Los Alamos has struggled for years to address management and oversight issues along with more recent safety concerns about the handling of radioactive waste and plutonium
, photo: Los Alamos National Laboratory via AP, File
21 of June 2017 14:31:42
ALBUQUERQUE – The safety record at the U.S. laboratory that created the atomic bomb is facing intensifying criticism as work ramps up to produce a key component for the nation's nuclear weapons cache.A series published this week by the Center for Public Integrity cites numerous internal reports and other documents outlining federal regulators' concerns about safety lapses at Los Alamos National Laboratory over the years, including spilled plutonium and workers positioning plutonium rods in a way that could have been disastrous.
In an internal memo obtained by a news agency, Los Alamos officials took aim at critics and reassured employees of the safety of the lab's facility for making plutonium cores used to trigger the explosions in nuclear bombs."As employees, you should be proud of your laboratory's accomplishments over the past decade to strengthen our ability to operate safely and securely," according to the memo, dated Monday. "While there will often be external organizations and individuals which advance a misleading narrative, it is not an accurate reflection of our work."It said the plutonium facility's operations and safety programs have successfully undergone more than a dozen independent external reviews and that it's close to being fully operational after safety problems forced work to be suspended in 2013.Safety at the nation's aging nuclear research labs is under scrutiny as federal officials grapple with issues that have been decades in the making. Aside from Los Alamos, U.S. Energy Department officials recently said inadequate funding and the inability to clean up millions of gallons of toxic waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state will likely lead to future accidental radiation releases.
A photo-op gone wrong revealed long-standing problems with nuclear criticality safety at Los Alamos nuclear lab https://t.co/HnzzzwUgSd— Public Integrity (@Publici) 21 de junio de 2017
The company managing the lab is losing its contract next year in part because of the history of safety lapses, Sen. Tom Udall's office said Tuesday. Spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm said Udall sees the contracting process as a chance to make improvements at the lab, which she called an invaluable research center."It's also true that Los Alamos has the top scientists and researchers in the world, as well as infrastructure, decades of history and experience with no parallel anywhere, period," Talhelm said.Frank Klotz, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, reiterated in a statement this week that safety is paramount and that his agency withheld more than $82 million in contractor payments over safety and operational issues between 2013 and 2016.Still, agency officials have acknowledged that more trained engineers are needed in the plutonium facility to ensure problems are not repeated.Watchdog groups have long complained about a sense of arrogance by lab management. They say recent reports show that federal and congressional oversight must be intensified."The lab seems to spend a lot of energy fighting back against the advice of external experts," said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group. "If they only spent as much attention on fixing the problems as they do on fighting back, it would be a big help."
Los Alamos National Lab gets a failing grade in nuclear weapons development safety steps inspection | KRQE News 13 https://t.co/E00GNl7ls3— Nuclear Watch NM (@NuclearWatchNM) 14 de febrero de 2017
SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN