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Lab Notes

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By The Staff

Nuclear weapons chief warns lab on safety National Nuclear Security Administrator Thomas D’Agostino has formally admonished Los Alamos National Laboratory about its unsatisfactory nuclear safety performance.In a letter dated Jan. 4, D’Agostino cited two separate contamination incidents early last year involving radiation exposures to workers conducting separate glovebox activities at the laboratory’s plutonium facility, Technical Area 55, and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facilities.One of the workers, a pit machinist in TA-55, received an exposure greater than the annual regulatory exposure limit, D’Agostino wrote.While core activities at the laboratory, including plutonium pit manufacturing at TA-55, were meeting targets, “support operations and safety programs are increasingly strained to meet commitments within budget,” reported the site representative of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board at the time of the incident.A subsequent memorandum reported that NNSA’s director for Nuclear and High Hazard Operations was leading an eight-person investigation team with participants from the four parent corporations of the laboratory manager, Los Alamos National Security, LLC.A prepared statement by the laboratory acknowledged the two incidents and said that they led to a temporary pause of glove box operations involving plutonium where similar hazards existed.“The laboratory director immediately began a process to minimize or eliminate the possibility of recurrence,” according to a statement from LANL spokesman Kevin Roark this morning. “At the conclusion of the investigation, the laboratory developed and implemented a corrective action plan. Safety of our employees is our primary concern, particularly those employees involved in potentially hazardous work,” “Nuclear safety performance at LANL over the past several years has been inadequate,” D’Agostino wrote, adding that the changes in senior management, organizational structure and corrective safety programs in June 2006 “have not led to sustained performance improvement.”D’Agostino’s letter stated that enforcement action would be deferred at this time, “in favor of enabling you to focus management attention on identifying the broad deficiencies which led to these events.”Rather than imposing penalties at this time, the administrator said he was issuing the Special Report Order, giving the laboratory 90 days to examine the specific incidents and all glovebox activities and take appropriate corrective actions.Under the terms of the special order, the response of Los Alamos National Security will be evaluated with the input of NNSA’s local staff of the Los Alamos Site Office. The progress accomplished will be weighed in the context of “recent nuclear safety performance.”LANL was given 10 days to appeal the order.  LANL Foundation accepting scholarship applications Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation is now accepting applications for 2008 scholarships.Applicants are encouraged to complete the online application form at www.lanlfoundation.org/scholarships. Application forms may be downloaded from the website and submitted by mail. Applications must be submitted online or postmarked by Jan. 22.An announcement by the foundation said the selection process has been revised this year to take into account the applicant’s financial background.The Los Alamos Employee’s Scholarship Fund (LAESF) is merit-based, the announcement said, “but acknowledges the fact that overcoming financial hardship while excelling academically is highly meritorious.”More than 400 students have been awarded a total of  nearly $1 million by the fund since 1998.Award announcements will be made in April.For more information, contact Jeff Franken, LANL Foundation Scholarship officer, 505-753-8890.