SANTA FE – The nuclear security wing of U.S. Department of Energy has issued preliminary notice of a “serious” safety violation for a 2017 mishap at Los Alamos National Laboratory that the DOE previously described as a “near miss to a fatality.”
The violation notice was sent recently to the lab’s former operating consortium, Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS), whose management tenure ended Oct. 31. A series of safety issues prompted the federal government to rebid the $2 billion-plus annual operating contract at Los Alamos, and LANS did not submit a proposal to keep the contract.
The Dec. 20 notice from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) says the 2017 incident — where a worker responding to a room’s alarm was exposed to an oxygen-deficient atmosphere — revealed deficiencies “of high safety significance.”
For failures related to hazard identification, assessment, prevention and abatement, LANS was cited for a Level 1 violation. That’s a serious violation deemed to exist in a workspace “if there is a potential that death or serious physical harm could result,” says the notice letter.
But a LANL spokesman, in an email statement, said, “While it is now clear that no employees were in imminent danger due to the low-oxygen alarm event at building 40, it is also clear that well-established procedures and practices for responding to a low-oxygen alarm were not fully followed. We need to and will do better. In the interests of their own safety, we have reminded our workers to keep safety uppermost in their minds at all times.”
The lab is now run by Triad National Security, LLC, which consists of the University of California, Texas A&M and Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, a huge scientific nonprofit that has been involved in other national lab operations. The University of California was also a part of LANS, along with the Bechtel corporation and two other private entities.