Jun 7, 2007

Missing nuclear waste prompts reforms

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

Los Alamos National Laboratory has taken several steps to avoid further discrepancies in its nuclear waste inventory.

Lab spokesperson James Rickman said that last September laboratory personnel discovered duplicate labels in three separate incidents, which led to a wall-to-wall inventory of its transuranic waste holdings and processes.

"That revealed incidences in which waste containers that were listed in the historical database could not be located and waste containers at the site were not listed in the database," he said.

The discrepancies were reported in a field report by the site representative of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in a memo dated May 4., which noted that LANL had reported "the results of a four-month inventory reconciliation in which 38 containers with a total of 169 plutonium-239 equivalent curies could not be accounted for."

The memo puts those numbers in perspective, by comparing them to the current above-ground inventory at Area-G, which includes roughly 20,000 containers that hold approximately 130,000 pu-239-equivalent curies.

Rickman said, the total amounted to one-tenth of the Transuranic waste at Area G.

"Area G is an access-controlled site," he said. "Only employees or subcontractors with badges can enter. Pajarito Road is behind a police-staffed entry station." These factors led the lab investigators to conclude that it was "extremely unlikely" that any waste was inappropriately handled.

More likely scenarios, he said, involve various record-keeping discrepancies, including repackaging waste from one container into one or more new containers without properly entering the data. Some waste containers may have been placed inside an "overpack" container without proper accounting and in other cases, technicians may have made errors in notation or data entry.

Corrective actions to be performed In the future, Rickman said, include quarterly spot checks of containers and monthly inventories of the storage domes, as well as spot validation of the locations of individual drums selected at random from the database. New data entry will require validation by two people.

Transuranic, or TRU waste refers to man-made radioactive wastes from elements with higher atomic numbers than uranium, of which plutonium is the most common element. The lab's waste containers are typically described as drums containing contaminated materials and equipment.

The containers are awaiting shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad, N.M.

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a Washington, D.C. public interest organization has expressed concerns for over ten years about discrepancies in nuclear materials accounts at LANL

Responding to the most recent reports, IEER noted that despite its reports and requests to the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, LANL, the Environmental Protection Agency and DNFSB to account fully for discrepancies, "None of these agencies has yet undertaken a serious investigation."


Anonymous said...

Can LANL really be trusted to do anything properly?...It's the same old story over and over again, simple records keeping, is proving too dificult for the Nations leading lab? I for one am questioning the operation of this once famouis lab...This Management is the worst in the recorded History of the lab...and will be well documented by the Media, and the Congress....Whay should we be trusted with any mission, we can't even keep simple records....I say shut,er down and start over somewhere else, cause things are only getting worse....

Anonymous said...

Now do you understand why Congress is so relectant to fund LANL? A Movie Rental Outlet has better records-keeping procedures than LANL...But the funny thing is that this kinda stuff just continues to happen time after time....Who's minding the store? Mikey should pay more attention to lab operations then mis-leading the work-force, the community and northern New Mexico with his no RIF"S B.S.What a Bunch huh....and you didn't think things could get much worse....just wait....

Anonymous said...

Let's take a minute to evluate this procedure...1) A barrel of waste...the count is 1...if you add another barrel, (1+1=2), now you have 2 barrels....so on...where can you go wrong..?

Anonymous said...

Post #1 & #2: So you claim simple math is the problem when you can't perform simple spelling (famouis, relectant, then v. than). Hmmmm?

While the Area G procedural error is unacceptable, I am beginning to realize we have a bunch of uneducated and judgmental people running their mouths off on this blog. If you can't spell, at least use a spell checker.

And before you blast me as an Area G insider, I have nothing to do with it. I am hoping that we can step up the quality of whining on this blog.

Anonymous said...

"I am hoping that we can step up the quality of whining on this blog."

Or maybe step up the quality of the blog (not the whining).

Pinky and The Brain said...

Are you the guy who doesn't like the orange stripe?

Anonymous said...


Actually, the record keeping at the lab is probably significantly better than that of a movie rental outlet. ~40 barrels out of 20000+ is 0.2% accuracy. It is highly likely that most retail stores have lossage far greater than this.

However, this does not excuse the level of accuracy as the potential impact (in reputation alone if not contamination) is higher. The "risk" (likelihood of error * consequence of error)is more than if a movie get lost or stolen.

So, what is the risk? Since it is pretty unlikely that 40 55-gallon drums walked off the site, they are probably still present, just unaccounted for.

Note: I also am not an Area G insider. I work at TA-3 (oooooh, a management puke, you say?) in something resembling a technical job.

Anonymous said...

What orange stripe?

Anonymous said...

The one running up the middle of your back....oh wait....thats yellow.

Anonymous said...

Another hilarious comment by an anonymous poster. This blog gets better and better.

Pinky and The Brain said...

The orange stripe comment was from about a month ago.

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Whistleblower Week":

He's not an idiot because he goes to strip clubs...he's an idiot because he tried to blame it on some kind of major incident related to LANL.
Anyone who can't see that is an idiot. Especially these blog-owner idiots who keep changing hands (but for some stupid reason, they keep the same dumb orange stripe).

Posted by Anonymous to LANL: The Rest of the Story at 5/12/07 1:46 PM"