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I might have described Pragyasundari Debi as the Indian Mrs Beeton. tsp salt 1 ? nuclear physicist Charles McMillan, Ltd. the company that operated the Japanese nuclear fuel plant as “Titanic thinking” “This ship is unsinkable therefore why obstruct the view of the first-class passengers with unneeded life boats” Almodovar said Citing Japanese media reports he noted that company officials had admitted they not only condoned but encouraged workers to take shortcuts often at the expense of safety to increase their productivity Taking safety shortcuts to boost productivity to the level managers wanted to see isn’t just a foreign problem Almodovar warned At the Y-12 National Security Complex an Energy Department-funded nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee workers even coined a euphemism for the practice “The Oak Ridge Y-12 workers call this a ‘Bubba said’” Almodovar said after interviewing some of them A spokeswoman at Y-12 Ellen Boatner didn’t reply to a request for comment Repeatedly playing with danger Los Alamos’s first death from criticality-produced radiation occurred in September 1945 25 days after physicist Harry Daghlian deliberately lowered a large piece of plutonium into a cavity made of tungsten bricks that reflected the plutonium’s escaping neutrons back toward it in a risky experiment that scientists dubbed “tickling the dragon’s tail” As Daghlian moved the final brick closer to the stack a nearby radiation meter clicked frantically as neutrons collided angrily with other particles warning him that a criticality accident loomed But as he tried to withdraw the brick it dropped and the flash caught him He died 28 days after he was irradiated The following May Los Alamos scientist Louis Slotin was also testing the boundaries of plutonium criticality while seven other scientists looked on Slotin was positioning a spherical beryllium shell around a plutonium pit But as he slowly lowered the upper hemisphere onto the lower one it slipped downward off the tip of his screwdriver Slotin held the two halves of the core apart with a screwdriver It slipped killing him LANL The telltale blue flash that followed gave Slotin enough radiation to kill him five times over and the seven observers in the room received doses ranging from nearly lethal to benign Slotin prevented a worse calamity by quickly separating the two halves of the pit before the reaction could become self-sustaining Nine days later he died at the age of 35 It happened again at Los Alamos twelve years later when chemist Cecil Kelley stood on a small ladder to stir a vat that included plutonium residue When it became too concentrated workers outside saw a bright blue flash and heard a dull thud Soon they saw Kelley standing outside bewildered “I’m burning up” he screamed “I’m burning up” The first medics to treat Kelley weren’t sure what had happened because he was working alone and too stunned to describe his experience A nurse among the first to treat him didn’t suspect he’d been exposed to radiation and remarked on his “nice pink skin” a sunburn-like symptom of his radiation exposure according to an account of the accident published in the journal Los Alamos Science in 1995 Kelley died at the hospital in Los Alamos about 35 hours after the accident These deaths were all avoidable “The human element was not only present but the dominant cause in all of the accidents” a team of criticality safety experts from Los Alamos and their Russian counterparts wrote in a definitive study of 60 criticality accidents published by the lab in 2000 Reports over the past decade suggest however that these mistakes didn’t have a huge impact on criticality practices at Los Alamos That lab has always been the most prominent and best funded — and according to Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman’s notorious remark at a 2007 congressional hearing the most infected by “arrogance” and resistant to independent scrutiny — of the US nuclear weapons laboratories In 2005 shortly before the profit-making firms wrested majority control of the laboratory from the University of California the lab’s “nuclear criticality safety program did not meet many of the” nuclear industry’s standards according to a DOE report in 2008 “We couldn’t prove we were safe” said Doug Bowen a nuclear engineer who was on the laboratory’s criticality safety staff at the time “not even close” Two months after the takeover the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — an independent federal oversight agency in Washington — concluded that the lab’s staff of 10 criticality safety engineers would need to more than triple Its chairman also said the deficiencies hadn’t gotten adequate attention from the NNSA Los Alamos’s director of nuclear and high-hazard operations at the time Robert McQuinn dismissed that complaint in a written reply the following month “LANL does not believe an inadvertent criticality is credible” McQuinn said without referencing the lab’s history But