Members of a U.S. House panel said Friday that they are frustrated with decades of security and safety lapses at some of the laboratories, manufacturing facilities and other sites that make up the nation’s nuclear complex.
The lawmakers, during a hearing in Washington, D.C., pushed top officials with the U.S. Energy Department and the National Nuclear Safety Administration for details on how the agencies plan to revamp oversight of the contractors that run the facilities.
The hearing focused on oversight failures that contributed to a 2014 radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant that forced the indefinite closure of the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository, near Carlsbad in southern New Mexico. Investigators determined that a container of waste improperly packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured, allowing radiation to escape.
Officials reiterated their commitment to making improvements, but lawmakers said they had little confidence because lessons had yet to be learned from past problems. Some described the agencies’ records as alarming.
As for WIPP, an Energy Department official acknowledged during the hearing that it could take several years before full operations resume and that the final price tag is unknown. Preliminary estimates have pegged the cost of resuming some operations at more than $500 million.
The closure of WIPP has delayed the cleanup of legacy waste like contaminated gloves, tools and clothing from decades of bomb-making across the nuclear complex. In its 15 years of operation, the nuclear dump received shipments from more than 20 sites as part of the Energy Department’s multibillion-dollar-a-year cleanup program.