oversight

An Unclassified Digest of a Classified Report Entitled 'Safety and Transportation Safeguards at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant'

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-01-11.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            DOCUMENT RSUME
0O164 - [A0590945]

An nclassified Digest of a Classified Report Entitled "Safety
and Transportation Safeguards at Rocky Flats Nuclear eapons
Plant". EMD-77-9a. January 11, 1977.

Report to Rep. Timothy E.    irth; by Elmer B. Staats, Comptroller
General.
Issue Area: Energy: Making Nuclear Fission a Substantial Energy
    Source (1608).
Contact: Energy and Minerals Div.
Budget Function: Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy:
    Energy (305).
Organization Concerned: Energy Research and Development
    Administration.
Congressional Relevance: House Committee on interior and Insular
    Affairs; Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.
    Rep. Timothy E. irth.

         Offsite releases of radioactive materials at the Energy
Research and Development Administration's (ERDA) Rocky Flats
Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado have aroused public concern.
Findings/Conclusions: Plutonium and enriched ranium shipments
are rade in approved containers and are relatively free of
radiation. The agency continuously reviews its safeguards
system, including provisions for additional security nd the use
c, more escort vehicles an4 curiers. The lbuguerque perations
off ce, however, s not reviewing shipments in accordance with
agency requirements. The 22 buildings where plutonium is handled
either do not meet design criteria to withstand disasters or
their capability has not been determined. Although radiation
releases from normal operations have declined and have not
uxceeded established exposure standards, public confidence can
be increased. Recent accidents can be partly attributed to a
lack of adequate or complete operating procedures.
Recommendations: ERDA's management should improve safeguards to
prevent loss of control of radioactive material during
transportation. Independent organizations should continuously
moitor the plant's release of radiation. (RES)
BY THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL
OF THE UNITED STATES




An Jnclassified Digest Of
A Classified Report Entitled
"SAFETY AND TRANSPORTATION
SAFEGUARDS AT ROCKY FLATS
NUCLEAR WEAPONS PLANT"
Energy Research and Development Administration




                                J:Ni~'   111977
EMD-77-9a
     !I                          UNCLASSIFIED

 COMPTROLLER GENERAL'S                             SAFETY AND TRANSPORTATION
.REPORT TO THE                                     SAFEGUARDS AT ROCKY FLATS
 HONORABLE TIMOTHY E. WIRTH                         vUCLEAR WFEAPONS PLANT
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES                            Energy Research and
,:                                                    Development Administration

