Aug 30, 2007

Audit finds U.S. nuclear weapons parts misplaced

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some facilities that handle the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile misplaced classified bomb components under their care, according to an Energy Department audit.

The department's Inspector General also found there was confusion at the facilities over who was responsible for keeping track of weapons parts and recommended changes in how to better safeguard the parts.

John Broehm, a spokesman for the department's National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, said his agency disagreed with the recommendations.

He said the parts, which he declined to identify, were later found.

A summary of the IG's audit -- a little-noticed two-page document released in late July -- found that two of the three sites reviewed did not track "many" classified weapons parts in their custody.

The facilities "could not readily account for or locate some of the items included in our inventory sample," the IG summary said.

The Inspector General's office would not elaborate beyond the summary document or say when the audit was done.

Since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the United States has worried that terrorists may try to buy or steal weapons in other countries to use against it, but the IG's findings raise the possibility of domestic weapons parts getting into the wrong hands.

The IG said it suggested changes to improve tracking and safeguarding the classified weapons parts, but "management did not agree with the report's conclusions and recommendations."

The NNSA said extra accountability controls were not needed on parts for "non-war reserve" weapons, which are used only for routine testing, research and development.

"We're very comfortable that our accountability standards are more than sufficient for keeping track of everything," Broehm said this week.

The IG wanted the same tough standards used for "war reserve" bombs that are ready for use to be applied to all weapons parts.

The NNSA operates at 11 facilities, including three national research laboratories: Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico and Livermore in California. The agency also oversees the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, which is the only U.S. nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility.

The IG said details on the problems at the weapons sites would not be made public.

"We're not going to be able to provide any additional information due to national security," IG spokeswoman Marilyn Richardson said.

However, the IG's summary of its audit broadly addresses the shortcomings discovered.

The summary said security officials at the two sites in question said they were not responsible for keeping track of the weapons parts, even though they acknowledged they had "certain physical safeguarding responsibilities."

President George W. Bush in 2001 directed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced from about 6,000 operational warheads at the time to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012 -- a goal the administration reaffirmed last month.

[Read the public summary of the audit report here.]


Pinky and The Brain said...

"He said the parts, which he declined to identify, were later found."

Let me guess, behind a copy machine under a stack of hard drives?

Anonymous said...

Missing atomic bomb parts? Shut (FILL-IN-THE-BLANK) down, Mr. Congressman! Better yet, just blame it on LANL and call another hearing.

Anonymous said...

We've done this before. The exercvise is not one of we are actually missing the parts - it is do we have the correct peice of paper to stae we do have it, and its exact location.It is a paper work problem. That is it.

To all of the potential glory whores and news people : get your fact straight for once

Anonymous said...

Alrighty then, I guess one of the labs was LANL.

Anonymous said...

"Let me guess, behind a copy machine under a stack of hard drives?"

Nah. Pits make good doorstops. The janitor didn't tell anyone he was using it to prop the mens room door open.


Pinky and The Brain said...

Maybe no one would have noticed if the janitor had returned the wagon.

Anonymous said...

I’ve always wonder what that cone shaped thing was in our garage. Growing up in Los Alamos a lot of my friends had similar things in their homes, but it was normal for our parents to bring stuff home from work to tinker with in the garage. Anyhow, every time I place my dad's Geiger counter up against this thing the needle would jumps off the scale. My dad would just giggle when I asked why. Anyhow, he’s gone now. Guess you could say he got fried with one too many gamma bursts. That cone shaped thing is still going strong though. Even gives off a little glow now and again, and always feels warm to the touch. Keeps the garage nice and warm in the winter, which is why I still keep it around. That "handle with extreme care" stamp has always kind of bothered me though, but what really pisses me off is when I accidentally bump it with the car, adding yet another ding to the paint job. Anyhow, this article just kind of got me to reminiscing. Thanks for trip down memory lane.

Anonymous said...

I just flushed a couple of gallons of glowing green stuff down the drain. Dad had that stuff tucked away in one of our backyard sheds. Decided to get rid of it after reading this article. Maybe now the trees and grasses that died off over the years around the shed will come back.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to use them as paper weights.

Anonymous said...

My grand dad hide two gray half-spheres in the garage marked "U-235". I'm guessing that this is some type of part number. They make a pretty glowing bluish light whenever the two half-spheres get close to one another.

I'm thinking of taking these half-spheres into my hands and then smashing them together real hard, as they would make a wonderful percussive instrument for my polka band. Any idea what will happen if I do this? Is this a good idea?

From the hefty weight of these half-spheres, I'm guessing they would make a wonderful sound when clapped together.

Anonymous said...

Keep a pit in your pants when you go hiking in the winter. Keeps you nice and warm.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... blog moderator... hello? It appears children are now making most of the posts here.

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Yes, 3:47. Your point being? Surely, you didn't think there was anything new about this phenomenon, did you?