The closer you are to danger, the more you care about safety; or to put this new Marash’s Law into reverse, the farther you sit from a threat, the less you want to pay to protect those who are closer.
You might think the extra dangers inherent in nuclear weapons might push judgments about costs in the direction of protecting workers, but according to people who took part in a confidential workplace survey at 2 American nuclear weapons plants in Texas and Tennessee, job and cost cuts put in place by new management show that “profit has been prioritized over safety.“
As you will hear, there is evidence to support this harsh conclusion.
Protecting nuclear weapons facility workers, and neighbors who live near 10 American nuclear weapons facilities is one of 2 main jobs for which the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board was created by Congress 30 years ago. The other is to keep the public informed about safety related issues at these publicly-financed nuclear facilities.
The more aggressively the NFSB pursues these goals, the more opposition they draw from nuclear contractors and top plant managers who say the Board is driven by a few fuss-budgets with no tolerance for necessary risk, who are always stirring public controversy every time they squeal about some failure to obey federal rules or meet federal standards.
That’s how the 2 Republican members of the Safety Board felt. So, last year, they made 2 proposals to improve things. First Board Member Bruce Hamilton said instead of exposing safety issues, the Board’s inspectors should keep them secret, and to assure that, reports that are now written and offered to the public should be given to the Board orally, in private. The 3 Democrats on the Board denounced the idea and so did many workers inside the system, so it was dropped.
Not long after, the Board’s Republican Chair, Sean Sullivan had an even bigger idea. He proposed closing the NFSB and scattering its few surviving employees elsewhere in government. Sullivan made this suggestion in what he meant to be a private letter to the White House. I guess he should have gone the oral-report-in-private route, because the letter leaked out and … Sullivan’s idea was as dead as the previous plan. Just weeks ago, Sullivan resigned as Chair of the DNFSB.
Patrick Malone joined the Center for Public Integrity in May 2015 to cover national security. He spent 20 years reporting on justice, politics and deep investigations for newspapers in Colorado and New Mexico, most recently at The Santa Fe New Mexican. The Associated Press Media Editors recognized his work with honorable mention in the public service category of its national Journalism Excellence Awards for reporting that uncloaked secrets behind a radiation accident caused by Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2014. Malone also received a national award for health care policy reporting from the Association of Health Care Journalists for an expose in 2014 that revealed how hospitals leverage inflated consumer health care costs into tax breaks. He has received dozens of regional journalism awards for his coverage of cover-ups involving sexual abuse by Catholic priests, culture and corruption inside the Colorado prison system, and money and influence in politics, among other subjects.