A breached plutonium glove box contacted two Los Alamos National Laboratory workers with radiation, requiring one to undergo treatment at the lab’s outpatient clinic.
The breach in a sealed compartment — which has gloves attached so workers can handle radioactive material — prompted a six-person team to evacuate after air monitors sounded an alarm earlier this month, according to the lab.
Two of the six workers had contamination on their skin and protective equipment, with one showing a high enough exposure to warrant treatment at the lab’s occupational medicine clinic, a lab spokesman wrote in an email.
“Preliminary results from evaluation of the affected employee indicate that exposures are within known safety limits,” wrote the spokesman, Peter Hyde. “Based on initial indicators, long term health effects are not anticipated in this case.”
An incident report said the employee was given chelation therapy, a treatment used to remove heavy metals from the body.
All six employees received nasal swabs. Three of them showed signs of possibly breathing in radiation, with the one who went to the clinic having the highest reading, the report said.
“Final results are pending,” the report said.
Both the lab and the National Nuclear Security Administration are investigating the Jan. 7 incident at the plutonium facility and are still determining the cause, Hyde wrote.
The report states a worker noticed something amiss on the right side of the glove box and notified the radiological control technicians, who sounded the evacuation alarm and “red-lit” the room to bar access.
The lab has had other glove box mishaps in recent years.
A worker ripped a protective glove in March, contaminating two workers’ protective equipment. Tests showed neither breathed in radiation.
In June 2020, 15 employees had to be tested after a worker tore a glove and released radiation into the room. The worker who ripped the glove was the only one who tested positive for radioactive contamination.
Four years ago, workers put a plutonium pit in an unauthorized glove box and placed fissile material in a plutonium metal shell, causing a brief evacuation. A similar incident had happened six months before.
Watchdog groups contend worker missteps and equipment snags are likely to happen more often as the lab gears up to produce 30 plutonium pits for warhead triggers by 2026.
Hyde indicated the workers responded as they were trained to do, and investigators will continue to probe what happened.
“The laboratory takes all contamination incidents very seriously,” he wrote.
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