PF-4 concerns Rodgers

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Council > Chair wants to meet with NNSA head

By John Severance

Los Alamos County Council Chair Geoff Rodgers, Councilors Pete Sheehey and Fran Berting, along with administrator Harry Burgess, will travel to Washington, D.C. at the end of the month.

Rodgers said they are still finalizing plans, but he did say “it will be a meeting-packed agenda.”

One of the people that Rodgers is hoping to talk to is Neile Miller, the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

In fact, Rodgers wrote a letter to Miller, expressing his concerns about a new safety risk analysis made pubic by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The DNFSB was reviewing data related to the Plutonium Facility (PF-4) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

The Safety Board is particularly concerned about “the potential for very high offsite dose consequences” under a scenario in which a severe earthquake caused the collapse of PF-4.

In the letter to Miller, Rodgers wrote, “That language is very alarming to residents, our neighbors and me as an elected official. More information is needed on what exactly that means and what your office and the DNFSB are doing to resolve the issue. I would like to discuss any further additional emergency response preparations our community should be making in light of this letter.

“… If the threat is as great as described in the letter, then the only satisfactory response is to address the threat even in this uncertain budget climate. I would like to discuss this issue further with you when I visit Washington, D.C. later this month.”

Rodgers said he plans to provide Miller with local input “that you can incorporate into the report DOE is preparing on the current state of the public and worker protection for PF-4 seismic accident scenarios and the risk reduction measures to be applied to mitigate near-term seismic risks.”

In a Jan. 3 letter addressed to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, DNFSB chair Peter Winokur wrote, “The board remains deeply concerned with the seismic safety posture of PF-4 at Los Alamos.”

Winokur cited a recent analysis performed by a LANL contractor which demonstrated that PF-4 was vulnerable to structural collapse.

“The large plutonium inventory of PF-4, coupled, with the facility’s proximity to the public, creates the potential for very high offsite dose consequences if the building were to collapse. Structural upgrades necessary to fix the PF-4 vulnerabilities are currently projected to take several years to complete. In the interim, the potential for very high dose consequences remains.”

NNSA spokesman Josh McConaha said in a statement, “NNSA has been steadily improving the safety of PF-4 and has been in close communication with the DNFSB to address their concerns. The NNSA considers the safety of the public our highest priority. 

“Based on the results of ongoing analysis, we will take any additional actions that are necessary to ensure public safety at PF-4, and continue ongoing physical improvements to reduce the probability of a seismic collapse and increase the overall safety posture of the facility.”

According to a recent Los Alamos Site Office Report, there are plans for a table top emergency exercise focused on a Plutonium Facility collapse scenario as the result of a significant seismic event. The series of tabletop exercises is planned for Feb. 26.


Thanks to the county council for following through on this risk assessment. I hope they are able to help find funds to apply reasonable mitigations and lower this risk. Meanwhile, if the ground shakes, I'll grab the family and pets and get off the hill!