boulder/nist plutonium ‘mishap’ draws stern rebuke

boulder/nist plutonium 'mishap' draws stern rebukefrom denver post: A project to enhance the United States’ ability to detect “dirty bombs” went awry at the Boulder campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where dangerous plutonium sources were obtained without management approval and handled by inexperienced and untrained researchers, according to a scathing review released Wednesday.

The result, said the 62-page report by the NIST Ionizing Radiation Committee (pdf), was the spread of plutonium contamination at the lab and into the Boulder sewer system.

Specifically, the investigators found:

• Three plutonium sources were acquired without adequate hazard analysis or management approval.

• When the plutonium was received, all protective barriers were removed except the screw-topped glass bottle in a sealed plastic bag.

• Inexperienced and untrained researchers worked on the project.

• The work area was neither restricted nor controlled for radiological work and was in a busy, multi-use laboratory.