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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Over 600 lbs of Weapons-Grade Plutonium Missing

Los Alamos National Laboratory says it cannot find over 600 lbs of plutonium. 600 lbs! The quotes are from their press conference, via Homeland Stupidity (thanks IO Error!):
There is no evidence that the weapons-grade plutonium has been stolen or diverted for illegal purposes, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said. However, the amount of unaccounted-for plutonium — more than 600 pounds, and possibly several times that — is so great that it raises “a vast security issue,” the group said in a report to be made public today.
Rigggghhhhhttt. But, you also have no evidence that it won't either. I mean there aren't many things that weapons-grade plutonium can be used for ... "Possibly" several times more than that?! Possibly?! Do they not teach nuclear physicists to add any more?
The institute, which is based in Takoma Park, Md., says it compared data from five publicly available reports and documents issued by the U.S. Energy Department and Los Alamos from 1996 to 2004 and found inconsistencies in them. It says the records aren’t clear on what the lab did with the plutonium, a byproduct of nuclear bomb research at Los Alamos.
A "byproduct" of nuclear bomb research? That's like saying TNT is a "byproduct" of explosives research. Plutonium is only used for two things. And since it's weapons-grade, it's only used for ONE thing. Wake up.
A spokesman for UC, which manages the national laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore for the Energy Department, did not address the report’s specifics but said the New Mexico lab tracks nuclear material “to a minute quantity.”
Except for the 600+ lbs of weapons-grade plutonium, obviously.
The report says there are several possible explanations for what happened to the plutonium. They include:
  • It was discarded in unsafe amounts in landfills at the Los Alamos lab (PDF). It is legal to discard weapons-grade plutonium in landfills, one of which is 40 feet deep, as long as the substance is sufficiently diluted. However, if a landfill holds too much plutonium, the material can eventually contaminate the environment — for example by leeching into groundwater or being absorbed by the roots of plants — study co-author Arjun Makhijani said in an interview.
  • It was shipped to an Energy Department burial site in a New Mexico salt mine, without accurate records of such shipments being kept.
  • It was stolen or otherwise shipped off site for unknown reasons.
Uh huh.
  • Sufficiently diluted? 600 lbs of weapons-grade plutonium is quite heavy for one, and radioactive for another. Diluted is an understatement... And if it is there, you'd notice the contamination pretty quickly I'd think.
  • Hehe. I love that, "without accurate records". Yet earlier they said they track nuclear material to a "minute quantity". Who's doing the paperwork, Enron accountants?
  • Stolen? No way! From a secure government lab? Shipped off for unknown reasons? You mean for example, to make new mini-nuclear missiles?
“If it has left the site, then it obviously has the most grievous security implications,” Makhijani said. “I cannot say that it has left the site, but the government has the responsibility to ensure that it has not.
This guy needs an Understatement of the Year award. Most grievous? I'd say bloody apocalyptic if you've lost 600+ lbs of weapons-grade material! Someone needs to strung up for this!
The report concludes that at least 661 pounds of plutonium generated at the lab over the last half-century is not accounted for. The atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 contained about 13 pounds of plutonium.
So let me see if I have this right. In 50 years, 661 lbs of plutonium is unaccounted for. Yet between 1996 and 2004 600+ lbs are unaccounted for. In 8 years there has been 600+ lbs missing, but in 50 there is the other oooh, 50 lbs. Given the thoroughness of some federal agencies they should start at 1996 and track everyone, interview, throw up a dragnet until they find it, no expense spared.
“The security implications . . . are extremely serious, since less than 2 percent of the lowest unaccounted-for plutonium is enough to make one nuclear bomb,” the report said.
So what that tells me is that if someone nefarious in nature has their hands on this, there is the possibility of 50 nuclear weapons on the lose. Why aren't there legions of federal agents at Los Alamos and surrounding areas? Why isn't this been taken seriously? This is FAR worse than a few milligrams of sarin being found in artillery shells in Iraq, this is in the United States. It just seems to me you should secure your own backyard before you go locking up someone's elses. The original article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. This article cross-posted at The English Guy.