Lab halts some work at plutonium facility

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Lab > IG audit urges LANL to move quickly to secure facility

By The Staff

In a memo to employees Thursday, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan announced that certain work operations at the Plutonium Facility would temporarily pause programmatic activities.

McMillan’s action comes on the heels of another federal report criticizing Los Alamos for not doing enough to protect the public from dangerous releases of radiation in the event of wildfires or an earthquake.

An audit released Thursday by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General reiterated concerns that watchdogs and a federal oversight board have long expressed about the lab’s main plutonium facility — which sits atop a fault line — being able to withstand an earthquake. And the Las Conchas Fire that burned its way to the edges of lab property two years ago highlighted the dangers of storing on-site thousands of barrels of toxic waste.

The audit pushes the lab to move more quickly in securing the plutonium lab (PF-4). It also asks for more effective fire protection for the barrels, which are scheduled to be removed by the end of next year.

“Because of the nature and importance of the work we do, it is important to regularly assess all aspects of our operations to ensure we are executing our procedures and operational processes appropriately,” McMillan said in the memo.

“We expect some areas to return to operational status sooner than others, but we do not expect there to be any significant impacts to mission deliverables as a result of this action. To accomplish our national security missions we work with materials that must be strictly controlled and safely handled. Today this material remains safe, secure, and protected. It stays that way in part because of strict adherence to procedures and formality in our operations.

Once we have verified that operations can be safely and reliably conducted, the director will allow operations to resume.”

More on the IG report can be found in Sunday’s Los Alamos Monitor.