BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Reports filed in late August and early September by two Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board resident inspectors at Los Alamos National Laboratory indicate recent issues at the Plutonium Facility at TA-55. One report says a worker replacing degraded braided wire cable for a glovebox door counterbalance had received an “uptake of plutonium-238” due to a glovebox breach.
LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said Tuesday that a worker believed a puncture had occurred with a left glove and immediately initiated the proper protection protocols.
“Contamination was detected on both the surgical glove on the left hand and on the skin of a finger. All external contamination was successfully removed. At the time, there was no evidence of any wound and standard safety precautions were implemented, including a complete bioassay,” he said.
Roark said the results of the bioassay showed evidence of an internal contamination and a more in-depth evaluation discovered that the individual had a small amount of radioactive material under the skin of the left ring finger, most of which was removed at a medical facility at the Laboratory. He said an internal inquiry is underway to determine the cause of the event and the individual is currently undergoing standard medical treatment for internal radiation exposure, and is doing non-radiological work at the Laboratory.
The DNFSB inspectors’ report, authored by Jonathan Plaue and David Gutowski, says that LANL Director Terry Wallace chartered a seven-person team to investigate the abnormal event. It said the team’s scope of work involves” work planning and control, conduct of the job, and the response up to the point of the wound-monitoring”.
“Given the uncertainty associated with the initial dose estimate relative to the (Department of Energy) criterion for a federal investigation, (National Nuclear Security Administration) has assigned two personnel to monitor the investigation,” the report says.
It says there is a substantial need to replace the wire cables in plutonium-238 gloveboxes and that a cable “failed during use” earlier this year.
Roark said given the sensitive nature of the work and the Laboratory’s commitment to the safety of its workers at Los Alamos, Laboratory personnel are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
“In rare cases in which contamination occurs due to a damaged or faulty glove, the Laboratory has standard procedures in place to ensure that the contamination is safely removed by trained radiation protection personnel,” he said.
The report also noted that three “other significant abnormal events recently occurred that all involve aspects of safety management programs that are essential to the safe operations of the defense nuclear facilities”.
“The events include: a less than adequate emergency response to smoking magnets at the LANSCE accelerator facility; a partial reaction of an explosive detonator during handling at a high explosives facility; and a near-miss during a lift when rigging equipment snapped and released a 47 foot long, 7000 pound column at the TA-3 electrical substation replacement project. LANL management is investigating the first two and the US Army Corps of Engineers is investigating the third,” the report said.