Russian Lab Directors Tour LANL

On Sunday, June 5, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charles McMillan hosted a Laboratory tour for five Russian laboratory directors from the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation, Rosatom. The LANL tour followed the Laboratory Directors Meeting (LDM), hosted in California by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, June 2–3. The LDM includes the Russian directors and the directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. This was the first LDM held in seven years.

The directors toured LANL facilities that support three of this year's LDM topics, topics that could lead to more cooperation between Russian and U.S. laboratories: energy and environment, technical opportunities in nonproliferation and arms control, and basic science and technology. Moreover, the tour demonstrated LANL's openness and transparency, emphasizing the Laboratory's commitment to cooperation and collaboration in science and technology.

"This was the first time any Russians have toured DARHT," said Nancy Jo Nicholas, program director for Nuclear Nonproliferation and a technical host. "They were very impressed." DARHT, the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility, supports LANL stockpile stewardship efforts and weapons experimental activities by using x-ray pulses to produce multiple-view radiographic images of full-scale, nonnuclear weapon mockups as they implode.

The Russians also toured the Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation and were given a PowerWall demonstration, where projections of high-resolution, three-dimensional images illustrated LANL's high-performance computing technologies. LANL's computing capabilities are significant and offer potential for lab-to-lab collaboration in nonsensitive missions, such as modeling climate change and the spread of infectious diseases.

Additionally, the group visited the Sigma Complex, LANL's materials processing and modeling facility. "They saw the extensive fuel development and metallurgical capabilities at Sigma—where work on low-enriched uranium fuel development for the Reactor Conversion program is done," Nicholas explained. As many Russian cities rely on nuclear reactors for electricity and heat, the Laboratory's techniques for converting reactors that use highly enriched uranium fuel to use, instead, low-enriched uranium fuel, thus posing a lower threat of proliferation, excited the visiting directors.

The Russians also visited the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) and its Manuel Lujan Jr. Neutron Scattering Center. "The Russian directors were impressed with the number and quality of Russian researchers at LANSCE," reports Nicholas. The Laboratory employs Russian nationals as staff, visiting researchers, and postdoctoral researchers. "The researchers even gave their presentations in Russian."

The LDM is a key part of the Lab-to-Lab Program, in which U.S. and Russian laboratory directors work cooperatively in nuclear threat reduction efforts; materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A); and stockpile safety and security. In the 1990s, then LANL director Siegfried Hecker began the Lab-to-Lab Program and, in 1992, initiated the first LDM and exchange visit. Hecker was a keynote speaker at this year's meeting.

During this year's LDM, the laboratory directors explored the benefits of the previous relationship between the U.S. and Russian laboratories. For example, programs like the MPC&A, which improved policies, protocols, and practices for the security of nuclear materials, and the Warhead Safety and Security Exchange (WSSX), which increased technical cooperation for nuclear weapons safety and security, were created during the 1990s. Together, the directors identified key areas for science and technology cooperation. Hecker stated, "We both face serious challenges for nuclear weapon safety, security, and reliability in a no-test environment. In addition, there are issues with aging, life extension, remanufacturing, and certification of nuclear weapons. Together, we can work to lead the world in nuclear safety and security, reduce proliferation of nuclear weapons in problem states, and promote expansion of nuclear power without nuclear proliferation."

Russian lab directors visit

Director McMillan (left) greets two of the Russian laboratory directors at LANL on June 5, 2011: Sergey Loparev (center), director of VNIIA (Automatics) and Valentin Kostyukov, director of VNIIEF (Sarov).

At the LDM, Ivan Kaminskikh, first deputy general director of Rosatom, said, "We are looking forward to a productive collaboration and have identified a number of areas of mutual interest."

With the recent entry into force of the U.S. and Russian Agreement for Cooperation, as well as the New START Agreement, the timing is particularly apropos to revisit long-standing collaborations and consider new opportunities for cooperative Lab-to-Lab Program endeavors.

In the past decade, scientific cooperation between the United States and Russia had dramatically declined, due to factors such as political pressures and restrictions on nuclear weapons engineering. A letter of invitation for a new LDM from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to Rosatom rejuvenated the Lab-to-Lab Program.

Anne Harrington, NNSA deputy administrator for Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Don Cook, NNSA deputy administrator for Defense Programs, facilitated the LDM. "This meeting lays the foundation for future cooperation in the years to come," said Harrington. "It reflects tangible progress in meeting President Obama's agenda and his vision for U.S. and Russian cooperation in key areas of nuclear nonproliferation, energy, and science collaboration."

According to Nicholas, the directors' exchange was extremely successful and "all parties viewed the discussions and site tours as constructive and informative." Consequently, each of the laboratories has committed to continue the record of success in cooperative scientific excellence. After the Russian visit, director McMillan noted his appreciation to the LANL employees who were involved in the visit, saying that the result would be "an enduring Lab-to-Lab relationship between our respective countries." The Russians also toured Sandia National Laboratories.

Following the LDM, Steven Chu, U.S. secretary of energy, and Thomas D'Agostino, NNSA administrator, traveled to the Russian Federation and toured Russian facilities where NNSA continues to work with the Russians to improve security. On June 8, Secretary Chu and Rosatom director General Sergey Kiriyenko signed a joint statement on nuclear cooperation, committing both sides to developing "the legal framework, including principles of cooperation, necessary to expand joint activities between nuclear research laboratories, institutes and sites."

-Marisa Sandoval

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