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Editorial: Safety breaches at LANL keep coming to light

Los Alamos National Security LLC, the corporation contracted by the federal National Nuclear Security Administration to run Los Alamos National Laboratory, seems incapable of providing the degree of safety the nation’s premiere nuclear lab requires.

Fortunately, the NNSA has opted against renewing the corporation’s multibillion-dollar contract beyond 2018 and released its draft request for proposals to manage the lab last month.

LANL’s oversight problems – ranging from a kitty litter packaging error that shut down the nation’s only permanent nuclear waste repository for nearly three years to improperly shipping nuclear material to other federal facilities by commercial cargo plane – continue.

A recent article by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity revealed that plutonium, conventional explosives and highly toxic chemicals have been improperly packaged or shipped by nuclear weapons contractors at least 25 times in the past five years – including a 2012 shipment of unlabeled plutonium from LANL to a University of New Mexico laboratory. No injuries were reported, but the lab had to be decontaminated.

Management of LANL, the lab that developed the world’s first nuclear bomb, will become even more critical as the NNSA works to extend the life of the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal. A key part of those sustainment efforts is the resumption of the manufacturing of plutonium “pits” – the triggers for nuclear bombs.

That’s one major reason why it’s critical LANL get its act together between now and whenever a new contractor – hopefully one far more safety-minded that its current one – is selected to move the lab forward.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.