Louisiana residents may be shocked to learn that a Department of Energy facility that manufactures plutonium cores for use in nuclear weapons has been accused of reckless and potentially catastrophic safety violations. The Center for Public Integrity studied a raft of documents including several internal reports and came to the conclusion that the concerns of federal prosecutors have been ignored and both workers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and members of the public have been placed in danger.
Among the safety problems documented by the CPI is a 2011 incident where plutonium rods were arranged in a way that could have initiated a chain reaction. The nonprofit journalism organization also reveals that cheesecloth was used at the facility in 2013 to clean up spilled liquid plutonium. Federal regulations forbid this because contact between cheesecloth and plutonium can cause violent chemical reactions and even fires. Incidents such as these prompted officials to temporarily shut down the DOE facility in 2013.
While the CPI allegations suggest that little has been done since the closing to rectify persistent safety issues at Los Alamos, officials at the facility vehemently denied the allegations in a June 19 memorandum. They accused the CPI of advancing a false narrative and lauded the work done at Los Alamos in recent years. The memorandum also points out that the facility has been subjected to rigorous independent reviews on more than 12 occasions.
Employers are expected to take all reasonable steps to protect their workers and the public, and this duty of care is especially important when the work being performed is dangerous. When workers are injured because employers may have failed to meet this obligation, attorneys with experience in this area could suggest that they file a personal injury lawsuit rather than a workers’ compensation claim. The workers’ compensation laws were written to assist injured workers financially and shield businesses from litigation, but employers in some cases be sued in situations where gross negligence may have occurred.