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Saturday, March 6th, 2021

Accident Response Group shifts departments, potentially improving ability to respond to nuclear incidents

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The Accident Response Group (ARG), a group of technical experts within the Department of Energy (DOE) meant to respond to nuclear weapons accidents, has been regrouped into the Military Liaison Department, more closely aligning it with military interests.

Department officials hope that this will enhance ARG’s technical relationships with Department of Defense (DOD) maintenance and explosive ordnance disposal groups, giving them more tools at their fingertips. This is important because, according to DOE data, 32 nuclear weapons accidents have occurred since the 1950s despite U.S. safety efforts in maintenance and transportation.

The group includes experts from Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos national labs, the Remote Sensing Lab and Pantex Plant. This gives them access to physics expertise in the nuclear package as well as nuclear engineering focused on whole weapon knowledge, as in the case of Sandia. Pantex is the nation’s primary facility for final assembly, maintenance, and dismantlement of nuclear weapons.

ARG is a group of volunteer emergency responders, such as a specialized volunteer fire department.

“Once I got out to the exercise, the importance of it got ahold of me. The important mission either resonates with you as a scientist or engineer or it doesn’t. And it certainly resonated with me,” Harry Cincotta, ARG project leader at Sandia, said. “Every accident situation is unique, so every response is somewhat unique, so it’s intellectually stimulating too.”

ARG also tackles technical support via a network of technical experts that can be customized for response to specific weapon systems and damage. This aspect is called “the Home Team.”