* Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Director Pete Nanos recently addressed New Mexico State Legislature's LANL Oversight Committee, saying that he is committed to ensuring security at LANL. The statement comes following the loss of yet more classified information.
LANL has admitted to losing 12 pieces of technological material containing classified information since January 2003. Nanos argued that, despite LANL's attempts to increase security of classified materials, the most recent loss was the result of "willful disregard" of security measures by LANL employees. Nanos said, "We're going high and right on this, and ... if we have to, we will fire [all employees]."
As a result of the loss, Nanos was required to report to the University of California (UC) Regents this week to explain LANL's security problems.
Previous security breaches prompted the Department of Energy (DOE) to open the LANL management contract for bid for the first time in its history. UC has managed LANL for more than 60 years, but a Request for Proposal for management is expected by the end of 2004. The loss has prompted the Project on Government Oversight to request that UCıs management contract of LANL be immediately terminated by DOE.
This most recent security breach comes shortly following the loss of a set of extra keys to LANL's Technical Area (TA) 18, which houses five critical assemblies, which are used for experiments involving plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Kevin Roark, of LANL, said that an investigation of the incident indicated that there was no unauthorized access to TA-18 during the 16 hours that the keys were missing.
TA-18 has been the subject of much criticism of late. For example, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board cited TA-18 as the area at LANL that presents the greatest risk should an accident occur. An accident at TA-18 could release a potentially lethal dose of radiation to a person located off-site. Further, TA-18 has routinely failed mock terrorist attacks in which enough nuclear material could have been stolen to fashion a crude nuclear weapon.
For these reasons, several Santa Fe-based organizations are calling on decisionmakers to urge DOE to cease operations at TA-18 until it can be guaranteed safe and secure. Creative Commotion, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Nuclear Watch of New Mexico and Peace Action New Mexico argue that TA-18 presents a serious risk to the health and safety of northern New Mexicans.
Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "It is extremely irresponsible of LANL to be so lax with the keys to a nuclear facility that is arguably the least safe and most insecure in the nation."
The groups point out that safety and security problems at TA-18 have been ongoing since 1945, but have escalated in recent years. In 2000, former DOE Secretary, and now New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson ordered TA-18 closed and that the nuclear materials be moved to the Nevada Test Site by 2004. Current DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham reiterated this order, although transport has not yet begun.