Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

News & Updates

Watchdog agency grills LANL, nuclear officials on lab safety

[NukeWatch would amend this headline to add “‘lightly’ grills” – The DNFSB was asking tough questions, but DOE and the LANL contractors were not forthcoming with those answers.]

“Much of the discussion involved complex, technical subjects. But board Chairwoman Joyce Connery said a basic complaint is the lack of response the board has gotten at times when raising concerns in letters sent to the lab and nuclear security agency.”

THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN | November 16, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

DNFSB Watchdog agency grills LANL, nuclear officials on lab safety

A federal watchdog agency on Wednesday grilled top officials from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the agency that oversees nuclear weapons about ongoing safety concerns and how they aim to resolve them as the lab gears up to produce an unprecedented number of warhead triggers.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent organization within the executive branch, questioned lab Director Thom Mason and National Nuclear Security Administration head Jill Hruby about safety issues that could prove important as the lab moves toward making 30 bomb cores, known as pits, per year by 2026.

The board provides recommendations and advice to the president and the secretary of energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy defense nuclear facilities.

The daylong hearing was held at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. It is the first time in several years the safety board has held a public hearing in the Santa Fe area.
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Two more radioactive releases reported at LANL

A lab critic said he’s concerned about flaws in worker training, equipment and inspections contributing to glove box breaches as LANL gears up for producing plutonium pits for warhead triggers.

“As things ramp up, we’re bound to have more problems,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

 | March 8, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

Los Alamos National Laboratory had two additional breaches of a sealed radioactive-material compartment known as a glove box in January, bringing the total to three in one month, according to a government watchdog.

One employee damaged a glove attached to a sealed compartment while manually moving material with a disabled trolley through the enclosed space, causing enough of a release to contaminate the person’s face.

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Los Alamos lab sees two mishaps in a week

The water spill should be a reminder that the plutonium facility’s work is done by people, and people make mistakes, said Scott Kovac, research and operations director for the nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

“Pit production will place a real time-pressure crunch on the workers and lead to more accidents,” Kovac said.

“It should lead us to consider the consequences if someone left a plutonium furnace on or something that could endanger the public…these kinds of missteps are likely to increase as the lab ramps up production of plutonium pits used to trigger nuclear warheads. Current plans call for the lab to make 30 of the nuclear bomb cores a year by 2026,”

| santafenewmexican.com April 26, 2021

Los Alamos National Laboratory had two mishaps in one week: a glove box breach that contaminated workers’ protective equipment and a spill of 1,800 gallons of water into a vault corridor after an employee left a valve open.

The incidents were the latest in a series of accidents in recent months at the lab, as reported by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

In the board’s most recent report, an alarm sounded March 29 when a worker tore a protective glove attached to a sealed compartment known as a glove box while handling a piece of plutonium.
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More Safety Problems at Y-12 Bomb Complex

TENNESSEE NUCLEAR WEAPONS FACILITY CONTINUES TO BE PLAGUED BY SAFETY PROBLEMS
SAFETY BOARD: OAK RIDGE NUCLEAR STORAGE FACILITY UNSAFE
NNSA AND CONTRACTOR CONSPIRE TO DOCTOR SAFETY RECORDS

BY: OAK RIDGE ENVIRONMENTAL PEACE ALLIANCE | orepa.org

The safest building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is not safe enough. That is the conclusion of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in an April 21, 2020, Staff Report on the storage of reactive materials at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF). The Staff Report was released on June 1, 2020, accompanied by a letter from Safety Board Chair Bruce Hamilton to Dan Brouillette, Secretary of Energy.

Faced with three separate discoveries of highly enriched uranium that posed an undetermined safety risk because it was pyrophoric, the contractor at Y-12, Consolidated Nuclear Services, without characterizing the materials, decided to re-categorize all the materials as not pyrophoric. NNSA agreed and took the additional step of ordering the contractor to revise the Documented Safety Analysis for the HEUMF to incorporate the material types into the facility safety basis. Neither action was justified, according to the Safety Board, and neither was sufficient to assure worker safety.

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DOE Repeatedly Asks Safety Board for Time Extensions, Los Alamos Lab Asked for >150 Cleanup Milestone Extensions, But During Pandemic NNSA Rejects NM Senators’ Request for Extension of Public Comment on Plutonium Bomb Core Production

DOE Repeatedly Asks Safety Board for Time Extensions
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), has rejected a request by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to extend the public comment period on expanded plutonium “pit” bomb core production because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, even in normal times NNSA and its parent Department of Energy routinely ask other government agencies for major time extensions when it comes to cleanup and independent oversight.

The two Senators requested a 45 day comment period extension on behalf of more than 120 organizations and individuals. Before that, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were among 24 Senators who asked the Office of Management and Budget to extend all federal public comment periods during the coronavirus national emergency.

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LANL Plans to Release Up To ~100,000 Curies of Radioactive Gas

Santa Fe, NM – On March 11, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) sent the federal Environmental Protection Agency a formal notice that the Lab will intentionally release up to some 100,000 curies of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen gas, beginning April 17, 2020. 

An internal Lab document states that actual “anticipated emissions” could be half that because of tritium remaining behind in equipment but offers no documentation to substantiate it. During the 1980’s LANL arbitrarily used a self-declared “building shielding factor” not approved by the EPA that reduced its legally required annual calculated radioactive air dose to the public by a third. When that reduction was disallowed LANL was in fact in legal violation of the Clean Air Act. With that as an example, undocumented reductions in radioactive doses claimed by LANL should be viewed with suspicion.

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Proposed New Exhaust at WIPP Designed to Release Radiation

19 seconds – the amount of time airborne radiological contamination could be released before the safety dampers close. This assumes that all other components work perfectly.

A recent report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) explains the DNFSB’s calculations on the proposed new (estimated at nearly $300 million) safety significant confinement ventilation system (SSCVS).

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WHAT IS THE DNFSB?

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) was established as an independent agency on September 29, 1988, by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The Board is composed of five members appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among United States citizens who are respected experts in the field of nuclear safety.
 
The DNFSB reviews and evaluates the content and implementation of standards for defense nuclear facilities of the Department of Energy (DOE); investigates any event or practice at these facilities / which may adversely affect public health and safety; and reviews and monitors the design, construction, and operation of facilities.
 
The Board makes recommendations to the Secretary of Energy concerning DOE defense nuclear facilities to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety. In the event that any aspect of operations, practices, or occurrences reviewed by the Board is determined to present an imminent or severe threat to public health and safety, the Board shall also transmit its recommendations directly to the President.

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