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DOE probes worker radiation exposure at test site via Las Vegas Review-Journal

By STEVE TETREAULT
REVIEW-JOURNAL WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON — The Department of Energy has launched investigations into two incidents over the past year where workers at the Nevada National Security Site were exposed to potential contamination while conducting nuclear weapons activities.

The episodes took place on June 16, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2014, at the National Criticality Experiments Research Center, the laboratory where the government maintains a substantial stockpile of nuclear material used for research and training.

The department is looking into the circumstances surrounding “losses of contamination control of highly enriched uranium” at the lab, according to Steven Simonson, director of the DOE Office of Enforcement.
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The laboratory, which operated at Los Alamos before it was relocated to Nevada for security purposes and reopened in 2011, is utilized for a broad array of nuclear safety research and training programs. Researchers use a variety of nuclear materials in the work, ranging from small neutron-emitting sources to quantities of uranium and plutonium, according to the security agency.

The incidents that prompted the investigation were the latest disclosed missteps by Los Alamos and other outposts in the weapons complex that have come under close scrutiny within DOE and on Capitol Hill.

In May, the Energy Department proposed to fine the operator of the Los Alamos National Laboratory $247,500 after it lost track of classified material that was supposed to have been shipped to the Nevada National Security Site in 2007, but never arrived. The mistake was not detected until five years later.

The New Mexico laboratory also has been faulted in the 2014 release of radiation from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant that contaminated nearly two dozen workers with low levels of radiation and forced the nuclear waste site to close.
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