Safety problems for the past five years prevented Los Alamos National Laboratory from using an important building built to temporarily store and load drums of radioactive waste. But officials on Friday said the structure, known as the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing Shipping Facility, or RANT, has reopened.
The building passed safety inspections earlier this year following upgrades — including a new concrete roof and walls and steel reinforcement panels — to safeguard it from seismic events.
Workers loaded and delivered 42 55-gallon drums of nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad on April 11, the lab said in a news release Friday.
The type of nuclear waste sent to the plant is known as transuranic waste and includes items such as gloves, tools, clothing or soil that have been contaminated with plutonium or other highly radioactive material. The lab already generates more of this waste than anywhere else in the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, the lab said.
Before reopening the RANT building, waste had been loaded in a more high-risk environment — at an outdoor area near the lab’s plutonium facility.
Concerns that an accident could cause serious radiation exposure to workers and the public first closed the RANT facility in 2014.
In a report that year by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, independent advisers to the Department of Energy secretary found managers at the lab had underestimated the seriousness of potential accidents at a high-level nuclear building. As a result, the advisers said, safety measures in place at the facility would not protect workers, or the public living around the lab, from serious radiation exposure in the event of an accident.
Infrastructure and building safety has been an ongoing issue at LANL. The plutonium facility, known as PF-4, has been plagued by problems, and safety board advisers say lab managers have been slow to make crucial upgrades to ensure it meets federal nuclear safety standards, particularly related to the building’s ability to withstand an earthquake without serious consequences.
For decades, LANL also has struggled to deal with the waste created during the Manhattan Project and Cold War, much of which remains buried in deep and shallow pits throughout the laboratory. Following the 2014 WIPP accident, shipments of waste stalled and moved more slowly off the lab property — and at nuclear sites throughout the nation.
The RANT facility is situated at Technical Area 55, also shared by Area G, the lab’s largest nuclear waste disposal sites.
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