'Radiation Leak from 2019 Subcritical Test Blamed Mostly on Goofs, Incompetence'

Radiation Leak from 2019 Subcritical Test Blamed Mostly on Goofs, Incompetence

by Andrew Kishner, 3.24.2020

In February 2019, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration conducted the "Ediza" subcritical nuclear test, its 29th since 1997. The experiment, conducted in a steel vessel at the U1a complex, beneath the former Nevada Test Site, leaked radiation in an alcove. A root cause analysis was initiated, which has just been completed.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory noted in its completed final report (of the root cause analysis of the accident) that human error can be mostly to blame. An update from the overseeing Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board dated March 6, 2020 noted: "LANL found that the dynamic pressures from the experiment temporarily displaced a radiography exit port and its cover assembly on the confinement vessel. LANL determined this to be the direct cause for the confinement vessel leaking a small amount of radioactive material. In addition, LANL found several contributing causes for the event, which include:"

"...personnel responsible for procuring the confinement vessel were not trained and qualified as subcontract technical representatives, which resulted in less than adequate procurement and quality oversight of the manufacturing process;

the vendor responsible for building the confinement vessel did not have prior experience manufacturing vessel weldments to the appropriate American Society of Mechanical Engineers requirements;

the radiographic exit cover and bolt/washer torque were not optimally designed;

and the o-ring seals may not have been adequately exercised for proper seating."

The report added that several fixes or improvements were made.

The Ediza experiment was conducted in Nevada jointly by the U.S. and U.K. on February 13, 2019. A press release announcing the test's occurrence was issued more than three months afterwards. The release failed to mention that an accident occurred.

The news of LANL's final report was mentioned today in an article by ExchangeMonitor, a national security publication that only shows the first forty words of their articles unless you have a subscription, which costs over $2,000 for 48 issues per year.

Transparency from government and attention by journalists to these subcritical tests and their implications remains a severe problem.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is accelerating across the globe and there are calls for a Manhattan Project--to find a cure. The agency that carries out these tests is the direct successor to the Manhattan Engineer District (an Army Corps of Engineers entity, which, formed in 1942, created the atom bomb really quickly, just three years later--75 years ago this July.) The Manhattan Project was purposed with creating a weapon of mass destruction. The coronavirus needs no help doing that. But a cure is essential.

A step in the direction of a mind-meld of the most brilliant scientists in the world could be hastened by suspending or canceling these experiments and freeing up the talent in U.S., China, and elsewhere to help in that endeavor.