Government Agencies Find Safety Deficiencies at LANL

Senators Domenici and Craig Support New Reactor at INEEL

* Both the Department of Energy (or DOE) Inspector General and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board found significant safety deficiencies at Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL), as documented in two recent reports.

The Inspector General released a report analyzing an accidental release of plutonium-238 at LANL in 2001. The report found that at the time of the accident, there were "significant safety shortcomings" at LANL and recommended that LANL be required to strengthen internal controls to reduce or eliminate the possibility of inadvertent contamination of workers or the environment.

In a report on the Stockpile Stewardship Program across the entire DOE complex, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board found significant safety deficiencies with LANL's Plutonium-238 Scrap Recovery Line, Weapons Engineering Tritium Facility, and the Plutonium Facility at Technical Area-55.

The plutonium recovery line will be used to purify scrap plutonium for use in plutonium pits. The Board has recommended modifying the line's inadequate safety documents. They also made suggestions for improving tritium containment at LANL's tritium facility.

Both government agencies recommended safety improvements at LANL's plutonium facility. The Inspector General mentioned current safety inadequacies that may compromise worker safety at TA-55. For example, the Inspector General observed continuing problems with the quality of the glovebox gloves that are used to handle plutonium. A tear in such a glove was cited as the cause of the 2001 plutonium release. Also, the Inspector General observed confusion among workers regarding security and safety measures at TA-55.

The Nuclear Facilities Safety Board questioned the adequacy of the fire suppression system at TA-55. The Board said, "In our view, these issues have serious implications for worker safety at Los Alamos...."

Both reports claim that LANL is currently evaluating the recommendations of the agencies, and working to install quality assurance programs site-wide.

To read the Inspector General's report, please see

* Idaho Senator Larry Craig announced this week that the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (or INEEL) will be the future site of an advanced nuclear reactor. The project is also endorsed by Senator Pete Domenici, head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and will be included as a provision to the energy bill presented to the Committee later this spring. The provision would authorize $1 billion for siting and construction of the facility. The reactor is expected to open in 2010 and produce both electricity and hydrogen, for use in moving America towards a hydrogen-based transportation economy.

Domenici and Craig have been working on the project since 1997. Craig said, "I thank [DOE] Secretary Abraham for his support in designating Idaho as DOE's nuclear energy technology command center."

Activists are skeptical of the plan. Gary Richardson, of the Snake River Alliance, which is Idaho's nuclear watchdog, said, "Idaho still awaits the fulfillment of a promise made 30 years ago to clean up by 1980 nuclear waste buried above the Snake River Aquifer in the 1950's and '60's. It seems irresponsible to be proposing a billion-dollar project that would produce more nuclear materials when there is no funded plan for cleaning up the radioactivity left in Idaho from past projects."

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