Department of Energy Loses Track of Radioactive Material
The Department of Energy has done a poor job of tracking nuclear materials it has loaned under licenses to contractors, educational institutions and other organizations,In some cases, the department cannot say where where the heavily radioactive substances are, how they're being used or whether they have been disposed of, the auditors found.
At issue is the tracking system used by DOE known as the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System. Based on the new report, the tracking system appears to be a health -- and could it be, national security? -- nightmare.
It could be that the missing nuclear materials -- including depleted and normal uranium --has been disposed of and that the particularities of accounting for the stuff were ignored.
Or not. No one seems to know for sure, according to the report.
"During this effort, the Department agreed to write off the following quantities of its nuclear materials from the NMMSS inventories of just the 40 facilities we reviewed:
20,580 grams of enriched uranium;
45 grams of plutonium;
5,001 kilograms of normal uranium; and,
189,139 kilograms of depleted uranium.
"Considering the potential health risks associated with these materials and the potential for misuse should they fall into the wrong hands, the quantities written-off were significant. For example, even in small quantities normally held by individual domestic licensees, special nuclear materials such as enriched uranium and plutonium, if not properly handled, potentially pose serious health hazards."
More on this before long.
By Robert O'Harrow | February 24, 2009; 11:06 AM ET