Audit cites faults in N.M. labs

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Report > Details the failure to monitor nuclear weapons designs

By The Staff

A new federal audit has found Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories failed to monitor nuclear weapons designs as well as the reliability of parts being used to build them, the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday.
The U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General’s report states both sites could not consistently locate drawings for nuclear weapons and components in official repositories.
In the March 26 report, officials said they were concerned about incorrect parts being used for nuclear weapons.
Without safeguard and proper information, the National Nuclear Security Administration “loses confidence in its nuclear weapons stockpile,” officials said.
The NNSA said in a written response that it wasn’t disputing any findings and is agreeing to the report’s recommendations.
The report cites several examples, including when 11 nuclear warheads damaged during production were sent to the Navy in 2010 had to be returned.
Auditors said they couldn’t find design drawings for neutron generators used in 16 of 36 weapons at Sandia using the NNSA’s record system. The time it takes to track them down could become very time consuming, auditors said.
The report said of Los Alamos:
“The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) CM information system allowed changes to classified nuclear weapons drawings without using an approved change notice. This practice could permit unauthorized changes to weapons drawings. For example, we identified changes to an approved and ready for production weapon drawing that were not on the Final Change Order, a required document that identifies all approved changes to a nuclear weapon drawing.”
“LANL officials were unable to explain why changes were made, but told us that they ‘assumed’ the changes were needed. NNSA standards require that once a drawing has been approved and is ready for production, the drawing is “read only” and cannot be modified without a proper change order, in essence confirming that all changes to the drawings have been approved.
“Subsequently, NNSA officials told us that, in this particular case, the changes had been necessary to correct an error and that the final changed drawing had been approved prior to release to the production site.”
Although the change may have been necessary, the lack of documentation reflected a breakdown in controls intended to prevent unauthorized changes to weapons drawings.
The report also pointed out that some weapons drawings at Los Alamos were being revised after they had already been reviewed extensively and approved, creating a bad precedent.
“NNSA is at increased risk of unauthorized and inappropriate changes to nuclear weapons design information,” the report said.
In contrast, Sandia received praise for not allowing weapons drawings to be altered.
In some cases, the allowance of mishandled parts has led to costly time delays, sometimes leading to more than $20 million in additional costs.
But auditors said it appears the NNSA is now trying to ensure all weapons drawings and design materials are digitally catalogued and more accessible.