Los Alamos National Laboratory blamed a new type of glovebox glove for a June 8 incident that exposed at least one person, and likely more, to radioactive contamination from plutonium 238, the independent federal Defense Nuclear Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported.

Alarms sounded in Los Alamos’ PF-4 Plutonium Facility after a lab Actinide Material Processing and Power, Heat Source Technologies (AMPP) employee, who was packaging some plutonium 238 oxide in a glovebox, withdrew his hand from a glovebox glove. That employee had enough internal contamination that he opted to receive chelation treatment, which can sometimes remove heavy metal such as plutonium from the body.

Los Alamos quickly fingered a breach in this glove’s thumb as the source of the leak. In

its report last week, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said the breached glove was “a new type of glove with a different thickness and insufficient spare parts.”

[T]he Laboratory is monitoring these gloves considering the different design,” a Los Alamos spokesperson wrote in a Wednesday email.

In an initial report about the June 8 incident, Los Alamos said the glovebox involved in the release was equipped on some ports with gloves provided by Central Research Laboratories, Red Wing, Minn., which “have a different tactile feel and provide more dexterity” than other types. This report did not mention any other glovebox vendor by name.

Safety lapses by lab labor and management also contributed to the release, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board wrote in its report. The board said PF-4 workers on June 8 practiced “less than adequate implementation of glove inspections prior to hand removal,” and that lab management failed “to ensure compliance with existing requirements for contamination monitoring.”

The lab previously said it was “likely” that some of the 14 other employees in proximity to the release had some level of internal contamination. Some of the individuals work on the AMPP program, and some do not, the lab spokesperson said.

Bioassays on these people are ongoing, the spokesperson said. The Laboratory is currently awaiting test results for all 15 Laboratory employees.”

The lab released the previously contaminated room for occupation in mid-July, and the room “has entered a maintenance phase,” the spokesperson said. Consistent with standard practices, none of the 15 people in proximity to the release will be allowed to resume work involving radiological operations “until there is data to sufficiently bound doses [they received] or dose assessments are completed,” said the spokesperson.

DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which owns Los Alamos, uses plutonium 238 in nuclear-weapons research. The fissile material can also be a heat and power source for spacecraft. Starting in fiscal year 2024, the civilian agency plans to make nuclear cores for new intercontinental ballistic missile warheads in the the Plutonium Facility. The cores will be for W87-1 warheads, slated for eventual use on Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Missiles that the Air Force wants to deploy beginning in 2030 or so. Some of these missiles might at first use the legacy W87-0 warheads that now tip the existing fleet of Minuteman III nuclear missiles.