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October 2001

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Dona Crawford

Sharing the Power
of Supercomputers

Further Developments in

Simulating How
the Wind Blows

E.O. Lawrence





The Laboratory
in the News

Lab represents U.S. in nuclear waste study
Five countries and regions have agreed in principle to participate in a joint research project on deep underground disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Work to develop disposal technologies would be performed at the research centers of the five participants: Lawrence Livermore in the U.S., the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, the (South) Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute, the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology in the People’s Republic of China, and the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research in Taiwan.
The U.S. Department of Energy is playing a leading role
in the project and expects to build a joint research center
near Las Vegas, Nevada. Says C. K. Chou, associate director of the Energy and Environment Directorate at Livermore, “The United States has already spent about $5 billion for an underground disposal project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
We want to take advantage of the knowledge gained. Nations with advanced nuclear power generation technology have a responsibility to propose a way to dispose of spent nuclear fuel, while also promoting nuclear reactor safety.”
The joint research project must solve a number of technical problems, such as what type of rock is most suitable for a nuclear waste repository and how to prevent radioactive material from contaminating groundwater. South Korean officials have proposed that research be conducted at an underground experimental facility they plan to build in Seoul. Officials from the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute and Lawrence Livermore have proposed contributing academic papers and computer programs.
Although there is a possibility that China may accept spent nuclear fuel from Taiwan, the project is not expected to deal with the disposal policies of the participating nations, some of whom dispose of spent fuel within their borders while others send it to other countries.
Contact: C. K. Chou (925) 422-4950 (

Predicting how wildfires will burn
In the fire season of 2000, wildfires burned 6.8 million acres of public and private lands, including large parts of
Los Alamos National Laboratory. Experts believe that annual wildfires will increase and will ravage thousands of acres of land and endanger human life.
In response to the threat, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories are working on an initiative for the National Wildfire Prediction Program. They are combining Los Alamos’s multiyear wildfire modeling effort with existing capabilities at the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center at Livermore to predict the behavior of wildfires and prescribed burns. The intention is to provide around-the-clock guidance to fire management planners for the most effective use of firefighting resources. They also want to predict the behavior of fires of strategic interest around the globe.
The Livermore–Los Alamos team has already developed wildfire models and accurately simulated the behavior of historic fires. Livermore researchers are linking a fire model to a regional weather prediction model and performing simulations to reconstruct the early stage of the 1991 fire in the Oakland hills of northern California. The simulations test the combined model’s accuracy. Follow-on studies, requested by emergency management and planning officials, will look at hypothetical fires in nearby canyons that escaped the 1991 fire. The information will improve preparedness for future wildfires.
Livermore atmospheric scientist Michael Bradley says that results of the modeling and prediction initiative could move the nation into a new era of scientifically based wildfire and vegetation management. He sees the day when fire trucks will carry laptops to tap into a national wildfire behavior prediction center and determine where to direct firefighting troops. Eventually, the models might even predict the effects of firefighting activities, which means firefighters would be able to choose the safest and most effective techniques for specific fires.
Contact: Michael Bradley (925) 422-1835 (

Site 300 gets new lightning warning system
Lightning strikes there are rare, but because Site 300 functions as an explosives test facility, conservative safety precautions for lightning events are warranted. Thus, the site has upgraded its lightning detection and warning system. The system uses electric field mils, which detect the strength of the electric field gradient, thereby indicating the potential for lightning, and a new electrical storm identification device, which optically detects and measures the site’s distance from lightning flashes.
Larry Sedlacek, Site 300 manager, says, “The new detection equipment improves our ability to accurately detect potential lightning conditions and safely shut down explosives operations during those times.” He adds, “We’ll be better able to gauge when employees working in the field need to evacuate to a protected building.”
Safety procedures during lightning events have been upgraded as well. The procedures describe conditions that determine the Site 300 lightning status, which is designated as all clear, lightning watch, or lightning alert. Each designation is associated with appropriate actions. Employees at Site 300 are warned of lightning alerts by building, radio, and alpha pages. The complete procedures and more lightning information can be found on the Web at
Contact: Larry Sedlacek (925) 422-8853 (



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UCRL-52000-01-10 | November 15, 2001