NOAA Lab to Improve License Compliance

November 12, 2008

NOAA announced today that it is improving procedures to manage equipment containing low-risk sensitive materials at its Earth Systems Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. and will incorporate recommendations from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NOAA recently informed the NRC that two gas chromatographs that had been retired from use and placed in long-term storage in 2002 were not accounted for in an inventory. While the loss of this equipment represents a low safety and health risk, NOAA is taking steps to improve its management of all such sources at the Boulder lab.

A gas chromatograph is an instrument commonly used to analyze atmospheric gases. The two missing gas chromatographs contain three devices between them containing an extremely low level of radioactive material—Nickel-63.

The NRC has completed a review of procedures at the laboratory and is submitting a series of recommendations for improved procedures for managing sensitive materials at the lab.

“The instruments are unlikely to pose a health hazard as they contain a very small amount of radioactive material that would not cause permanent injury if exposed,” said Alexander E. MacDonald, director, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. “Our internal assessment, aided by the NRC investigation, has resulted in new procedures at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory that will help prevent a similar incident and we will work with the NRC on their recommendations for future improvements.”

To prevent equipment loss in the future, NOAA has developed new procedures to improve management practices such as consolidating sensitive equipment storage, enhancing security measures and increasing auditing. NOAA is awaiting the Confirmatory Action Letter from the NRC, outlining any additional actions that need to be taken, and will develop additional measures as needed.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.