D I GE S T
Since the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado--a unit of the Energy Research
and Development Administration's Albuquerque Operations Office and a
vital link in prcoduction of nuclear weapons--began operation 23 years
ago, several accidents have resulted in off-site releases of radioactive
materials to the environment..
 Although these off-site releases have not exceeded standards for public
*saety, they have evertheiess aroused public concern and controversy
 as to the safety of operations at Rocky Flats.
U.S. Representative Timothy Wirth and Governor Richard Lamm formed a
.task force to help them to understand and deal with the situation.
Laser Conqressman Wirth asked GAO to review safety and security
conditions at the plant.
 AO found that:
          -mprovemer.ts  should be made in safeguards establish- to
            prevent the loss of control of radioactive material during
            transportation;
          --Rocky Flats' 22 buildings where plutonium is handled either
            do not meet current criteria of structural soundness to
            withstand natural and human-caused disasters or their
            capability to withstand such possible accidents has ot
            been determined;
          --Fpubic confidence in measures designed to prevent and
            detect release of radioactive materials to the environ-
            ment could be improved by providing for an independent
            review f monitoring systems at this and all other agency
            facilities; and
          --recent worker accidents at Rocky Flats can be attributed,
            In part, to inadequate or incomplete operating procedures.      .   i
 TRANSPORTATION SAFE-
  UIIARDS AND SAFETY
 Transporting plutonium and enriched uranium (special nuclear material)
 requires the utmost precautions for security and safety. Since these
 materials can be made into nuclear bombF or dispersal devices maximum
 protection is imperative during transport. Similarly, the highly
 radioactive and toxic nature of sch material require safety measures
 to prevent its release to the environment and pLblic during normal
 transport and accident conditions.
 6AO's examination of the transportation safegvurds and safety program
 showed that Rocky Flats shipments are made in approved containers and
 are relatively free of radiation. GAO also noted that the agency
 continuously reviews its safeguards system, including provisions for
 additional security, the use of more escort vehicles and couriers, and
 improved safe secure trailers to transport the materials. Some improve-
 ments are being implemented and the Albuquerque Operations Office plans
 to present others to sen or agency management for approval or disapproval.
 However, the Albuquerque Operations Office is not reviewing security
 shipments in accordance with agency requirements. These specify that
 Its operations offices conduct security shipments surveys on 10 percent
 of courier-escorted shipments. The Albuquerque Operations Office
 surveyed about 3 percent of such shipments in calendar year 1975 and
 aboEt 5 percent in 1976 through October.
 Because of increased public concern about the potential dangers of nuclear
 power and the danqerous nature of special nuclear material, the agency's
 Management should expeditiously approve or disapprove the Albuquerque
 proposal for better transportation security when received. In addition,
 the agency should put interim security measures into use until the
 scheduled improvements can be made and make sure its requirements for
 transportation security surveys are followed.
 'STRUCTURAL SOUNDNESS     -
" -B-UILDINGS
 Since Rocky Flats' 22 buildings where plutonium is handled either do not
 meet current design criteria to withstand natural and human-caused
 disasters o- their capability has not been determined, the agency cannot
 assure that the public or the environment is protected adequately. This
 situation has occurred because of the changing nature of safety criteria,
 buildin? codes, and other standards.
  According to agency officials, the plutonium rezovery and waste treatment
  facility presently being built is designed to withstand the effects of
  natural phenomena and to minimize the effects of human-caused accidents.
 ·When completed in 1979, it will house some of the activities and much of
  the plutonium inventories currently at Rocky Flats.

                                     11 .                         \\\FE
                               1INCLASSlFlED
                              UNCLSSFIED

The agency recognizes the need to find out how well all existing
facilities can withstand such accidents. Inthis respect, the agency
Is conducting or planning to conduct safety studies of the buildings
at'Rocky Flats.
 tn addition, at the time of GAO's review, te agency was developing a
 change to its procedures to require analyses of all existing buildings
 on an agency-wide basis. In a June 4, 1976, letter to the Energy Research
 and Development Administration Administrator, GAO recommended that this
.change be expeditiously issued and implemented. GAO said such a require-
ment would be an effective management tool to help assure that managers
evaluate nuclear facilities consistently and uniformly and that any
unacceptable risks are identified and brought to their attention. As
a result, such a procedure was.issued in December 1976. However, because
It was not is:,,ed until December we did not evaluate its effectiveness.

 hile the agency's work is a commendable first step, these projects must
be completed and any necessary corrective actions must be begun as soon
as possible for etter protection of te public and the environment.
MEASURES TO PREVENT AND
DETECT RADIOACTIVE RELEASES
Atth.ugh rddiation releases from normal operations at Rocky Flats have
declined over the years and have rot exceeded established exposure
standards, public confidence can be increased. The agency's standards
on the maximum amount of radioactive materials that can be released
safely in the environment are based on recommendations of certain
established standard-setting organizations.
·One building handling a small amount of plutonium accounted for a
 disproportionate amount of the normal releases of radiation in 1975
 because it did not have the required number of filters to cleanse the
 air. After GAO's inquiry, this plutonium-handling operation was moved
 to another building in 1976,
Colorado officials believe outside organizations should continuously
monitor the plant's releases of radiation. Two accidental releases were
not detected by the plant's monitoring system, but by the State of
Colorado and an independent organization. Rocky Flats and Energy Research
and Development Administration managers currently exchange monitoring
information with local and State officials under joint agreements. Yet
public concern continues.




