December 9, 2019

Sandia National Laboratories’ Categorization of its Radiological Facilities

Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) is a multidisciplinary national laboratory and federally funded research and development center headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Sandia’s mission is to anticipate and resolve emerging national security challenges, innovate and discover new technologies, create value through products and services that solve important national security challenges, and inform the national debate where technology policy is critical to preserve security and freedom.

In accomplishing its mission, Sandia utilized controlled radiological materials that could pose dangers if released following a significant incident, such as an explosion, fire, spill, improper material transfer, flood, or earthquake.  To minimize danger to life or property, the Department of Energy issued requirements for conducting safety analyses that included the categorization of radiological facilities.  In February 2011, Sandia identified five containers of legacy radioactive material (i.e., materials that were no longer in use) stored in a radiological facility that exceeded the threshold for radiological facilities, causing the facility to be miscategorized.  Two years later, a similar issue occurred, again causing a facility to be miscategorized.  Based on the facility categorization errors and the risk posed if facilities are miscategorized, we conducted this inspection to determine whether Sandia properly categorized its radiological facilities.

During our review of Sandia’s process to categorize radiological facilities, nothing came to our attention to indicate that the facilities at Sandia in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were not properly categorized in accordance with requirements.  While we did not identify any instances of noncompliance, we did find areas for improvement within Sandia’s internal controls and have made suggestions that will strengthen the primary hazard screening process.

Topic: National Security & Safety