Earthquake could threaten plutonium stores

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DNFSB intervenes in lagging safety upgrades

By Roger Snodgrass

In an unusually blistering recommendation, an independent federal safety monitor for the nuclear weapons complex expressed concerns about potential consequences of an earthquake at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Continuing a theme that has reappeared regularly in the reports and correspondence of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the board said it had identified a need to execute both immediate and long-term action that can reduce the risk posed by a seismic event at the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The board requests quarterly updates of actions taken to upgrade the lab’s safety strategy.

LANL is the designated “center for excellence” for plutonium under the National Nuclear Security Administrations plans for transforming the nuclear complex, but the DNFSB has been critical of fire safety systems and latent risks in the facility where most of the current plutonium is stored.

DNFSB concerns prompted more detailed seismic studies related to a new Chemistry and Metallury Research Replacement complex, of which the first office building has been nearly completed. Congress this year required DNFSB’s certification on seismic issues before releasing additional funds to continue the work on the CMRR.

DNFSB gave that approval based on assurances of future concurrences.

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