Lax Oversight, Poor Management Raise Concerns at Los Alamos Nuclear Lab via Reader Supported News

By Joshua Eaton, ThinkProgress

he University of California will continue to manage one of the country’s most important nuclear labs alongside two partners, despite a series of accidents that raise serious concerns about the lab’s safety.

In a statement Friday, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced that it had awarded a new management contract for Los Alamos National Laboratory, located near Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the University of California, Battelle Memorial Institute, and Texas A&M University.

The partnership, called Triad National Security, has managed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California, for the past decade. Six for-profit companies will also serve in support roles at Los Alamos.


Los Alamos is the crown jewel in a system of national laboratories owned by the Department of Energy but managed privately. One of their key tasks is designing, building, and maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal — a dangerous task that involves handling highly enriched plutonium, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Critics worry the University of California’s continued involvement will staunch much-needed changes in the Los Alamos’ management and culture. A year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, published last June, found a long series of safety violations at the lab stretching back years.

Things got so bad that nearly all the lab’s nuclear safety personnel quit in protest after a near-miss incident in 2011, CPI found. Two years later, four nuclear safety experts convinced the National Nuclear Safety Administration to temporarily shut down a key part of Los Alamos over serious safety concerns.

Safety problems at the lab have come up in over 40 government reports in the past decade, CPI found.

“They’re not where we need them yet,” James McConnell, a top DOE safety official, said of safety at Los Alamos during a public hearing in Santa Fe last year.


“We need to give them a chance,” David Jonas, former general counsel of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told ProPublica. “The question is then, if nothing changes, then what? And of course I don’t have an answer for that.”



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