Lost US nuke lab key alarm

Copyright 2004 Nationwide News Pty Limited
PNG Post-Courier
June 28, 2004 Monday
September 3, 2003

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico: The keys to a Los Alamos National Laboratory research centre containing nuclear materials were missing for 16 hours recently before a security guard noticed.

Two shift changes of security guards passed without accounting for the set of keys, Kevin Roark, a lab spokesman said.

An investigation determined that no security breach occurred before the keys to Technical Area 18 were found, Mr Roark said.

After the keys were reported missing, an immediate sweep of the area was ordered, said a report from Protection Technology Los Alamos, the subcontractor, which provides security for the area.

A guard known to have had the keys last on June 16 reported that he returned them and inventoried them on that date, according to the incident report.

Security personnel confirmed the keys were missing by 9am on June 18. The locks were changed after the discovery, Mr Roark said.

The keys were found on Tuesday, June 23, in a security vehicle, lodged under some equipment, which were not moved during earlier searches, he said.

The centre a canyon-bottom testing site contains plutonium, enriched uranium and other special nuclear material , Mr Roark said. He declined to say how much nuclear material is kept there.

The lab, operated by the University of California under contract with the Energy Department, has suffered a string of embarrassing management failures in recent years. They include reports of financial abuse by employees, two misplaced computer hard drives with secret nuclear-related material and the firing of two lab investigators who raised concerns about management.