NNSA makes progress on PF-4 upgrades

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LANL: Defense Safety Board remains concerned

By John Severance

Periodically, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in Washington makes a report to Congress.
The main thrust of the report, released earlier this month, was to discuss the status of significant unresolved issues with the Department of Energy’s design and construction reports.
On top of the list is the seismic evaluation and upgrade of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility and the Hanford Site’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. According to the report, these two projects have the most significant unresolved safety issues.
According to interagency correspondence between the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Safety Administration have made some headway in resolving some of these issues.
In a letter dated March 20, James J. McConnell, assistant deputy administrator for Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Operations and Governance Reform, Defense Programs at the Department of Energy,  writes that DOE had completed one of the deliverables of the department’s implementation plan, regarding seismic upgrades for the first 10 glove box stands.
McConnell went on to write, “The approved refined accident analysis and control selection, completed as Deliverable 5.2.3, concluded that glove-box stand seismic upgrades should focus on glove-boxes where molten plutonium operations occur, currently 12 glove-boxes total.
“This reduced scope of Deliverable 5.4.4 will be upgraded under Phase II of the TA-55 Reinvestment Project (eight glove-boxes) with the remainder upgraded through other means. On Feb. 6, 2012, the National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Site Office informed me that the design was completed and construction had started on the glove-box stand seismic upgrades.
Chuck Kellers, assistant manager of LASO Safety Operations acknowledged the concerns raised by the DNFSB and said, “we continue to make progress.”
Kellers cited a letter written by NNSA’s Donald Cook, which details the technical basis, actions taken to improve safety and plans for safety improvements from operations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4).
Cook wrote, “Our immediate assessment of the situation concluded that the additional risk from the continued operation of PF-4 remained small compared to other risks faced by the public, so no emergency actions were warranted to reduce public risk or ensure adequate public protection. Subsequent analysis confirmed these initial conclusions. Nevertheless, the margin by which we ensure adequate protection was less than is generally the case with our new or existing facilities.”
Cook said he directed PF-4 to be upgraded in a timely manner. “We immediately restricted activities in the most vulnerable parts of the facility and initiated repairs. The most significant repair was the completion of upgrades to the roof to ensure its structural stability. A significant portion of the upgrades is now complete.”
In its report to Congress, though, the DNFSB said it remained concerned.
“NNSA plans to resubmit the detailed Project Execution Plan for Recommendation 2009-2 in August 2012, outlining the strategy, cost, scope and schedule for reducing the consequences from seismically-induced events,” the report read.
“This plan will capture any additional upgrades identified by the non-linear seismic analysis. In October 2011, NNSA approved a revision to the Documented Safety Analysis for the Plutonium Facility. This update postulates a mitigated dose to the public below the Evaluation Guideline, but will not be implemented until the JCO expires in May 2012.”