The Energy Department has given a key weapons lab an “inadequate” rating for its latest safety record on “nuclear criticality,” a measure of atomic stability.
Los Alamos National Laboratory received the weakest nuclear criticality safety rating of all U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, though its performance is assessed to be getting better, according to a report released last week covering fiscal 2013. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman submitted the assessment to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
Nuclear criticality typically refers to a balance of neutrons in a reactor, with “subcriticality” suggesting underproduction and “supercriticality” suggesting overproduction. Nuclear criticality safety is the practice of preventing atomic chain reactions from taking place in fissile materials outside of reactors.
The Los Alamos facility in New Mexico had 38 nuclear criticality safety infractions in the last fiscal year and received an overall performance rating of “does not meet expectations.”
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California had the highest rating of any of the sites. The California complex’s overall safety performance was judged “excellent,” with only one criticality safety infraction occurring in the last fiscal year.
The Nevada National Security Site‘s overall performance was described as “adequate, but does not fully meet requirements,” though it recorded just one minor infraction. Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico was given a safety rating of “adequate,” with no infractions reported since fiscal 2009. Meantime, the Pantex Plant in Texas also was given an “adequate” safety grade, with no infractions reported in more than 20 years.
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