A new report illustrates why planned expanded plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos Lab has a high probability of failure.
From its Executive Summary:
Overall, this assessment identified significant weaknesses in the LANS IM [issues management] process and institutional behaviors that have allowed identified problems to go uncorrected, problem recurrences to be routinely accepted, and corrective actions to often be delayed for years. Although the assessment team did not identify any immediate threats to workers, the public, or the environment, these weaknesses in IM, if uncorrected, can allow layers of defense for nuclear safety to degrade to the extent they did leading to the pause in July 2013 of key fissile material operations in the Plutonium Facility at LANL for over four years.
DOE oversight of the maintenance and operation of LANL is provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Los Alamos Field Office (NA-LA) and the Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA). LANS was the M&O contractor for LANL from June 1, 2006, until October 31, 2018. EM-LA selected Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos (N3B) to replace LANS as its legacy cleanup contractor, and the transition from LANS to N3B was completed in April 2018. NNSA selected Triad to replace LANS as its M&O contractor, and the transition from LANS to Triad was completed on November 1, 2018.
DOE has identified significant weaknesses (i.e., non-compliances with significant impact) in the IM program for over the past eleven years. During this time, LANS had recurring, systemic weaknesses in its safety management programs that it did not adequately resolve with its IM program. For example, in July 2013, the LANS Laboratory Director paused all fissile material operations in the Plutonium Facility (PF- 4) due to systemic and recurring weaknesses in the LANS criticality safety program and conduct of operations. Due to the scope and significance of these weaknesses that had been allowed to develop, the mitigation by LANS took over four years to be completed for some of the key fissile material operations supporting plutonium pit production in PF-4.
Read the Albuquerque Journal article by Mark Oswald here
Report: LANL nuclear safety falls short
By Mark Oswald / Journal Staff Writer
Monday, April 29th, 2019 at 11:35pm
Los Alamos National Laboratory is again facing criticism for failing to ensure nuclear safety in its operations, this time from a U.S. Department of Energy assessment office. (Associated Press)
Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The U.S. Department of Energy has again found that Los Alamos National Laboratory falls short in ensuring nuclear safety in its operations, even as the lab moves toward a major increase in plutonium work under a mandate to ramp up manufacture of the cores of nuclear weapons.
A report released Monday by a DOE assessment team provides a long list of problems in how LANL manages nuclear safety issues. It notes deficiencies by both the private consortium that managed the lab for about 12 years before losing the $2 billion-plus annual operating contract last year and as well Triad National Security LLC, which took over Nov. 1.
The report says former contractor Los Alamos National Security LLC, or LANS, allowed safety issues to fester with “significant weaknesses.”
There are “institutional behaviors that have allowed identified problems to go uncorrected, problem recurrences to be routinely accepted, and corrective actions to often be delayed for years,” according to the report DOE’s Office of Enterprise Assessments.
The safety lapses are serious enough that they could lead to another shutdown of operations at LANL’s plutonium facility, the assessment suggests.