Oct 9, 2007

LANL halts some plutonium work

Projects slowed for safety reviews

By Wendy Brown | The New Mexican
10/9/2007

Los Alamos National Laboratory officials halted some plutonium operations in late September because of concerns about nuclear safety at limited storage areas at Technical Area 55.

The lab stopped some operations Sept. 21 and resumed some of them Sept. 27, said Kevin Roark, spokesman for the lab. As lab officials become more confident about safety, they are increasing the number of operations, he said, but they are not yet back to regular levels.

Roark said the lab hopes to resume regular operations as soon as possible, but he did not know when that would take place.

There was no accident or danger of an accident, Roark said, but lab officials took the action as a preventative and precautionary measure. "This is the lab's climate of safety," he said. "We want to take the most conservative approach to safety."

The safety issue concerns whether there is adequate radiation shielding to prevent a criticality event, Roark said. Criticality occurs when there is too much nuclear material in a given space and a chain reaction takes place. Nuclear weapons reach an uncontrolled criticality when they explode, but criticality can be controlled, and that is what happens in nuclear power plants.

"You just don't want it to have it happen by accident," Roark said. "That's what's really bad."

But the lab's concerns about criticality were not based on everyday safety situations, Roark said.

Lab officials want to be sure that a problem will not happen if several unlikely events take place at the same time, Roark said. The likelihood that a "perfect storm" of problems would happen is extremely remote, he said, but lab officials prepare for it anyway.

The study of criticality safety started at the lab, and the last criticality accident to take place at the lab was on New Year's Eve of 1958, Roark said. One person died.

"We are not ever going to have another criticality accident here if we can help it," Roark said.

Contact Wendy Brown at 986-3072 or wbrown@sfnewmexican.com.

[This story was also covered by Jim Williams of KUNM. The audio is available here.]

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kevin Roark is an idiot and an embarrassment to LANL. I just have this vision of a big stick shoved up his butt with him saying whatever Rich Marquez tells him to.

Anonymous said...

No kidding! "Were not going to have another criticality incident (the last one in 1958)!" Wow, what a statement. And to think they actually let this guy be the voice of LANL. Why not RIF his sorry ass and do us (and the rest of the DOE complex) all a favor?

Anonymous said...

Sorry guys - I am as mad at LANS as anyone else, but these hits on Kevin are just BS. I've worked with Kevin for many years (and I am not in public affairs). He is a straight shooter who is just doing his job. He is supporting the institution and making the facts known to the local and national press, whose handling of facts is notoriously suspect. He doesn't give more information than necessary, and gives whatever positive info he has. He does NOT lie. Tell me how you would do his job (and remain employed). If you think his job is not necessary, you are naive. If you think you have different "facts" than Kevin has stated, I know that he will be glad to hear from you, anonymously if you prefer.

Anonymous said...

Wow. How does he get away with saying that?

Anonymous said...

Work-free safety zone, here we come! There is a 1:200,000,000,000 chance that a large meteorite could slam into TA-55 over the next 100 years and spread radiation all over town. Stop work now! We need new contingency plans!

Anonymous said...

"Wow. How does he get away with saying that?"

Rich Marquez told him to say that. Rich is no scientist and does not realize how retarded it makes Kevin look. But then, Rich does not care about how Kevin looks, he only cares about protecting his (Rich's) power and position.

And unfortunately, Mike Anastasio and deputies are too stupid to realize what Rich is doing. Remember, Mike calls Rich "his personal lawyer". Enough said.

Anonymous said...

10/9/07 10:09 PM said...
"Work-free safety zone, here we come! There is a 1:200,000,000,000 chance that a large meteorite could slam into TA-55 over the next 100 years and spread radiation all over town. Stop work now! We need new contingency plans!"

Shut up! This is exactly what Kim Thomas (former DDL of C-division ) used to say in her safety what-if analyses. Wallace was so impressed with her sense of safety that he promoted her to the DL of STB so that she could be in charge of the student and psotdoc programs. He really does see people's inner potential, doesn't he?

Anonymous said...

"You just don't want it to have it happen by accident," Roark said. "That's what's really bad."

Ouch, I spewed coffee out my nose when I read that one! Echoes of Ghostbusters.

Doug said...

10:04pm

I'm sorry, but Kevin 'Comical Ali' Roark has earned his reputation for being a dishonest mouthpiece of LANL management. During the entire life of the original "LANL, The Real Story" blog, he attempted to characterize it as home to "a few highly vocal malcontents". His words.

By the time I shut down LTRS, it had accrued more than 3.3 million hits, and tens of thousands of comments.

Kevin will say whatever LANL management tells him to say -- that's his job. We don't have to respect him for doing it.

-Doug Roberts
LANL, Retired

Anonymous said...

Question: How can you tell when a Lab spokesperson is lying?

Answer: When his lips begin to move.

Solution: Become a ventriloquist.

Result: You get Marquez with dummies like Roark sitting on his lap.

Anonymous said...

