Originally created 09/23/99

Questions safety 'upgrade' at SRS



I read your brief Sept. 3 editorial regarding the plutonium contamination incident at Savannah River Site, which included: "But it is obvious plutonium-handling safety procedures need to be upgraded."

What is not so obvious is how to bring this about. Much effort is already being expended.

First, your readers probably don't know how extensive, zealous and, yes, even intrusive, the safety programs at SRS are. Let me just say that if you nick yourself with a box cutter at work, you probably don't have to file a report with the vice president of the company.

Second, a major effort is now underway to comply with the requirements of Department of Energy orders taking the form of Technical Surveillance Requirements. Having the force of law, these requirements invalidated thousands of pages of procedures at my facility, adding dozens of administrative requirements and requiring lots of extra manpower for the paperwork.

The final safety steps to take at SRS will be to shift focus on equipment design to fully recognize support costs, rather than emphasize initial purchase cost, to improve equipment reliability, and to improve the focus on ease of use in the design and installation of field equipment. This requires a big shift in philosophy, and "buy-in" by the Department of Energy managers up to the secretary of Energy, as many contractual issues are involved.

At any rate, the changing of procedures is a very deliberate thing where I work, involving many people and layers of supervision, and sometimes, unfortunately, the process is more important than the product. Though the contamination incident at FB-line is unfortunate, I hope that the incident serves as a reminder that paperwork is not the point -- the safe accomplishment of site physical work is.

John Culbert, Williston