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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Security overhaul at US nuclear labs
Los Alamos
Major nuclear weapons labs have suffered security lapses

Security at American nuclear weapons laboratories is to be overhauled following a series of security lapses ranging from sleeping guards to missing vials of plutonium oxide.

US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has directed the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to make "aggressive and far-reaching" changes to tighten security.

Security lapses at the laboratories have included the loss of keys, laptops and even a van, as well as the two-year disappearance of two vials of plutonium oxide.

However, a congressional report says it may take up to five years to implement the security measures needed to meet the heightened threat of terrorism.

There have been security lapses at all three major US nuclear weapons labs - Sandia and Los Alamos in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore in California.

Mr Abraham said he had directed Linton Brooks, head of the NNSA, to launch "a comprehensive security overhaul" and make any immediate changes deemed necessary.

'Not safe'

"The Department of Energy views security as the critical responsibility of the national laboratories, and we treat any lapse or failure as significant," he said.

The head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory resigned earlier this year, following allegations of theft and fraud against his staff.

In 1999, Taiwanese-born scientist Wen Ho Lee was detained for nine months on suspicion of smuggling nuclear secrets out of Los Alamos for the Chinese Government.

He denied any wrongdoing and was eventually released after admitting to a minor charge, of mishandling classified information - one of the 59 charges against him.

SECURITY INCIDENTS
Los Alamos: Scientist Wen Ho Lee detained on spying charges in 1999 and later released - the lab's head John Browne resigned this year amid allegations of theft and fraud
Lawrence Livermore: Three security managers suspended in June after loss of electronic key went unreported for six weeks
Sandia: A van was stolen from a secure area and driven through a fence before being left in a car park - a classified computer went missing from the same area

Senator Chuck Grassley had earlier described some of the security lapses to a House of Representatives hearing, saying: "Our nuclear secrets are not safe".

In one incident, a van was stolen from a secure area of Sandia lab, driven through a fence and later found in a commercial car park.

Guards have been found sleeping on the job, keys to secure areas and classified computers have been lost.

Mr Brooks blamed a "lax" attitude and "cultural problems" for the incidents.

He said only the missing plutonium vials raised concerns of national security but described the incident as "a bookkeeping problem".

The move follows a report for Congress by the General Accounting Office criticising the NNSA - a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department responsible for security.

It said management and staffing problems, with "ongoing confusion about roles and responsibilities" meant the NNSA was unable to ensure its contractors were working "to maximum advantage".

The GAO report also said security measures needed for the new level of terrorist threat to US nuclear weapons laboratories would take another two to five years to put in place.




SEE ALSO:
'Nuclear spy' case reviewed
23 Sep 00  |  Americas
Los Alamos plea deal delayed
12 Sep 00  |  Americas
'No evidence' of Los Alamos spying
21 Jun 00  |  Americas


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