SANTA FE – Two hundred gallons of contaminated water spilled at the Los Alamos National Laboratory nearly a month ago after a worker failed to close a cooling valve.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the July 19 incident at the lab’s plutonium facility caused some of the liquid to flow into an air vent and an inactive glove box used for handling radioactive materials.
The lab said that workers discovered mildly radioactive water on the facility’s first floor near a pump room and a small amount of water in the basement and that there was no risk to employees or the public.
The spill has prompted an internal investigation, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a government watchdog.
The safety board’s most recent weekly report said the spill resulted from a worker not closing a valve after refilling a water tank, coupled with another spring-closed valve not clamping shut.
The board expressed concern about the water draining into a vent and then through a glove box, a sealed compartment with attached gloves that workers use to handle radioactive items.
The report suggests a flow of such water into an active glove box containing radioactive components, debris or residue could be hazardous.
The July spill is much smaller than the 1,800 gallons released in March when a worker also left a valve open. In that incident, an internal alarm failed to alert personnel in the operations center.