DOE Inspector General Finds Problems with Plutonium Facility Security Upgrades; Project Does Not Meet Seismic Standards



Runs 1/10/14 through 1/17/14

(THEME UP AND UNDER)  This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.  Here is this week’s top headline:

  • DOE Inspector General Finds Problems with Plutonium Facility Security Upgrades; Project Does Not Meet Seismic Standards

The Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General found that the DOE and Los Alamos National Security, LLC, did not take the required steps to properly manage the contractors hired for the $245 million security upgrade to the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  As a result, the project that was scheduled for completion in December will require as many as nine more months of work.

The security upgrades, which began in 2009, include building new security fences on the north and south sides and installing redundant security alarm systems.  The contractor, however, placed the security alarm fiber optic cables in the same location as the existing security systems, thereby eliminating the system redundancy.  As a result, DOE suspended the work.

The Plutonium Facility is the only facility in the U.S. that manufactures plutonium triggers, or pits, for nuclear weapons.  Over the past decade, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has issued many reports about the facility’s imminent and substantial danger to the public because of unsafe security, unsafe work practices and the great seismic hazard that exists on the Pajarito Plateau.

Last May, the Chair of the Defense Safety Board testified before Congress.  He said, “The risk posed by the Plutonium Facility at [LANL] remains among the Board’s greatest concerns. An earthquake resulting in collapse of the facility would likely result in very high radiological doses to the public in nearby towns. The Board continues to urge DOE to take meaningful, near-term action to mitigate this risk.”

In 2010, the Defense Safety Board recommended that DOE reduce the plutonium inventory.  Instead, DOE increased the powdered plutonium inventory for multi-year storage at the Plutonium Facility, which, even with the security upgrades, is not designed to meet the DOE seismic requirement to prevent the release of powdered plutonium.

In October 2013, the Union of Concerned Scientists described the plutonium as being “in powdered form and easily inhaled, so it poses a greater health risk than plutonium pits.”  They also said, “Los Alamos stored four metric tons of plutonium as of September 2009.  The United States has declared 1.2 metric tons of that to be excess, and has likely moved that amount to Savannah River. The remaining 2.8 metric tons—enough for more than 1,000 pits—is available to produce new pits for nuclear warheads.”

In April 2012, the scientists said there is no need to manufacture new plutonium triggers for at least several decades.

Robert H. Gilkeson, an Independent Registered Geologist who has dedicated years to exposing the seismic danger, said,  “In light of the conclusion of the Union of Concerned Scientists report that we do not need the manufacture of new plutonium pits for a least several decades,  the imminent and substantial danger to the public from 1) the very large inventory of powdered plutonium at the Plutonium Facility; 2) the unsafe security; and 3) the record of unsafe work operations, the LANL Plutonium Facility should be immediately shut down.”


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