Some time ago, I posted an article regarding problems at one of our Nuclear Facilities, not Los Alamos, but another one in the Northwest. This article came to me from someone today. I post both together as they seem to mesh well. It just doesn’t seem to stop does it? -GFS
Memo questions Los Alamos lab’s control of plutonium
In a Feb. 23 memo to the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, officials in the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration said inaccurate inventory records at the lab’s plutonium research, development and processing facility raised doubts about the lab’s ability to “deter and detect theft and diversion of special nuclear material.”
The memo was in response to the findings of a special review team’s assessment of an “incident of security concern” involving amounts of nuclear material “that exceeded alarm limits with no suspicion of theft or diversion” earlier this month.
The memo was leaked to the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group in Washington. It makes clear that problems at the lab have been apparent at least since last June.
Donald L. Winchell Jr., manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos site office was a principal author of the memo. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The memo describes: “the lack of qualified and experienced personnel in critical positions; inattention to performance indicators; lack of an approved and compliant [nuclear material control and accountability] plan; lack of procedures for key processes; conduct of operations deficiencies; and inadequate quality assurance practices.”
Nonetheless, Energy awarded the Los Alamos National Security LLC, the contractor that runs the lab for the government, a performance bonus of $1.4 million last year, said Ingrid Drake, an investigator at POGO.
The performance award was for security during the 2007-2008 period and included criteria related to nuclear material control and accountability, raising questions about the integrity of contract oversight, Drake said.
Officials at NNSA’s Los Alamos site office were not available to discuss the performance award or issues identified in the memo on Friday.
According to Drake, two managers responsible for the nuclear material control and accountability program — one contractor and one government official — were removed from their positions as a result of the review. Government Executive was unable to confirm the nature of the dismissals on Friday.
A press release issued by the lab’s communications office on Thursday said, “The error relates to internal inventory and accounting that documents movement of sensitive materials within a small portion of technical area 55, the laboratory’s plutonium research, development and processing facility.”
“There is 100 percent certainty that no sensitive materials left the facility,” the release said. Jeff Berger, director of communications at Los Alamos, said the problems with inventory records have “nothing to do with what enters or leaves the site. That process is sound and secure.”
“Separately, the laboratory has in place a layered security and safeguards system that prevents unauthorized removal of material. An integrated series of sensors, monitors, and administrative control processes, combined with armed-response plans and capability, give us a high level of confidence that material has not left the facility,” Berger said.
In the memo, Winchell cited effective physical security at the lab as a mitigating factor in the management, inventory and accountability deficiencies, but said, “Otherwise, these identified weaknesses in the [nuclear material control and accountability] program would impact the ability of the facility to continue operations.”
Federal Oversight: A Failure to Act
G. Florence Scott
My comments are referenced to the situation ably described by the Project on Government Oversight’s (POGO) Beth Daley in her testimony at the Office of Special Council (OSC)/Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) hearing July 12, 2007. (http://www.pogo.org/p/government/gt-070712-osc.html)
It is good that talk and dialogue continues regarding the OSC and MSPB and the environment for whistleblowers in the federal government. However it is important to realize that the sum total effect of the inactivity of real accomplishment means that real people’s lives are being affected, and in some cases, ruined and families torn apart. One federal employee over the course of his/her career conducted a number of serious investigations with regard to the inappropriate handling and mishandling of classified national security information and technology.
In one investigation, the Investigator was called in by a Security Specialist from the Dept. of Energy (DOE), to investigate the refusal of DOE management to take their investigative findings seriously. The Department of Defense (DOD) Investigator was dispatched along with a second DOD Senior Security Specialist, to investigate the allegations. The DOD Investigator met with a DOE scientist, and the DOE Security Specialist, making the allegations. The DOE scientist, and Security Specialist provided sworn statements and documented evidence was provided to the DOD investigator and Senior Security Specialist.
Upon return to the DOD field office, the Investigator and the Senior Security Specialist wrote a classified investigative report. What had been shared with the DOD was a DOE security program out of control. The evidence documented critical nuclear weapons design information (CNWDI), and fissionable nuclear material being improperly stored at a DOE facility. The report was appropriately classified, and appropriately forwarded through channels to the DOD headquarters. Several weeks later, the DOD field office received a telephone call from one of the DOD headquarters personnel who had read the report. The comment made to the DOD investigator and Senior Security Specialist was: And what do you expect me to do with this?
The field office said that they expected it to be briefed to the DOE Director, believing that the problem was extremely serious, and when disclosed, would be addressed and fixed by the DOE Director. At that point, the DOD headquarters individual said: If you think that DOD headquarters is gonna walk over to the director of the DOE and brief her on the fact that she has fissionable nuclear material being improperly stored, you’re out of your “God damned mind.”
The effect of this DOD management level person’s refusal to do his job was that good people within the DOE that wanted to do the right thing were left swinging in the wind. For the past 10 years, these people’s lives have been holy Hell. The scientist was forced to relocate to another DOE facility; one much more remote to his/her family, by DOE and commutes back to his/her home several times a year, time permitting. The DOE Security Specialist that tried to do the right thing, and when all appropriate channels failed within the DOE, then reported it to the DOD, found that DOD miserably failed them also. For the past 10 plus years, that person’s career has been lost; their life has been ruined. They have lost almost everything they owned. And nothing has changed. It’s time to get past just talking about this. It is time to DO something.