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Trump's Department of Energy Neuters Nuclear Oversight Safety Board

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Rebecca Moss, Pro Publica

Under a new order from the Energy Department, a nuclear safety board will have to fight for information about and access to nuclear laboratories.

This article was produced in partnership with The Santa Fe New Mexican, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

The Trump administration has quietly taken steps that may inhibit independent oversight of its most high-risk nuclear facilities, including some buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy document shows.

An order published on the department’s website in mid-May outlines new limits on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — including preventing the board from accessing sensitive information, imposing additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandating that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board.

The board has, by statute, operated independently and has been provided largely unfettered access to the nation’s nuclear weapons complexes in order to assess accidents or safety concerns that could pose a grave risk to workers and the public. The main exception has been access to the nuclear weapons themselves.

For many years, the board asked the Department of Energy to provide annual reviews of how well facilities handled nuclear materials vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction — and required federal officials to brief the board on the findings. It also has urged the energy secretary not to restart certain nuclear operations at various sites until work could be done safely.

At Los Alamos, the board has conducted ongoing reviews of the plutonium facility, holding hearings in Santa Fe and in recent years identifying imminent and “major deficiencies” in the building that could put the public at risk in the event of an earthquake. The lab sits on an active and complex geological fault system capable of causing a high magnitude quake.

The Energy Department’s order is the latest effort to limit transparency and weaken the board’s ability to conduct oversight, experts and critics say. And it represents another step by the Trump administration to stall or halt the work done by advisory boards and committees across the federal government, including a scientific advisory board at the Environmental …read more


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