Those calling for the Department of Energy's weapons program to become a semiautonomous agency have not been paying close enough attention to the realities of the corporate culture at the weapons laboratories ["Panel Urges Some Autonomy for Nuclear Weapons Program," news story, June 15]. Making the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories a separate, independent body would only increase their isolation, their immunity from obeying environmental, health and safety regulations and their continued self-serving lobbying for more weapons facilities of dubious value.

The labs have a history of flouting environmental laws, resulting in massive contamination at all lab facilities and, in one instance, losing a Clean Air Act lawsuit brought by a local watchdog group in New Mexico.

The so-called stockpile stewardship program, which is intended to ensure the reliability of U.S. weapons without testing, is a big-ticket research project that emphasizes a visible demonstration of capability -- publishing papers, presenting at scientific conferences -- mechanisms that increase the availability of nuclear weapons information to the world. The commission headed by former senator Warren Rudman that investigated the labs stated that "a culture of arrogance -- both at DOE headquarters and the labs themselves -- conspired to create an espionage scandal waiting to happen." Are these the people we want in charge?

DOE is indeed a dysfunctional bureaucracy, but the labs are no better. Making the labs more autonomous is the wrong way to go.



The writer is program director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a watchdog group on Department of Energy nuclear programs.