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Safety board questions lab

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Members of a federal safety panel Thursday express impatience with federal efforts to reduce nuclear safety risks at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We’re a little frustrated,” said Peter Winokur, chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

Winokur’s comments came during a public hearing in Santa Fe probing nuclear safety at the lab’s current facilities, emergency preparedness and plans for new nuclear buildings at the nuclear weapons design and manufacturing center.

Much of the discussion focused on the lab’s Plutonium Facility, a 1970s-era building that is the nation’s only facility for processing and manufacturing with plutonium, the dangerously radioactive material at the heart of nuclear weapons.

As the only facility in the country, the building needs to last for the next 50 years, noted safety board member John Mansfield. During that time, Mansfield, noted, there is a 1.5 percent rick each year of a catastrophic earthquake, which the lab needs to guard against.

Winokur and his colleagues praised the lab for moving quickly to make seismic repairs to the Plutonium Facility, where a study earlier in the year found new risks in the event of a major earthquake. But board members questioned lab and federal officials about whether the steps being taken meet a federal requirement that the lab and federal government provide “adequate protection” to workers and the public.

“You need to provide adequate protection every moment of the day,” Winokur said.