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Safety protocols not followed at LANL twice in August

Kasia Gregorczyk
September 29, 2017 06:58 AM

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - Los Alamos National Labs is in hot water for mishandling plutonium, a highly radioactive material.

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According to a federal oversight board, employees in August were moving a shell into an area that already contained plutonium, exceeding the normal, safe amount allowed. The mistake was discovered three days later when yet another mistake was made.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board initially called the Aug. 18 incident a "criticality safety event." In a more recent statement released Tuesday from the same board, the description was revised and the incident was deemed an "improper procedure."

In its own statements, Los Alamos National Labs stated workers admitted the plutonium was handled without following safety procedures -- both initially and three days later when the plutonium was moved twice more.

KOB has confirmed there was no risk of a chain reaction. However, rules were violated.

"I think it would hurt all of this part of New Mexico," said one Los Alamos resident, Ron Lucero. "That’s how many people they employ up here."

In 2013, plutonium operations were suspended due to a list of safety issues until late 2016. The most recent mistake occurring August involved the first plutonium shell cast to be handled at the labs in four years.

Casting operations have been put on hold again, and workers' qualifications have been suspended until they complete retraining.

"If one lab is having issues, that probably doesn’t look too well when it comes to getting new projects and things like that. So it’s very important," said Steve Cummins. "This community exists because of the laboratory and I think it would hurt the community a lot if they were to lose projects or funding."

The lab says it was responsible for creating or retaining more than 7,000 jobs in the last fiscal year with total salaries equaling more than $257 million.

Credits

Kasia Gregorczyk

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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