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U.S. Senator wants report on costs and safety of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Senator seeks answers on LANL’s nuclear safety, By Rebecca Moss | The New Mexican, Aug 23, 2017,

A U.S. senator has asked the National Nuclear Security Administration to report to Congress by Thursday on the costs and safety of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s weapons production program and, in particular, the potential for critical accidents.

In early August, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a ranking member of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Frank Klotz, administrator of the NNSA, saying she had serious concerns about poor federal oversight and management of the laboratory and requesting a report.

The inquiry was triggered by a series of investigative reports by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity, which were published in The New Mexican and other newspapers earlier this summer. The series highlighted a number of serious incidents at Los Alamos’ plutonium facility, events that could have led to significant radiological releases and worker deaths. Poor management has resulted in unsafe working conditions, injured workers and federal violations at the plutonium facility and other sites, and senior officials rarely were penalized for the problems, the stories said……

Los Alamos was the only nuclear site that failed its annual review for nuclear criticality safety in fiscal year 2016, a program designed to prevent severe nuclear accidents. The lab was graded as “adequate but needs improvement” the previous year, according to a federal report.

In her Aug. 3 letter to Klotz, McCaskill said, “Private firms contracted to operate and maintain these facilities have not been held accountable in a meaningful way for the safety lapses that occurred under their watch.”….

I have previously noted my concerns regarding DOE’s poor oversight and management of its contracts and its inability to properly exercise effective oversight of its budget,” McCaskill said in the letter.

She asked the National Nuclear Security Administration to report on the current state of operations and safety testing at Los Alamos’ plutonium facility, known as PF-4, and whether safety standards have been met. She also asked the agency to provide costs associated with closing the facility, how much of the agency’s budget for fiscal year 2018 will go to improving safety standards, and if any penalties will be imposed on the lab or its management contractors.

“Does NNSA feel it is meeting its duty to prevent dangerous nuclear accident?” she asked.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in an email that McCaskill’s letter “raises some very serious and important questions, and I hope the NNSA answers these questions in a timely manner.”…….

Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament-focused nonoprofit, said in a statement that McCaskill’s letter is “only the tip of the iceberg” of problems at Los Alamos.

“Bad management is a feature,” he said. “It is partly why people work at these facilities (LANL in particular) in the first place — low professional standards, high salaries, and lack of accountability.”

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August 25, 2017 - Posted by | politics, safety, USA

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