June 24, 2013

Mitigation of Natural Disasters at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos) is at some risk of seismic events and susceptible to forest fires, including those started by lightning.  Since 2000, there have been two major forest fires that threatened Los Alamos. 

Although Los Alamos had made progress in upgrading existing nuclear facilities, concerns remained regarding the mitigation of risks related to natural disasters.  Specifically, we found seismic issues affecting the Plutonium Facility that remain to be addressed.  Additionally, we found that fire protection and prevention vulnerabilities in Area G Waste Storage and Disposal Facility (Area G) continue to exist.  Further, we found that several known risks exist with compensatory measures implemented in Area G that may lessen their efficacy in mitigating natural disasters.  Los Alamos' processes and procedures have not always been fully effective in ensuring that hazards, including natural disasters, are fully analyzed and effectively mitigated. 

National Nuclear Security Administration officials responsible for overseeing Los Alamos pointed out that decisions to budget and schedule mitigation measures are based on factors including the probability of an event occurring, such as a seismic event, and whether a structure is considered to be a permanent or limited life facility.  While a number of compensatory and corrective actions have been completed, in our view, further actions are needed to mitigate existing vulnerabilities.  Management concurred with the report's recommendations and indicated that corrective actions have been or would be initiated to mitigate potential risks.

TOPIC: National Security & Safety