So now it seems 660 pounds of plutonium are somehow unaccounted for.
In a story in the Albuquerque Journal North IEER president Arjun Makhijani, who co-authored a report on the findings noted
"We've got three sets of books with plutonium numbers in waste, and they are so far apart that they cannot be reconciled by any reasonable means,"
In a news conference in the tiny New Mexico village of Pojoaque, near Los Alamos, Makhijani said, "There's no evidence the plutonium has been stolen or has left LANL, but it is the responsibility of the Department of Energy and (LANL manager) the University of California to guarantee that it has not gone off site."
That doesn't exactly sound reassuring, particularly when the IEER report also noted, "It's possible that the unaccounted-for plutonium is buried in nuclear waste pits at LANL, which would have very significant environmental and health implications."
Predictably the National Nuclear Security Administration representative John Ordaz, an NNSA assistant manager for environmental stewardship who attended the news conference, said the agency would analyze IEER's report and provide a response but the analysis would take time. "We're doing everything to make sure the public is safe, and everything we do is formal and by the book and we have many, many assessments."
OK, so why weren't these "many, many assessments" done before the IEER called a press conference? So, is this "discovery" a grandstanding stunt by the IEER? After all, Greg Mello, director of lab watchdog the Los Alamos Study Group, said he is "comfortable with the assumption" that the unaccounted-for plutonium is buried at LANL, is awaiting shipment to WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Project in southern New Mexico) or has already gone there. "The root of the problem", he said, "is poor disposal records, especially related to early disposal areas, that prevent an accurate accounting of plutonium waste."
I feel so much more reassured that missing plutonium may already be entombed in a facility that the government assured nervous-Nellie environmentalists would only be for low-level radioactive waste.
Whether the plutonium is actually missing or just a figment of a bean-counter's imagination is a serious concern that merits more than a news conference in Pojoaque, New Mexico. Without some kind of legitimate accountability about really happened to the plutonium, speculation could run wild: Was it "misappropriated" to build a throw-down WMD somewhere in Iraq? (Hey look! We told you we'd find one!) Dirty bombs in sports stadiums? Who really knows?
And it's not like the government is paying a paltry sum for this shoddy record keeping at LANL. Besides the billions dumped into nuclear weapons program there's the money paid the scientists. In a feat of mind-boggling irony, the same day IEER was holding its news conference in Pojoaque, the U.S. census released income figures for 2003 reporting tiny Los Alamos county--a veritable fly speck of a county in New Mexico which has counties the size of eastern states--has the highest per capita median income in the United States. Even more ironic is that New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the union, ranking 46th--even with wealthy Los Alamos County.
A couple of weeks ago I wondered Who's Minding U.S. Weapons of Mass Destruction? Pantex Gaurd selling pilfered stuff on the Internet. Now I'm wondering what else is missing.