SLAC's SPEAR3 accelerator restarts after safety probes

The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory's SPEAR3 facility completed its restart validation process last week, and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) Director Jonathan Dorfan, after consultation with the Department of Energy (DOE), gave the green light to restart operations. Dorfan had ordered the immediate suspension of operations of SPEAR3 and SLAC's principal high energy physics facility, the B Factory, after a serious electrical accident on Oct. 11, 2004.

Since the accident, SLAC, working in conjunction with the DOE and Stanford University, has been rigorously scrutinizing safety procedures and safeguards to ensure that the accelerator facilities will be operated at the highest levels of safety. Dorfan was determined that each major facility complete a specific safety validation review to satisfy him and the DOE that there was a safe path forward.

"The restart of SPEAR3 operations should not in any way divert our ongoing attention from the strongest commitment to safety," Dorfan said. "Our long-held commitment is that operational expediency can never override safety."

A safety assessment is ongoing at SLAC by groups of experts appointed by the DOE, Stanford University and the laboratory's own specialists. A DOE accident investigation team worked at SLAC during October and November 2004 and published its report Dec. 15. To respond to the Judgments of Need highlighted in the report, a joint SLAC/DOE Corrective Action Plan committee started work immediately and submitted its plan to the DOE last week.

In December, Stanford President John Hennessy appointed a blue-ribbon panel of eminent scientists and safety specialists to formally assess safety procedures and the improvements being made at SLAC. The panel members—Robert Byer, professor of applied physics, Stanford University; Charles V. Shank, former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Gary Kern, corporate director of environmental health and safety, Varian Medical Systems; and Lawrence T. Papay, energy and environmental consultant—have expertise in risk analysis, systems engineering and laboratory operations, and they will make recommendations to the university on ways to enhance worker safety at the linear accelerator center.

"The university's research program should not only be judged by the results of its scientific experiments," Hennessy said. "It must be judged as well by the care it takes in conducting experiments and the concern it shows for the dedicated personnel who carry out this research. We are wholly committed to ensuring that all employees and contractors work in a setting with the highest possible standards for safety."

David Simon, the electrician who was injured in the accident, and his wife have filed a legal complaint against Stanford University. Simon was hospitalized for six weeks and returned home last Thanksgiving for further rehabilitation.

Researchers at SLAC's main high energy physics program, the B Factory, a facility that comprises the 2-mile linear accelerator, the PEPII storage rings and the BaBar experiment, are now cautiously and methodically working through its restart validation program with the aim of recommencing its experimental program in the coming months. The B Factory experimental program, which was to have completed its run at the end of June 2005, is now planned to run through the summer.