Audit Report: DOE/IG-0941

You are here

July 16, 2015

Follow-up on Nuclear Safety:  Safety Basis and Quality Assurance at the Los Alamos National Laboratory

A primary mission of the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the Nation's nuclear stockpile.  As such, LANL employees and subcontractors work closely with special nuclear materials, explosives, and hazardous chemicals.  To protect its employees, the public, and the environment, LANL is required to identify site hazards and controls, and to update formal documentation as its work processes change (activities collectively known as "safety basis").  Our report Nuclear Safety:  Safety Basis and Quality Assurance at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (DOE/IG-0837, August 2010) identified problems in fully implementing a number of critical nuclear safety management measures.  National Nuclear Security Administration management generally agreed with the report and stated that work was underway to address the concerns raised in the report.  In addition, a May 2012 external corporate review identified the need to ensure core skills and competencies for the safety basis analysts and improve the alignment between LANL and the Los Alamos Field Office during safety basis development.  

LANL had acted to improve nuclear safety, including seismic-related risks, at its Plutonium Facility (PF-4); established a Safety Basis Quality Review Board; and implemented an institutional Quality Assurance Program to assign responsibilities and authorities, define policies and requirements, and provide for the performance and assessment of laboratory work processes.  However, LANL continued to have problems in fully implementing a number of critical nuclear safety management requirements.  This contributed to multiple safety basis iterations and lengthy update, review, and approval processes.  Specifically, LANL had not always developed safety basis documents that met NNSA's expectations to ensure that nuclear hazards had been fully identified and that mitigation controls had been implemented; resolved issues identified in the annual updates to the safety bases for two nuclear facilities; and resolved significant and long-standing nuclear safety deficiencies.

We found that LANL had not effectively implemented its Safety Basis Improvement Plan, which was designed to enable LANL to build upon lessons learned and assessment findings.  In addition, nuclear safety deficiencies were not always resolved because corrective actions were not effectively designed to prevent recurrence.  Further improvements in nuclear safety are essential if the Department is to be in a position to ensure workers and the public that safety risks associated with nuclear facility operations have been effectively mitigated.

Topic: National Security & Safety