Dec 5, 2007

Editorial: Government must mandate safety for labs

The Albuquerque Tribune

Another slap on the hand is about all the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories are getting for their rather slipshod safety performance and record.

It's unfortunate, because the people doing this national security work deserve much higher priority than the labs or the federal government have given them.

This week the Government Accounting Office recommended tougher safety oversight of Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico, and Livermore National Laboratory east of San Francisco.

They certainly could benefit from that. But the labs likely will never change until the government absolutely mandates safety and makes laboratory directors and division and department heads directly responsible - financially, if need be - for implementing and enforcing safety.

The GAO documented persistent safety problems over the last seven years, with nearly 60 serious accidents or "near misses." Sixty!

Were these unavoidable? No. Were these the result of trying to meet crucial national security deadlines that affect the safety and well-being of every American? Not really. Were these what you would expect from the best and brightest, whose primary job it is to ensure virtually fail-safe performance and safety from their key product - the nation's nuclear warheads? Certainly not.

These were the result, according to GAO, of lax attitudes toward safety procedures in general and particularly in identifying and correcting specific safety issues. In other words, safety is not the priority it should be at the nation's nuclear weapons labs.

That's bad for their scientists and technical workers. It's bad for the unique and expensive facilities in which they work. It's bad for the communities in which they are located. And its bad for the country, which depends on these sensitive and dangerous jobs being done absolutely as safely as possible.

It continues to be a black mark on the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which was organized out of the DOE specifically to improve these labs' security, safety and performance. Both have failed.

Congress should demand rapid improvement and no more excuses.

Instead, spokesmen for the NNSA and for Los Alamos contend that the report is "a little misleading" - that actually "the numbers are pretty good" and that during this year the number of incidents and injuries were reduced by 30 percent.

That may sound grand for a run-of-the-mill industrial facility or research laboratory. But we're talking here about some of the premier labs in the world - and nuclear weapon labs, at that.

Los Alamos Spokesman Kevin Roark recognized "room for improvement" but insisted his lab has come a long way toward changing its safety culture.

Not far enough. Not soon enough. Not safe enough.

We need only ask one question to know that is the bitter reality. Would nuclear engineers at Sandia or nuclear designers at Los Alamos or Livermore accept 60 percent safety or reliability in the nation's nuclear warheads? Thought not.

DOE and NNSA need to get our national nuclear weapons laboratories safe. Now.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lies,
Damn lies,
Statistics

Anonymous said...

First, good that this was posted here since few people read the Tribune.

The safety statistics for LANL need a close look before the usual half-assed, poorly-research journalistic conclusions are jumped to. Journalists are typically clueless with regard to industrial accidents given that their major workplace hazard is a paper cut.

LANL has integrated contractors such as KSL and I am betting that they are responsible for a large per-centage of the accidents. That is the nature of the construction work that KSL and its subcontractors perform.

Eric said...

How many 'accidents' and of what kind are reasonable for a nuclear weapons research laboratory? This seems to be the right question.

Microsoft can stop fixing bugs in software or Exxon-Mobil can stop having oil spills. Each company can do this by going out of business.

LANL can be perfectly safe, also by going out of business. Given that the nation needs LANL to be in business, what are the reasonable number of 'safety infractions.'

Based on all other viable enterprises, including Bechtel, UC, and DOE, the preferred number of violations per year is a number bigger than 0.

Can we talk about what that number should be and why our chosen number is the correct one?

Anonymous said...

WTF?

What does the "one question" posed at the end -- Would nuclear engineers at Sandia or nuclear designers at Los Alamos or Livermore accept 60 percent safety or reliability in the nation's nuclear warheads? -- have to do with anything?

Is it supposed to relate to the 60 safety incidents cited earlier in the editorial? What sort of dope wrote this thing, anyway?

