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SANTA FE – A radioactive material leak that contaminated six workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory at a potential exposure level “two or more times the annual limit” for the area is now the subject of a formal inquiry, according to a National Nuclear Security Agency report.
The Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board is conducting the probe.
LANL, in a statement Tuesday, emphasized that the contamination level was from an indicator, “not the actual dose received by any of the workers in the room.”
According to the report, the airborne release Jan. 7 occurred when workers were repacking a container of radioactive material using a plutonium glovebox – a device used to protect workers from hazardous materials – when workers withdrew their arms from the glovebox “and detected contamination during standard monitoring.”
Within seconds continuous air monitors sounded and the six workers followed procedures and evacuated the room.
Technicians responded and found the face, heads and personal protective equipment of two workers were contaminated. “They were subsequently successfully decontaminated” but nasal swabs showed that one of those workers and two others in the room had “potential radiological intakes,” the report said.
All of the workers are being monitored. “One worker was determined to have been exposed at a level that warranted outpatient treatment, which was administered at the Lab’s Occupational Medicine Clinic,” according to the LANL statement.
“Preliminary results from evaluation of the affected employee indicate that exposures are within known safety limits,” the statement said.
Department of Energy regulations require an Accident Investigation Board be established within three days of an incident in which air monitors in LANL’s plutonium facility show a radiation release greater than two times the allowable limit and in this case it was 2.3 times the allowable limit, the spokesperson’s statement said.
“The health of all the employees is being monitored in accordance with Laboratory policy. There was no risk to public health and safety or the environment. The laboratory is cooperating with the Department of Energy/NNSA (National Nuclear Security Agency) on an investigation of the event,” said the statement.
After its decontamination, the five-member Accident Investigation Board toured the laboratory room where the incident occurred and interviewed employees. Board members were briefed by Triad National Security LLC’s team, which deals with how radiation doses are determined. Triad is the consortium that operates LANL.