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NEWS OF THE WEEK
NUCLEAR SECURITY
November 12
, 2001
Volume 79, Number 46
CENEAR 79 46 p. 8
ISSN 0009-2347
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DOE PLUTONIUM, URANIUM 'MISSING'
Inspector general report finds poor nuclear material controls

JEFF JOHNSON

Because of shoddy record keeping, the Department of Energy does not know the whereabouts of much of a stockpile of nuclear material it has loaned or leased to academic institutions, commercial facilities, hospitals, and other government agencies.

Among the findings in a report from DOE's Office of the Inspector General were that DOE recorded substantial amounts of plutonium to be at two licensed facilities that no longer exist and that, in some instances, records show more nuclear material being returned to DOE by borrowers than had been originally loaned by the department.

The inspector general found no indication that this material had actually been diverted or misused and concluded that the discrepancies were simply due to bad record keeping. Consequently, the report warns that these nuclear materials may not be adequately safeguarded.

The report recommends an overhaul of government controls and a thorough examination of government-owned and -loaned nuclear materials.

The loaning program stretches back to the 1950s, the report notes, and, as of September 2000, DOE had loaned nuclear materials--including plutonium and enriched uranium--to more than 300 non-DOE facilities for use in research, medicine, and other applications. Most of the quantities are in the gram range, but some materials such as depleted uranium are in amounts as large as 3,000 metric tons.

The report notes that nuclear material accounting has been a long-running problem for DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the program but, unlike DOE, is not responsible for the material.

DOE acknowledged the problem and says it is working on a plan to improve its record keeping and to confirm its inventory

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