Thursday, February 10, 2005

LANL auditor claims he was demoted for criticism

LANL auditor claims he was demoted for criticism

By HEATHER CLARK
The Associated Press


ALBUQUERQUE — A quality-assurance auditor at Los Alamos National Laboratory said Wednesday that he was demoted in retaliation for audits that were critical of lab safety and security practices.
In a complaint to the U.S. Labor Department, Don Brown said he was hired in May 2003 to conduct safety audits on facilities and procedures at the nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.
He said he was involved with two major audits beginning in June 2003 before he was demoted in the fall of 2004.
The first audit found that more than half of the welds inspected in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, one of the lab’s oldest facilities, were defective. Brown said in the complaint that before he and co-workers
could complete the audit, lab managers told them to stop.
A separate audit of the lab’s Nuclear Weapons Engineering and Manufacturing System division found no qualityassurance program covering two missile components used for nuclear warheads, the complaint said.
Brown said he decided to go public with his findings after lab management ignored his requests to fix the safety problems. He is also seeking to get his former job back or a similar position, according to the complaint.

“I don’t want us to lose one life, much less a lot of life,” Brown said in a telephone interview from his Los Alamos home. “The quality-assurance program that’s used to assure nuclear safety is broken.”
Los Alamos spokesman Kevin Roark said lab management does not ignore safety concerns from employees and added that any welding problems at the research building presented no threat to safety. He said the lab has “a welldocumented program” to deal with welding issues.
In an October internal report written just before
he was demoted, Brown wrote that poor management and an atmosphere of complacency have created “an environment fraught with the potential for dangerous consequences” similar to the Chernobyl disaster. He said the lab has about a fourth of the resources required to maintain quality assurance.
In addition, lab managers have an “attitude of intellectual arrogance” and a sense that the lab does not need to follow normal industry requirements, because the status quo is adequate, Brown wrote.
“I tried to get manage
ment’s attention,” Brown said. “All I got was lip service and even very little of that.”
Roark called the comparison to the Russian nuclear disaster “ridiculous.”
The complaints by Brown follow several problems at Los Alamos, including a virtual shutdown of the lab last summer after two computer disks supposedly disappeared. It later turned out the disks never existed.
As punishment for the problems, the Energy Department recently slashed by two-thirds the management fee it paid to the University of California for running the lab.


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