Ye Olde U.S. Nuke Shoppe

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IRIB Iranian TV / Reuters

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits a spic-and-span Iranian nuclear site in Tehran on Wednesday

Pictures from Iran’s nuclear-development sites always seem to show Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring some clean and pristine atomic facility in a bright white lab coat. He did it again Wednesday, visiting a Tehran facility where domestically-produced fuel rods enriched to 20% were allegedly inserted into a nuclear reactor. You get the impression he could eat off the floor.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case in some corners of the U.S. nuclear-weapons production complex, whose rundown sites seem more like candidates for Extreme Makeover.

Granted – the U.S. sites have been producing nuclear materiel for far longer than Iran’s. But it does seem strange that such a high-tech endeavor should have such aging, leaking and rusty gear. A 2009 commission, with such heavy(throw-)weights like former defense secretaries Bill Perry and Jim Schlesinger, concluded that some U.S. nuclear-weapons production sites “are genuinely decrepit and are maintained in a safe and secure manner only at high cost.”

That’s why snapshots of U.S. nuclear production facilities are now floating around. “It is simply a failure of leadership that the dedicated engineers, scientists, and technicians who ensure the safety, security, and reliability of our nuclear weapons must work in such deplorable facilities,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, told Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime nuclear opponent, in a letter Wednesday. The continued deterioration of such critical facilities means the U.S. could “find itself, simply put, without the capability required to remain a nuclear weapons state.” Turner wants Markey to join him on a visit to the facilities to see for himself.

The photographs below are from U.S. nuclear-production buildings at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M. With their leaks, rust, asbestos and corrosion, they’re showing their age (they date from 1952 and 1945).