That said, it's always true that safety can be improved, and methods for avoiding serious incidents ought to be a focus of attention. But the suggestion of yet more top-down safety management (making laboratory directors and division and department heads directly responsible -- financially, if need be -- for implementing and enforcing safety) is just a rehash of the historical approach, an approach that has been shown over and over not to work.

Of course all of the Labs (and not only the NNSA Labs) can do better. But moronic advise such as this isn't going to get them there.

Anonymous said...

"Given that the nation needs LANL to be in business,"

Eric (you idiot): this is not a given, as the current political and funding environment is starting to amply demonstrate.

With the exception of pit production, there is nothing done at LANL that can not either be discontinued, or easily transported to another facility, as was demonstrated most recently with the recent departure of the Vulnerability Assessment Team to Argonne.

What you can talk about, to answer your insipid question, is how to come to grips with this fact.

Anonymous said...

DOE accident stats can be found on line at:

http://www.hss.energy.gov/csa/analysis/cairs/stats.html

Eric said...

When you resort to words like 'insipid' and 'you idiot', I assume, as the Chinese do, that you have run out of real facts.

Thanks for the ad hominem attack. I have a collection of them in a sack out back.

Because this is a blog and requires compact writing style, I leave out many details.

A slightly longer version of the thought outlined above is:

Given that the nation needs protection from nuclear attacks and needs better energy choices, a place like LANL (in an ideal sense) would have a great benefit to the nation.

Does this expansion of the idea help your understanding?

Whenever you need to make further attacks, do so. It seems to be important for you to do this. I hope that your anger subsides soon.

Anonymous said...

"a place like LANL" is not the same as LANL. And there are several "place[s] like LANL" in the country.

Anonymous said...

Geez, Eric, you must be a slow learner. Poster 11:30 am put his finger on it. When you start off one of your posts with a blatantly false assumption, you can be sure that people (more than one, I suspect) will jump on both the false assumption and you for making it.

There is no "given" that the nation "needs" LANL. Quite the opposite, judging by the last several year's worth of LANL's history.

Anonymous said...

Memo
To: Rest of World
From: National Laboratories
Subject: Safety

Primary safety problem is incessant, meddling, stupid-minded oversight from DOE Overlords. STOP.

Safety "circuses" are routine, stupid policies are adopted randomly and not well adopted to research enterprises. STOP.

Problem is most certainly not lack of attention or culture, problem is that DOE and Congress cannot allow for reasonable tradeoffs between predictability and reseach. STOP.

Solution: DOE stops all oversight of safety. All oversight of safety, environment, nukes is passed to state agencies for OSHA, ESH, and to the NRC feds. Easy. Everyone smart has had the same solution to this problem for thirty years. It's how every business, research institute, and University does regulation everywhere except DOE.

Yet Podonsky and friends just keep writing stupid policy and then intentionally tripping people to see whether they fall.

Anonymous said...

The statement: "Would nuclear engineers at Sandia or nuclear designers at Los Alamos or Livermore accept 60 percent safety or reliability in the nation's nuclear warheads?" shows that the journalist is an idiot.

Nobody ever flunked out of journalism school and later graduated in physics or engineering.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if "Eric" is the same nutcase from Lamy who feeds the New Mexican and The SF Reporter his unending liberal spew.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know who Eric is, just click on his name and view his profile.

No need to wonder...

Anonymous said...

"..makes laboratory directors and division and department heads directly responsible - financially, if need be - for implementing and enforcing safety."

What sane person would be willing to take on the job of Division Leader if they're held liable for huge fines whenever some worker in their division commits a safety infraction? No one would subject their family's livelihood to this type of insane financial risk.

It seems that the ABQ Trib is dead set on finding any means necessary to shut down New Mexico's weapons labs. We are now being attacked by most of the state papers (SF New Mexican and Trib), our local Congressman (Udall), and our state Governor (Richardson). What's left at this point in terms of support for the labs in New Mexico?

Maybe we should petition to have both SNL and LANL moved to another state that is more welcoming to the idea of high paying jobs.

Anonymous said...

Shorter 1:27: If the locals won't happily blow us, then we should move.

