WASHINGTON D.C. – Safety is paramount at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). We have uncompromising standards for our plants and laboratories to perform work in a safe and secure manner that protects our employees, our facilities, and the public. An article published Sunday by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the first in a planned series on safety at NNSA sites, attacks the safety culture at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) without offering all of the facts and the full context.
In 2013, LANL, in consultation with NNSA, paused operations at the Los Alamos Plutonium Facility (PF-4) due to concerns with the criticality safety program. The decision to pause operations in an important national security facility was made to remedy issues associated with staffing, operational discipline, and safety documentation.
NNSA held LANL accountable for these issues. From 2013 through 2016, NNSA withheld over $82 million in fee payments as a result of a range of safety and operational issues at Los Alamos.
Since 2013, however, LANL, with close and detailed oversight by NNSA, has made progress in improving the safety of plutonium facility operations. LANL has increased criticality safety staffing and demonstrated improvements in its performance of operational tasks.
LANL has also worked closely with NNSA to minimize the impact on the critical national security missions at the laboratory. Throughout the pause in operations, LANL maintained its ability to certify the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. By late 2016, the plutonium facility had resumed all operations that had been paused in 2013. The plutonium facility is now producing developmental pits and is on track to fabricate war reserve plutonium pits that will be used in future life extension programs beginning in the mid-2020’s.
There has not been a nuclear criticality accident at a Department of Energy nuclear facility in nearly 40 years. When safety concerns are identified, our focus is to determine the causes, identify corrective actions, and minimize recurrence. This focus on continuous improvement is apparent in our safety statistics over the past decade. Our safety record – while working with complex, high-hazard nuclear materials in aging infrastructure – is the result of a professional workforce that puts safety above all else.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit nnsa.energy.gov for more information.