Oversight panel: Nuclear lab workers violated safety rules via Herald.Net

Putting plutonium or other materials too close together could cause a nuclear reaction.

SANTA FE, N.M. — A national laboratory’s workers producing a shell for a triggering device for nuclear weapons violated safety rules in August by storing too much material at one location in a facility for plutonium, a highly radioactive material, a federal oversight panel reported.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board memorandum called the Aug. 18 incident at the Los Alamos National Laboratory a “criticality safety event” and said workers there discovered the placement error made by a casting crew three days later when they moved the grapefruit-sized shell again.

The workers at that point failed to follow proper procedures for reporting the Aug. 21 action, the safety board said in a one-page memorandum dated Sept. 1. The report doesn’t specify whether the shell itself contained plutonium.


Los Alamos released a statement saying “there was no criticality accident” and that the lab “employs extremely aggressive limits on the quantities nuclear material in any given area, to assure there cannot be an unexpected criticality. The Laboratory takes criticality safety very seriously and is conducting a full fact finding.”

In physics, the term criticality refers to the point at which a nuclear reaction is self-sustaining.

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