Tell you what Sparky, if you can't stop polluting, maybe you should leave.

Anonymous said...

"Shorter 1:27: If the locals won't happily blow us, then we should move."

We support the locals by buying stuff with our salaries. Perhaps this is a huge mistake. Maybe the answer is more out-of-state internet shopping. Screw the locals like you, 2:06 PM. You can continue to go blow on Tom Udall.

Anonymous said...

If you'll stop polluting, 2:23, then its a deal.

ps, look up the difference between "blow" and "blow on." Even the grammatical construction of your insults (dare I say it?) sucks.

Anonymous said...

Ouch - I meant "it's a deal." Guess I'm a grammar moron as well.

Anonymous said...

12:04 PM is right on the mark. DOE's "Self regulation" of its contractors does not work and drives cost through the roof. The outside world does not trust DOE to do this, so what does DOE do to counter this? Write more Orders, guides to these Orders, and conduct more inspections and assessments, which the Lab has to respond to with detailed corrective action plans from hell. We should have to comply with OSHA and NRC, everything beyond that is a contract issue, and if DOE wants LANS/LANL to comply with DOE Order XYZ this should be negotiated into the contract and DOE should be charged by LANS to do it.

Anonymous said...

For the "Junior Journalist" at ABQ Trib, please study the following:

"2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident

The 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident occured at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base on August 29-30, 2007. Six AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles, each armed with a W80-1 variable yield nuclear warhead, were mistakenly loaded on a United States Air Force (USAF) B-52H heavy bomber at Minot and transported to Barksdale. The nuclear warheads in the missiles were supposed to have been removed before taking the missiles from their storage bunker. The missiles with the nuclear warheads were not reported missing and remained mounted to the aircraft at both Minot and Barksdale for a period of 36 hours. During this period, the warheads were not protected by the various mandatory security precautions required for nuclear weapons. The incident was reported to the top levels of the United States (U.S.) military as a Bent Spear incident, which indicates a nuclear weapon incident that is of significant concern, but does not involve the immediate threat of nuclear war."

(Source: Wikipedia.org, 1:st paragraph, the whole document is 7p.)

Anonymous said...

ref.: Eric

12:59, Thanks.

Eric - Never Mind...but you don't work here anymore.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that we do not see the accident reports generated by the DOE and NNSA Fed's who actually tell us what to work on. We perform the work as safely as possible, and they only get paper cuts and carpel tunnel syndrom from all of the BS that they impose. How about the GAO auditors who review 1/10 of 1 % of the work? What about the Congress who wants us to perform this work, but fails to give us the budget or the time to do things correctly. And what about holding the overpaid LANS managers accountable for the people who work within their organizations. Perhaps if we had accountability, we wouldn't have to let 750 people go because they would already be gone!

Anonymous said...

Well, let's see, we made Sattelberger and Meyer directly responsible for (not) implementing safety in C Division. Now Sattelberger has gone from being a Division Leader at LANL to being a Senior Fellow at LANL and an AD at Argonne. And Meyer is back in at UNC as a Named Chair with all sorts of grant money being shoved up his ass, and laughing at LANL every time he nominates his former PD for another award based on papers he's weaseled into PNAS for her.

Yeah... we sure taught those two a lesson, didn't we?

Anonymous said...

7:57 PM has an excellent point.

Additionally, we also held Majidi, Thomas, and Wallace directly responsible for (not) implementing safety in C Division. Now Majidi has gone from being a Division Leader at LANL to being a big dog in the FBI and Thomas has gone from being DDL of C-Division to being the Division Leader of STB in charge of the student, PD, and LDRD programs. And we all know what happened to Wallace (responsible for both the Aqua Regia Inhalation and Americium Across America Incidents).

Yep ... we taught these three a lesson or two as well, didn't we? Hot damn!

Anonymous said...

The article states:
"Would nuclear engineers at Sandia or nuclear designers at Los Alamos or Livermore accept 60 percent safety or reliability in the nation's nuclear warheads?"

