The Department of Energy''s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) cited the University of California for violations of nuclear safety rules at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The University of California operates the Los Alamos Lab for NNSA.
The violations stem from several events, including a March 2000 operational event at one facility in which eight workers were exposed to airborne plutonium during a leak from a glovebox auxiliary system.
NNSA also cited several events at a second facility in which nuclear facilities were operated outside of the limits and controls set by facility safety documents.
The March 2000 plutonium release occurred during the performance of corrective maintenance on a glovebox, a sealed system under negative pressure, which allows manipulation of objects inside the box via gloves integrated into the sides of the box.
The plutonium was released via a leak from a loose fitting in an auxiliary gas system.
Subsequent investigation identified some deficiencies associated with the work, including a lack of formal direction and authorization, and failure to comply with procedures.
No immediate adverse health consequences resulted from the exposure, and involved workers were placed on temporary work restrictions to limit additional exposure until dose estimates could be determined.
Up to three workers may have received exposures that exceeded the annual regulatory limit set for this work; one worker''s exposure has been estimated at over five times the annual limit.
Despite the written citations, the Los Alamos Lab faces no monetary fine for the event.
The lab is exempt from civil penalty by statute and no civil penalty is being assessed in association with the citations.
If not it had not been exempt, a civil penalty of $605,000 would have been assessed, based on the significance of the incident.
by Virginia Sutcliffe