“Coghlan said an example of why the full assessment is necessary is a note on last year’s report for the Los Alamos lab saying it had struggled with some production activities and experienced several challenges carrying out the plutonium mission, and “mission execution was impacted by lapses in safety performance.”
A New Mexico watchdog group is suing the federal agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons programs for issuing only summaries of its yearly report cards on national laboratories and withholding what the group contends is vital information on deficiencies.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the National Nuclear Security Administration to post in its public reading room the complete report cards for the eight national laboratories involved in nuclear weapons — ones it has withheld in the past and all future assessments.
Allowing the public to see, in particular, the full report on Los Alamos National Laboratory’s shortcomings is increasingly important as the lab gears up to make 30 plutonium bomb cores a year with an escalating federal budget, Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a statement.
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s yearly report cards assess the performances of contracted lab operators and award bonuses to the organizations based on their grades in a process that is not classified, Coghlan argued.
“Nevertheless, NNSA seeks to hide how taxpayers’ money is spent from the public, issuing only terse three-page summaries instead of the full and complete reports,” he said in the statement.
The agency has a policy of not commenting on active litigation.
Coghlan said an example of why the full assessment is necessary is a note on last year’s report for the Los Alamos lab saying it had struggled with some production activities and experienced several challenges carrying out the plutonium mission, and “mission execution was impacted by lapses in safety performance.”
No further explanation was provided in the summary report, he said.
Despite this criticism, the lab’s primary contractor, Triad National Security LLC, received 87.3 percent of the highest possible score, earning it a $22.78 million bonus.
This isn’t the first lawsuit the group has filed over the issue.
Nuclear Watch sued in 2012 to obtain the full reports, prompting the agency to release them every year, Coghlan said.
But in 2019, the agency went back to issuing only summaries and didn’t respond to a request through the Freedom of Information Act for complete reports, he said.
Coghlan contends the agency has become more opaque as it pursues pit production.
“It’s crucial that citizens have full and complete information on how their taxpayer dollars are being spent as the world enters a new and more dangerous nuclear arms race,” he said.