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Project on Government Oversight

Nuclear Security & Safety

Current and former presidents have agreed that the single greatest threat to global security is posed by nuclear materials. While POGO
does not take a position on the use of nuclear power or nuclear weapons, we believe it is essential to secure the facilities from terrorist attacks and to ensure the safety of both the facility employees and the residents who live in nearby communities. POGO’s investigations have revealed that many of the nation’s nuclear facilities are poorly maintained, pose a substantial threat to their surrounding neighborhoods, and are costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year to secure and maintain. POGO has made practical recommendations to the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission for addressing the glaring weaknesses of these facilities.  Click on the program areas below to learn more.

DoD Nuclear Weapons
POGO’s investigations have uncovered a series of embarrassing and dangerous debacles involving Air Force nuclear security.  In recent months, the Air Force has failed a critical nuclear security test, allowed a B-52 bomber to fly across the country armed with nuclear cruise missiles, and shipped sensitive nuclear weapons parts to Taiwan.  POGO will continue working to ensure that the military’s nuclear arsenal is safe and secure.

Nuclear Power Plants
It has been widely reported that nuclear power plants were among the targets considered by the 9/11 attackers.  Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has done little to improve security at nuclear power plants since 9/11.  POGO’s investigations revealed, for instance, that private contractors were working security officers to the point of exhaustion.  POGO is also concerned that the NRC is planning for an unrealistic terrorist threat simply because industry is not willing to pay for better security.

Nuclear Weapons Complex
While it has been almost two decades since the end of the Cold War, the federal government continues to sustain a myriad of obsolete nuclear weapons facilities across the nation, many of them located next to (or even within) highly populated urban areas.  POGO’s investigations have revealed that the Department of Energy (DOE) is failing to adequately protect the American public from the possibility of a terrorist attack on one of these facilities.  Guards at the facilities are poorly equipped, spread thin, and lack the training needed to defend against a terrorist attack.  POGO recommends disposing of excess nuclear materials and consolidating the remaining materials to fewer and more-easily defended locations, which could save the government billions of dollars while protecting the public from a serious terrorist threat.

Livermore National Laboratory
Of all the sites in the nuclear weapons complex, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory poses perhaps the greatest risk to public safety due to its proximity to millions of people living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  POGO’s investigations have revealed that terrorists could use special nuclear materials stored at Livermore Lab to create a deadly nuclear device.  In addition, Livermore was granted a waiver so that it did not have to meet the government’s current security requirements devised by the intelligence community.  POGO recommends moving the dangerous nuclear material stored at Livermore Lab to a more secure location, which would save taxpayers $160 million and eliminate a dangerous threat to public safety. 

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
POGO has witnessed countless security and safety incidents at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) over the years, including missing computers and disks, workplace contamination, construction mishaps, and unauthorized shipments of anthrax.  There have also been charges of retaliation against whistleblowers who try to expose corruption at the lab. 

Nevada Test Site
Like other sites in the nuclear weapons complex, the Nevada Test Site suffers from a lack of oversight and accountability.  In 2003, it was revealed that the Department of Energy had sold government property from the Nevada Test Site for pennies on the dollar, yet another example of lab mismanagement.

POGO has worked to expose serious safety problems at the Pantex Plant, which is responsible for assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons.  In 2006, POGO received an anonymous letter from plant workers who raised concerns about being forced to work up to 80 hours a week under Pantex operator BWXT.  There have also been a number of safety incidents at Pantex, including a "near-miss" episode involving a W56 nuclear warhead.  POGO’s investigations are aimed at improving safety and workplace conditions at Pantex.

Sandia National Laboratory
In 2005, POGO obtained an internal report which uncovered inadequate safety protections at the Sandia National Laboratory, operated by Lockheed Martin.  As the report noted, a nuclear accident at Sandia would be disastrous for workers and the surrounding public.  The lab has also been affected by sleeping security guards and stolen computer parts, all of which calls into question the model of "self-governance" at nuclear laboratories and facilities.

Y-12 / Oak Ridge Laboratory (ORNL)
POGO’s investigations have revealed that Y-12 and Oak Ridge Lab in Eastern Tennessee are at high risk, and cannot meet the government’s security standards.  These results are alarming given the large quantities of highly enriched uranium stored at the facilities.  POGO recommends moving and down-blending the dangerous nuclear materials at both sites to reduce the possibility of a terrorist attack.