'Minute' Radiation Released
By Raam Wong
Journal Staff Writer
A "minute" amount of radiation was released inside a Los Alamos National Laboratory building last Wednesday after equipment malfunctioned, according to officials.
But nasal swipes taken on a few employees working in the area turned up negative for radiation exposure, lab spokesman Kevin Roark said Tuesday.
The building, a chemistry lab in Technical Area 48, was evacuated after air monitors detected germanium-68. The radioactive isotope is used in medical procedures such as MRIs.
The incident was not reported to the National Nuclear Security Administration or the state Environment Department because it did not rise to the level of a reportable incident, Roark said.
James Bearzi, head of the Environment Department's Hazardous Waste Bureau, confirmed that Los Alamos was not obligated to report the incident.
Parts of the building were closed after the incident and probably will reopen this week, Roark said.
"All the safety systems worked exactly as designed," Roark said. The incident occurred late in the day inside a "hot cell"— a shielded room in which radioactive material is manipulated using robotic arms.
Hot cells are typically employed to work with radioactive isotopes like germanium-68, which is used in medical imaging.
Roark said a circuit breaker malfunctioned and switched off a compressor, causing the hot cell to lose negative pressure and a tiny amount of germanium to escape.
None of the workers was contaminated, and surface swipes showed no residual contamination, the spokesman said.
Journal staff writer John Fleck contributed to this story