ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal regulators are launching an investigation into the improper shipment a week and a half ago of nuclear material from Los Alamos National Laboratory here to other federal labs around the country.
In a statement, National Nuclear Security Administration officials confirmed Friday that New Mexico lab officials informed them that procedures weren’t followed when shipping what was described as small amounts of “special nuclear material” to facilities in California and South Carolina.
The material had been packaged for ground transport. But instead it was shipped via an air cargo service, which federal regulations don’t allow.
The actions mark the latest gaffe from Los Alamos, the lab about 50 miles northeast of Albuquerque that created the atomic bomb. Criticism has been intensifying over the lab’s history of safety lapses as work ramps up to produce key components for the nation’s nuclear weapons cache.
“This failure to follow established procedures is absolutely unacceptable,” Frank Klotz, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in a statement.
“It’s like a cheap ballpoint pen in your shirt pocket. It turned out fine this time, but the deeper problem is why are there so many kinds of errors.”
The agency oversees the lab along with other facilities that make up the U.S. nuclear complex. Klotz said it’s required that contractors who manage the labs, production plants and waste repositories rigorously adhere to what he called the highest safety and security standards as part of their national security work.
Once the investigation of the shipments to California and South Carolina is complete, the federal agency said any responsible parties will be held accountable.
Los Alamos lab officials declined to comment and referred questions to the National Nuclear Safety Administration.
Home to some of the nation’s top nuclear scientists and other researchers, Los Alamos has struggled for years to address management and oversight issues along with more recent safety concerns about the handling of radioactive waste and plutonium.
Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press Published 5:02 a.m. ET June 26, 2017 | As posted at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/06/26/los-alamos-new-mistakes/426761001/