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Dec 23, 2009



December 18, 2009
MEMORANDUM FOR: T. J. Dwyer, Technical Director
FROM: B. P. Broderick and R.T. Davis
SUBJECT: Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 18, 2009

Technical Area (TA)-15: On Wednesday, a containment assembly catastrophically failed during an indoor propellant-driven experiment at TA-15 involving a large bore powder gun. No radioactive material was present in this experiment and no personnel were injured, however, the failure did cause significant structural damage to the building housing the powder gun. The cause of the failure is not yet well understood and LANL is planning an investigation. This is at least the second containment failure of this powder gun, which is ultimately intended to be fielded underground at the Nevada Test Site to perform dynamic experiments involving plutonium (site rep weekly 6/13/08).

R P Long

Why are you writing about what you admittedly know nothing about? You really should get the facts first before you make yourself vulnerable to the world for critism. $3M in damages?? Not even Obama would stipulate that amount...which is higher than the containments and review investigations together will cost the taxpayer.

Peter Stockton

NNSA spokesman Damien La Vera's response to POGO's release of a Los Alamos Occurrence Report on the blowing apart of a building at the lab utterly fails to acknowledge the problems highlighted by the incident. POGO did not use the word 'demolished' but could have. The explosion blew the doors off the building, separated the shielding of two walls, and caused significant facility structural damage. The initial estimate of damage was over $3 million. Apparently, NNSA never read the Occurrence Report. Both the Occurrence Report and NNSA's own description of facts are consistent with POGO's statements.


Having attended training at Los Alamos for a short time and being a retired DOE subcontractor after 35 years service in Oak Ridge, it's not unusual to see media zealots take something and put a huge spin on it. Rest assured if the incident had happened as so fantastically reported, the entire site probably would have been put on stop work until an investigation was made. This didn't happen. I go along with the info supplied by Dr. Benway.


So, let me just check here -- you're not clear on why a government weapons-research laboratory might be using and operating a cannon? You make much hay out of it being "Civil War-like", but that's like commenting repeatedly that modern anti-personnel rockets are similar to those used by the ancient Chinese. The concept is similar; it's the refinement of the technology, and the purpose to which it is being put, that counts. In dealing with explosive devices, accidents happen. Instead of calling this a screw-up, you might note that their safety procedures evidently worked, as there is no report of anyone having been injured or killed as a result of an evidently substantial explosion.

Dr Benway

According to National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera in an email sent to Wired.com's 'Danger Room' (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/12/blast-los-alamos-researchers-accidentially-demolish-building-with-a-cannon/#more-20939):

"Despite claims to the contrary, the only thing ‘demolished’ in this case was POGO’s credibility. No building at Los Alamos was destroyed in this incident and any suggestion otherwise is the sort of irresponsible hyperbole we’ve come to expect from this group...

Here are the facts: On December 16, Los Alamos conducted a standard proof test on a new design for a catch tank in the target chamber for one of our large bore powder guns (LBPG). These types of experiments are routine and responsible. The LBPG is used to conduct measurements of material properties at pressures needed for understanding nuclear weapons performance. During this particular test, unexpected explosive damage occurred and, because that damage could result in $1 million in damages, an investigation was automatically triggered. That investigation will seek to identify the cause of the incident and any changes in procedures that might be required. NNSA, Los Alamos, and all of our facilities take their commitment to safety very seriously. It is important to note that no personnel were injured from this event, no hazardous or radioactive materials were involved, and that lab’s incident response mechanisms appear to have performed as intended.”

Any comment?

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