Security stops gold theft at lab

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By Carol A. Clark

The first of eight layers of security mechanisms in place at the Plutonium Facility at Technical Area 55 stopped an alleged thief from exiting Los Alamos National Laboratory.


The man has reportedly worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for more than 20 years and, according to reports, recently tried to take gold out of the plutonium facility undetected.


He was reportedly caught carrying an estimated $2,000 worth of the gold shavings in a plastic sandwich bag concealed inside his clenched fist.


Gold is currently trading at more than $917 per Troy ounce.


The attempted theft reportedly occurred early last week and the case was turned over to the FBI on Wednesday for further investigation.


The gold is used to seal cracks in platinum-lined containers used for plutonium-related work, according to information provided to the Monitor.


LANL spokesman Kevin Roark confirmed in a statement this morning that the employee attempted to remove two ounces of gold contaminated with a “small amount of radioactive material” last week.


“The gold was detected by a radiation monitor as the employee attempted to leave an internal work area … at the lab,” Roark said. “The employee’s security clearance has been suspended ... a full investigation by the laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the FBI is underway.”


Roark added that a complete inventory of precious metals used at the laboratory also is underway as a precaution.


Most of TA-55 is situated inside a restricted area surrounded by a double security fence.


The main complex has five connected buildings.


To meet the varied needs of research and development and plutonium-processing programs at LANL, TA-55 provides chemical and metallurgical processes for recovering, purifying, and converting plutonium and other actinides into many compounds and forms.


Additional capabilities include the means to safely and securely ship, receive, handle, and store nuclear materials, as well as manage the wastes and residues produced by TA-55 operations. A core capability is basic and applied research in plutonium and actinide chemistry.


Core competencies are maintained in the Plutonium Facility for each type of plutonium-processing activity. Extensive plutonium recovery processes are maintained, as well as the ability to convert the recovered material to plutonium metal.


A separate portion of the facility is dedicated to fabricating ceramic-based reactor fuels and to processing Pu-238 used to produce radioisotope heat sources.


In addition, analytical capabilities, materials control and accountability techniques, and a substantial R&D base are available to support these core capabilities.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.