The Albuquerque Tribune
Another slap on the hand is about all the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories are getting for their rather slipshod safety performance and record.
It's unfortunate, because the people doing this national security work deserve much higher priority than the labs or the federal government have given them.
This week the Government Accounting Office recommended tougher safety oversight of Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico, and Livermore National Laboratory east of San Francisco.
They certainly could benefit from that. But the labs likely will never change until the government absolutely mandates safety and makes laboratory directors and division and department heads directly responsible - financially, if need be - for implementing and enforcing safety.
The GAO documented persistent safety problems over the last seven years, with nearly 60 serious accidents or "near misses." Sixty!
Were these unavoidable? No. Were these the result of trying to meet crucial national security deadlines that affect the safety and well-being of every American? Not really. Were these what you would expect from the best and brightest, whose primary job it is to ensure virtually fail-safe performance and safety from their key product - the nation's nuclear warheads? Certainly not.
These were the result, according to GAO, of lax attitudes toward safety procedures in general and particularly in identifying and correcting specific safety issues. In other words, safety is not the priority it should be at the nation's nuclear weapons labs.
That's bad for their scientists and technical workers. It's bad for the unique and expensive facilities in which they work. It's bad for the communities in which they are located. And its bad for the country, which depends on these sensitive and dangerous jobs being done absolutely as safely as possible.
It continues to be a black mark on the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which was organized out of the DOE specifically to improve these labs' security, safety and performance. Both have failed.
Congress should demand rapid improvement and no more excuses.
Instead, spokesmen for the NNSA and for Los Alamos contend that the report is "a little misleading" - that actually "the numbers are pretty good" and that during this year the number of incidents and injuries were reduced by 30 percent.
That may sound grand for a run-of-the-mill industrial facility or research laboratory. But we're talking here about some of the premier labs in the world - and nuclear weapon labs, at that.
Los Alamos Spokesman Kevin Roark recognized "room for improvement" but insisted his lab has come a long way toward changing its safety culture.
Not far enough. Not soon enough. Not safe enough.
We need only ask one question to know that is the bitter reality. Would nuclear engineers at Sandia or nuclear designers at Los Alamos or Livermore accept 60 percent safety or reliability in the nation's nuclear warheads? Thought not.
DOE and NNSA need to get our national nuclear weapons laboratories safe. Now.