Sep 24, 2007

Flying Under the Radar

With so much happening at the lab it's easy for something to fly under the radar. Thanks to our readers we catch some of it, like the comment below from the Anonymous Rumor Submission post. The comment refers to the Draft LASO Biennial Review Final Report - Executive Summary, which includes this gem:
In the area of conduct of engineering, LASO has not established and appears to have no plans to establish a safety system oversight program that meets the requirements of DOE M 426.1-1A.
Among the responsibilities for safety system oversight personnel listed in DOE M 426.1-1A is this:
Report potential or emergent hazards immediately to DOE line management and FRs, and stop tasks, if required, to prevent imminent impact to the health and safety of workers and the public, to protect the environment, or to protect the facility and equipment and immediately notify the on-duty or on-call FR.
The obvious question being who, if anyone, is currently performing this function? Perhaps the only thing more incredible about the Biennial Review is the assertion that, "LASO has improved its performance in recent months."

It's frightening to imagine how it could have been any worse.

In addition to the reader comment below, the story was covered here by Raam Wong of The Albuquerque Journal.




A National Nuclear Security Administration internal review has turned up several deficiencies in the safety oversight and assessment processes at the Los Alamos Site Office. According to a draft copy of a Chief of Defense Nuclear Safety review released last week by the Project on Government Oversight, many of the safeguards to ensure implementation and maintenance of the nuclear safety management rule at Los Alamos National Laboratory were "not implemented effectively" and that "continued improvement in most functional areas" was warranted.

While acknowledging that the site office has recently improved its performance, the Aug. 9 "Headquarters Biennial Review of Site Nuclear Safety Performance Los Alamos Site Office" found that only four of the 14 nuclear safety oversight and assessment processes reviewed met expectations: packaging and transportation, quality assurance, criticality safety, and radiation protection.

According to the review, there were five areas of significant concern, including oversight of contractor training and maintenance. Also cited were:
  • Significant gaps that exist in meeting National Nuclear Security Administration requirements in the areas of formality of operations, engineering, maintenance, training, quality assurance, and safety basis;
  • Staffing in several key areas found to be lacking, including conduct of engineering, contractor training and qualification, safety basis, facility representatives, maintenance, and fire protection;
  • Key federal personnel that are not trained and qualified because of a "self-described personnel “churn" at the site office; and
  • Assessments that have not been conducted to find out why federal oversight failed to ensure adequate implementation of nuclear safety requirements at the lab.
"The aggregate of the above concerns represents a significant weakness in the LASO capability to accomplish its mission," the report states.

NNSA Working To Improve Oversight

NNSA officials would not comment on the draft report specifically, but a spokesperson said one of new NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino's top priorities is increasing federal oversight of the labs. "We take safety and security very seriously," NNSA spokesman John Broehm said. "There are a lot of different things he'll be doing as new administrator to take care of that." The draft report went on to recommend that the Los Alamos Site Office receive external assistance from the NNSA. "The number and significance of the identified issues are of particular concern given the current state of flux within LASO," the report says. "The manager was recently selected, several key positions are in an acting status, and numerous staff functions are understaffed."


Anonymous said...

We don't need no steenk'n safety system oversight program for no steenk'n pit factory.


Anonymous said...

The DOE concept of "safety system oversight" is a sick joke. The needless bureaucracy seems intended to inhibit any real attempt to get work done. I can tell you from direct experience that merely trying to understand it, much less see any virtue in it, results immediately in vertigo and intense nausea for any sane person. Perhaps this is the reason LASO has had limited success in implementation. So the DOE report in this instance amounts to "why haven't you succeeded in carrying out this impossible task?"

Why does DOE still exist after years of being referred to by almost everyone as "a disfunctional agency"?

Anonymous said...

The DOE is incapable of providing oversight of anything, particularly safety.

Anonymous said...

Dysfunctional or disfunctional, any way you want to spell it, that's what DOE is. Perhaps if NNSA had really been autonomous, it and the labs could have been moved out from under the ignorance and incompetence of DOE to just about any other federal bureaucracy, maybe even the Department of Agriculture, and everybody would now be better off. That evidently never was an intended outcome.