Some systems intended to keep Los Alamos National Laboratory safer are deficient, according to a government report that provides few specific findings because of security concerns.
A.J. Eggenberger, chairman of the federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which reviews safety at the country's nuclear weapons facilities, wrote about the problems in an Oct. 16 letter to Thomas D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, which maintains the safety of the country's nuclear weapons stockpile.
"While it is arguable whether any of the individual system deficiencies identified by the staff constitute an immediate safety concern, their collective importance and widespread nature warrant immediate attention," Eggenberger wrote.
The exact nature of the problems can't be described for security reasons, said Don Ami, a spokesman for the administration in Los Alamos, but they are important. Kevin Roark, a lab spokesman, directed The New Mexican to Ami for comment.
The lab has a plan to address the problems and is in the process of hiring more people to put the plan in action, said Donald L. Winchell, the administration's revitalization manager at the Los Alamos Site Office.
"We will continue to work with the laboratory to ensure speedy action on these important safety initiatives," Winchell said.
Although the safety board would like the administration to take faster action, the board's letter noted that none of their concerns are an immediate safety concern when taken individually, Winchell said.
The board raised many of the concerns at a public meeting in March 2006, Eggenberger's letter says, and the board reiterated them in a February letter to NNSA.
Board staff members wrote a report about the problems after inspecting safety systems in July at the lab's plutonium facility, weapons engineering tritium facility, and the chemistry and metallurgy research facility, the letter says.
The report noted two safety system deficiencies in the plutonium facility, one concerning an air system and another a water bath. The weapons engineering tritium facility had safety system deficiencies with a tritium gas handling system and an inert and oxygen monitoring system, the report said.
And the chemistry and metallurgy research facility had safety system deficiencies with a particular type of seal and a door interlock system, according to the report.
The administration must provide the board with a report and briefing about the actions the administration has taken to fix the problems in 60 days, the letter says.
Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an Albuquerque-based watchdog group, said the board's safety concerns shouldn't cause hysteria, but they also shouldn't be downplayed.
"The board shouldn't have to keep going over the same serious safety problems over and over again," said Mello. "And these are serious safety problems."
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The federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board says the deficiencies in some of Los Alamos National Laboratory's safety systems include:
- Incomplete or inadequate descriptions of safety functions
- Weak or missing design information
- Failure to verify safety functions through surveillance and testing
- Failure to provide enough maintenance for the systems
- Lack of adequate normal and abnormal operating procedures
- Lack of formal calculations for important operating parameters
- Outdated, and in some cases, inadequate safety bases