Lab responds to critical report of safety practices

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By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos National Laboratory responded to an annual report the National Nuclear Security Administration sent to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Feb. 2. The report was critical of the lab’s design and manufacture of nuclear components.
The report measures the lab’s nuclear criticality safety programs and how well LANL is doing in implementing safety measures in the manufacture and design of nuclear components.
The purpose of the report is to prevent accidents that could lead to the discharge of radiation and other toxic materials related to the components and their manufacture into the environment.
“Along with the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Laboratory continues its effort to improve in the area of criticality safety,” LANL Spokesman Kevin Roark said. “As noted in the metric report, compensatory measures are in place to ensure safe operations. The Laboratory has taken a series of actions that include: implementing new and rigorous criticality safety controls; providing enhanced training to management and staff; evaluating and improving operating procedures which implement criticality controls; validating procedures can be used exactly as written; ensuring criticality safety documents and procedures are readily available to operators and increasing staffing levels.”​
The report documents fiscal year 2016. The report also graded 24 sites the Department of Energy oversees, including the nuclear complexes in Oakridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington.
According to the color coding in the report, green meant the facility “meets or exceeds expectations,” yellow means “adequate, but needs improvement” and red means “does not meet expectations.”
Los Alamos was the only facility on the list to receive a “red” rating. According to the NNSA, red means the lab’s safety program “remains noncompliant in several areas” but “compensatory measures remain in place to ensure safety in operations.”
The NNSA listed 21 program non-compliances were reported by contractors, and three were “externally identified.”
Experts from the northern New Mexico region weighed in on the report.
“Clearly, the NNSA is not happy with LANL’s Criticality Safety Program,” Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello said. “Adding a weasley statement ‘don’t worry it’s still safe,’ it’s something that should have been edited out before the signature. Either criticality is important or it’s not.”