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Energy undersecretary wants nuclear safety reports hidden from public via USA Today

The head of the federal agency that produces U.S. nuclear weapons has privately proposed to end public access to key safety reports from a federal watchdog group that monitors ten sites involved in weapons production.

Frank Klotz, administrator of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), made the proposal to members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in an October 13 meeting in his office overlooking the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall, multiple officials said.

Klotz contended that recent media stories about safety lapses that relied on weekly disclosures by the board – a congressionally-chartered group — were potentially counterproductive to the NNSA’s mission, the officials said.

The idea was presented as the Trump administration considers an acceleration and expansion of nuclear warhead production at the federally-owned sites inspected by the board, located in eight states, including California, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

[…]

In June, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s chairman, Sean Sullivan — Hamilton’s fellow Republican on the board — secretly urged the Trump administration to eliminate the safety board altogether. The White House has said it will address that idea early next year.

The Center’s articles detailed a series of alarming safety problems, including the mishandling of plutonium, a radioactive explosive, at Los Alamos and a federal laboratory in Idaho; the mis-shipment of hazardous materials, including nuclear explosive materials; and repeated contamination of work areas and scientists by radioactive particles. The articles were based in part on the board’s reports.

The federal facilities where nuclear weapons are produced are run by corporations that have collectively earned more than $2 billion in profit from the work over the past decade. Many of the firms have expressed chagrin at occasional publicity about their mishaps and accidents.

Hamilton withdrew his proposal on Oct. 19 — the same date that CPI disclosed in an article co-published with USA Today Sullivan’s plan to eliminate the safety board. Reached by telephone, Hamilton declined comment on the proposal or its withdrawal.

[…]

Klotz, 67, is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, who was appointed as NNSA administrator by President Obama and retained by President Trump.

The NNSA oversees the production and maintenance of all U.S. nuclear warheads, a $10.8 billion-a-year effort that Trump has said he wants to fund more richly.  

Asked about Klotz’s proposal, his spokesman Gregory Wolf declined any direct comment but wrote in an email that conversations by NNSA and DNFSB leaders “have been casual and informal in nature and are not intended nor designed to arrive at any conclusions or decisions.”

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