Udall, Heinrich Propose Amendments to Protect and Strengthen Nuclear Safety Board’s Critical Oversight Mission in Major Defense Bill

Measures would suspend DOE rule that weakens DNFSB’s ability to conduct oversight, reinforce the board’s full legal authority to protect worker health and safety at New Mexico’s national labs and nuclear facilities

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich proposed three amendments to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major defense policy bill, to protect and strengthen the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s (DNFSB) critical safety oversight mission at New Mexico’s Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. The amendments filed by the senators to the NDAA would help ensure that the DNFSB continues to provide strong oversight to protect public health and safety, including the workers at New Mexico’s national security laboratories, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), and the surrounding communities. 

One Udall-Heinrich provision suspends the Department of Energy’s recent revised Order 140.1 – an order that undermines the DNFSB’s oversight responsibility by restricting its ability to get health and safety information from DOE sites -- until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has completed its report on how DOE’s implementation of the order has affected the DNFSB’s ability to meet its statutory responsibilities.  A second Udall-Heinrich provision clarifies DNFSB’s full authority to protect health and safety of the public and workers with full access to DOE facilities and information. Finally, a third Heinrich-Udall provision clarifies that DNFSB board members may serve up to two terms.

“I’m proud to partner with Senator Heinrich in filing these critical amendments, which will protect and strengthen the DNFSB’s ability to ensure the health and safety of communities and workers across New Mexico,” said Udall. “These measures will address widespread concerns about the DOE’s information-sharing order, which would weaken the DNFSB’s watchdog role and diminish its power to access vital information needed to conduct its safety oversight responsibilities. Together, our provisions will ensure that the DNFSB has the necessary resources, support, and legal authority to carry out its essential oversight mission effectively.”  

“The independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board plays a critical role in safeguarding public health and safety at New Mexico’s three Department of Energy facilities,” said Heinrich. “I am pleased to join Senator Udall in this effort to ensure the board continues to have the access it needs to fully protect the safety of workers and the public.”

The DNFSB is an independent oversight body of expert board members and staff created 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 amendments proposed by Udall and Heinrich to the NDAA include:

  • Suspending DOE’s rule to restrict DNFSB’s ability to get health and safety information until a requested GAO report is completed
  • Clarifying DNFSB’s full authority to protect health and safety of the public and workers with full access to DOE facilities and information
  • Clarifying that DNFSB board members can serve up to two terms