Feb 13, 2008

Los Alamos: 19 Nuke Violations, 57 Classified Info Breaches in Five Years

By Noah Shachtman, Wired Blog Network - Danger Room

There have been so many security and safety meltdowns at Los Alamos over the last five years, it's hard to keep 'em all straight (well, at least the ones that don't involve meth labs). But now, the investigators at the Government Accountability Ability have put a half-decade of scandals into a single document. John Fleck runs down the tally:
  • Fifty-seven security incidents "involving the compromise or potential compromise of classified information"
  • Nineteen violations of rules meant to protect against nuclear accidents;
  • Shoddy accounting for nuclear materials; and
  • Management problems that delayed and drove up the cost of two major nuclear research machines.
"Some of the problems have been reported before," Fleck adds. "But many of the revelations, including the nuclear safety violations, are new."
A Los Alamos spokesman welcomed the Government Accountability Office report, noting improvements since a new corporate management team took over in June 2006...

The report's authors were also not so sanguine about the suggestion that progress was being made. "In our view," the investigators wrote, "this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a basis for meaningful trend analysis."

Furthermore, some of the problems highlighted in the report happened after the new management took over. In July 2007, for example, a lab area was found to contain 40 percent more nuclear materials than allowed by safety regulations.

In September 2007, key plutonium operations at Los Alamos had to be shut down because of safety concerns.


Anonymous said...

Does anybody know how this compares
to other DOE laboratories that do similar work?

Anonymous said...

Ha, it doesn't matter how it compares. LANL is always wrong.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know how this compares
to other DOE laboratories that do similar work?

In a way; there are no laboratories that
really compare in complexity to LANL.

There's only one other lab that has a
similar main mission to LANL; which is

But even LLNL doesn't have all the
capabilities of LANL. There's no
equivalent to TA-55 at LLNL, for

One of the problems for LANL is the
complexity of the mission that is
being undertaken.

Anonymous said...

1:00 is right. LANL is always wrong, regardless of the comparison.

I have read several times that all labs have similar rates of reportable incidents. I would also like to see some specific comparisons between labs, if anyone has the numbers.

Considering the size of the labs, the number of employees, and the trigger level for reporting, having reportable incidents is not unusual. Many of these incidents are merely procedural, such as inadequate documentation or failing to complete an inventory by a specified date. Even ones that are clearly consequential, such as contamination on a worker's hands, are hardly national security issues or environmental concerns. In addition, these incidents highlight the ability of the lab to respond quickly and make necessary corrections.

I think the only incident mentioned in the GAO letter that is really significant from a national security standpoint is the Jessica Quintana case. That is old news. Many changes have been made as a result of this.

Characterizing all reportable incidents as breaches, meltdowns, and scandals is wrong. It is typical exaggerated garbage, trying to make the Lab look bad.

Noah Shachtman, you are a yellow journalist. Did you even read the GAO letter, or did you just scan the summary, which contains all the "scary" statistics?