he also promised the lab “has and is continuing to make significant progress in resolving the issues” But safety was not the foremost concern in Washington To encourage higher efficiency and productivity the Energy Department waved millions of dollars at its new corporate partners* as potential rewards for meeting deadlines for designing weapons and building bomb components at PF-4 Doing so created a mindset among managers and their work crews that posed challenges for safety experts like Bowen “Operations is always going to try to push the boundaries so they can produce as much as they can within the safety envelope when they’re pushing to get something done” Bowen said “Occasionally they make decisions that they assume are going to be okay” but instead wind up exceeding limits he explained A bonus was also offered if the laboratory started meeting basic criticality safety standards But Bowen said that in his view meeting minimum requirements shouldn’t need and didn’t deserve bonus pay The new corporate group promised to bring the lab up to the required safety standards in 2007 But that September when members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board inspected plutonium vaults at PF-4 they discovered much more material present than inventories showed posing new risks of spontaneous fissioning if some of it became too tightly packed together So in September 2007 the lab shut down PF-4 for a month and told DOE it had created a Nuclear Criticality Safety Board to analyze and fix the lab’s persistent problems In 2010 when the Energy Department did a checkup however it found “no official notes or records” the group had ever met according to an internal Energy Department report The lab’s promised date to improve criticality safety had slid to 2008 then 2010 and then to 2011 Too much plutonium in a glove box When a nuclear technician put those eight plutonium rods dangerously close together on the afternoon of Aug 11 2011 he used a “glove box” — a device with gloved portholes that is designed to contain any radioactive particles — that he lacked permission to use A sign on the box specifically warned against packing too much material inside but he ignored it and went roughly 25 percent over the limit In one photo obtained by the Center two of the rods are touching each other as they rest on a roll of duct tape In another eight rods are clustered tightly enough to fit within a pencil’s length propped up against a pyramid-shaped stick with black and yellow candy stripes to indicate “caution” Workers had forged the plutonium rods as aliquots — samples that could be useful to researchers in the weapons program and to teams trying to perfect the conversion of weaponized plutonium into fuel for civilian power plants Bowen who was then Los Alamos’s top criticality safety expert and now supervises safety work throughout the weapons program recalls getting a phone call about the technicians’ error from an assistant lab director around 90 minutes after it had been discovered By then the rods had already been picked up and moved by hand while other work in the room continued — contrary to procedures calling for an evacuation his immediate notification and for the dispatch of workers in hazmat suits to reconfigure the rods It was also a violation of the approach McMillan touts in the LANL promotional video “I think it’s critical that if something doesn’t feel quite right then you pause the work” MacMillan said there “It’s a lot better to stop than it is to just muscle through” Reaching into the box was dangerous said Don Nichols the NNSA associate administrator for safety and health at the time because the water present in human bodies reflects neutrons and slows their speed increasing the likelihood that those emitted by plutonium will collide with the nuclei of other plutonium atoms and emit more neutrons triggering a nuclear chain reaction with its accompanying release of energy and radiation As a result Nichols said the first thing to do upon noticing a near-criticality is “the opposite of what you want to do” such as reach in and separate the offending materials Instead he said those in charge should get “everyone to back off” and then call for engineers to start calculating safe approaches Workers stood distraught in the hallway of PF-4 after the incident that would prove to be pivotal for national security objectives involving plutonium Illustration by Joanna Eberts When Bowen reached the site it was bathed in red lights as a belated warning for workers to stay away He found the photographer looking despondent with his head in his hands Nearby other workers consoled the equally upset technician Both men were worried they’d be fired During a lab-wide safety training a few days later one of Los Alamos’ top safety officials called it “the most severe event” in years involving nuclear safety there according to a copy of his presentation “The really horrible part that stuck in my mind is that they got lucky” Bowen said “They violated all these controls They could have brought