Safety issues at U.S. nuclear weapons lab

Many Pennsylvania workers face on-the-job hazards, but these threats might pale in comparison to the problems cited by critics of the nation’s plutonium processing facilities. The Center for Public Integrity has published a series of reports about safety problems identified by federal regulators at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This information has worried the National Nuclear Security Administration and a congressional delegation tasked with overseeing the modernization of the country’s nuclear weapons program.

At a public hearing, a federal panel learned some of the fire suppression and alarm systems at the Los Alamos lab were from the 1970s. This revelation comes on top of years of safety concerns at that location about plutonium processing and radioactive waste handling. According to the Center for Public Integrity, workers spilled liquid containing plutonium in June 2016 and wiped it up with cheesecloth that was thrown in a waste bin. Journalists also discovered that in 2011 lab technicians took a photograph of eight plutonium rods arranged side by side. This broke a crucial safety rule that requires plutonium parts to be kept separate to prevent the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction.

Officials at Los Alamos issued a memorandum assuring employees of the lab’s long history of safe and secure operations. Critics argue that the managers should focus on fixing problems instead of attacking concerns raised by safety advocates.

A person injured in a workplace with a history of documented safety problems might wish to consult an attorney prior to filing a workers’ compensation claim. An attorney might suggest instead that the victim file a personal injury lawsuit against a third-party contractor that has shown a willful disregard for safety.