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Officials eye nuke materials

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IG Report > Points to flaws in accounting and procedures

By The Staff

Just about everybody’s heard the old saw, “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

So when is 98.34 percent not good enough?

Apparently, it’s not good enough when it comes to accounting for the inventory of nuclear weapons materials.

A Department of Energy manual (Nuclear Material Control and Accountability) mandates that facilities score at least 99 percent.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory was off by .66 percent but the latest DOE Inspector General report said the lab has taken steps to correct the deficiencies.

The latest report read, “Our inspection revealed that Los Alamos continued to experience problems with the accountability of certain nuclear materials controlled under its MC&A Program. Specifically, our testing of 15 MBAs (Material Balance Area) revealed instances in which nuclear materials were not maintained in the correct location, properly labeled or correctly identified in the Los Alamos MC&A (Material Control and Accountability) database.”

The report said it also determined that it was standard practice for Los Alamos MC&A Group personnel to conduct inventories in the MBAs that were reviewed on a biennial basis. The report indicated that the periodic oversight was not sufficient to ensure MBA inventory control and accounting concerns were identified and addressed in a timely manner.

“As a consequence, Los Alamos continues to experience location, labeling and MC&A database issues in a limited number of MBAs,” the report said. “The quantities of the nuclear materials in question were relatively small and the control and accounting issues did not involve materials in sufficient quantity, enrichment and/or configuration to pose a high level of risk. The issues were, however, worthy of correction and could enhance accounting of higher security category nuclear materials.”

The report then got into specifics about the actual inventory, which occurred at a Los Alamos MBA that had been tested previously.

The report said the Los Alamos Inventory Team identified several MC&A weaknesses. For example, five items were in the wrong location, one was labeled with the wrong item identification, 10 labels listed the wrong material type code5, and three items were not recorded as intrinsically sealed.

The report said that lab officials would conduct additional oversight activities to locate the accounting problems and correct the item identification problems.

“The Los Alamos MC&A Group told us that it conducted an external evaluation on October 2, 2012, and reported that all identified MC&A weaknesses were corrected,” the report said.

The report also identified a couple of other issues that were addressed by the lab after the inspection.
• Los Alamos Inventory Team determined that two aluminum fuel slats were permanently wedged in a square assembly and administrative changes had not been made to the nuclear material inventory in LANMAS (Los Alamos Local Area Network Material Accountability System) and the slats remained listed as separate items.
• The Los Alamos Inventory Team also determined that a lot containing 10 fuel rods was integrated into an assembly already containing 191 rods, for a total of 201 rods. There were no administrative transactions noting the change of location.

The IG made the following recommendations to the Los Alamos Site Office:
• The level of oversight for MBAs outside Technical Area-55 is conducted at a frequency sufficient to afford full implementation of the Department’s MC&A policy regarding the identity and location of accountable nuclear materials, and the updating of the LANMAS nuclear material databases.
• LANMAS database processes prevent the multiple use of the same alphanumeric character as an item identifier.
• The report also recommends that Chief, Office of Health, Safety and Security, determine whether MC&A policy should allow for the use of felt tip pens for the labeling of nuclear material items, and describe circumstances for use.

NNSA responded by saying it agrees with the recommendations and it is taking steps to address the IG concerns.