U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall on Wednesday asked U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to put on hold on an order they say would hinder the efforts of an advisory board to oversee the health and safety of workers at nuclear facilities across the nation.
In a letter to Perry, the New Mexico Democrats ask him to suspend the May order until Congress, board members and the public have time to review it.
The letter says the order, updating guidelines for how the Department of Energy should interact with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, restricts the board’s access to information at nuclear facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, and “severely limits” the board’s ability to “ensure the safety of communities and workers at New Mexico’s two nuclear security labs and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.”
The Energy Department issued the order “with no public notice or announcement in the Federal Register,” the letter says, adding that the department “acknowledges it denied the board’s request to review a draft version of Order 140.1.”
No one at the Energy Department’s public information office could be reached for comment on the letter Wednesday.
In August, the safety board held the first of three public hearings on the order.
All four safety board members oppose changes imposed under the order, which would eliminate WIPP, the nation’s only underground nuclear storage facility, from the board’s oversight, the letter says.
Congress established the safety board in 1988 as an independent entity to address safety and health concerns at the Energy Department’s nuclear facilities.
Udall and Heinrich said they strongly support the safety board’s mission and oppose any attempt to weaken it.
“The board’s expertise will be especially valuable as plans for production of plutonium pits are developed and implemented at LANL,” the letter says. Plutonium pits are the softball-sized devices used in the detonation of nuclear weapons.