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Arc Flash at Los Alamos National Lab Injures Nine

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Los Alamos, NM – An electrical worker at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was knocked off a ladder in an arc flash incident, and remains hospitalized. Working in a radiological lab building on May 3, Julian Trujillo accidentally touched a live wire in a ceiling. The man is badly burned but in stable condition, at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. Trujillo and eight co-workers were injured that day when an electrical arc flash occurred while the crew was maintaining a substation.

A series of electrical incidents and accidents at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have drawn scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Energy. Los Alamos National Security LLC, is a consortium that oversees the nuclear weapons research facility under contract with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Energy Department’s Office of Enterprise Assessments will review potential violations in connection with recent electrical incidents, and a federal Accident Investigation Board will examine the May 3 incident as well as past accidents.

“The lab takes electrical safety very seriously, and is taking steps to strengthen safety culture,” lab spokesman Kevin Roark said. “We will work closely and cooperatively with the NNSA Office of Enforcement on their hazardous energy assessment investigation.”

Since 2003, the lab has had at least 11 electrical incidents, some with injuries.

• In March, at Technical Area 55, “an employee received an electric shock while tracing a 277-volt lighting conduit in the ceiling. The employee received a burn to his hand,” according to a lab accident report. All electrical maintenance work was shut down for two days, according to Roark.

• The NNSA investigated four electrical safety events at LANL between October 2010 and January 2011, according to documents. Two involved subcontractors, at least one of whom received a high-voltage electrical shock while doing maintenance on a power supply. Two other events involved Los Alamos National Security workers. “These incidents exposed workers to serious shock, thermal burn and arc-flash hazards,” according to an NNSA notice of violation issued to Los Alamos National Security.

• In 2007, the lab had three electrical equipment failures. No injuries were reported, but one building was evacuated.

• In 2006, a subcontract electrician using a cordless drill to drive in a self-tapping screw to the back of a control center hit a 480-volt system and caused an arc flash. The worker suffered a minor injury.

• In 2003, two subcontractors working on a decontamination project unknowingly came within inches of a live 13.2-kilovolt switch, violating safe-distance standards. Neither subcontractor was injured, but if an electrical arc had occurred, “it would have triggered an explosion and plasma fireball” that would have “incinerated anything within 15 feet,” according to a lab performance report.

• Also in 2003, a lab machinist shocked his upper arm on a welder cart that had been wired incorrectly by a subcontractor. He had minor injuries.

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