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Lab questioned on plutonium safety

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By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory is adopting extra safety measures for added assurance against an almost inconceivable accident related to a highly radioactive isotope stored in the Plutonium Facility.

 

The problem has been addressed, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration. A letter by NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino stated that several precautionary steps are underway and that his organization and LANL intend to accomplish one or another possible upgrade by June 2010.

 

“The unmitigated consequences of an over-pressurization event involving even a single container of HS-Pu (heat source plutonium) amount to nearly 500 rem; the consequences of multiple failures are much higher,” wrote Defense Nuclear Safety Board Chairman A.J. Eggenberger to Energy Secretary Chu early last month.

 

By comparison exposures from the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki August 9, 1945, is generally measured in hundreds of rem.

 

The average exposure of the general U.S. population from natural background radiation is a little more than one-third rem per year, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.

 


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