SANTA FE – An independent oversight board says that efforts to improve safety at Los Alamos National Laboratory in case of an earthquake — the lab sits on a fault — have stagnated and remain incomplete, even as the lab’s mission is ramping up for production of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s report says that a number of concerns “call into question the overall adequacy of the current set of safety controls to protect the public and workers.”
A LANL spokesman provided a statement saying the lab has completed many seismic upgrades and is confident that current and future improvements to its plutonium facility “will fully support the Lab’s mission needs and meet the safety requirements related to any credible seismic event.”
Studies have shown Los Alamos has a probability of a major earthquake once every 10,000 years. In the worst case, a devastating quake would be followed by a fire that could spread contamination.
The DNFSB, created by Congress as a safety watchdog for nuclear weapons labs, said there has been agreement for more than a decade over necessary upgrades to seismic safety systems at LANL’s plutonium facility known as PF-4.
LANL has completed several projects, the report says. But completion dates for upgrades “to fire barriers, as well as the ventilation and fire suppression systems, have slipped well beyond LANL’s initial estimates,” says the Nov. 15 report to U.S. Department of Energy. “These systems are essential to LANL’s safety control strategy for post-seismic fires.”