Where does the 60 percent come from?

Of course it is nonsense. Either a blatant lie or just plain stupidity on the part of the writer.

How about some accountability for this idiot journalist?

Anonymous said...

Actually, 9:34, you're kind of missing the point. Contrary to tradition, Nanos *did* fire Meyer, and he *did* demote Sattleberger. Seems to have been the best thing that ever happened to either of their careers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

12:04 PM is right on the mark. DOE's "Self regulation" of its contractors does not work and drives cost through the roof. The outside world does not trust DOE to do this, so what does DOE do to counter this? Write more Orders, guides to these Orders, and conduct more inspections and assessments, which the Lab has to respond to with detailed corrective action plans from hell. We should have to comply with OSHA and NRC, everything beyond that is a contract issue, and if DOE wants LANS/LANL to comply with DOE Order XYZ this should be negotiated into the contract and DOE should be charged by LANS to do it.

12/5/07 3:22 PM

Good post, 3:22. Considering the large quantity of potentially hazardous and potentially lethal activities performed safely by LANL workers and the small quantity of incidents,or events categorized as incidents whether they are really significant or not, LANL may well be one of the safest places on the planet to work. Get rid of the burden of locally-required not-needed paperwork and it would be even safer.

Anonymous said...

After reading many of the postings and after retiring in 06, just want to wish everyone at LANL "Good Luck" with whatever comes. I worked at LANL starting in 1972, I worked with some very good people and some that were not.
We have all done much for this country, we all deserve to be happy, and maybe somewhat proud of what we have accomplished. I am saddened to see and watch what is developing at LANL. I will say one thing to all of you that I discovered:"The stress reduction after leaving the lab in 06 is priceless...and their really is life after the Lab" Good luck to all of you.....a Former co-worker.

Anonymous said...

The best estimate for 08, will only cost us about 800 FTE's, but the night-mare senerio is coming in 09, a funding cycle without Sen. Domenici, to hold off the wild andf hungry wolves, Mikey's nightmare, bet he leaves before that budget....And we have all been warned, so if you're still here after 08, no crying and whinning. The time has come to Git'er done, bite the bullet, and all of the other wise 0ld sayings..

Anonymous said...

News Flash: Mikey has been informed by HR, that 400 is likely by COB tonight.........

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard any news regarding KSL? I heard this a.m. that they may change their contract? is that possible?

Anonymous said...

Saftey is not what happens or how, on the contrary, Saftey is what NNSA say's it is.....

Anonymous said...

Your chances of winning this Christmas raffle: Posted odds: 350 winner's out of 9000, sounds like a good chance! Wanna meet new people, travel, learn about selling Real Estate, meet the local food bank folkes, explain to your kids that you are feeding the corprate machine with your former salary.....(Hey got ticket?)

Anonymous said...

"Los Alamos Spokesman Kevin Roark recognized "room for improvement" but..."

Choose one:
...we're doing better.
...we've come a long way.
...we need more money.
...we're still below federal limits
...we're still within DOE guidelines
...we still have too many arrogant butthead cowboy employees

Anonymous said...

"ps, look up the difference between "blow" and "blow on." Even the grammatical construction of your insults (dare I say it?) sucks."
--12/5/07 2:49 PM

Here we go again--bad grammar! When will this all stop? I can't stand it anymore. Bad grammar, poor spelling, sloppy writing! Gus, do something…please! My seventh grade English teacher has got to be turning in her grave.

Anonymous said...

Eric is a Roseanne Roseannadanna reincarnation. He runs off on a tangent and then discovers he's standing alone in the Twilight Zone.

Never mind!

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

I feel yer pain, 9:59.

-Gus

Anonymous said...

I'll bet that some of the "grammer limited" are "very highly" paid technicians....only at LANL, OK maybe a few staff members.....If DOE decided to test the education level amongs't the tech, and support series, what do think would be the out-come?