August 8, 2008
The Honorable Thomas P. D'Agostino
National Nuclear Security Administration
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585-0701
Dear Mr. D'Agostino:
On May 2, 2008, B&W Pantex suspended all W76 nuclear explosive operations at the Pantex Plant when a process review identified tooling configurations that presented previously unanalyzed electrostatic discharge (ESD) vulnerabilities. Representatives from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), B&W Pantex, and the design agencies have been discussing options for restarting W76 operations with additional controls. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) is concerned that these vulnerabilities were not identified prior to the W76 Mod 1 startup last year. This concern extends to NNSA's current restart strategy.
The current path forward for restarting W76 operations consists of a two-phase process. The first phase involves restarting operations using an administrative control set that relies on testing to demonstrate the capability of a specific cable to prevent electrical energy from being transmitted along undesirable postulated electrical paths. In the second phase, operations will transition to a control set that relies on the installation of static dissipative flooring to moderate the voltage environment.
Although NNSA's currently documented commitment is to complete the first W76 Mod 1 production unit by the end of calendar year 2008, B&W Pantex is working to start operations by August 11, so that the first production unit can be completed by the end of September 2008. This schedule is leading NNSA to accept a uniquely complicated operational plan as well as deviations from the design agency's normal safety review process. The Board's concerns are summarized below:
In light of the concerns identified above, the Board requires further information to perform an adequate evaluation of the safety of resuming W76 operations. Therefore, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 5 2286b (d), the Board requests that NNSA provide a briefing prior to resumption of W76 operations at Pantex that provides the following information:
The Board understands the need to resolve the work suspension for W76 operations and meet deadlines for production deliverables, and will work with you to resolve expeditiously this matter.
The Honorable William C. Ostendorff
The Honorable Robert L. Smolen
Brigadier General Jonathan George
Mr. Steven C. Erhart
Mr. Mark B. Whitaker, Jr.