As usual, last week there was an interesting article in the Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor. In “Pu Work Curtailed Because Of Fire Sprinkler Issues,” the Monitor’s Todd Jacobson reported that “Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL] curtailed programmatic work in the lab’s Plutonium Facility, putting the facility in 'standby mode' for a month from early October to Nov. 5 because of concerns about the adequacy of fire sprinkler coverage.”
On the bright side, the problem that 13 of 100 areas (130 sprinklers) in the facility were not adequately covered by the sprinkler system was discovered before there was a fire in one of those areas. On the not-so-bright side, two weeks ago, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) found that the facility would be vulnerable to a catastrophic fire in the case of a severe earthquake. However, it does not take an earthquake to start a fire in a glove box that could spread.
What POGO is wondering is this: why did this problem not get resolved after a similar problem was uncovered in the same building three and a half years ago? (POGO alerted then-Secretary Samuel Bodman as well as Congress). In early 2006, Plutonium Facility (PF-4) was forced to shut down for over a month when it was discovered that 300 of 1,000 sprinkler heads in the fire suppression system had been non-functional for years because they had been painted over. LANL spent $10-15 million to replace them, which was reimbursed by the government. In addition, LANL had never tested its fire hoses.
Also, we would be surprised if the Department of Energy (DOE) did not know about this problem earlier, and allowed PF-4 to keep operating.
This time, taxpayers should not pay for the repairs or the salaries of the PF-4 employees for the month that the facility was not operational. POGO has written DOE Secretary Chu to say that these costs should be considered an unallowable cost as part of DOE’s contract with LANL. Due to its gross incompetence in this matter, LANL should eat the cost from its year-end profits. Again, we ask, why is LANL’s Michael Anastasio making over $800K per year, twice as much as President Obama, while presenting the taxpayers with one debacle after another?
-- Peter Stockton
View POGO's letter to DOE Secretary Steven Chu here.