Thursday, February 10, 2005

Puzzling Allegations

Don W. Brown's allegations of "1000 inadequate welds" and lack of a containment vessel in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building (CMR) reported in the ABQ Journal

(Feb. 9 [] & Feb. 10 [])

are quite puzzling. Also confusing is that the earlier article, which quotes from a CBS Evening News interview, refers to TA-18. Perhaps Mr. Brown inspected both buildings; it isn't clear.

1) The CMR is not a nuclear reactor. There is no credible scenario wherein an explosive release of radioactivity to the outside could occur, because there is no reactor core to breach; thus no requirement for a pressure containment vessel and the very high weld standard required in nuclear reactors. The "hershey bar" welds he observed (his description, whatever it means) were probably completely adequate for low pressure applications.
2) Radioactivity is contained in both buildings through the use of controlled air and water flow and filtration systems, which are rigorously inspected on a regular basis.
3) Bringing up the possibility of a Chernobyl-like accident is a gross exaggeration and rather amusing, except that Brown said this on network TV. Thousands of ill-informed people are no doubt now quivering with fear and indignation that the "cowboys" at LANL are putting the populace at such grave risk.

I'm sure that Don Brown feels disrespected because his report did not result in immediate shutdown of both facilities, but was that likely? I agree that a retaliatory demotion is absolutely unacceptable (if indeed that's what happened--did his pay decrease?). However, when I saw that his lawsuit had an "emotional distress" component my cynicism level shot up drastically.

Thanks, Doug Roberts, for hosting the blog!

--Dan Schwartz

Who was it who said, "Always remember: An auditor is an accountant that is too dumb to steal!"
Indeed, I am on the LAB Welding Committee. I think that this auditor is way off base on the CMR building. The problems are being dealt with. Although, as with everything, the people in charge to cleaning up our welding act are overdoing it.
Yes, the stories were a bit confusing. The references to Chernobyl refer to a May 27, 2004 DNFSB report
that lists "the largest predicted unmitigated accident consequence to the maximally exposed off-site individual" for various postulated accidents at several TAs. (see p. 8)
These include -
TA-55: Pu-238 room fire or seismic accident - 800 rem
TA-18: runaway criticallity experiment - 1,100 rem
TA-54 Area G: airplane crash - 1,800 rem

These are very low probability accidents and have nothing to do with welding. But the story didn't actually say they had to do with welding.
They slipped this part into the middle of that story -
"That area of the lab, known as TA-18, doesn't even have a basic "containment structure" to hold in radiation in case of a nuclear accident. Yet according to the government's own analysis, it could release fatal doses twice as high as Chernobyl: the worst nuclear accident in history. Other nuclear buildings at the Lab are vulnerable to earthquakes, airplane crashes and fire."

Hope this helps.
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