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Audit Report: OAS-M-13-09

September 30, 2013

The Resumption of Criticality Experiments Facility Operations at the Nevada National Security Site

Citing safety and security concerns, in 2004 the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) halted criticality experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos) and authorized a capital project to transfer this capability to the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada National Security Site (Nevada).  The project remodeled a portion of the Device Assembly Facility to form the National Criticality Experiments Research Center (NCERC). 

We found that NNSA restored many of the former capabilities of the Criticality Experiments Facility at the NCERC in Nevada.  We noted, however, that several problems with start-up activities resulted in delays in restoring the full array of experimental capabilities included in the project.  Specifically, NNSA was unable to authorize the start-up of NCERC operations until May 2011.  The program experienced further delays in the start-up activities of each criticality machine.  Further, NCERC has been unable to restore its full capability to perform plutonium-based criticality experiments.

The delays in restoring capabilities occurred because NNSA had not ensured that contractors had developed adequate procedures for correcting concerns identified during the process to authorize the start-up of NCERC, the safety basis documentation matched facility conditions, and procured safety equipment met cited standards.  Additionally, NNSA had not ensured effective management of the multiple contractors involved in developing and amending the safety basis documentation.  Finally, NNSA has struggled to successfully integrate and resolve issues between the multiple contractors involved in NCERC facility operations.  Management concurred with our recommendations and proposed corrective actions that are responsive to our recommendations. 

Topic:  National Security & Safety