DOE Reprimands LANL for Nearly 50 Pounds of Unprotected Plutonium on Property

Yucca Mountain Hearings Postponed for Two Weeks

* Until August, Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) had 20 kilograms (or nearly 50 pounds) of plutonium stored in an unprotected area of their property. The plutonium was stored outside of Plutonium Facility-185 (or PF-185), which is located in the plutonium processing complex at TA-55. The amount of plutonium was enough to make several nuclear weapons. The plutonium was stored outside of the building in a secure area waiting for transport to LANL's nuclear waste dump. Charles Kellers, of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, said that although the storage area provides weather-shielding and airborne monitoring, the location provides no protection of the plutonium from "high winds, missile or seismic activity." Kellers, in his memo to LANL officials, also pointed out that much of the waste was being stored in drums that were adequate for transportation, but are not hypothesized to be capable of withstanding a fire, which is a particularly sensitive issue in the Los Alamos area.

LANL moved the drums of plutonium at the request of the Department of Energy (or DOE) and Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. In a DOE memo released in late August, DOE is requiring LANL to investigate the how long the 20 kilograms of plutonium had been at PF-185. DOE is also requesting a full inventory of the waste stored at PF-185 since 1985.

The DOE also criticized LANL for creating a Category II nuclear facilities hazard without the authorization of the Energy Secretary. According to DOE documents, a Category II hazard categorization has been applied facilities with potential for nuclear criticality events or that contain significant quantities of special nuclear materials and energy sources that pose a risk to workers, the public and the environment of the site.

In the wake of the tragedy of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, security at LANL is under severe inspection by both LANL and local activist groups. Greg Mello, of the Los Alamos Study Group, criticizes the waste stored outside of PF-185 as a threat to New Mexicošs security saying that if a jet had flown into such a stack of waste, "you could have a plume of (radiation) going across New Mexico in a short time."

Dick Burick, chief of security at LANL, assures that there were "absolutely no threats whatsoever to the lab," but nevertheless said, "these are very hardened facilities. It would take a large aircraft to do significant damage."

Mello disagrees, saying, "much of the lab is vulnerable to terrorist attack." He also emphasized that LANL should do more to protect themselves considering the extremely dangerous materials it is guarding.

Yucca Mountain Hearings Postponed for Two Weeks

The public hearings that were scheduled to discuss the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository in Nevada have been cancelled, due to the tragic events in New York City and Washington, D.C. this week. The hearings were supposed to take place on Wednesday, September 12th and Thursday, September 13th in Amragosa and Pahrump, Nevada. No specific date for reschedule has been announced, but Russell Dyer, DOEšs Nevada manager of the project, estimates that the hearings will not be rescheduled for at least two weeks.

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