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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – On August 22, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) reported that it did not follow its operating procedures during a movement of materials within its plutonium facility. The amount of material involved was well within parameters known to be safe. At no time was there any risk of an inadvertent criticality. There was also no risk of injury or exposure to the workforce or public. The laboratory has since taken steps to help prevent a similar event in the future, and the qualifications of the workers involved were suspended pending rigorous retraining.
NNSA requires its contractors to meet the highest standards of safety while working with hazardous and nuclear materials. At each of our laboratories, sites, and production plants, there are multiple layers of defense to prevent accidents involving these materials. These multiple layers of defense account for the fact that people will occasionally make mistakes and that equipment will occasionally malfunction. All violations of operating procedures and equipment failures, however, are examined closely to minimize recurrence, even when those incidents have no impact on the safety of the workers, facility, or the public.
NNSA’s safety record is a direct reflection of a committed workforce that ensures the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe and secure. With this focus on conservative operating parameters and multiple layers of defense, there has not been a nuclear criticality accident at a Department of Energy nuclear facility in nearly 40 years.