There was another event at PF-4 during the week of 3-28-08. Unless I somehow missed it, this event still has not been publicly acknowledged by the lab. Let's first take a look at what happened in PF-4, then what was said in the Senate hearing.
From the March 28, 2008 DNFSB weekly report for LANL:
"Plutonium Facility (TA-55): On Thursday, TA-55 had a valid glove-box over-temperature alarm during a furnace operation that resulted in a fire department response. The facility appears to have responded appropriately and is critiquing the event and the response next week.From the April 4, 2008 DNFSB weekly report for LANL:
"Formality of Operations: LANL needs to execute on a number of proposed institutional initiatives to improve worker safety and the site's overall nuclear safety posture. These principally involve four areas: safety bases, integrated work management, quality assurance, and formality of operations. The last focuses on operations, engineering, maintenance, and training.
"Implementation of formality of operations appears to be slipping. Last week, LANL submitted to NNSA a revised schedule and draft criteria-for-success for a two-phased implementation of formality of operations. "Core" implementation would constitute a minimum state of compliance with applicable requirements and may include interim compensatory measures that are no longer required once "mature" implementation is achieved."
"Plutonium Facility (TA-55): Last week, operators were conducting normal plutonium operations in two furnaces and post-modification function-testing on a third furnace that was in an abnormal configuration that heated the glove-box more than normal. In this condition, rising ambient glove-box temperature exceeded the thermal detector setpoint of 190° F, prompting an alarm. Personnel exited to the corridor and upon assessment of the situation made a conscious decision to re-enter the room to de-energize the 3 operating furnaces in the alarmed box. There was no damage or material release. The Fire Department responded.What does that all mean? The bottom line is the work was not planned. Thanks and kudos to the person who re-entered the room to shut off the furnaces, but had the work been planned the furnaces would have been switched off when the alarm sounded.
"Follow-up investigation identified issues with the configuration management of over-temperature controls for furnace operations: some interlocked over-temperature alarms were found to be disabled; over-temperature set-points were higher than necessary; and the abnormally-configured furnace was operating without one of its normally-installed temperature sensors. In response to this event, facility management has suspended all furnace operations. Identified corrective actions include evaluating, baselining, and formalizing configuration control for alarm status and set-points for all furnace controllers; and establishing formal pre-operational checks to ensure proper equipment configuration and system line-ups. Operating groups must present corrective actions to a board that will evaluate their adequacy and approve resumption (site rep weekly 3/28/08)."
By the way, how much plutonium was in that glovebox when the alarm sounded?
Given that context, here is what Director Anastasio had to say about safety at the hearing:
"The confluence of an aging infrastructure; demanding increasing standards for safety, security, and the environment; a recent focus on near-term deliverables; and declining operating budgets are squeezing out science at the laboratory."Increasing safety standards squeezes out science? Alrighty then! We know where he stands.
NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino was more in touch with reality, though even he did not refer to safety problems at PF-4 in the present tense. Here is what he told the committee:
"We actually have very good evidence from when we moved material out of Rocky Flats on how difficult it is to reestablish a capability dealing with special materials. It took us much longer than expected and cost a lot more money than we ever expected it to cost. I'm talking in particular in this case about the plutonium mission."And finally, here's a quote from a hearing three years ago.
From NNSA Principal Deputy Administrator Jerry Paul (May 5, 2005):
"While much of the public attention to events leading to the laboratory stand down focused on the supposedly missing classified media, we in NNSA felt that inattention to safety procedures at the laboratory presented a greater problem. Together they led us to believe that a culture of non-compliance existed within the laboratory. A careful review of leading indicators for operations of hazardous facilities, that is, events that are precursors to low probability-high consequence accidents, suggested that laboratory performance had been declining. Some employees simply were not complying with regulations or working with regulatory agencies or bodies, including NNSA and the rest of the Department of Energy."What progress has been made since then?