Wednesday, November 30, 2005

LOS ALAMOS Plutonium could be missing from lab

600-plus pounds unaccounted for, activist group says

Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear bombs hasn't been accounted for at the UC-run Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and may be missing, an activist group says in a new report.

There is no evidence that the weapons-grade plutonium has been stolen or diverted for illegal purposes, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said. However, the amount of unaccounted-for plutonium -- more than 600 pounds, and possibly several times that -- is so great that it raises "a vast security issue," the group said in a report to be made public today.

The institute, which is based in Takoma Park, Md., says it compared data from five publicly available reports and documents issued by the U.S. Energy Department and Los Alamos from 1996 to 2004 and found inconsistencies in them. It says the records aren't clear on what the lab did with the plutonium, a byproduct of nuclear bomb research at Los Alamos.

A spokesman for UC, which manages the national laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore for the Energy Department, did not address the report's specifics but said the New Mexico lab tracks nuclear material "to a minute quantity."

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