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LANL managers cited after electrical accident

SANTA FE – The federal government has cited the managers of Los Alamos National Laboratory for a May 2015 electrical accident described as “a near miss to a fatality” that left one person with serious injuries and for other potentially dangerous electrical safety violations.

Some of the problems are the same ones found in prior investigations from 2009 and 2011, says a June 8 preliminary notice of violation sent by Frank Klotz, administrator of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The lab has 30 days to respond or contest the findings.

The private contractor that runs the lab – Los Alamos National Security LLC – was previously docked $7.2 million for the 2015 accident at the lab’s Technical Area 53 that caused third- and fourth-degree burns to a worker, through reduction in LANS’s annual performance-based “award fee.”

The 2015 award fee for LANS – a consortium including Bechtel and the University of California – could have been as much as $61.7 million, but the actual award was $45 million, including deductions for both the electrical accident and a radioactive leak at a Nevada site run by the Los Alamos lab. Considering the already imposed fee reduction, “DOE proposes no civil penalties” for the electrical accident, Klotz told lab director Charles McMillan in a June 8 letter.

The notice says the worker was injured by an arc flash and blast while performing cleaning maintenance on 13.8 kilovolt equipment that the worker presumed had been turned off. His injuries will require “extensive long-term medical treatment,” the letter says.

The failures were in such areas as hazard assessment, protective gear and training. While the lab has taken corrective measures, “continued senior management attention will be necessary” to “prevent recurrence of weaknesses that have persisted at least since 2008,” Klotz wrote.

A lab spokesman provided this statement: “Nothing is more important than the safety of the Laboratory’s workforce. The Laboratory has a deep interest in ensuring that all work is accomplished safely, regardless of location, program or organization.

“The Laboratory’s goal is to achieve a uniform manner of hazard identification and evaluation, engage workers with all levels of management, operate within defined safety envelopes with well understood risks and controls for each activity, and provide for the dynamic nature of R&D. We have identified and are implementing 47 corrective actions that resulted from the electrical arc flash event that occurred last year.”

LANS’s contract to run the lab expires at the end of the fiscal year that ends in September 2018 and the contract will be rebid. The consortium failed to get adequate evaluations to earn contract extensions, particularly for FY2014, when a drum packed improperly at Los Alamos breached at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and shut down the national nuclear waste storage facility.