Plutonium Facility 4 At Los Alamos National Laboratory. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
New details of a June 8 incident at Los Alamos National Laboratory that resulted in 15 employees being evaluated for Plutonium-238 indicate that a glovebox glove that set off a continuous air monitor alarm after being removed by an employee, was scheduled to be replaced June 9.
An incident report on the online Department of Energy’s Occurrence Reporting and Processing Program (ORPS) indicates that there were 14 employees in the room at the Plutonium Facility in Technical Area 55 and that they immediately exited to the corridor, setting off additional monitors.
Surveys by radiological control technicians who immediately responded found no detectable contamination on 13 of the employees but contamination was found on the coveralls, neck and back of the head of the employee who was wearing the damaged glove. The employee was placed in an additional set of coveralls and taken to the decontamination and contamination was removed with soap and water. Nasal swipes obtained from the other 13 employees showed no detectable contamination but the 14th employee tested positive and was taken to the LANL Occupational Medicine Facility to consult with an internal dosimetrist. Some radiological contamination was detected in the corridor outside the room where the incident occurred.
The report indicates that 14 employees were issued a special bioassay kit and they were restricted from access to TA-55-4 pending the results of the bioassays and that a 15th bioassay kit was issued to an employee who had left the room approximately 30 seconds before the monitors alarmed.
According to the report the glovebox involved with June 8 event is equipped with three tiers of glovebox gloves and is used for multiple types of operations which were replaced in November 2019. The gloves, which are rated for several years of use, have an orange layer that is appears when gloves become worn to indicate that they should be replaced. The report notes that the gloves are changed out based on how they feel and if any wear or the orange layer is seen. They are inspected daily before the start of work and frequently throughout the work day as they are used, with operators required to survey their hands for contamination whenever they remove the gloves.
When the incident occurred, six employees were working in the glovebox and nine other employees were working in the room. Thirteen employees were preparing to leave the room and one had already left. The last employee was in the process of securing his gloves outside the glovebox by clipping them together when the alarm sounded.
On June 10, RCTs entered the room and detected contamination on four glovebox gloves as well as a breach on the thumb area of the left-hand glove that initially set off the alarms.
A Lab spokesperson told the Los Alamos Reporter Monday that employees responded promptly and appropriately, and cleared the room in a safe manner and that there was no risk to public health and safety. The DOE Occurrence Report may be viewed here.