as two types of neutron decay experiments give conflicting results. Christopher Morris from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and colleagues monitored the gamma-ray emission from a bottle of ultracold neutrons. They didn’t find any signal, appearing to rule out this proposed decay channel in the photon energy range of 782 to 1664 keV. (Full story) The merger of neutron stars is simulated using Simulating complex systems on supercomputers requires that scientists get hundreds of thousands, even millions of processor cores working together in parallel. Managing cooperation on this scale is no simple task. To solve these load imbalances, Christoph Junghans, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and his colleagues are developing algorithms with many applications across high-performance computing (HPC). (Full story) Los Alamos rolls out biodefense program with University of Nebraska Harshini Mukundan, LANL photo. Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with the University of Nebraska to boost educational opportunities for students looking to embark on a career in the field of biodefense. The partnership was arranged when the two institutions attended a meeting arranged by the National Strategic Research Institute. “You can develop solutions through partnerships. You can accomplish much more as a whole than by working alone,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and partnership coordinator Harshini Mukundan, Ph.D. (Full story) Lillian Petersen with her award, LADP photo. Several Los Alamos High School students joined 56 other teams representing 26 schools from around the state April 24 in Los Alamos for the 28th Annual Supercomputing Challenge. LAHS sophomore Lillian Petersen won second place for her project, “Predicting Food Shortages in Africa from Satellite Imagery.” Her program predicts crop yields so that international aid organizations can be better prepared for humanitarian relief operations. Elijah Pelofske, an LAHS junior, won third place for his “RSA Based Primality Test” project. Elijah says, “Efficient and accurate primality testing is a key mechanism used to ensure digital security in the modern world.” (Full story)