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Los Alamos National Laboratory safety problems endanger U.S. arsenal

Report says LANL safety problems endanger U.S. arsenal https://www.abqjournal.com/1021327/reports-slam-lanl-for-criticality-violations.html, By Associated Press, June 21st, 2017 SANTA FE, N.M. — A new report by the Center for Public Integrity highlights a history of safety and reliability problems involving plutonium work at Los Alamos National Laboratory – particularly in the area of “criticality,” the prevention of spontaneous nuclear chain reactions – as the lab is under orders to ramp up production of the plutonium “pits” that serve as triggers for nuclear bombs.

The CPI, a nonprofit investigative news group, reported that Los Alamos last year violated nuclear industry rules for guarding against criticality accidents three times more often than the U.S. Energy Department’s 23 other nuclear installations combined.

CPI’s article, which has gained national attention this week, highlights a previously unreported 2011 incident in which LANL technicians placed eight rods of plutonium side by side for a photograph to celebrate the crafting of the rods. But placing the rods so close together could have led to a criticality accident and violates “Physics 101 for nuclear scientists,” the report says.

Between 2005 and 2016, the lab’s lapses in criticality safety have been criticized in more than 40 reports by government oversight agencies, teams of nuclear safety experts and the lab’s own staff, the CPI found……

LANL is currently the only place in the country that plutonium pits can be made, and new pits are part of a hugely expensive plan to improve the nation’s nuclear weapons in coming years.

Los Alamos is under orders to make as many as 80 pits a year by 2027. The United States hasn’t made any new ones since 2011, when LANL completed the last of 29 plutonium cores for Navy submarine missiles. The most ever made at Los Alamos in a year is 11.

As the Journal first reported last week, an NNSA official said at a recent public hearing in Santa Fe that moving plutonium work away from LANL to some other site within the nation’s nuclear weapons complex is among the options now under consideration in an ongoing study.

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June 23, 2017 - Posted by | safety, USA

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