INL Fined after Radiation Releases

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 @ 05:10 PM gHale

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will have to pay $412,500 in fines for multiple safety violations stemming from two mishaps last year that caused workers to suffer radiation exposure, said officials from the Department of Energy (DoE).

“DOE considers these events to be of high safety significance,” said John Boulden, a director of enforcement and oversight for DoE in Washington, DC.

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He was referring to two incidents in 2011 that exposed employees to radiation at the nation’s leading nuclear research and development center, operated by contractor Battelle Energy Alliance.

The fine was for failure to prevent contamination of a worker’s hand in August 2011. In November 2011, 16 workers also suffered exposure to low-level plutonium radiation while preparing fuel plates for shipping, but suffered no adverse health effects.

Workers who tested positive for radioactive contamination, including two who inhaled radioactive particles, showed dosages below DoE occupational limits and federal regulatory limits, said lab health director Sharon Dossett.

“As it turned out, the doses were fairly small — and that was fortuitous,” she said.

Dossett said several of the workers sought counseling for anxiety triggered by the incident.

“The magnitude and duration of the uncontrolled plutonium release presented a high potential for an adverse impact on worker safety,” Boulden wrote about the accident.

A DoE investigation released this year faulted the lab for failing to properly assess risks posed by the handling of decades-old plutonium fuel cells and for not activating its emergency plan sooner after the exposure.

Battelle had rated the chance of a mishap like the one that occurred as “extremely unlikely,” the report found.

In the violation notice issued Thursday, federal regulators found Battelle failed to perform real-time air monitoring in November 2011 “to detect and provide early warning to individuals of events that could lead to substantial unplanned exposures to airborne radioactivity.”

INL implemented 59 of 79 corrective actions, which include upgraded air monitoring. It intends to make the rest of the changes by the end of the year, said spokesman Ethan Huffman.

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