Explosives at the LANL TA-55 Plutonium Facility
Let's see how LANS skirts this issue. Houston, we have another problem.
DEFENSE NUCLEAR FACILITIES SAFETY BOARD
July 9, 2010
MEMORANDUM FOR: T. J. Dwyer, Technical Director
FROM: B.P. Broderick and R.T. Davis
SUBJECT: Los Alamos Report for Week Ending July 9, 2010
Plutonium Facility: On Thursday, Plutonium Facility management declared a potential inadequacy of the safety analysis (PISA) and initiated a hazardous material response based on the discovery of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate powder inside the facility.
For years, facility personnel had observed a white powdery substance being generated and accumulating between the first and second stages of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
in the standby glovebox exhaust filter plenum that services the 200 Area of the facility. White
powder has never been observed in any other Plutonium Facility HEPA filter plenum, including the
primary 200 Area glovebox exhaust plenum. The powder was thought to be an inert oxalate salt
and was considered benign. Two weeks ago, more thorough chemical analysis performed to
support dispositioning several bags of this powder as waste concluded that the substance was
actually 95% ammonium nitrate. Upon receipt of the analysis results, facility and safety basis
personnel believed the ammonium nitrate to be a strong oxidizer and entered the New Information
process to determine whether the unexpected presence of a strong oxidizer in a credited HEPA
filter plenum was an unanalyzed hazard that represented a PISA. On Thursday, as part of
processing this New Information, safety basis personnel consulted LANL explosives experts who
judged that the ammonium nitrate should be considered a UN Class 1.1 explosive based on
qualitative description of the powder. This prompted a PISA and a number of immediate actions.
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