Despite Annual Budget of more than $27 Billion, Nuclear Security Administration Says it Doesn’t have Enough Money to Protect against Fires

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Las Conchas fire closes in on Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key U.S. nuclear weapons facility, 2011 (photo: AP/Big Picture)

Despite government claims of safety, officials admit that one way nuclear material could be spread into the atmosphere is if a nuclear facility was hit by a fire. Now a report says that a federal nuclear agency has failed to upgrade aging fire suppression systems in its buildings.


The agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), claims it doesn’t have enough funding to replace aging water pipes and other infrastructure intended to prevent or fight fires at nuclear weapons facilities. The NNSA has a budget of $27 billion, but insists it has “a constrained budget” when it comes to fire suppression.


The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO) calls this claim by NNSA “curious” considering the agency sought a $1.2 billion budget increase and insists on building unneeded new facilities. “In fact, new construction projects just caused NNSA’s long-range estimates for infrastructure spending to jump by 10.4 percent,” POGO’s Jacob Marx wrote. “Apparently, building new buildings take precedence over steps to prevent catastrophic fires at the ones that already exist.”


An internal report (pdf) from the Department of Energy (DOE) found “several important vulnerabilities that increase the risks associated with fire at some nuclear facilities.”


The Office of Enterprise Assessments said that at some nuclear weapons sites, “upgrades have not been initiated or have been deferred. In some cases, testing and maintenance on these systems does not meet the minimum requirements of codes and standards to ensure reliability.”


“Furthermore, the risk associated with current conditions is not always fully understood or managed to provide the level of protection intended by the DOE directive and the codes and standards for nuclear facilities. Reported occurrences at DOE facilities involving failures of fire system equipment underscore the vulnerability of this aging infrastructure.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

NNSA: Not Our Fault if Nuclear Weapons Labs Catch Fire (by Jacob Marx, Project on Government Oversight)

Office of Enterprise Assessments Lessons Learned from Targeted Reviews of Fire Protection Programs at Department of Energy Nuclear Facilities (Department of Energy) (pdf)

Department of Energy FY 2016 Congressional Budget Request (Department of Energy) (pdf)

GAO Audit Accuses Obama Administration of Lowballing Cost of Maintaining Nuclear Arsenal (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Nuclear Facilities Agency Releases Weapons Site Report…after being Sued (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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