|I think it would have been better if this|
picture were never taken?
Credit: Washington Post
Alarms were sounded more loudly after a nuclear technician positioned eight plutonium rods dangerously close together inside what is called a glovebox — a sealed container meant to contain the cancer-causing plutonium particles — on the afternoon of Aug. 11, 2011, to take a photograph for senior managers. Doing so posed the risk that neutrons emitted routinely by the metal in the rods would collide with the atoms of other particles, causing them to fission enough to provoke more collisions and begin an uncontrolled chain reaction of atom splitting.
As luck had it, a supervisor returned from her lunch break and noticed the dangerous configuration. But she then ordered the technician to reach into the box and move the rods apart, and a more senior lab official ordered others present to keep working. Both decisions increased, rather than diminished, the likelihood of an accident, because bodies — and even hands — contain water that can reflect and slow the neutrons, increasing the likelihood of a criticality and its resulting radiation burst.It sounds like there are all sorts of issues at LANL's production facilities, including a relative shortage of engineers trained in criticality calculations:
A February report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent safety advisory group chartered by Congress, detailed the magnitude of the gap. It said Los Alamos needs 27 fully qualified safety engineers specialized in keeping the plutonium from fissioning out of control. The lab has 10.
Some of the reports obtained by the Center for Public Integrity described flimsy workplace safety policies that left workers ignorant of proper procedures as well as incidents where plutonium was packed hundreds of times into dangerously close quarters or without the shielding needed to block a serious accident. The safety risks at the Los Alamos plutonium facility, which is known as PF-4, were alarmingly highlighted in August 2011, when a “criticality accident,” as it’s known, was narrowly averted, one of several factors prompting many safety officials there to quit.Well, just as long as things are all right over there... (that first story has echoes of Louis Slotin...)
UPDATE: Added some clarifying language.