Lab bugs vs old bombs

Nicknamed "Bugs against Bombs," a new research effort is aimed at turning explosive chemicals from old nuclear weapons into the same nonhazardous elements that make up water and air. The University of California announced last September that its joint research with Lawrence Livermore has been so successful that a new plant based on the technology will be built later this year.
Biomedical scientists are feeding ethanol to microorganisms, causing them to produce enzymes that can neutralize toxic waste from old bombs, converting it to nitrogen, water, and carbon dioxide.
The technique has been applied in tests at the Department of Energy's bomb-dismantling plant in Amarillo, Texas. The next tests will be at an Army depot in Hawthorne, Nevada, where the new technique is expected to cut treatment costs in half.
Lawrence Livermore researchers John Knezovich and Jeffrey Daniels are working on the project with civil and environmental engineers at the University of California at Los Angeles. (See S&TR, July/August 1997, pp. 21-22.)
Contact: Contact: John Knezovich (510) 422-0925 (

NIF, AVLIS, ASCI funded in new federal budget

The U.S. House of Representatives in September approved funding for the National Ignition Facility (NIF), Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (AVLIS), and the Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) at Lawrence Livermore. Funding for these programs was included in the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1998, which was approved overwhelmingly by a vote of 404 to 17.
"Individually, the biggest winners are the 600-plus AVLIS employees who no longer have to fear being laid off within the next month," Representative Ellen Tauscher said in announcing the funding. "The other big winner is the NIF program, because we were able to secure the entire $229 million that was requested earlier this year."
For AVLIS, the total amount obligated by the DOE will not exceed $60 million. This provision will permit the continued development of the AVLIS technology until the United States Enrichment Corporation is sold.
The ASCI program received a total of $224.8 million for FY 1998, which represents a $20-million increase over previously approved allocations.
Contact: LLNL Media Relations (510) 422-4599 (

Labs to study ways to make explosions cleaner

Concern about the levels of pollutants released when outdated or excess munitions are destroyed has prompted the Department of Defense to ask Livermore's two national security laboratories-Sandia and Lawrence Livermore-to study ways to make those explosions cleaner.
So far, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been satisfied that small quantities of toxic gases released when old or excess weapons are exploded are not making anyone sick. Last year, the Defense Department exploded 120,000 tons of unwanted munitions, compared to 60,000 to 80,000 tons in more typical years, and there is still an additional 500,000 tons to dispose of. As the disposal continues, the emissions could rise to unhealthy levels.
The Defense Department is investing $6 million per year for five years in experiments that may yield ways to completely neutralize the gases, which include small quantities of hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide.
A first round of experiments-in underground chambers last year at the old nuclear testing grounds in Nevada-was aimed at finding out what gases are being emitted in what quantities.
A second round, scheduled for late this winter, will include testing of possible solutions. For example, adding oxygen to the process could help all the gases burn completely, converting them to water and carbon dioxide rather than letting them waft away as smoke. Other solutions involve variations in the configuration and placement of the munitions when they are destroyed.
Contact: LLNL Media Relations (510) 422-4599 (

It's official: element 106 is named seaborgium

Ending a three-year controversy, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) approved the recommendations for names of elements 101 through 109, making the name seaborgium official for element 106. The element is named for Dr. Glenn Seaborg, who has been associated with the discovery of ten new elements.
The fourteenth transuranic element produced by human beings, element 106 was synthesized in the 1970s by collaborators at Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore laboratories. Almost simultaneously, a group of Russian scientists claimed that they, too, had synthesized element 106. The American discovery later was confirmed to be correct, but the Russian discovery could not be confirmed.
The American group consisted of Seaborg, Al Ghiorso, J. M. Nitschke, J. R. Alonso, C. T. Alonso, and Matti Nurmia, from Berkeley, and E. K. Hulet and R. W. Lougheed from Livermore.
IUPAC's recommendations carry no legal force but are normally viewed as authoritative throughout the world. IUPAC President Albert Fischli pointed out that the process of proposing provisional recommendations, soliciting comments from the chemistry community, and making revisions where indicated has worked well. "Unfortunately, with conflicting claims and preferences, it has not been possible to devise names that are completely satisfying to all the laboratories involved in these discoveries," he said. "I believe that the final recommendations come close to achieving our goal and hope they will be used worldwide."
Contact: R. Lougheed (510) 422-6685 (
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