An internal trolley that carries radioactive material to several glove-box areas at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s plutonium facility has been broken for almost two months, hindering operations at the site, a federal watchdog report said.
The trolley became disabled in early June, and its bucket is stuck with a container of nuclear material inside, according to a report issued by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
“However, the location is not creating any radiological exposure concerns,” the report said.
The report noted the idled trolley has hampered the internal transfer of radioactive material to the sealed containers with protective gloves attached, but it didn’t say to what extent.
Laboratory officials wouldn’t describe how the material is now being moved within the facility other than to say it’s being done safely and securely.
The trolley broke down a week before a worker accidentally tore a hole in the thumb of a glove attached to a container, causing a radioactive release that led to 15 workers being tested for radiation exposure.
Only the worker who tore the glove tested positive.
One critic of the lab’s plutonium operations, which are at the center of its nuclear weapons program, said the trolley breakdown is the latest in a long series of safety lapses and other problems at the facility.
“If LANL can’t drive a trolley or clean up old stuff without exposing people, how can they safely expand plutonium pit production?” asked Scott Kovac, research and operations director for nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
Kovac was referring to plans to get LANL producing 30 plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads a year by 2026.
The lab had begun upgrading and replacing parts of the trolley system when it broke down, a spokesman said.
A plan is being developed to fix the trolley but it’s not considered an essential system, so some other maintenance activities could take priority, the spokesman said.