The Department of Energy (DOE)’s contractor managing the Idaho National Lab sent two security experts to retrieve some very deadly nuclear materials. They left the lab and arrived in San Antonio, Texas. Mission accomplished? Well, no.
They were supposed to bring the material back to the government’s stockpile of nuclear explosives so that internal and external enemies of the U.S. could not get their hands on it. As one of the most valuable and dangerous materials on earth, plutonium is used to “fuel nuclear weapons,” and cesium is used to make dirty radioactive bombs, according to The Center for Public Integrity’s report.
Even though the two successfully picked up the radioactive matter, they made a fatal mistake. When the security experts stopped at a Marriott hotel overnight on the way back, they left it in their car — in the back seat.
When the two approached their car, they found a smashed window and no special valises containing the dangerous materials. The hotel was located in a high-crime neighborhood.
After a year, those valises are still missing. The Department of Energy has not been concerned about a clear case of nuclear negligence.
Spokesperson for the San Antonio Police Department, Carlos Ortiz, said one of the two specialists told him:
‘That it wasn’t an important or dangerous amount (of plutonium)….(They closed the investigation to avoid) chasing a ghost.’
Idaho National Laboratory spokesperson, Sarah Neumann, stated:
‘From INL’s perspective, the theft was taken seriously. There is little or no danger from these sources being in the public domain.’
The DOE’s regulation of these materials has been far less carefully monitored or open than The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC transparently regulates supplies and reports thefts or absences to an international agency located in Vienna.
Donald Trump told a military group at Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia in 2017:
‘We must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world for that matter.’
The White House administration’s Nuclear Posture Review wrote:
‘Preventing the illicit acquisition of a nuclear weapon, nuclear materials, or related technology and expertise by a violent extremist organization is a significant U.S. national security priority.’
Physicist and director of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Charles Ferguson, said:
‘DOE officials and their predecessors … did not have an effective capability within their accounting systems to know if significant quantities of (bomb-grade uranium were lost.)’
It appeared that the DOE has also been less willing to punish its own contractors over such bomb-usable losses than the NRC.
The DOE awarded the lab contract0r, whose employees lost the materials, Battelle Energy Alliance LLC, an “A” grade and “excellent” for overall performance. The department also gave them 97 percent of all available bonuses, $15.5 million, and renewed its contract to run Idaho National Laboratory until a minimum of 2024.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fixed six penalties on civilian organizations that lost/mishandled nuclear materials in the last 18 months. One university lost a quarter-size piece of plutonium in a radiation meter it borrowed from Idaho National Laboratory in 1991. The NRC fined it this year after an inventory found it missing.
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