The third article in the Center for Public Integrity’s landmark series on safety lapses while contractors profit at the nuclear weapons labs is carried today in the New Mexican at
Nuclear Watch New Mexico is proud to have provided the factual basis for this landmark series. Specifically, CPI’s two previous articles explicitly referred to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) contractor Performance Evaluation Reports report ten times, while this article overwhelmingly relies on information contained in those reports.
Those Performance Evaluation Reports are available only because NukeWatch successfully sued for them in 2012 (see our complaint at <https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/FOIA-Complaint3-28-12.pdf>). Our lawsuit overcame the government’s argument that the reports were proprietary and that the taxpayer had no right to know how wasteful, unsafe nuclear weapons contractors were paid. NNSA knew its legal position was weak – – we sued on a Wednesday and started getting the Performance Evaluation Report on the following Monday. But it goes to show that citizens must compel the government to be transparent so that there can be greater public safety.
Hopefully CPI’s articles lead to serious reform of the NNSA’s nuclear weapons complex, and again illustrate how public sunshine leads to greater transparency and accountability. But the real irony is that the unsafe practices documented by the CPI’s series is for unneeded, very expensive expanded plutonium pit production.
Maintenance of the existing stockpile does not need actual production of pits (we already have ~15,000 in storage at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX). Moreover, plutonium pits last at least a century, according to an independent expert study required by former Senator Jeff Bingaman at NukeWatch’s request (the government’s previous estimate of pit lifetimes was 45 years).
Future expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is all about new-design nuclear weapons that the labs are pushing but the military doesn’t want. That is irresponsible, polluting and very expensive. New Mexicans should pressure their congressional delegation to ensure that expanded plutonium pit production at LANL is safe and absolutely needed to begin with, or otherwise drop their unquestioning support for it.
For more on plutonium pit production at LANL see https://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/PitProductionFactSheet.pdf