Security data shows LANL not the
By DIANA HEIL The
up all the security lapses reported from 2002 through 2004 at the
country’s four major nuclearresearch labs, and you’ll find the highest
number of serious threats happened at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in California.
However, Los Alamos National Laboratory was close behind.
data, recently made public by the U.S. Department of Energy, is helping
fuel a debate over whether LANL Director Pete Nanos overreacted last
year when he disrupted work at Los Alamos for six months for a
top-to-bottom review of security and safety.
Nanos’ action, which came in the wake of a
series of scandals and Congressional criticism, affected everyone
from cafeteria workers to chemists. He halted normal lab activities
after learning a student intern had injured her eye in a laser accident
and the lab couldn’t account for two computer disks thought to contain
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
extended the work stoppage to Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence
Livermore. However, the “stand down” at those labs lasted for only a few weeks.
As the months dragged on at Los Alamos,
however, disgruntled workers began researching comparisons of lab
“Many don’t fully understand why what we have
been through was necessary,”
Nanos wrote in a recent letter to LANL employees, “and many think that
some lesser response would have been sufficient.
valid feelings and opinions and will either be upheld or fade over
time. What is beyond dispute is that this was a time of uncertainty and
Potentially dangerous incidents occur
frequently at Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia, which is based in
Albuquerque and has a secondary facility California. However, the
public only hears about a few of them.
The New Mexican last
July asked the U.S. Department of Energy for data on Los Alamos,
Livermore and Sandia — the nation’s labs most involved in nuclear
The latest security data, provided late last
Investigators have confirmed a higher number of
serious security incidents at Livermore than at Los Alamos.
of a total of 87 confirmed security incidents from 2002 through 2004 at
Livermore, 35 were rated Category 1 — meaning the department considers
them to pose the most serious threats to national-security interests
and could possibly create serious security situations. That doesn’t
mean that something egregious happened; it just means it could have
Nine other reported incidents at Livermore are
still under investigation.
Los Alamos, meanwhile, out of a total of 103 confirmed security
incidents at Los Alamos, 22 were rated Category 1. Investigations of 39
other reported incidents are pending.
1 incidents can be as simple as unattended security containers, or
classified information loaded on an unclassified computer system.
the three-year period that ended Dec. 31, Sandia in Albuquerque
reported the most confirmed security incidents of all types: 160. But
70 percent of those were Category 3, the lowest threat level that must
Category 3 incidents could pose threats to
security interests or potentially degrade the overall effectiveness of
the agency’s safeguards and security-protection program, according to
the report. Just bringing a camera or tape recorder into a security
area could be considered a Category 3 incident.
For all four labs combined, the number of
serious incidents each year has increased since 2002.
Alamos, Livermore and Sandia share one mission, but each place is quite
different in organization, physical size and culture, Livermore
spokesman David Schwoegler said in an interview.
University of California operates Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin Corp. operates Sandia, with sites in New
Mexico and California.
They all go about their business differently.
What works at one place might not work at another, Schwoegler said.
Furthermore, the way the labs keep track of
security violations doesn’t match up. Labs
must categorize suspected security incidents (on a scale of one to
three) within 24 hours and report them to DOE in Washington, D.C. But
the system doesn’t make comparisons easy.
“Their criteria doesn’t call for uniformity,”
Los Alamos workers are trying to make a case for Nanos’ resignation,
according to dialogue on “LANL: The Real Story,” an Internet blog
started by a lab employee.
They question whether the world’s
oldest nuclearweapons lab deserved the punishment it received, or if
Los Alamos was simply under more intense scrutiny than the other
Lab workers using the site question whether
Nanos’ decision this summer to suspend routine work activities was reasonable.
They say it cost millions of dollars as well as hurt productivity and
Department of Energy eventually concluded that two computer disks it
feared were missing actually never existed. However, the resulting
federal investigations brought to light numerous weaknesses.
Behind the scenes, a war of statistics has been
year, lab employee Brad Lee Holian charted the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration’s injury rates of national labs and private
industry. Los Alamos came off looking fairly good.
concluded that shutting down most activities, from the library and
cafeteria to the chemistry labs — was an overblown reaction, and he
spread his views through National Public Radio, newspapers and Physics
But Lee McAtee, division leader for Health,
Safety and Radiation Protection at LANL, countered Holian’s view.
most statistics, those relating to safety can be presented in many ways
to support just about any message, and there are a number of
complexities that are difficult to completely analyze,” McAtee wrote in
an opinion piece for The New Mexican.
McAtee said the lab’s
safety record wasn’t good enough: The injury rate had improved
dramatically since 1996, but lately it had been getting worse again.
“As long as the injury rate remains above zero, there’s room for
improvement, and it’s time well spent to identify and address risks and
potential vulnerabilities,” McAtee wrote.
analysis focused on one aspect of safety — occupational hazards
documented by OSHA. However, the lab’s record in nuclear safety was
much worse — and arguably much scarier — than trips, slips and falls,
according to the Energy
Department office at Los Alamos.
the past six months, the lab has studied its weaknesses in safety and
security and made numerous changes. It has created centralized
libraries for classified electronic materials (such as computer disks),
and reduced the number of classified objects in its inventory.
made a dramatic shift in how we handle (computer disks and other
classified electronic materials),” Los Alamos spokesman Jim Fallin said
in a recent interview. “I think we have set a new standard for
ourselves, and possibly set a new standard for the complex.”
was compiled from three years worth of security data from the U.S.
Department of Energy on Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia
laboratories. Source: National Nuclear Security Administration. The New