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Safety Board eyes criticality issues during LANL inspection

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LANL: A number of infractions were found at Plutonium facility and Area G during a recent visit

By John Severance

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board was in Los Alamos last month to meet with NNSA and lab officials and tour transuranic waste operations at Area G and review seismic upgrades the Plutonium Facility.

In a memorandum dated Aug. 19, addressed to technical director T.J. Dwyer, a number of infractions were uncovered.

At the Plutonium facility, a criticality safety infraction was declared. Nuclear criticality safety is dedicated to the prevention of  accidents resulting from an inadvertent, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

According to the report, “In order to take pictures of several cast plutonium items in a glove box, a plutonium worker removed the items from two separate slip lid containers in two different mass locations. The worker then collocated the items to take a picture. This resulted in a total mass that exceeded the criticality safety limit. An angle iron spacing delimiter that is a criticality safety engineered feature was also moved from its required location and used to prop up the items for the photographs.

“A second plutonium worker entered the area and recognized the over-mass condition. The first worker then moved the items back to their original location. This action is not consistent with criticality safety expectations and procedures, which require workers to back off and contact criticality safety personnel.

“Workers in the lab room were notified of the issue and the room was evacuated and facility management was notified. Subsequent evaluation by criticality safety personnel concluded that the current position of the items (i.e. after the worker returned the items to the separate locations inside slip lid containers) was safe and consistent with criticality safety requirements.”

According to the report, additional issues were addressed and a meeting was scheduled.
Plutonium Science and Manufacturing Directorate management plan paused work on Monday morning to conduct an all-hands briefing followed by breakout sessions at the group level to discuss the briefing and lessons learned.

The brief will focus on conduct of operations, criticality safety requirements, work authorization and lessons learned from this and other criticality safety issues. Management will authorize individual group activities to resume after this training is complete. All Plutonium Facility personnel were required to complete this training prior to being authorized to perform work.

Then it was off to the Waste Disposition Project nuclear facilities – Area G, the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing (RANT) and Waste Characterization, Reduction and Repackaging (WCRR).

The independent assessment covered a broad range of functional areas and safety management programs and was conducted by representatives from LANL, NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office, and DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security.

The FCA report concludes that WDP nuclear operations are significantly non-compliant with requirements in the following functional areas: safety basis, engineering (particularly configuration management), fire protection, criticality safety, emergency preparedness, quality assurance, and management systems. LANL line management organizations have accepted the findings and are developing corrective actions.