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July 26, 2006 Public Meeting Summary with Public Comments / Questions & Answers

Historical Document

This page is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.

Historical Document

This page is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.

(Slides are reproduced from presentation; speaker comments follow.)
(Statements are not direct quotes, they are paraphrased.)
(Public comments and questions made during the meeting are preceded by the word “Public.” Response to the questions/comments are preceded by the responder’s name when available.)

Project Update

Time 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Location Homewood Suites
at the Buffalo Thunder Road exit in Pojoaque
(15 miles north of Santa Fe on US 84/285)
18 Buffalo Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87506
Speakers Phil Green, CDC Project Officer
Tom Widner, Project Director

Project leaders will provide a report on progress made to date. Agenda items include:

  • Progress in information gathering at Los Alamos
  • Completion of major central document repositories
  • Initiation of review of records at LANL's Divisions
  • Launching of a new project information database
  • Investigation of early D-Building plutonium processing
  • Prioritization of historical releases

Public input will be invited throughout the meeting.

Slides & Notes:

Tom Widner (Project Summary)

Slide 1

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Charles Miller, CDC
(Statements are not direct quotes. All statements are paraphrased.)
 Charles Miller, CDC Atlanta, welcomed attendees: CDC is the sponsoring agency but we don’t do much of the actual work, we show up at public meetings to keep everyone in line. Also from Atlanta are, Phil Green, Mike, and C.M. Wood. C.M. comes out quite often to be of assistance and answer general questions.

Thomas Widner, Project Director
(Slides are reproduced from presentation; speaker comments follow.)
(Statements are not direct quotes. All statements are paraphrased.)

Slide 2

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We will be using a microphone tonight for recording the meeting, not amplification. Introductions: Project personnel attending the meeting tonight include, from ChemRisk: Tom Widner, Project Director; Susan Flack and Cheryl Allen, who provide communications support and serve as document analysts; Ellen Donovan, Shannon Gaffney, Jeff Knutsen, document analysts; from Shonka Research Associates: Joe Shonka and Bob Burns, and from ENSR: Jack Buddenbaum and Claudine Kasunic.

Slide 3

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We have spent more than six years reviewing the documents at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), making it through all the ups and downs and shutdowns. Tonight the agenda items include:

  • Progress made to date
  • Completion of major central repositories– we will have completed reviewing the records contained in every central repository within the next two weeks.
  • Initiation of review of records at the Divisions.  In the past we have reviewed records at LANSCE and a weapons division.  Now we will look at the remaining Divisions.
  • Investigation of early plutonium processing at D Building.  This discussion will focus on what we are doing to quantify early releases.
  • Launching of the new project database. Bob Burns will give a demonstration of this Internet-based application. It is a very powerful tool to research activities at LANL, more useful than the previous database and easier to use.
  • Updates of the prioritization of releases.

Slide 4

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At the Central Records Center we have reviewed all of the records up to specified cutoff point. This is an active records center where new records are continuously added. In the future we will review recent additions. This center contains millions of records including paper, microfilm, and microfiche.

We completed review of the Litigation Support Database that included information on off-site releases. For this work, LANL made available a listing of all the documents in the collection, we selected those we wanted to review, and LANL supplied copies of the documents we were interested in. The information filled in gaps for some reports that were previously missing.

In the LANL Archives we switched to a more directed approach to complete the review. We selected collections that were potentially relevant to our study from a listing provided by LANL, and then LANL provided a list of all the folders in those collections. We looked at titles to identify those folders that seemed relevant requested them for review. We also reviewed documents that had vague or ambiguous titles. We made an extra push in the Archives over the last year because the Archives and Records Center were preparing to move to a new facility. We went along with LANL’s request to finish up before move.

At the LANL Report Collection, we completed reviewing microfiche that contained several million reports.  We separated the fiche into several categories, and reviewed 100% of the titles for categories likely to contain relevant information and reviewed various fractions of other categories to verify that they did not contain relevant information.  Within the next month or so our review of all the central repositories will be completed.

We began reviewing the Engineering Drawings Collection, looking at technical drawings of early TA-1, D Building, and the Omega Reactor. The drawings answer key questions such as when things were built and where stacks were located.

