July 31, 1998


A Department of Energy investigation team is scheduled today to begin its inspection of the accident scene at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory's Test Reactor Area. The accidental activation of a fire suppression system at TRA Building 648 occurred July 28, and resulted in the death of one employee, and the hospitalization of 14 others.

The investigation team arrived in Idaho Falls Thursday afternoon and received a briefing on the accident and the current status of the facility from DOE-Idaho and Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies Co. officials. The team traveled to the INEEL site today, where they will be headquartered during their investigation.

Building 648 has been secured since the accident, with the only entries to retrieve documents and computer data related to the accident. Before the DOE investigation team enters the facility today, Lockheed officials plan to physically disconnect the fire suppression system, enter the facility to check for blood born pathogens and heat concerns, then brief the investigation team on conditions in the facility. The team is tentatively scheduled to enter the building at about 4 p.m. today.

Dave Stadler, the Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oversight from DOE Headquarters in Washington, chairs the investigation team. "We have two priorities -- to understand what happened and why it happened," said Stadler. "The what comes first."

The team will conduct formal interviews with those involved in the accident, physically inspect the accident scene, review documents and analyze the management systems in place. They currently plan to be in Idaho until Aug. 14, but Stadler emphasized, "we'll stay here as long as it takes to complete the investigation." A final report on the accident will probably be issued about 30 days or so after the investigation is completed.

The Department of Energy uses an integrated safety management approach and the team will "overlay" the five principles of that approach onto the accident investigation. Those principles are: define the work scope, analyze the hazards, control the hazards, work within the controls, and get feedback after each job to determine how to improve safety. The team will assess if those principles were followed in this case.

"I want to stress that we are not here to affix blame," said Stadler, " but to find the root cause of the accident and prevent similar incidents in the future."

The team will be at the accident site Friday and Saturday and will not be available to the media. The team cannot discuss findings, testimony or potential causes of the accident until its report has been finalized.


Media contact: Brad Bugger, (208) 526-0833,


* U.S. Department of Energy * Idaho Operations Office * 785 DOE Place * Idaho Falls, ID 83401-1562 *