Yesterday, POGO sent a letter to the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Health, Safety, and Security (HSS) urging it to provide oversight and enforcement of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) beryllium exposure prevention policies. These policies were designed to prevent Lab workers' exposure to beryllium, which can lead to the development of the incurable and potentially fatal lung disease, chronic beryllium disease.
Recently, POGO received a tip that ORNL is not in compliance with its beryllium prevention plan. ORNL's plan was born out of Beryllium Controls at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (IG-737), a damning 2006 DOE Inspector General (IG) report which found that ORNL “did not properly manage activities relating to beryllium contamination.” In our letter, we expressed concern that HSS did not follow up on these issues when they were previously brought to the office's attention.
Stringent beryllium controls are not only an important issue at ORNL, but at almost all of the Labs in the nuclear weapons complex. For example, since 1991, Sandia National Lab has had 59 occurrences with beryllium.
Unfortunately, Livermore Lab's weak beryllium controls resulted in five beryllium related events over the last 18 months, including a case where both lab and subcontracted workers may have been exposed to beryllium for years without their knowledge and without precautionary measures in place.
Management risk decisions are not conservative enough to adequately address consequences of hazards present (i.e., did not employ a questioning attitude or consider worse case scenarios).
Also troubling is the report's finding that:
Most of the weaknesses identified are not new to LLNL. Majority of these deficiencies had been identified in previous independent assessment and corrective action plans.
Given all the buzz about the Reliable Replacement Warhead RRW (program)--the Bush Administration's proposal to redesign our nuclear weapons--it's worth mentioning one more thing: while one of the purported benefits of RRW is that the new design does not rely on toxic materials such as beryllium, RRW would not prevent many of the beryllium incidents at places like ORNL or LLNL since these incidents result from legacy (or past) beryllium contamination.
-- Ingrid Drake