Security Contractor for LANL Alleges Poor Security at Lab

Storage of Taiwanese Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods Proposed for Russia

DOE Announces Shipments from the Savannah River Site to WIPP

* A letter to the United States Department of Energy (or DOE), dated February 9, 2001, alleges that the nation's plutonium supply is far from secure, and is at risk of accidental nuclear explosion or possible theft of special nuclear materials. The letter was sent by Ronald Timm, president of RETA Security of Lemont, Illinois, a security firm contracted to check security at Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL).

Timm wrote, "[LANL] is almost comic, although tragedy would probably be a better word for it." In the letter sent to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and 19 members of Congress, including New Mexico's Senator Jeff Bingaman, Timm claims that the DOE inspector general has also recently released a report outlining "clear evidence of actual risk to special nuclear materials at key DOE sites and in transit." Timm's letter mentions LANL and Colorado's Rocky Flats as having inadequate security. Timm urged Secretary Abraham and Congress "to take this matter seriously and provide leadership necessary to resolve these dangers to our nation before an accident or deliberate terrorist action causes the loss of many lives." Timm also suggested that until DOE gets a better handle on its security, DOE "lock down" or cease its nuclear materials work.

Although RETA has acted as principal analysts of all safeguards and security plans for DOE headquarters for upwards of four years, Timm's credibility remains in question. James Rickman, spokesman for LANL said, "The tone of Mr. Timm's letter speaks volumes about its credibility. The laboratory has multiple, robust security measures in place that are more than adequate to protect special nuclear materials from all credible threats."

Steven Aftergood, of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, says that while the public may not know whether to believe the DOE or RETA, if Timm's allegations are true, then the nation's nuclear safety is "a little troubling."

* Russia's nuclear agency, Minatom, is sponsoring a bill in the Duma allowing the importation of nuclear waste into Russia, overturning the existing importation prohibition. Plans are in the works to use Siberia and the Ural (pronounced your-all) Mountains as an international dumping ground for spent fuel rods from commercial nuclear power plants.

This week a DOE document was released which reveals that despite the Russian law, the U.S. is actively working for the importation of spent fuel rods to Russia from eight Taiwanese reactors, which confirmed the suspicions of environmentalists in Moscow protesting against the bill. The DOE report was funded by DOE's Defense Programs and states that Russia has "significant spent fuel storage and transportation management experience, candidate storage and repository sites, but limited financial resources available for their development."

Spent nuclear fuel can be reprocessed and used in nuclear weapons. American companies built the Taiwanese reactors. In order to reduce the possibilities of spent fuel rods being used to make nuclear bombs, under U.S. law all nuclear materials made in America must remain in the control of the U.S. While the nuclear materials would still be in U.S. control, the DOE plan sets out a technical path for establishing an international dump for spent fuel rods in Russia.

Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the environmental group Ecodefense, said, "The U.S. Energy Department and the American nuclear industry are looking to set up an international radioactive toilet in Russia. In polls, 93.5 percent of Russians are strongly opposed to the nuclear waste import proposed by the Russian nuclear industry. It's not just a fight against nuclear waste import, but a fight for establishing democracy and strong civil society in Russia."

*In a display of putting the cart before the horse, DOE recently announced that as early as next month it plans to begin trucking plutonium-contaminated nuclear waste from the Savannah River Site to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) even though they have not received authorization from either the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the New Mexico Environment Department.

Activists are concerned that transporting the waste will endanger thousands of people living along the roadways. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland said, "The wastes that are being sent to WIPP are relatively safely stored where they are."

Back to News Index