Y2K drill at Rocky Flats

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From the Boulder News dated today <:)=

On Wednesday, lights may blink out at Rocky Flats during a Y2K exercise. Workers will fire up emergency generators to power alarms and fans.

On Thursday, systems will fail. Maybe a generator will break down. Perhaps there will be a fire.

The emergencies won't be real. Lights will shine during the simulated blackout. Probably.

Managers at Rocky Flats and other Department of Energy sites around the country are running a departmentwide year-2000 (Y2K) drill this week. The goal is to make sure the sites are ready for midnight on Dec. 31, when some computer systems could falter.

Thursday will represent an "event horizon," said Bob Kopplin, emergency services manager for Kaiser-Hill, the company managing cleanup operations at Rocky Flats. It's possible that some computers will flub the transition from 9-9-99 to 9-10-99, though Kopplin said that's extremely unlikely at Rocky Flats.

Staff members at the former nuclear weapons production site, now in cleanup mode, do not expect any disasters on Jan. 1, either. They've replaced or repaired virtually all electronic equipment that record the year with just two digits and therefore might stop working when 1999 rolls over to 2000.

"I feel very confident we're in good shape," said Jim Hartman, Y2K projects manager for the Energy Department at Rocky Flats. "But there are off-site services and supplies we're dependent on that I don't have the same level of confidence on them."

Electricity, for example.

Hartman said it's not that Public Service Co. of Colorado has done a poor job preparing for Y2K. "It's just that we're so dependent on what goes on out there and the (electricity) networks are so interdependent now, that one person that has a problem could drag the system down," he said.

"I am not worried at all about releases of radioactive material or toxic substances or security," he said.

Kopplin said electricity is his biggest worry, too.

"But based on the president's Y2K consultants and other discussions I've had, things I've read...I'm pretty confident that if we do have problems, they're going to be sporadic and intermittent, they're not going to be continuous," he said.

Nevertheless, Kopplin said Flats managers are "hoping for the best but preparing for the worst."

All plutonium buildings and other key installations are supported by generator power, and the Flats will have an extra generator on site in late December, in case of persistent power outages.

The generators can keep key buildings operational for 24 hours, and 4,000 extra gallons of diesel fuel will be able to provide enough power for essential systems for at least 72 hours.

Some buildings also have "UPS" systems  uninterrupted power supply batteries  that last between four and 24 hours.

In the last few days of December, most work at Rocky Flats will stop so that the most dangerous materials can be consolidated into just a few rooms and buildings.

Depending on the results of this week's exercises, emergency generators may be fired up early and left to idle for a few hours before midnight on Dec. 31, Hartman said.

On a normal "shut-down" weekend, there are only about 25 workers at Rocky Flats, not including guards whose numbers are classified. On Dec. 31, about 200 people may be on call at the site, ready to handle emergencies.

Kopplin said Kaiser-Hill managers haven't figured out exactly what sort of motivation they'll offer to employees to work that night. He says the site expects to have a commitment that the workers will come in, even if there are disruptions that could affect their families.

Thirty-six people already have volunteered to work in the Emergency Operations Center at Rocky Flats that night.

And experts from several companies that have sold equipment to Rocky Flats will also be on site, such as the nitrogen glove box vendor.

Workers at Rocky Flats can handle only some of the site's radioactive material through glove boxes filled with nitrogen. The inert gas is pumped into the boxes to keep out oxygen, which could trigger a smoldering fire.

An expert from the vendor that sold the Flats its radio system may also be on site.

"From a global standpoint, my biggest concern is fear  panic from people who may not have prepared or get over-concerned," Hartman said. "If the worst situation hits and we're days without power, the biggest impact is going to be on our closure schedule," not public or worker safety, he said.

Shutting down operations for a substantial period of time could mean it'll be harder to get Rocky Flats buildings torn down and land cleaned up by 2006.

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), September 06, 1999


Sub-headline for above article, which had inadvertently not been posted:

Site managers to begin testing EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES Wednesday

This is NOT a test to make sure Y2K remediation is complete and all systems will be operational.

It is a "drill" to make sure procedures are in place if/when emergencies occur.

-- Cheryl (Transplant@Oregon.com), September 06, 1999.

Thanks for pointing that out Cheryl. I usually skip all the pre blah blah, but I guess it does add something in this case.

At least these folks are considering possible problems, good news. Nice to know that all that radio-active stuff should be OK. Well, at least 'til that 4000 gallons of fuel runs out...

Tick... Tock... <:00=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), September 06, 1999.

Rocky Flats? My fiancee grew up near there. I've seen the place a few times myself. That place is a pigstye and they are up to their butts in extremely hazardous and poorly-stored atomic waste, some of which had made it into the nearby reservoir. If RF's highly automated, I don't think I'd want to be very near Arvada, Colorado when 00 hits.

-- coprolith (coprolith@rocketship.com), September 07, 1999.

Rocky Flats, Hanford, Oak Ridge, et al... All the places the US has used to produce its weapons-grade nuke-fodder are so old and crumbly that they might collapse under their own weight. (I vaguely remember hearing a report on Rocky Flats that said that the main containment building where the weapons-grade plutonium was processed and stored was so badly irradiated for so long that the concrete had taken on a sponge-like consistency and would pulverize easily by hand. If anyone finds that report, please post it...)

It's kinda sad... There are VERY few safe places to go if things go supernova in the coming months. If you're religious, perhaps now might be a good time to reconcile yourself with whatever deity or deities you hold dear...

The slightly cynical...

-- OddOne (mocklamer_1999@yahoo.com), September 07, 1999.

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