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Project on Government Oversight
 

 

 

 

Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Facility TA-18 To Close: One of Most Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack

July 2, 2002 

 

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has confirmed that the Department of Energy (DOE) has decided to close Technical Area 18 (TA-18) located at Los Alamos National Laboratory and to move the facility's nuclear materials to the Nevada Test Site.

"DOE's General John Gordon and Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Everet Beckner should be congratulated for this heroic decision to protect the American people during this time of terrorist nuclear threats. Our nation's weapons-grade nuclear materials should never be stored in facilities like TA-18 that can not be defended against attack," stated Danielle Brian, Executive Director of POGO.

According to sources, the plan to close TA-18 will be completed by 2005 and has been announced to TA-18 staff. This decision is one of the last actions Gordon is taking before leaving DOE. According to recent reports, Gordon is moving over to the White House Office for Combating Terrorism.

TA-18 was one of three nuclear weapons facilities profiled in POGO's October 2001 report "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security at Risk" because of its vulnerability to terrorist attack. POGO's report documented that TA-18 failed force-on-force tests repeatedly.

TA-18 was the site of the 1997 "garden cart" incident where Army Special Forces used a Home Depot garden cart to steal more than 200 pounds of nuclear materials. In a subsequent October 2000 incident, mock force-on-force terrorists again succeeded in gaining access to nuclear materials that would have caused a sizable nuclear detonation. The section of POGO's report on TA-18 is attached.

TA-18, also known as the Critical Experiments Facility, houses several nuclear burst reactors, several tons of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and other sensitive nuclear devices. Located on the floor of a steep canyon, TA-18 has long been regarded by security experts as indefensible from an armed attack and as the most vulnerable nuclear weapons facility in the DOE weapons complex. TA-18 is one of two sites (TA-55 is the other) that houses weapons-quantity nuclear materials at Los Alamos National Lab.

In 2000, then-DOE Secretary Bill Richardson announced a plan to close TA-18 and initiated an environmental impact statement to determine the best options (http://www.energy.gov/HQPress/releases00/aprpr/pr00099.htm). Internal memos from that time showed resistance to the plan and it was known that DOE bureaucrats stalled the plan until Richardson departed. Gordon's decision to move TA-18 puts an end to the bureaucratic stalling.

 


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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