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Mar 10, 2015

04:34:28 GMT--Nuclear Event - North-America - USA

EDIS Number: NC-20150310-47266-USA

Date / time: 10/03/2015 04:31:51 [UTC]

Event: Nuclear Event

Area: North-America

Country: USA

State/County: State of Texas

Location: Amarillo [Special Nuclear Materials Storage Facility (Pantex)]

Number of Deads: N/A

Number of Injured: 1 person(s)

Number of Infected: N/A

Number of Missing: N/A

Number of Affected: N/A

Number of Evacuated: N/A

Damage level: N/A


Pantex Plant is beefing up radiological work procedures after a technician was exposed to a "higher than anticipated" radiation dose while working in a nuclear materials storage building. The unidentified instrument technician was exposed Jan. 23 while performing maintenance in a Special Nuclear Materials Storage Facility at Pantex, which assembles, dismantles and modifies weapons for the U.S. atomic arsenal. George Rangel, a spokesman for Pantex contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security, said the worker's exposure was well below regulatory limits, but that the plant took a series of corrective steps after the incident. "Upon learning of the incident, immediate actions were taken to re-emphasize with workers the importance of adhering to procedures and work package instructions, providing additional training to supervisors and involving radiation safety experts before proceeding with similar types of work that may be planned in other areas of the plant to ensure worker safety," Rangel said. "This specific worker's annual exposure for the end of January measured less than 1/100th of the annual (federal) regulatory limit, which is 5,000 millirem per year," Rangel said. Pantex, Rangel said, sets a lower limit of 200 millirem for workers. A person living in this area typically receives a yearly radiation dose of 620 millirem from naturally occurring and manmade sources of radiation, according to information from Pantex. "There was no internal ingestion or inhalation," Rangel said. "Moving forward, the worker's annual radiological dosimeter measurement will be factored into the type of work assigned to the worker for the remainder of the year to ensure they remain below the conservative Pantex limit." Pantex employees are monitored with special badges called thermoluminescent dosimeters, which measure the worker's exposure. To reduce exposures, sites such as Pantex also follow As Low as Reasonably Achievable standards that are used throughout the nuclear weapons complex. "We take worker safety seriously as the safety and health of our employers is paramount and a daily absolute in the work performed at Pantex, and operations are conducted using As Low as Reasonably Achievable principles," Rangel said.

According to information from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an agency that monitors safety at U.S. nuclear weapons facilities, the technician was working on a ladder calibrating heat monitoring systems as part of a yearly surveillance. According to an incident report, the worker was performing extra maintenance beyond the scope of an initial work order. "While performing this activity, the work team decided to remove some unused instrument wires from the facility. Both of these activities require the technician to be on a ladder, and they decided it would be best to accomplish both activities at the same time. ... This increased the exposure time for the technician." A follow-up critique said the extra maintenance work should have been covered under a different work order, which would have required proper hazard screenings and a determination of whether the work posed an Unreviewed Safety Question. Pantex did not release the specific location where the exposure incident occurred. At Pantex, workers periodically inventory plutonium storage containers in Zone 4, a heavily guarded bunker complex where tons of plutonium pits, the cores of nuclear weapons, are stored. "The operations that contribute the majority of the dose to Pantex workers are operations that expose them to large numbers of bare weapons pits (the pits contain significant quantities of Special Nuclear Materials)," according to a 2014 report on Pantex worker exposures to radiation. Such operations include weapons assembly and disassembly operations, weapons dismantlements, operations used to requalify nuclear weapons components and nuclear material storage operations. In 2013, no individual worker's dose exceeded the Pantex limit, according to the report.

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