Slide 5

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This slide gives an idea of how we track our progress. Highlighted in this slide are the folders from the LANL Archives and reports from the Reports Collection. The project team reviewed close to 37,000 reports from the Reports Collection last quarter.

Slide 6

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We have prioritized the Divisions at LANL for review. To begin, we have picked out the first six where we will inventory available record sets and determine are relevant for review.

We have not scheduled any reviews of records about LANL located at other sites, but we know records were sent to Federal Records centers at Denver and Dallas. At another point we will target these centers.

We also plan directed searches at LANL focusing on specific topics of interest such as beryllium releases, D Building, and Trinity site. We will go to specific records needed for assessments of this type. We will begin the directed searches next year.

Slide 7

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These are the six Divisions we have targeted for initial review. Some Divisions will require that the document analysts hold a security clearance, and some will not.  We have 10-11 Q-cleared people available to conduct the reviews.

Slide 8

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The D Building is one of our directed research topics. It was the first building in the world where plutonium was processed to make weapon components. It was in operation in 1943 and from 1943 to 1945 it was used to prepare the components for the Trinity Test and Nagasaki.

Slide 9

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LANL’s official reports of the airborne plutonium that they have released contain data starting in 1950, with estimated values for 1948 and 1949.   The reported release total is about 1.2 curies, but that includes no contribution from D Building or early DP Site operations.  How much was released from D Building and the DP Site is one area we are investigating.

Jeff Knutsen is looking at estimating releases from D Building. Information we are also studying includes soil samples and human tissue samples to possibly provide other indications of how much was released. We are working hard to get the best and most defensible answer.

Slide 10

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LANL’s Site Y received plutonium from Hanford that was used for the Fat Man bombs tested at Trinity site and shortly thereafter used at Nagasaki. In 1945 DP, site took over plutonium production, but D Building remained quite active until about 1953.  LANL was the lead weapon development site from 1945 until 1949 when the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant started up, and later Rocky Flats took over production of plutonium components.

Slide 11

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D Building was located in the original technical area in a high-security area in a high-security town. This map doesn’t show how close the building was to the rim of the canyon.

Slide 12

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This picture shows how close D Building was to the canyon rim. The building is marked with a blue star. The photo was taken around Christmas 1946.

Slide 13

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These are photos of D Building. The picture on bottom shows all of the roof-top release points. The building was a pioneering site for processing radioactive materials.  A lot was learned during early operations in D Building that was later applied to more advanced nuclear material handling facilities.  All the stacks were initially unfiltered and unmonitored. Later, crude filters were added to those vents found to be contributing to releases.

Slide 14

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Plutonium arrived at D Building in shipping “bombs.” 

Plutonium was shipped as plutonium nitrate paste. During processing, the solution was suctioned out and transferred for purification.

Slide 15

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A glass apparatus was used for purification of plutonium.  This was a very dangerous arrangement for processing highly radioactive materials using reagents such as ether. The fire hazard was great and there were many close calls, but overall, they were lucky.

Slide 16

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During the process, plutonium oxide was converted in fluorination reactions to plutonium tetrafluoride. One problem was encountered when carrying “boats” of powder. We have found references to incidents where boats were dropped.

Slide 17

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Plutonium tetrafluoride was placed in a reduction bomb that was bolted shut, and placed in a furnace where heat was applied. The heat and pressure forced the plutonium to reduce to metal form and settle as buttons in the bottom of the container.

Slide 18

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Slide 19

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Plutonium has several phases that behave differently with changes of temperature, so LANL settled on a particular alloy that was fairly stable. Hemispheres were roughcast, hot pressed in a steel die, and their flat surfaces machined. Their surfaces were nickel plated.

Slide 20

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This is a representation of the remelting operation, in which buttons were placed in a crucible, the alloying material was added, and an electrical current was applied to heat the material under pressure.

Slide 21

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Slide 22

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People who worked in D Building had various comments regarding their experiences.

Slide 23

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Slide 24

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The roof of D Building was considered the hottest place in town.  Some hood vents reportedly terminated in the attic instead of going to the roof.  Levels in the attic were some of the highest levels around.  Residences were located quite near the site, and those closest apartments were considered some of the more desirable places to live.

Public: Where was the waste from D Building taken?
Tom Widner: I have a good report on demolition of D Building that answers that question that I will provide to you.

