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"Broken" NNSA Ties With Nuclear Labs Endanger Research: Report

Studies at the three U.S. nuclear-weapon laboratories could suffer as a result of a "broken relationship" with the federal agency charged with overseeing the facilities, the National Research Council said in an assessment announced on Wednesday (see GSN, Feb. 14).

Previous protection and accident avoidance issues at one of the laboratories has prompted an invasive degree of management of the sites by the National Nuclear Security Administration, the semiautonomous Energy Department agency charged with managing the U.S. nuclear-weapon complex, according to the first of two related analyses requested by Congress.

The sites in question are the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico.

The "breakdown of trust" was most apparent at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where safety and security performance lapses have received attention from around the country, a U.S. National Academies release quotes the document as saying.

Still, avoidance of uncertain situations and a possible prejudice against exploratory studies have emerged at all three sites as a result of tensions with the federal agency, which laboratory personnel believe has exercised its oversight role with undue scrupulousness, according to the assessment.

The analysis urges the Energy Department branch to curb regulatory requirements placed on laboratory managers and offer greater scientific and engineering latitude for the facilities. It calls for the sides to achieve a mutual coming to terms as a step toward re-establishing healthy relations (U.S. National Academies release, Feb. 15).

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