IG pushes to enhance safeguards at Area G

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By The Staff

The Department of Energy Inspector General recently released a report addressing safety issues at Area G at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

It was the second inspection in two years of Material Disposal Area G, located in Technical Area 54. The site is one of Los Alamos’ active disposal areas for low-level radioactive waste. 

The report reads, “We noted that Los Alamos developed corrective actions designed to address safety issues identified during the 2011 safety assessments. While progress had been made, our inspection identified opportunities for further improvements regarding training, the consistency of Area G operational activities with safety requirements and updating safety-related documents.”

The report’s findings included:

• Seven individuals who worked in Area G did not complete the required safety training, and an additional two individuals’ training files were not updated with the employees’ most current training information.

• Some Area G operational activities were not conducted in a manner that was consistent with specific operational safety requirements. For example, during our tours of the facility we observed blocked emergency access roads, unsafe forklift operations, and potential cross-contamination of work/break areas.

• The Technical Safety Requirements document used to specify required safety and operational procedures contained numerous outdated or cancelled references. In several observed instances, Los Alamos did not ensure Area G operated in a manner that supported the adequate protection of the workers and the environment, consistent with required safety standards and operational safety requirements. 

Further, Los Alamos did not periodically review the Technical Safety Requirements document to ensure that all references to applicable laboratory procedures and department and national consensus documents were updated and current. Because Los Alamos did not take sufficient steps to ensure that unsafe conditions were avoided or mitigated, these conditions may exist and could lead to personnel injury or property damage in Area G.

And what did management at the Los Alamos Site Office and the lab think of the findings?

The report notes that, “Management generally agreed with the report’s findings and recommendations and indicated it was in the process of implementing or completing corrective actions. 

However, management disagreed with our finding concerning the potential risk of spreading contamination between controlled and uncontrolled areas.

“While we agree that no accessible contamination was known to exist within the Radiological Controlled Area of Area G, and that the probability to spread contamination may not be great, we believe that the condition we observed did create the potential. The potential existed because employees were allowed to return to an area that they had just been cleared to leave. 

“This occurred as a result of the circumvention of a radiological safety measure that was part of the site’s overall radiation protection program (e.g. the use of hand and foot monitoring at the Radiological Controlled Area boundary).”

The DOE Inspector General made the following recommendations to the Los Alamos Site Office.

• Ensure Area G employees receive UTrain notifications and take the training required to maintain current skills and perform work involving nuclear waste operations in a safe manner;

• Ensure Area G operational activities are consistent with specific operational safety requirements, such as those found in the Waste Disposition Project Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Inspections document; and

• Conduct periodic reviews of Los Alamos safety-related documents to ensure that references such as Los Alamos performance requirements, department requirements and national consensus documents are current.