A senior member of the Senate’s government oversight committee is demanding that the National Nuclear Security Administration explain and account for safety lapses at nuclear weapons facilities that were recently disclosed in an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.
In a letter sent on Aug. 3, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the top-ranked Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked NNSA administrator Frank Klotz to clarify the impact of the weapons production safety errors detailed by the Center, explain the costs incurred as a result of those errors and detail what steps the agency is taking to strengthen its safety enforcement.
McCaskill’s letter also asked Klotz to grade his agency’s own performance, and questioned whether the agency feels it is “meeting its duty to prevent dangerous nuclear accidents.” In a statement with the letter, she said “there’s clearly a safety problem at NNSA, which puts our nation’s nuclear security program at risk. It’s time for NNSA to address safety issues and hold contractors accountable.”
McCaskill, who is also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has previously been critical of poor contract oversight and weak whistleblower protections by the Department of Energy, which includes the semi-autonomous NNSA.
Her four-page letter recounted various safety incidents revealed by the Center, including a 2011 episode in which workers at Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico placed plutonium rods dangerously close to one another to take a photograph of them, risking an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction that would have killed those present.