An extended shutdown of the nation’s only scientific laboratory for producing and testing the plutonium cores for its nuclear weapons has taken a toll on America’s arsenal, with key work postponed and delays looming in the production of components for new nuclear warheads, according to government documents and officials.
The unique research and production facility is located at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, the birthplace of the U.S. atomic arsenal. The lab’s director ordered the shutdown in 2013 after the Washington official in charge of America’s warhead production expressed worries that the facility was ill-equipped to prevent an accident that would kill its workers and potentially others nearby.
Parts of the facility began renewed operations last year, but with only partial success. And workers there last year were still violating safety rules for handling plutonium, the unstable man-made metal that serves as the sparkplug of the thermonuclear explosions that American bombs are designed to create.
Los Alamos’s persistent shortcomings in plutonium safety have been cited in more than 40 reports by government oversight agencies, teams of nuclear safety experts and the lab’s own employees over the past 11 years.