DOE gets lowdown on nuke accident

Los Alamos studies plutonium exposure

March 21, 2000

By Glenn Roberts Jr.

A team of investigators began a probe Monday of an accident last week at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico that exposed eight workers to plutonium.

The Energy Department assembled a team for the independent, high-level safety investigation, with experts on radiation protection, nuclear facility safety and operations conduct.

University of California officials will assist with the investigation of the accident, UC spokesman Rick Malaspina said Monday. The University of California operates Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley labs for the Energy Department.

"We do have oversight responsibility," he said.

Three rooms have temporarily closed at the lab's plutonium facility, and several workers have been reassigned to other duties, said James Rickman, a Los Alamos Lab spokesman.

At Lawrence Livermore Lab, which also maintains a plutonium storage facility, operations have not been disrupted by the Thursday accident at its sister lab.

"As of now there is absolutely no impact on our operation from the incident at Los Alamos," said David Schwoegler, a spokesman at Livermore Lab.

"However, as soon as the investigation is over and the lessons learned are in place, we ... review that to see if there's anything that can be learned or any way that it can benefit our operations."