Congress Passes Udall-Heinrich Measure to Improve Safety at New Mexico's National Labs
WASHINGTON D.C. — Today,U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.)andMartin Heinrich (D-N.M.)announced that the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have passed a Udall-Heinrich measure to strengthen the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Udall-Heinrich amendment requires the DNFSB members to report to Congress each year about whether the White House’s budget request for the board is sufficient to fund the safety reviews the board members believe are necessary to ensure that operations at Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons sites are kept safe for workers and the community, including at New Mexico’s Sandia and Los Alamos national labs and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The final version of the NDAA will now head to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
The DNFSB is an independent body of expert board members and staffcreatedby Congress in 1988 to conduct safety reviews at DOE nuclear facilities and offer public recommendations to the president and secretary of Energy periodically on important projects and procedures needed to ensure workers and the public are protected from dangerous nuclear materials. The board’s funding for its safety work has been relatively steady at just under $30 million per year in recent years, while the budget for DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration has increased by over 25 percent in the five-year period from 2012 to 2017 as work on modernizing the national nuclear stockpile and updated aging DOE facilities has continued.
"Every day, the women and men at New Mexico’s labs are doing incredible, innovative work to keep our nation safe and to grow our state’s economy, and it is vital that we do everything we can to keep them safe on the job and protect the safety of the surrounding communities,"Udall said. “We have seen too many serious safety and security lapses at DOE nuclear sites in recent years, including in New Mexico. The DNFSB is integral to providing oversight to keep workers and the community safe, and if the board believes more safety reviews will protect public safety, then Congress needs to know so that we can consider additional funds."
“New Mexico makes enormous contributions to our nation as the only state that hosts two national security laboratories and the only site in America to permanently dispose of defense-generated transuranic nuclear waste,”said Heinrich. “We have an obligation to protect the health and safety of workers at our Department of Energy facilities and to clean up radioactive waste left behind by our nuclear programs. I will continue to fight in the Senate to assure the DNFSB has the resources it needs to provide the critical oversight and transparency essential to maintain public confidence.”