LANL facilities at top of safety board's list

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By The Staff

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board recently submitted its fourth annual report on safety issues associated with aging infrastructure at Department of Energy facilities across the nation.

At the top of the list are two facilities at Los Alamos — the Plutonium Facility and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility.

The report was especially critical of PF-4.

The report, which was released Oct. 30, read, “PF-4 was designed and constructed in the 1970s and lacks the structural ductility and redundancy required by today’s building codes and standards. In 2007, a DOE-required periodic reanalysis of the seismic threat present at the Los Alamos site was completed. It indicated a greater than fourfold increase in the predicted earthquake ground motion. Total facility collapse is now considered a credible event. 

“PF-4, the nation’s sole plutonium fabrication center, contains significant amounts of plutonium, much of it in a form that is readily dispersible (i.e., powders and liquids), and is stored in containers that have not been certified to survive facility collapse. The resulting radiation dose consequence to the public following such an event was determined to exceed DOE’s allowed evaluation levels by several orders of magnitude.”

The report to Congress said LANL has undertaken a series of actions to improve the safety posture of PF-4.

A couple of months ago, lab director Charlie McMillan paused work at PF-4 and the lab has gradually ramped operations back up although not at 100 percent yet after taking some corrective measures. 

“These actions included efforts to reduce the likelihood and severity of a post-seismic fire, and address the nine known building weaknesses that could lead to loss of PF-4’s ability to confine its nuclear material or total structural collapse,” the report said.

“A more detailed seismic analysis to further refine PF-4’s response to a major earthquake was also undertaken and completed in September 2012. It identified two additional weaknesses that would result in collapse. Detailed planning to address these weaknesses has been initiated by LANL.”

An alternative analysis is currently being performed by an independent engineering firm and final results are expected in December.

“The timely identification and remediation of any structural vulnerabilities will have profound implications for ensuring public health and safety,” the report said.

 “In parallel with efforts to address the issue of potential collapse of the structure noted above, NNSA is continuing to pursue seismic upgrade of the fire suppression and key portions of the active confinement ventilation systems.”

The report then listed the most significant safety-related aging infrastructure issues that exist today in the DOE defense nuclear complex. 

• Los Alamos National Laboratory, Plutonium Facility-seismic fragility of building, and degraded safety system reliability.

• Los Alamos National Laboratory, Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility-seismic fragility of building.

• Los Alamos National Laboratory, Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility-building and equipment end of life.

• Nevada National Security Site, Device Assembly Facility-degradation of water tank and fire suppression system lead-ins.

• Pantex Plant, Site-Wide Fire Suppression Systems-degradation of fire suppression systems.

• Y-12 National Security Complex, 9212 Complex-seismic and high wind fragility of building, and building and equipment end of life.

• Hanford Site, Single-Shell and Double-Shell Tank Farms-aging tanks.

• Hanford Site, T Plant (Waste Storage, Treatment, and Packaging Operations)- seismic fragility of building.

• Savannah River Site, ff-Canyon-aging systems and structures. • Savannah River Site, Tank Farms-aging tanks.

• Savannah River Site, A-Area, Fire Protection Water Supply Systems-degraded pumps and tank.

According to the latest site weekly report on the DNFSB website, LANL recently submitted a revision of the 2011 Technical Area-55 (TA-55) Documented Safety Analysis and TSRs to the field office for approval. 

The safety basis revision addresses preparation and assay of transuranic waste outside of the Plutonium Facility but inside the TA-55 protected area. 

In an Oct. 11 Site Office report, NNSA recently completed an assessment of the LANL safety basis program and provided initial feedback to laboratory management. 

The assessment identified the following seven findings:

 1) lack of an effective process to ensure safety basis documents are reviewed prior to submittal; 

2) ineffective process to ensure safety basis deliverables meet NNSA expectations; 

3) lack of an effective comment resolution process;

4) inadequate process to implement DOE-STD-1189 in addressing NNSA comments for LANL projects;

5) internal assessments not performed per LANL procedures; 

6) inadequate formal process for implementation of new or revised safety basis documents; and 

7) cancellation of a safety basis procedure that did not meet LANL requirements.

LANL officials did not comment further on the DNFSB report.