The ventilation systems used at D Building were considered state-of-the-art at the time. However, they were designed primarily to keep dust out of the plutonium, not to keep plutonium from leaking out.  Evaporative cooling was used, which was a major source of dust, and some operations were conducted under positive pressure. All of the approximately 85 rooftop vents were unfiltered at first. In 1945, some filters were added. These focused on recovery operations.

Slide 25

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The ventilation systems used at D Building were considered state-of-the-art at the time. However, they were designed primarily to keep dust out of the plutonium, not to keep plutonium from leaking out.  Evaporative cooling was used, which was a major source of dust, and some operations were conducted under positive pressure. All of the approximately 85 rooftop vents were unfiltered at first. In 1945, some filters were added. These focused on recovery operations.

Slide 26

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The amount of plutonium processed at D Building is recorded in various documents. We know:

  • The Trinity device and Nagasaki bomb were made there.
  • A third device for a second implosion bomb for use in Japan was made at LANL and left Los Alamos.
  • The plutonium for a fourth bomb core was purified at LANL.
  • Three or four bombs means that there were six or eight hemispheres produced.  We are not sure how many more might have been made and rejected because they did not meet specifications.

Slide 27

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Oppenheimer said that the first 2,500 experiments conducted on the first 51 g of plutonium received at Los Alamos were associated with 1 percent loss of plutonium for each experiment. How this loss fraction would scale up is unclear.

The DOE Handbook reports research in release fractions for nuclear processing. Some of the research could be applicable to LANL. We will likely apply some of these fractions to see what we can learn from them.

Slide 28

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We have two binders with documents produced by workers related to D Building. At first, it was planned as a simple building that would be used for a short time, but it was added on to repeatedly and used until around 1953.

We held a roundtable meeting yesterday with people who had D Building experience. It was a classified meeting where employees were given permission to speak freely for this one day. Others were too frail to attend the meeting, and we need to visit them individually.

In addition to examining available rooftop and indoor air measurements, we are expanding analyses of soil measurements and human tissue data. We are fortunate to have a good database of more than 200 people who lived around LANL that includes workers and non-workers that had autopsies conducted. The autopsy records report plutonium levels. We are tracking down the residence history of these people.

Slide 29

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These are the products of the LAHDRA project. So far, three versions of the report have been issued. A new version will be issued at the end of the year.

Slide 31

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We continue to expand the chronology of accidents and incidents. Our work is documented in Appendix L of our Report. It documents accident and incidents relevant to off-site releases. Our next focus is to look at incident reports at TA-35. Joe Shonka put together summaries, which will be added to the chronology.

Slide 32

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In the late 1950s, human tissue analysis began. Los Alamos started taking tissue samples from throughout the United States. We found records at the LANL Archives that detail the Human Tissue Program. We have found new records that identify the subjects in this study. With this new data, we have detailed information of their residence at time of death. Out of courtesy to survivors and friends, we are not releasing names and records, but we will release analysis of the data. So far we have identified 60 people in the study as LANL employees. From these, 15 were judged to have high exposure in their jobs and 45 were judged to have low exposure. We will be able to make a comparison of people before and after 1955, as well as a number of other comparisons. We will use old phone books to prepare a residence history that will enable us to compare exposure as a function of distance and direction. This is a very rarely available dataset.


Slide 33

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More than a year ago we released preliminary calculations where we back- calculated releases based on how much plutonium was in the soil. We are now performing revised calculations. Initial calculations were based on 12 wind sectors. Now we are using 16 and a well documented dataset of meteorological information from Los Alamos.  We are now using the new data and correcting a few mistakes that were found.  Our numbers are becoming more defensible. The latest draft results indicate that the geometric mean of releases from D Building would be about 51 curies and from DP site would be just over five curies.  We will continue to work with the Lab to firm up these numbers. We are going out tomorrow to look at locations where soil samples were taken. Some samples raise questions because they may have been impacted by liquid releases. So we are going to some of these locations to determine if it was likely that these sources were impacted by other releases. Another issue is dealing with samples with zero results. Yet other issues are world-wide-fallout, disturbed soil, cleanup and fill dirt. We are looking for undisturbed sites where we might take new samples.

