Feb 4, 2008

NNSA Giving Out Too Many Last Chances

Project On Government Oversight

While there is a time and place for playing nice and trying to develop a working relationship with the sites it oversees, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should show no tolerance for amateur hour when there is an extended record of poor performance at nuclear weapons facilities. This unfortunately was the case with Los Alamos, as outlined by Georg Lobsenz in “NNSA Defers Penalty for ‘Serious’ Exposure incident At Los Alamos,” published in The Energy Daily. [subscription only]

After a report surfaced in November 2006 documenting the lax safety practices of lab employees working with radioactive plutonium, Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS) did not take corrective action. LANS still did not take action when a similar problem—improper placement of the gloves in the gloveboxes—was reported in December 2006. A month later, in January 2007, two workers got exposed to plutonium in two separate incidents, one serious. Both exposures were likely preventable if LANS, the company hired in 2006 to improve safety at Los Alamos for up to $79 million a year, had taken action. In fact, Los Alamos has the worst record of all the NNSA sites working with gloveboxes, with approximately 50 reported accidents a year.

An internal review at Los Alamos concluded that LANS is treating the high rate of glovebox incidents as routine--the “high cost of doing business.” NNSA should make it clear that there is a high cost of doing shoddy business, and take a significant percentage of the $79 million back. Also, shouldn’t LANS’ callous dismissal of the deadly risks to workers’ health be of concern to NNSA?

Yet, last month, NNSA head D’Agostino decided not to levy a fine on LANS, so that the management could focus on combating the “broad deficiencies” in lab safety, instead of fighting the fine as the University of California had done.

NNSA’s decision not to make an example out of LANS for its failure to aggressively prevent safety violations strikes POGO as particularly strange given that NNSA’s parent agency, the Department of Energy (DOE), decided in December to ask a New Mexico judge to fine Jessica Quintana, a fired Los Alamos subcontract employee, $384,150 after classified material was found in her trailer during a drug bust of her roommate. The NNSA should not tolerate any more excuses and incompetence.

-- Ingrid Drake and Peter Stockton


Anonymous said...

"Yet, last month, NNSA head D’Agostino decided not to levy a fine on LANS,..."

That's because the LANS guys and D'Ag are huge butt-buddies.

On a brighter note, the plan for turning LANL into the Nation's Premier Pit Production site is still on target, and Bechtel is still expecting to make buckets of money along the way.

Anonymous said...

Latest check of the Yahoo Real Estate site shows 12 homes (with maps and satellite pics) that are going into foreclosure in Los Alamos. Most of the foreclosure proceedings appear to have started in just the last week. The listings are "Lis Pendens" which is Latin for "suit pending". It's getting really ugly out there in the Los Alamos real estate market. Not sure who is suddenly pulling the foreclosure trigger on all these properties but I'm assuming it must be Los Alamos National Bank.


Anonymous said...

This is just more POGO BS. "Piling on" as they say. Stockton and his wife, Danielle Bryan, need a new hobby. All of these "serious" incidents killed and/or seriously injured no one, and resulted in no assessed damage to national security. The perpetuation of these incidents as evidence of the need for puniitive action against LANS/LANL simply points out the fact that POGO never needs to fear punitive action from anyone, regardless or THEIR "incompetence" or "amateur" behavior. Who guarantees accountability on the part of POGO?

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine at LANB said that they do not own any residential mortgages in Los Alamos. Some folks may think that LANB holds their papers but they only service the loans ( i.e. collect the mortgage payments ) for some other mortgage bank.

Anonymous said...

Chaos here on the blog, with the POGO 'headline' followed up by comments on home foreclosures. What's the connection? Does this imply that if POGO posts something, that the real estate market in Los Alamos will change? One would certainly suspect that the nationwide home loan problem
is also true in Los Alamos as well as other parts of New Mexico....
Business Week just suggested that we can expect a futher drop of 25% in home values coming. This ain't due to LANS, POGO, NNSA, or Daffy Duck folks.

Yep, POGO's piling on LANL, LANS and NNSA again. Stockton and Co. sure have a racket for this. For once, can't justice be had in the form of an investigation into their sources of usual trumped-up allegations and whose pocket is keeping Peter, Danielle and gang in business?

Pinky and The Brain said...

People tend to leave comments on the newest post whether they are related or not. In this case, I don't think people are blaming POGO for the foreclosures.

Anonymous said...

POGO is right for a change. NNSA should expect improved safety performance from LANS. After all, the LANS fee is $79M, and LANS costs the LANL budget $175M per year including additional taxes and other costs. UC cost $8M per year. Why else would NNSA hire LANS at such great cost?

Wait you say? How is LANS supposed to improve safety performance when they have $167M per year less than UC to spend on safety improvements and maintenance? That's more than the entire UC safety budget down the drain. Seems like NNSA flunked Safety 101 when they hired LANS, doesn't it?

Something just isn't right here. Udall, time to call the GAO. If you don't, maybe Senator Wilson will.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that NNSA is counting on private sector efficiencies.

Namely, it is far more efficient now to get money to senators and representatives from a for-profit. With any luck, given that the money flow will soon start up (that first year fee has been paid, remember) and the fat fellows in DC get their money, they'll probably stop talking so much.

I wonder which presidential candidate Bechtel is sending money to? My guess? All of the above. Good news! Your safety money is now buying campaign ads!

Anonymous said...

LANS is an incurable Rechtel disease.

Anonymous said...

Dear POGO,

While you are correct in stating that "....In fact, Los Alamos has the worst record of all the NNSA sites working with gloveboxes..." It's worth mentioning that if you rolled up ALL of the glovebox plutonium operations conducted every year in the ENTIRE NNSA/DOE complex, the number of incident/exposure opportunities is probably still less than what you have on a weekly basis at one LANL facility (TA-55). Throw in a few additional LANL facilities such as CMR, TA-48, old DP site, etc. and the comparison is just plain silly.

Not that this is an excuse to let LANS or anyone else off the hook -- improvement is always possible --- but you need to compare apples to apples. Particularly when there is only one site doing a lot of glovebox work. But I suppose that's why they make such an easy target.