As we hear about regional newspapers shutting their doors, we take pause to recognize the critical function local beat reporters play in our lives. Case in point: yesterday, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) put out a press release, probably to preempt POGO's release to the press of a February 23 internal Department of Energy (DOE) letter that outlines how LANL has not been able to keep track of its huge stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium--enough for hundreds of nuclear weapons--via its Material Control and Accountability (MC&A) program. Unlike the AP's stenography of LANL's press release, Sue Vorenberg of The Sante Fe New Mexican wrote an article that dug deeper into the press release, exposing the “circular logic” that LANL is using to avoid answering the question of how it can be 100 percent certain that no material has been stolen when it does not know where the material is.
Similarly able to see through the spin, NNSA-beat reporter Todd Jacobson with the Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor contacted POGO for a comment as soon as he saw LANL's press release, knowing full well that LANL would not be forthcoming with information about problems unless it was fearful of an impending media storm. POGO has been raising concerns about MC&A at LANL for the last six months.
While the Monitor did mention it, one piece of the story has not yet gotten as much attention as it deserves: the fact that DOE was aware of MC&A problems last year, but still granted LANL the full $1.43 million performance award fee for security, which includes “Material Control and Accountability” as one of the areas of performance evaluated.
In addition to MC&A problems at LANL, this week the DOE IG released a report which found that of “about 37 percent (15 of 40) of the domestic facilities we reviewed [such as those that reprocess waste, universities, and other government agencies], the Department could not accurately account for the quantities and locations of certain nuclear materials” and that DOE “agreed to write-off large quantities without fully understanding the ultimate disposition of these materials.” This is another issue that is best reported by a journalist who understands the DOE bureaucracy.
-- Ingrid Drake and Peter Stockton