DOE guards against earthquake

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Chu agrees to fix long-standing safety issues

By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking steps to control the consequences of an improbable earthquake, the kind that might only happen once in a couple of thousand years.

In a worst-case scenario leading to a fire emergency on the first floor of the lab’s plutonium facility on Pajarito Road, the building might survive, but the fire suppression and ventilation systems might not.

“You can’t guarantee it,” said John Mansfield, vice chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board.

Commenting on a set of findings that came to a head a couple of months ago, he said, “Any time you’re over 100 times more than the evaluation guideline, you have to take immediate action. This is a flag.”

Given the possibility of multiple failures, such a disaster, could release a highly radioactive cloud of plutonium particles. It would be much more than a permissible dose and it could travel well beyond the perimeter of the laboratory.

Given the prevalence of seismic activity now known to be in the area, the safety board insisted that those chances had to be taken into account.

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