in more material to take pictures” and had they done so it could have cost the technicians their lives never mind their jobs Senior managers he said delayed calling in safety experts because they didn’t want to see the episode revealed in bold headlines “The management saw it as more of a political thing” Bowen said “They didn’t want this to get out in the papers or the news” The fact that the call summoning him to PF-4 came from an assistant lab director — not a rank-and-file employee but someone higher up — meant “they realized they were in trouble” Bowen said The lab’s decision to downplay the risks of the 2011 incident was not an isolated one Bowen added An official with URS — one of the private contractors running PF-4 under a government contract — told Bowen “all the time that we don’t even need a criticality safety program” Bowen recalled The URS official Charles Anderson who was appointed in July 2011 to oversee nuclear high-hazard safety “basically said he didn’t need us and he could make more money” by replacing all the members of the criticality safety team with URS employees (In 2014 a firm called AECOM acquired URS including its stake in the consortium of contractors that operates Los Alamos) “That kind of culture really spawned the exodus” of the lab’s safety staff Bowen said in an interview which he gave to CPI before being promoted to his current leadership role in the NNSA criticality safety program “Within a year maybe a year and a half there was one maybe two left — 12 of 14 of the staff left [And] because there was no criticality expertise there it led to the closing of PF-4” It was Bowen said “a perfect storm of total boneheaded decisions by certain management [officials] at Los Alamos” that created such havoc A former senior NNSA official in Washington recounted hearing a similar depiction of the URS contractor’s disdainful attitudes about criticality Numerous messages left on Anderson’s work and personal phones and emails as well as his social media accounts seeking comment went unanswered A spokesman for the consortium of contractors that operates Los Alamos referred questions about Anderson’s reported actions to the NNSA whose spokesman didn’t address those specific questions AECOM which bought URS also did not reply to request for comment A special expert group created to monitor safety throughout the Energy Department’s facilities known as the Criticality Safety Support Group documented the exodus of trained personnel from Los Alamos in an April 2012 report which said that experts “had lost trust in their line management” Nichols recalled in an interview that due to “some mismanagement people voted with their feet They left” The attrition rate was around “100%” according to a private “lessons learned” report last month by the lab’s top criticality expert and the lone NNSA criticality expert assigned to work there which they prepared for counterparts at the nearby Sandia nuclear weapons lab The 2011 incident “was an egregious event” agreed Brady Raap who has been a chief engineer in the nuclear engineering and analysis department of the national security division at the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory “That was what said really ‘Look there’s not the respect for safety that there needs to be’ The problem was more than a few disgruntled people or anything that people [in management] portrayed it as” “Operations wasn’t fully integrated with safety as it should be” she said “There’s an inherent conflict between safety objectives which can slow down work and productivity pressure… Management in particular is focused on a mission goal — processing a certain amount of material or manufacturing enough widgets or what have you If they don’t have enough respect for the safety activities that support that things become a little detached You proceed when it would have been better to wait” National security managing editor R Jeffrey Smith contributed to this article Part II Top officials in Washington order reforms in Los Alamos’s safety practices that have yet to be fully implemented Parts III IV and V If you are a current or former employee of the National Nuclear Security Administration the Energy Department or one of its contractors and you know of events incidents actions decisions conditions or documents worthy of our attention please contact Patrick Malone (PGP fingerprint: 3AD5 A969 C8CD 14B2 D917 4BEF EB43 ED01 ACFB 7FEE) or R Jeffrey Smith (D27F C3FA 32EE 2938 6080 47C5 C50E 1E64 CF5D 64F1) by email postal mail or SecureDropResearchers have unearthed a fossil fish so well preserved it still has traces of eye tissues What’s more these fossil tissues reveal that the 300-million-year-old fish called Acanthodes bridgei (pictured) like its living relatives possessed two types of photoreceptors called rods and cones—cells that make vision possible? Now, At such a time, An update released Thursday enables Home’s built-in assistant to learn the different voices of up to six people.

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