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How EHS Helped Build A First-Of-Its-Kind Accelerator

A two-part series follows the Environment/Health/Safety (EHS) Division as a partner on the BELLA project from before its green light in 2009, to a record of one petawatt of peak power, to final approval in early 2013.

The timeline for installing and safeguarding the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) may not have been as speedy as the record-breaking pulses racing inside it will be. However, the less than four years it took from funding to seeing the first electron is fairly noteworthy.  That accomplishment becomes even more impressive considering nothing like BELLA existed before it was installed in Building 71.

So how did this project go from green light to laser pulse ahead of schedule, while still meeting the project's unique safety and regulatory requirements?


The Accelerator and Fusion Research Division had to work with many internal and external constituents, including the EHS, Engineering, and Facilities divisions, as well as the Berkeley Site Office, Department of Energy, and Lab Directorate.

"EHS was an integral part of the project," said Wim Leemans of the Accelerator and Fusion Research Division (AFRD). "Even after everything is up and running we look to them as trusted advisors who make sure we operate safely and navigate the related regulatory aspects."

Leemans recalls how EHS was alongside his team in the nineties when electrons became visible in one of the Lab's first laser plasma accelerators. When the BELLA project came down the pike, the partnership continued as the unique device was designed.  

The Site
Building 71— a 1950s-era structure that had supported nuclear physics research throughout its lifetime — had to be retrofitted for the advanced table-top laser system and the shielding it required. Decontamination efforts began as far back as the early nineties. "When you have an old building, you have to analyze the legacy hazards. For example, after the SuperHILAC was removed we discovered an additional foundation we didn't know existed," Leemans said. EHS had to test it for contamination and consult with construction project managers before demolition could continue.

Meanwhile, industrial hygienists and safety engineers provided construction health and safety oversight and helped identify existing hazards from the site like asbestos, crystalline silica, and lead. Throughout the project, there were other construction-related hazards to address, including fall protection, noise, and navigating confined work spaces. Seismic retrofitting also presented a challenge not only in reinforcing the structure, but stabilizing the enormous shielding blocks that safeguard the laser bay and experiment caves. Those blocks not only had to be structurally sound, but had to provide adequate shielding for the potential radiation.

Electrical Inspections
The LBNL Electrical Safety team worked on BELLA from the initial planning stages, first to ensure the building's power-supply was sufficient, then to verify that the many incoming components met Lab standards. "Since most of the equipment was built it Europe, wiring had to be reconfigured for U.S. specifications," Leemans said. Additionally, more than 300 of the delivered devices that power and run the accelerator had not received the Lab-accepted Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL) certification and had to receive additional inspections and modifications to meet standard safety code requirements.

"This is a normal and expected condition for state-of-the-art, highly specialized R&D devices," says Mark Scott, Electrical Safety manager. Modifications were required on about half of the devices, and included resizing or adding of fuses, reconfiguration of ground connections, and separation of low and high-voltage wiring.

Additionally, third-party inspections on some equipment were performed at the manufacturer's location in France, with subsequent modifications performed by onsite LBNL technicians.

Careful coordination ensured that modifications and re-inspections had little impact on the installation and commissioning activities. By being proactive with these inspections and modifications, the electrical safety team was able to provide optimal operating conditions, thus increasing long-term reliability for the accelerator.

Once the equipment passed internal safeguards it was time to test it and ready it for its Accelerator Readiness Review.

The second installment will cover the role the Radiation Protection Group played once BELLA was ready for approval to initiate commissioning.

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How EHS Helped Build A First-Of-Its-Kind Accelerator

How did this project go from green light to laser pulse ahead of schedule, while still meeting the project's unique safety and regulatory requirements?



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