10/9/07 10:04PM said "Sorry guys - I am as mad at LANS as anyone else, but these hits on Kevin are just BS. I've worked with Kevin for many years (and I am not in public affairs). He is a straight shooter who is just doing his job."

Trust me.
--R Marquez

Anonymous said...

"There is a 1:200,000,000,000 chance that a large meteorite could slam into TA-55 over the next 100 years and spread radiation all over town. Stop work now! We need new contingency plans!"

-The Dinosaur Lab's Famous Last Words

Pinky and The Brain said...

If the last accident was in 1958 then I guess this didn't happen.

From LA-13638.pdf, page 83:

8. Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, 17 June 1960
235 U metal, graphite reflected, assembly; single excursion; insignificant exposures.

The critical parameters of highly enriched (93% 235U) uranium metal cylinders in thick graphite (about 9 inches) and near infinite water reflectors were being investigated. In the experiment of interest, an approximate 48 kg uranium annulus was built up on a cylinder of graphite that, in turn, rested on a hydraulic lift device. This annulus was raised by remote control into a reflector of graphite resting on a stationary steel platform. The system became critical before complete assembly and was scrammed both manually and automatically at about 1 inch from closure. Following the scram signal, the lift dropped rapidly and the system became subcritical, but about one–third of the metal mass stuck in the graphite reflector for a few seconds before falling to the floor. The yield was 6×10^16 fissions; there was no contamination or damage to the fissile metal. Personnel radiation doses were immeasurably small.

This accident was, in many respects, similar to that of Jemima (II-B.4). The reactivity sensitivity of this particular experiment was not measured after the power transient but, when investigators examined similar systems, the reactivity insertion rate probably did not exceed a few dollars per second and the initial spike could have included 10^15 fissions. The fission yield was very close to that of the first Godiva accident (3 February 1954, 5.6×10^16 fissions), and the two masses are quite comparable. In the earlier case, all of the energy release took place during the power spike and some warping of pieces and damage to supports was seen. In this transient, the metal was undamaged, thus supporting the assertion that the initial power spike was small compared to the total yield.

Anonymous said...

Probably, Roark was referring to criticality accidents with injury or death. I'd guess "accidents" where greater than planned excursions occur, but no adverse effect results, have been fairly numerous in comparison. In any case, without specific addressing of the semantics issue, one can probably lighten up on this issue.

Pinky and The Brain said...

A later story phrases it differently, which matches your interpretation.

The last fatal criticality accident to take place there was on New Year's Eve of 1958, Roark said. One person died.

Anonymous said...

Why does the phrase "don't shoot the messenger" seem to be one people are familiar with around here? Roark is often quoted with the title of "Lab spokesman", which imples that he is simply the person who gets their name attached to statements generated by others. While I agree that the statements he makes are worthy of ridicule, I don't agree that it is valid to attack him given that he has the role of the public voice of the scummy lab management. Every large organization has someone who plays this role -- be it a corporation or government. I would assume that the people who take this role have both thick skin and a desire to get a paycheck - I highly doubt that PR folks agree 100% with what they are tasked with saying.

It's weird how, in most cases when people disagree with the press releases (example: microsoft), the critics attack the company. Why around here do people attack the guy stuck with the job of making the statements others hand him? Just because St. Doug of the Church of the LTRS has given him a less than clever nickname?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, 2:51am, I don't buy the "poor little Kevin" bit. Roark rose to ascendancy spouting Nanos' lies during that sad period of LANL's history. He has continued his art as the new LLC's mouthpiece, spouting their, as you say, scummy party line. If Roark wants respect, he should go find a job that commands more respect, like pimp, or drug dealer.

PS. I am sorry you were losing sleep over this issue to the extent that you felt compelled to share your thoughts with us at 2:51 in the morning.

Anonymous said...

"PS. I am sorry you were losing sleep over this issue to the extent that you felt compelled to share your thoughts with us at 2:51 in the morning."

5:15 a.m. is better?

Anonymous said...

It is if you happen to be traveling on the east coast. Roark has no respect here either, FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Roark is doing a tough job in tough times. Besides, what he said is true and was verified by LASO oversight folks.

Give the hate a rest, folks. It will make you burn up inside.

Anonymous said...

"Roark is doing a tough job in tough times." - 10:36 PM

No. Roark is a corporate pimp who would gladly lick the spittle off the boot of any of LANS' top staff. He is more than just a mouthpiece. He's part of the corrupt and inept inner circle has become LANL's management.

Bobo said...

Pinky and the Brain need to rename themselves as "Clueless and the Brainless". You people know zippo about Los Alamos history and even less about criticality issues.

Roark specifically states in his opening statement that he is discussing criticality issues involving Pu operations at TA-55. Accordingly, he (correctly) references the last Pu processing operation criticality accident in December 1958 at the old Pu processing facility at TA-21. In trying to be cute, you guys refer to an entirely different issue by refering to the accident involving a controlled criticality experiment at Pajarito Site.

Roark is a genius compared to you guys!!!

Pinky and The Brain said...

Read the story again Bobo. No cookie for you!

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Have another beer, Bobo. Things will look better in the morning.

--Gussie