In February 2009, National Nuclear Security Administration officials released more alarming news. The officials sent a letter to Los Alamos Director Michael Anastasio, chastising the Los Alamos laboratory for failure “to conclusively determine control of special nuclear material as there is no reconciliation of the physical inventory that includes calculation and evaluation of the ID (inventory difference).” The officials stated that this failure “exceeded alarm limits,” and the items of the inventory included huge stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium – enough for the making of hundreds of nuclear weapons. The failures identified by the NNSA officials at the lab’s Technical Area-55 included:
The officials said in their letter that these weaknesses had the potential of diminishing “...the ability of the facility to continue operations.”
Interestingly, although the Department of Energy was aware of these inadequacies as early as June 2008, they still granted the Los Alamos National Laboratory a $1.43 million performance award fee, even though one of the areas of performance evaluation was “material control and accountability.”
A report released by the Project on Government Oversight organization in February 2009, concerning the February 2009 NNSA letter referenced a cover-up type tactic. That is, the report stated, “DOE appears focused on preventing this latest LANL bad news from becoming publicized and sent out messages to staff warning them not to release critical information to the public. If the information was sensitive enough to pose a security concern, there is a process in place at DOE to classify the information. However, the letter is stamped ‘Official Use Only,’ which is not a classification marking but is generally used to prevent internal documents from seeing the light of day.”’
Is it any wonder that in 2010, Steve, Jim, and I still opine, that security at the Los Alamos National Laboratory remains just a word, a word without sufficient meaning.