SANTA FE, N.M. — Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are continuing their push to ensure a federal oversight panel will have the resources it needs to continue monitoring operations at national laboratories and other nuclear sites around the country.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were successful in adding language to a major defense spending bill that calls for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to report to Congress each year on what additional resources are needed to ensure that operations at Sandia and Los Alamos labs are safe. Final negotiations on that bill are ongoing.
The board is chartered by Congress, but questions about the panel’s future were raised this week after the Center for Public Integrity published a letter by the board’s chairman that suggested downsizing or abolishing the panel.
The board has documented a series of safety concerns at Los Alamos as well as other shortcomings around the nation’s nuclear complex.
Udall said in a statement that he disagrees with board Chairman Sean Sullivan that the National Nuclear Security Administration alone will be able to provide enough oversight when it comes to public health and safety at the national labs. That’s why he introduced the amendment to solidify the board’s role, he said.
“The amendment also makes it clear that Congress believes the board will continue to be vitally important as the Department of Energy continues its work to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile and update its facilities for the 21st century,” Udall said.
Since the board was created by Congress decades ago, Udall said no action can be taken to terminate the panel without congressional approval.
“We have seen too many serious safety and security lapses at the labs, including the two in New Mexico , ” Udall said. “That’s why we need to strengthen the board. Eliminating its safety watchdog would be a potentially deadly mistake.”
In his letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sullivan called the board a relic of the Cold War and said eliminating the panel would save the federal government $31 million a year.
Other board members have said Sullivan’s position does not represent the collective opinion of the board.