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Wednesday, March 01, 2006  
LLNL cited for nuclear safety breach

By: ROGER SNODGRASS,, Monitor Assistant Editor
Published In: Los Alamos Monitor, New Mexico

The National Nuclear Security Administration plans to issue a citation for a series of safety violations going back nearly two years ago at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

In a letter to LLNL Director Michael Anastasio released on Monday, Administrator Linton Brooks concluded that the nuclear weapons laboratory broke a number of nuclear safety rules over more than a year, beginning in April 2004.

Anastasio is the designated director for Los Alamos National Laboratory under a contract with Los Alamos National Security, LLC, scheduled to begin June 1.

Officials of Lawrence Livermore, who had previously blamed a contractor for one of the events, for the first time accepted responsibility.

"We acknowledge our role in the incidents cited today by the Department of Energy/Price-Anderson Enforcement Office and the need for significant improvements in the laboratory's safety culture," LLNL said in an announcement Monday.

The violations include multiple radiological exposures, involving five individuals over a six-month period. The problems could have been worse, according to the notification, because of faulty protection and inappropriate responses by the Livermore laboratory.

The notice made a point of LLNL's reluctance to accept responsibility.

"None of the violations received mitigation for prompt identification," Brooks wrote, "since the underlying deficiencies were either disclosed by the events or through DOE/NNSA contract management and oversight activities."

A total civil penalty of $585,500 was imposed for the infractions, but waived by law.

Under the Price-Anderson Amendment statutes that govern nuclear safety, violations are measured by severity and fines are assessed accordingly, but the fines are waived for nonprofits. The University of California manages LLNL.

By comparison, Los Alamos National Laboratory was last cited under the Price-Anderson law in June 2004, for an event in which five workers were seriously exposed to toxic vapors.

Along with other issues uncovered in the radiological protection program, the violation was assessed a $770,000 fine.

In January 2005, in the midst of a laboratory-wide shutdown at Los Alamos National Laboratory, LLNL ordered a standdown of its plutonium facility as a result of complications related to the current set of violations.

Two draft plans to resolve the safety issues at Livermore's plutonium facility were rejected by the NNSA supervisors at Livermore, according to a Defense Nuclear Facilities Board site report at the time, triggering the standdown.

"It has not resumed full operations," said Marylia Kelley, executive director, of the public interest group Tri-Valley CAREs. Kelley lives down the street from the laboratory and has followed events at LLNL very closely.

"Livermore's role for violations from April through August 2004 isn't coming to light until the end of February 2006," she said. "I am not surprised to find that LLNL was substantially at fault."

Additional minor contamination incidents occurred during March, May and October of 2004 and reports were not filed on the events, as they should have been, according to the DNFSB site representative in his Dec. 3, 2004, report.

Two separate exposures were penalized in the notice.

One was a radiological uptake involving a trailer - the Mobile Visual Examination and Repackaging Unit (MOVER), which has a glovebox and the capacity to open TRU waste drums.

Some visual inspections must be performed on transuranic waste material prior to shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico.

The other was a radiological spill involving phosphorous-32. The spilled chemical was carried home on the shoe of an exposed worker.

"Without improvement, NNSA cannot have confidence that all critical elements of LLNL's safety programs are being effectively implemented," Brooks wrote. "I am also disappointed by the longstanding and recurring nature of many of the deficiencies associated with the violations."

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