Scientists begin returning to Los Alamos lab

Scientists begin returning to Los Alamos lab

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

Most of the Los Alamos National Laboratory has reopened, but employees are still taking stock of damage caused by a wildfire that last month swept through parts of New Mexico for more than two weeks.

Roughly 90 percent of the Energy Department's nuclear weapons lab is back in business, lab spokesman Jim Danneskiold said.

Officials began inspecting buildings on May 16 to assess damage and determine how and when workers could return to the lab they were forced to abandon on May 4 [GCN, May 22, Page 8].

Buildings in the southwest portion of the lab remain closed because of electrical problems, he said. Scientists perform experiments with highly explosive materials in those sites, Danneskiold said.

The fire had some tragic consequences for at least one Los Alamos worker. The polymer researcher lost eight years of data when a shed containing his portable PC and backup disks burned, Danneskiold said.

The weapons lab lost more than $1 million in laser spectroscopy equipment, which it uses to study electromagnetic radiation, he said.

Hot wires

Although the building housing the equipment didn't burn, it got hot enough to melt all the electrical wiring on one side of the structure.

None of the lab's main computers went down or suffered during the inferno and subsequent evacuation, he said.

The lab is home to several of the world's top supercomputers: the ASCI Blue Mountain, ranked third fastest in the world; Nirvana Blue, which scientists use to model wildfires; a Cray/SGI T3D MC512-8, ranked 254th; and Avalon, the lab's homemade Beowulf cluster.

The lab wrote off 32 units as total losses, Danneskiold said. Destroyed buildings include open sheds, warehouses, truck trailers and portable buildings, he said. Four other units were seriously damaged in the blaze.

All but one of the original Manhattan Project buildings burned, he said.

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