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Project on Government Oversight




Proposal to Secure Los Alamos Quashed

August 13, 2004 


A proposal by University of California that would dramatically improve security at Los Alamos National Laboratory has been quashed by the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), according to a letter issued today by the Project On Government Oversight. NNSA's move is the latest in a series that undermine the Secretary of Energy's intent to remove all nuclear materials that are attractive to terrorists from a vulnerable site at Los Alamos.

"Normally the target of criticism for its security failures, University of California should be applauded for their proposal to make Los Alamos dramatically more secure. UC was thinking creatively when it proposed taking advantage of the current work stoppage to expedite the long overdue move of weapons grade nuclear materials from Technical Area 18," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian.

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 was one of three facilities profiled in POGO's October 2001 report "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security at Risk" because of its vulnerability to terrorist attack. DOE adopted POGO's recommendation that the TA-18 mission and vulnerable nuclear material be moved to the Device Assembly Facility in Nevada.

TA-18 was the site of the 1997 "garden cart" incident where Army Special Forces used a garden cart to steal more than 200 pounds of nuclear materials. In a subsequent October 2000 incident, mock force-on-force terrorists succeeded in gaining access to nuclear materials that would have caused a sizable nuclear detonation. POGO sources also confirmed that TA-18 again failed a mock terrorist force-on-force test in 2002. If the attack had been real, terrorists would have left the site with bomb-grade nuclear materials.

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. TA-18 is one of two sites (TA-55 is the other) that houses weapons-quantity nuclear materials at Los Alamos National Lab.

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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