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Nuclear Safety Board Proposed for Elimination by Own Chairman
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Posted by Valeria Salamanca

Sean Sullivan is the Trump Administration’s chosen Chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB). This is the independent board that oversees nuclear operations and provides safety recommendations for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Recently it has come to light that Sean Sullivan has proposed to discontinue or largely reduce the group in a private letter to the White House, dated in June 20, 2017. The letter expresses Sullivan’s belief that the existence of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board only adds costs and not value. Here it should be noted that the annual appropriation for the entire DNFSB is only $31 million.

Sullivan further opines that the board is outdated and therefore provides diminishing value to the nuclear weapons complex. He based his recommendation on the idea that the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons complex should oversee itself. In making this assessment, Sullivan omits an important history.

The five-member DNFSB was created in 1988 because decades of severe accidents and safety issues were not being adequately addressed. The board was founded to prevent safety hazards for workers handling radioactive and toxic materials and to protect the communities and environment surrounding these facilities. The board’s staff is able to identify safety deficiencies, analyze, and provide recommendations to amend these issues that otherwise are overlooked by the DOE or its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

In the article, below, by the Center for Public Integrity, there are many cited incidents where it is clear that if the DNFSB had not stepped in, safety lapses would have continued.

Three members of the five-member board whose service began during Democratic Administrations have now come forward to ensure that this letter does not stand as the opinion of the board. They strongly believe in the DNFSB mission to provide independent advice and analysis to the Secretary of Energy. The three rebuttal letters, from board members Joyce Connery (who was DNFSB Chair during the Obama Administration), Jessie Roberson and Daniel Santos are also available by clicking in below.

As a Tri-Valley and Tracy communities with two nuclear weapons development and testing sites owned and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, this proposal directly affects those residing in the Bay Area and Central Valley of California. Presently, the DNFSB has a Washington, D.C.-based technical staff member assigned to Livermore who visits the site and analyzes its nuclear operations and safety procedures. The surrounding Northern California communities depend on this board, and other watchdogs, to protect them from the consequences of unaddressed risks.

Though Chairman Sullivan believes that the facilities can regulate themselves through the DOE or NNSA, New Mexico Senator, Tom Udall, has stated, “There is a need for a strong watchdog that does not have a direct financial or political stake in the success of the labs.” We agree. This way, there is an independent, outside set of eyes on procedures - and the safety of those at risk is not compromised because there may be additional costs to the contractors’ financial bottom line.

The DNFSB’s annual budget of $31 million should be safeguarded so that the board can continue to safeguard us. Indeed, it may be too little money relative to the size of the task. Certainly, it is not too much.

Click here for the Center for Public Integrity’s investigative article

Click here for DNFSB Chair Sean Sullivan’s letter

Click here for Joyce Connery’s letter

Click here for Jessie Roberson’s letter

Click here for Daniel Santos’ letter