Operators of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant want to resume limited production despite numerous findings that conditions are unsafe, according to sources and documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The plant, which produces plutonium detonators for nuclear weapons, was shut down in December 1989 for maintenance and has not been allowed to reopen because of serious safety problems.Bob Nelson, manager of the plant for the Department of Energy, said in a recent interview that plans call for operations to resume later this year in a laboratory building known as Building 559 and also in a plutonium fabrication facility, Building 707.
He said operations would resume in other buildings later, but the DOE 1992 budget document reports a series of problems. For instance, the document states airborne-radioactivity testers at the plant do not meet department or National Environmental Policy Act standards and that there are not enough of the testers.
"Consequently," the budget request said, "environmental records are incomplete and the environmental monitoring program is difficult to monitor."
The budget also said the current fire alarm system is outdated, overloaded and deteriorated. As a result, firefighters sometimes cannot locate exact alarm sites, which "creates dangerous delays," the budget request said.
In addition, it said, a public-address system to alert workers during emergencies failed to broadcast alarms 30 times after being triggered by radiation detection equipment or during testing.
Vic Stello, deputy assistant secretary for facilities for the DOE, acknowledged recently the department will not meet all federal guidelines before resuming operations.
Among other warnings:
- The DOE said in its 1992 budget request to Congress that poor equipment at Rocky Flats could hinder detection of some radioactive releases and fires. DOE officials said the needed repairs could cost $100 million and take several years to finish.
- A member of a commission that oversees DOE operations said officials have not adequately studied the possibility of a chemical explosion in Building 559.