Public: What about vegetation in the areas, would that also be a source of information for you?
Tom Widner: I am not an expert. I can’t determine how long a tree has been there. In some cases trees can be a good indicator. For example, the tree rings of the red cedars at Oak Ridge, Tennessee were examined. The examination provided a time history of mercury levels in the air. I am not that familiar with how plutonium is retained in trees.
CM Wood: I am not an expert either, but I have gone through reports about radiation in plants. Some isotopes are taken up by roots and others are not.  But there is not a lot of plutonium data in the vegetation. There is cesium data. There is environmental data; we know where it is; we will look at it. But in my opinion, it is not useful in answering plutonium questions.
Joe Shonka: A lot of the cesium measurements were not from lab operations. The cesium they are measuring is largely from atmospheric fall-out from the 1960s global weapons testing.
Public: (Question directed to Steve Yanicak.) Are there any archived vegetative samples? I know at one time a lot of wood samples were saved. Since these samples are saved, it may be possible to use some methods available today to get data.
Steve Yanicak: Samples are available. We took them in conjunction with the Lab; we actually cut three to four inch tree slices in which you can count rings. Are you primarily looking at plutonium?
Tom Widner: For this analysis of D Building, yes.
Steve Yanicak: I know they processed uranium at the Sigma Building, and we have done storm water sampling below on Hillside 140 and still see uranium. I don’t know what the uranium exposure was. I know there have also been fires in some of these buildings, and I have researched some of the old records.
Tom Widner: That is of interest because after plutonium production went to DP Site, I think uranium work grew in D Building, while some plutonium work continued, and remained active for about eight years. We have looked at many CMR progress reports and have considered flow in canyons.
Public: In this context, have meteorological conditions been considered—high rain, dry year?
Tom Widner: We have used some meteorological data, but many factors would be reflected in more refined modeling that may come later.
Joe Shonka: We have not used year-to-year variations in rainfall in our model, which might have an affect. The releases in the 1940s were much larger than they were in the 50s, 60s, and later. We would have to go back and retrieve the data for those years. Right now, the model assumes an average and doesn’t consider annual variations.  Flooding may have caused erosion, and we know it is an issue. We are not addressing it yet.
Tom Widner: We have just scratched the surface and are still in the information-gathering phase.
Public: If the 51 curies holds up as the emission from Building D, how does that relate to the reported figure?
Tom Widner: The lab’s reported site-wide total release was 1.2 curies, so it would be approximately 40 times more. Again, this was a median, and each soil sample gives you its own result. You have to look at how they were distributed. The lab’s reported release did not include D Building, corrections for sample line loss, or alpha particle burial. When we apply corrections for modern-day affluent data, the numbers will be closer together, but they will still be different.
Steve Yanicak: I’m from the environment department. That jives with some of the studies we looked at in Acid Canyon. An early study, the FUSRAP project, we found big differences between Pueblo Canyon and Acid Canyon.
Tom Widner: Now that we have a better handle on DP Site releases, it will help us ascertain contributions from D Building. We are also looking at other areas, such as beryllium. We are also looking at chemicals, but information is so hard to find. It was not a high priority for many years, and records regarding chemicals do not exist before the 70s. High explosives are another challenge. Some Lab scientists say that high explosives were either vaporized completely or fell to the ground in chunks. We think the truth is somewhere in between. Thankfully, high explosives are not as toxic as other materials that were used. We are trying to look at the big picture and focus on more important hazards.
Public: That raises the question of chromium releases. Are you saying you don’t have information about chromium?
Tom Widner: No, I wouldn’t say that. We have been briefed about all materials found in the deep aquifer, the shallow aquifer, and the perched water. We are gathering information on anything found in the ground water that is potentially lab related. We are keeping an eye out for information regarding chromium, including potential sources. For example, cooling towers utilized chromium.  Susan Flack is the lead person keeping up with chromium. You can talk to her to get more information. Whenever anything is detected in the ground water, it is a red flag for us to gather as much information as possible, to add historic knowledge and context, and talk to the people collecting the samples so we can put in proper perspective.

Slide 34

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Slide 35

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Tom Widner: Our project web site url has changed. It has a simpler name: On the web site you will find summaries of the public meetings that include copies of slides and commentary in a paraphrased form.
Please call or send email to the project team or CDC at any time. Full contact information for project team members and CDC is available on the web site.