LANL discloses internal material control issue

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By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos National Laboratory officials issued a statement this morning saying they have reported an internal material control error at their plutonium facility to the National Nuclear Security Administration.


“The error was discovered during routine inventory in January,” LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said. “Unreconciled inventory was found … meaning the numbers didn’t match up with how much material was physically there, which we are working to resolve.”


Roark was not at liberty to disclose exactly what the inventory was or whether there was actually less or more material than the records indicate.


“This is not something we talk about for security reasons,” he said. “To make clear this does not mean material is missing.”


Roark said the reason the laboratory can state with absolute conviction that, “there is 100 percent certainty that no sensitive materials left the facility” is because there are “exceptional” security controls in place at that facility.


Not just one or two layers, he said, but multiple layers including armed guards on site 24 hours a day “that ensure with complete confidence that sensitive materials do not improperly leave TA-55.”  


This morning’s news release states that the error relates to internal inventory and accounting that documents movement of sensitive materials within a small portion of TA-55, LANL’s plutonium research, development, and processing facility.


Management at TA-55 is conducting a full review and assessment of material controls for one small segment of TA-55 operations, according to the release, and normal operations at the facility continue, except for the segment in question.


No disciplinary action has been taken at this time against any employees, Roark said. “The entire thing continues to be under investigation,” he said.


To track the complex movement of nuclear materials within TA 55, the laboratory uses a variety of internal administrative inventory controls.


These controls are necessary to facilitate scientific and manufacturing work with large inventories of nuclear materials, but are not the same systems that ensure all nuclear material are secure and do not leave the building, states the release.


“The folks from LANL coordinated very closely with the subject matter experts from NNSA and they’re comfortable that the information that has been released publicly is accurate,” said NNSA Site Office spokesman Don Ami.


LANL is working with NNSA and experts from Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) corporate partners to review and improve internal bookkeeping, inventory procedures, and processes.


LANS is the company that manages and operates LANL for NNSA.


This inventory issue does not constitute any risk to the public, laboratory employees, or the environment, according to the release.