LANL Glovebox Woes Continue At Plutonium Facility

The Plutonium Facility at TA-55 at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo Courtesy LANL



Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to have problems with glovebox operations at the Plutonium Facility in TA-55. On September 23, an oval ergonomic glovebox glove and ring assembly being used by an operator unexpectedly separated from the glovebox port, according to an occurrence report.

The separation created an opening into the contaminated glovebox and the operator immediately alerted other workers in the room while he kept his hands and arms in the glovebox gloves until a responding radiological control technician placed a respirator on him and he slowly removed his hands and arms from the gloves and glovebox, the report states. The operator was surveyed and 500,000 disintegrations per minute (dpm) alpha contamination was detected on the chest of his anti-contamination coveralls which were removed. No face or skin contamination was detected, the report said. Results of nasal swipes taken from the worker were noted as NDA (no detectable activity).

Air sampler units in the area indicated no release had occurred and access to the room was restricted pending decontamination of affected areas.

The report notes that this was the second instance of a glovebox glove separation from a CRL glove port. The first instance occurred July 21 and involved the same glovebox and type of glove port. Following the Sept. 23 incident, operations involving CRL oval/ergonomic glove parts were paused pending review. The oval ports were recently installed on some gloveboxes at the facility to provide “enhanced ergonomic support for workers” to allow for a greater range of worker heights to work in the gloveboxes while “reducing acute angulation at the shoulder or elbow”.

During the July 21 event, the glove and ring assembly also separated from the port while the worker placed his right hand in the glove at a similar angle. In that incident, the worker tried to assist another worker on the other side of the glovebox with placement of an item in the airlock however the glove pushed through and left an opening in the port. Contamination was detected on the worker’s coveralls in the area of his left rib and under his left arm but no skin contamination was detected and the worker was “successfully deconned”, the report states. The glove was replaced later the same day and the room was released for use.

In June, a glovebox glove breach resulted in 15 workers being evaluated for potential exposure.

The Los Alamos Reporter reached out to the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office Thursday but had not received statement as of close of business.

Update: An NNSA spokesperson issued the following statementL

Glove breach issues are a continual challenge and NNSA is constantly exploring ways to assure glove integrity and quality. This work is a heavily scrutinized part of our safety envelope with radiological activities and, although failures are relatively rare considering the number of gloves and times used, they are known to occur for a variety of reasons periodically. NNSA is focused on lessening the chance of failures and training to handle the situation when a glove does fail. This requires a  rigorous and robust safety program and culture present across our Enterprise. On September 23rd, Los Alamos National Laboratory employees responded quickly, safely, and correctly to an unexpected event involving a breached glovebox glove port at Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4), preventing any contamination spread or radioactive exposure.  There were no injuries sustained by any workers, nor was any risk posed to public health and safety.  The Laboratory is investigating the cause of the event.