                               UNLIFtt              .
                                  UNCL. ASm
                              UNCLASSIFI ED
                            UNCLASSIFIED

The agency has established an extensive guide for environmental surveil-
lance at its nuclear facilities for use in reviewing existing monitoring
systems. The agency could furthe- demonstrate its commitment aind
improve public confidence by organizing a group of experts--including
representatives from other Federal agencies and interested State and
local Governments--to make such reviews at all agency facilities, including
Rocky Flats.
The Lamm-Wirth Task Force recommended the review and testing of the State's
emergency response plan for Rocky Flats. The agency supports such tests.
However, State and local emergency plans for Rocky Flats had not been
comprehensively tested at the time of GAO's review. A test of State and
local plans should be made to make sure the pans will work effectively
at Rocky Flats.
WORKER SAFETY
The Energy Research and Development Administration has established
radiation exposure limits for its workers. These are comparable to those
used by Federal agencies such a the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and
the Occupational Safety and Health Aiinistration.
Although contractor records show that maximum permissible levels for
external radiation have not been exceeded t Rocky Flats, some employees
accidentally inhaled radioactive materials n excess of permissible
limits, thereby receiving internal deposits of such material.
Three accident investigations there. and a special review of the plutonium
recovery facility have detected a ack of adequate or complete operating
procedures. Of 33 processes reviewed in the putonium recovery facility,
11 had one or more procedural problems.
A May 1976 radiation accident at Rocky Flats demonstrated once again the
need for complete procedures. As a result, a contractor reviewed over
5,000 plutonium operations to identify those done outside of hoods or
gloveboxes. Forty-three needed immediate safety analyses. Ten of the
43 were temporarily shut down because safety aspects were not, in the
contractor's opinion, adequately documented.
Both the contractor and the agency have taken steps to make sure safety
procedures are adequate. In April 1976, the contractor instituted a
safety analysis program to review all new and existing operations. New
operations will be reviewed and documented prior to start-up and existing
operations will be reviewed and documented by JanLary 1977.
The agency has issued a manual chapter to provide guidance to ccntractors
and help assure adequate procedures. The chapter requires agency
operations offices to review how contractors implement the new provisions.




                            'Ii~mm A   teiri mn
                             UNCLASSFiED   D

 The requirements of the agency's new manual chapter should help to assure
.that work done by contractors is documented and reviewed adequately.
 Because inadequate operating procedures can contribute to worker accidents
 and radiation exposures, the agency should implement the provisions of
 its new manual chapter as expeditiously as possi.le.
 RECOMMENDATIONS
 The Administrator, Energy Research and Development Administration,
 should;
   --Avoid using older model safe secure trailers where possible
    -and, when used, provide or-additional security measures
     until these trailers are modified.
   --Expeditiously review and approve or disapprove the
     Albuquerque Operations Office proposal for additional
     security measures for transporting special nuclear
     material when received.
   --Take the necessary steps to make sure that security sip-
     *ients are surveyed, as required.
   -Establish a group of experts--including those from Federal
     agencies and State and local Governments--to review the
     environmental surveillance rograms at all agency
     facilities, including Rocky Flats.
   -UrgeP Colorado and other appropriate authorities to join
      in , comprehensive test of established State and local
      Radiation emergency-response plans.
   -Take the necessary steps to assure that the provisions of
     the agency's new manual chapter are quickly implemented.
 AGENCY COrM"IENTS AND
 UNRESOLVED ISSUES
 The Energy Research and Development Administration generally agreed with
-GAO's findings. The agency disagreed hat (1)certain interim measures
 should be taken to improve transportation safeguards until scheduled
 improvements could be implemented and (2)a croup of experts should be
 established to review the environmental surveillance programs at all
 agency facilities.
                                 I                                          I
 GAO reemphasizes that the transportation safeguards system could be
 improved by taking certain measures until scheduled improvements are.
 made. Several studies have demonstrated.possible weak spots in the
 current system, and plutonium is so dangerous that everything should
 be done to prevent the loss of control or theft of the material.

                                       VIF                         \\\
                              UNCLASSIFIED
                            U CLASS    I. ED

 GAO also reemphasizes the wisdom of independently reviewing environmental
.surveillance programs at all of the agency's nuclear facilities. Several
 benefits could be derived, including making the extent and
 monitoring efforts more visible to both the public and the adequacy of
                                                            Congress.
 In a July 22, 1976, classified report, entitled "Shortcomings
-Systems Used to Control and Protect Highly Dangerous          in the
                                                      Nuclear Material"
 (EMD-76-3), GAO discussed security and accountability for
                                                           special nuclear
material at several of the agency's plants, including Rocky Flats.




                              .i        .




                            UNCLASSIFIED