A new lab manager, a new mission to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal with 30 plutonium “pits” for nuclear bombs, and the same old lackadaisical approach to safety.
Welcome to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a company town where the culture is apparently so ingrained, even tough Department of Energy criticisms are unable to penetrate. At a time when saber-rattling is de rigueur, when concerns over North Korea’s arsenal and a nuclear Iran are high, when HBO is airing “Chernobyl,” that does nothing to instill public trust.
LANL got dinged last year after it mistakenly used a commercial air cargo service for a cross-country radioactive plutonium shipment. In 2014, LANL’s use of the wrong kitty litter burst a storage barrel and prompted a nearly three-year shutdown of the nation’s one-and-only nuclear waste repository, WIPP in Carlsbad. And the year before, a general slate of safety issues at the lab prompted a moratorium on plutonium work.
The latest weaknesses “if uncorrected, can allow layers of defense for nuclear safety to degrade to the extent they did leading to the pause in July 2013 of key fissile material operations in the Plutonium Facility at LANL for over four years,” the DOE audit says.