NASA’s radioisotope-powered science will persevere on Mars

Members of the Perseverance rover team in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory react after receiving confirmation of a successful landing. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA mission control and space science fans around the world celebrated the safe landing of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on February 18 after a journey of 203 days and 293 million miles. Landing on Mars is difficult—only about 50 percent of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded—and a successful landing for Perseverance, the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars, was not assured. Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at 3:55 p.m. EST.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally—when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

Only radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) can provide the long-lasting, compact power source that Perseverance needs to carry out its long-term exploratory mission. Perseverance carries an RTG powered by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 that was supplied by the Department of Energy. ANS president Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and CEO and executive director Craig Piercy congratulated NASA after the successful landing, acknowledging the critical contributions of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Initial Los Alamos comingled TRU waste delivered to WIPP

Workers at LANL's RANT facility load the first comingled TRU waste shipment from the DOE and the NNSA. Photo: DOE

The Los Alamos field offices of the Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management and the National Nuclear Security Administration have completed their first comingled shipment of transuranic (TRU) waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

"Comingling NNSA and EM waste allows for more efficient shipments to WIPP," Kirk Lachman, EM Los Alamos field office manager, said on January 14. "Reducing LANL’s above-ground waste inventory is an important issue to our local communities and is one of our mission priorities.”

The comingled shipment consisted of one Transuranic Package Transporter Model 3 container with a total of 28 drums and containers inside.

NNSA to hold virtual public meetings regarding Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will hold two virtual public meetings on a new environmental impact statement for its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The meetings will be held on Monday, January 25, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) and Tuesday, January 26, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET). Participants can join by computer, telephone, or other device. A Notice of Intent contains a full description of the proposal and other options for providing public comment until February 1.

The program: The SPDP EIS will analyze alternatives for the disposition of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium using the capabilities at multiple sites across the United States. The NNSA’s preferred alternative, the dilute and dispose approach (also known as plutonium downblending), includes converting pit and non-pit plutonium to oxide, blending the oxidized plutonium with an adulterant, and emplacing the resulting transuranic waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas, and WIPP.

General Chair’s Special Session: Advanced reactors in uncertain times

The final plenary session of the American Nuclear Society's 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting was the General Chair’s Special Session, held on Wednesday, June 10. The session contained much information about the current and future role of advanced reactor technology. The session, with the subtitle “The Promise of Advanced Reactors during Uncertain Times: National Security, Jobs and Clean Energy,” featured two panels: the Lab Directors Roundtable and the Advanced Reactor Panel. The general chair is Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory director. The session was moderated by Corey McDaniel, of Idaho National Laboratory, and the assistant general chair of the Annual Meeting.

A few of the issues covered during the dual plenary session included challenges to advanced reactor deployment, public-private partnerships in research and development, nuclear non-proliferation and security, workforce issues, and market conditions and demand.

“Top-secret” Los Alamos is in the spotlight

The ANS Young Members Group (YMG) is delivering an in-depth look at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories through a series of live webinars called Spotlight on National Labs. The third and most recent webinar attracted more than 1,000 participants who were keen to learn about the mission and key projects of Los Alamos National Laboratory.