U.S. Department of Energy Cannot Account for Nuclear Materials at 15 Locations

February 25th, 2009

Remember the one about the thousands of missing tritium based Exit signs?

Via: Government Executive:

A number of institutions with licenses to hold nuclear material reported to the Energy Department in 2004 that the amount of material they held was less than agency records indicated. But rather than investigating the discrepancies, Energy officials wrote off significant quantities of nuclear material from the department’s inventory records.

That’s just one of the findings of a report released on Monday by Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman that concluded “the department cannot properly account for and effectively manage its nuclear materials maintained by domestic licensees and may be unable to detect lost or stolen material.”

Auditors found that Energy could not accurately account for the quantities and locations of nuclear material at 15 out of 40, or 37 percent, of facilities reviewed. The materials written off included 20,580 grams of enriched uranium, 45 grams of plutonium, 5,001 kilograms of normal uranium and 189,139 kilograms of depleted uranium.

“Considering the potential health risks associated with these materials and the potential for misuse should they fall into the wrong hands, the quantities written off were significant,” the report stated. “Even in small quantities normally held by individual domestic licensees, special nuclear materials such as enriched uranium and plutonium, if not properly handled, potentially pose serious health hazards.”

Auditors also found that waste processing facilities could not locate or explain the whereabouts of significant quantities of uranium and other nuclear material that Energy Department records showed they held. In another case, Energy officials had no record of the fact that one academic institution had loaned a 32-gram plutonium-beryllium source to another institution.

The audit was a follow-up to a 2001 probe that found similar record-keeping problems. “Key commitments made by the department were not completed nearly eight years after our earlier audit,” Friedman reported.

More than 100 academic and commercial institutions and government agencies lease nuclear materials that are owned by Energy. The department, along with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is supposed to track these materials through the centralized accounting system known as the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System, or NMMSS.

“Due to the inconsistencies documented in our report, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the department to accurately identify the type and quantity of its nuclear materials affected if an incident occurred at one of the sites whose NMMSS inventory we could not verify,” the IG stated in Monday’s report.

In a written response to the report, Glenn Podonsky, the chief health, safety and security officer at Energy, largely concurred with the IG’s findings and recommendations for improving inventory records.

Research Credit: KA

One Response to “U.S. Department of Energy Cannot Account for Nuclear Materials at 15 Locations”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Maybe I should leave my comment to “go figure that one out.”
    The Department of Energy, very similar to DOD is low on government employees, but high end on its use of contractors to implement its programs.
    Problems like this report shows that there is a long leash if any, on contractors that implement DOE’s programs. This is a very frustrating situation. Not helped at all by the Bush Cheney dragoons who made what Reagan wrought much worse.
    Chu rocks big time. A scientist, a manager, oh my god/dess what next? I for one have “hope” for what may come from the DOE under this administration.
    “Change?” I dunno. But no more closed doors (at least I hope). Can’t imagine Chu going along with a plan behind closed doors to invade a country for their oil resources.
    He knows too much about the technologies available for oil free energy.
    Christ, he probably invented a few technolgoies himself. And he best not even think about exploiting his position for gain, for I will haunt him.

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