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Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Rasies Fire Protection Concerns at LANL - again

August 4, 2009 -The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) released three weeklies today. A couple of fire protection issues concerned us – understaffing and equipment inadequacies with the fire protection systems at the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, and a fire hydrant flow test that reduced pressure to the whole LANL site-wide fire suppression system.  

A recent assessment at the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building (CMR) concluded that CMR was operated in a safe and secure manner. However, he review team did note staffing shortages in several areas (e.g. engineering, fire protection, emergency preparedness) that may impact the sustainability of compliant operations. The team also noted system and equipment inadequacies with the fire protection systems in particular.

Last week, the Los Alamos County Fire Department (LACFD) performed a fire hydrant flow test in the vicinity of the WCRR facility that caused water pressure in the system to drop below the level required for the WCRR fire suppression system (FSS) to be operable. The FSS relies on water supplied by the laboratory’s sitewide water distribution system that feeds domestic water and fire protection systems in nuclear and non-nuclear facilities across the site.  Although LACFD contacted LANL representatives (including the WCRR Operations Center) prior to testing, WCRR facility personnel did not recognize the implications of the hydrant flow evolution and did not perform required actions to mitigate risks resulting from the safety system impairment. A number of LANL nuclear facilities rely on the site-wide water distribution system to support their fire suppression systems, weaknesses in test coordination and facility response protocols could cause similar issues elsewhere.

(An interesting report on LANL’s fire system: Seismic Fragility of the LANL Fire Water Distribution System)

An emergency was declared following an chemical reaction at a radiological facility in TA-35. LANL Emergency Management, the LANL Emergency Response Hazardous Materials response team, and the Los Alamos County Fire Department were all notified and responded. The two workers who initially re-entered the room were taken to Los Alamos Medical Center for evaluation and released without restriction.  

LANL is still trying to return to return to Operations mode at the Weapons Engineering Tritium Facility (WETF) after being shut down since October 2008.

LANL successfully completed the campaign to retrieve sixteen remote handled transuranic waste canisters from underground storage at Area G and ship them to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

LANL is still working on the vault water bath storage of Pu-238 containers and has successfully completed qualification activities, including drop testing, of a new robust container. Earlier this year, the DNFSB raised concerns about the possible release of Pu offsite if the water level drops below the top of the containers.

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