Audit: Los Alamos Not Tracking All Stock
WASHINGTON (AP) — A stockpile of plutonium and other nuclear weapons materials stored at Los Alamos National Laboratory hasn't been fully accounted for in 13 years or more, a government audit has found.
The northern New Mexico lab's workers have done regular, partial inventories of the material, which the government considers to be at high risk of theft, the audit by the Energy Department's inspector general, Gregory Friedman, found.
Yet an inventory of all the material hasn't been done in "perhaps 13 years or more," Friedman wrote. It wasn't even done when the lab's management contract changed last year, investigators noted in the report made public Wednesday.
Friedman said he is concerned because the lack of complete inventories means that lab workers likely haven't physically accounted for all of the material in more than a decade.
"The capability to deter, detect and assist in the prevention of theft or diversion of this material is critical," Friedman wrote. Yet, he added: "We were unable to find anyone with knowledge or documentation of the last time the vault was completely inventoried."
The lab is responsible for maintaining stores of plutonium, enriched uranium and depleted uranium as well as other materials used in the nation's nuclear weapons program.
The report recommends the lab's managers improve the inventory process.
A lab spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.
Los Alamos has been plagued by security lapses over the years — from missing data storage devices to the discovery of classified data during a drug bust at a former lab contract worker's trailer.
While auditors said the lab is generally doing a good job at tracking the most sensitive material, the lack of a full inventory was one of several issues they said needed fixing. Among the other problems auditors found:
_None of the six inventories of the highly sensitive material done since December 2005 has been finished on time, a problem that was noted during similar audits in 2003 and 2005.
_Some lab employees don't follow instructions for how to develop identification numbers for the materials so they are easily identified. For example, auditors said one system was based on characters in a movie that a technician had just seen.
_In an area that stores less sensitive nuclear material — containing smaller amounts of plutonium and uranium — a new shipment of nuclear material wasn't documented for eight days. Auditors noted that it was supposed to have been entered into the system within four hours.
"Under the circumstances, the nuclear material could have been diverted without any record showing that it had ever existed," Friedman wrote.
The Energy Department defended its practice of doing weighted sampling in a memo to Friedman from Glenn Podonsky, the chief health, safety and security officer.
The lab's policy is to keep exposure to radiation as low as possible, and the sensitive materials area has a relatively high level of radiation, Podonsky wrote. He said that full inventories aren't always practical and argued that lab officials should be allowed to determine the best inventory techniques.
Friedman noted that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does semiannual 100 percent inventories.