Board presses plutonium safety issue

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Historic “safe harbor” standard disregarded

By Roger Snodgrass

An independent federal safety board that monitors nuclear facilities has concerns that the Department of Energy is no longer interpreting a key safety standard as they have agreed to do in the past.

The issue is related to a safety analysis, known as “the safe harbor methodology” and its application at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility.

On Monday, the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board wrote a letter to Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman. The letter expresses reservations about a disagreement having to do with how to handle conditions under this rule, DOE Standard 3009, which the letter indicated has been the subject of recent discussions with the department.

The outcome of those meetings expressed in a white paper developed by the National Nuclear Security Administration nuclear safety chief “are fundamentally in conflict with the board’s understanding of DOE’s past practices during the 15 years since Standard 3009 was established as well as the board’s explicit position as outlined in past correspondence,” DNFSB Vice Chairman John E. Mansfield wrote to Poneman.

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