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Los Alamos workers exposed to radiation

SANTA FE – Radioactive material was released last month when pipefitters at Los Alamos National Laboratory removed a plug from a service panel on a sealed glovebox in the lab’s plutonium facility, according a report by an independent federal safety panel.

“All three workers were contaminated on their protective clothing,” including one on his skin in the chest area, “which was successfully decontaminated,” says the report posted by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s Los Alamos staff.

“Nasal smears were all determined to be negative and the workers were placed on special bioassay,” according to the report, part of a DNFSB weekly update on safety issues at the lab.

A LANL spokesman released a statement Thursday saying, “The worker that received skin contamination was successfully and thoroughly decontaminated – mostly by washing off the contamination with water. None of the three workers received any measurable dose, and there was no risk to the public. The facility’s safety systems worked as designed.

“The Laboratory’s work with nuclear materials on behalf of the country is complex, challenging and comes with inherent risks. The safety systems and procedures in place at the Laboratory’s plutonium facility are designed to greatly reduce the risk to Laboratory employees, the public and the environment, and make it the safest place for this type of work.”

The safety board report says two pipefitters, accompanied by a radiological control technician, were replacing elbows on the service panel with shorter versions when the plug was removed because was interfering with turning one of the elbows. “This was the same work crew and glovebox involved” in another recent, previously reported contamination event, the report states.

In the previous event, access to the plutonium facility and movement of all personnel were suspended for about two hours after radiological control technicians found contamination on the protective clothing of several workers.

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