SANTA FE – Los Alamos National Laboratory has fired employees and taken other personnel actions – including suspensions and “compensation consequences” – after the recent disclosure that small amounts of radioactive materials were mistakenly sent from Los Alamos across the country using a commercial air cargo service.
“Although these shipments arrived safely at their destinations and no one was hurt, this mistake, taken together with other mistakes in recent years, is unacceptable and is in the process of being addressed promptly and thoroughly,” a lab spokesman said Monday. “Our response to this incident is not business as usual.”
He added: “Toward that end, all of those involved from the individual contributor level up the management chain have been held accountable through actions that include terminations, suspensions, and compensation consequences. Furthermore, we are transferring the responsibility for fissile nuclear material shipments to a different organization within the Laboratory.”
Federal officials announced June 23 that LANL had disclosed that “special nuclear materials” – a category that includes plutonium and enriched uranium – had been shipped from LANL by air to national labs in California and South Carolina in violation of regulations. National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Frank Klotz called the error “absolutely unacceptable.”
NNSA said the shipments should have gone by commercial ground cargo services “and were packaged and containerized for this mode of transportation.” A major difference between air and ground transportation is that there can be rapid pressure changes during a flight.
The LANL spokesman also said Monday that the lab is “putting into place Laboratory-wide measures to significantly reduce the likelihood of similar events occurring.”
The lab is run by Los Alamos National Security LLC, a private consortium including Bechtel and the University of California. After a series of unsatisfactory performance reviews, the federal government decided against extending the consortium’s $2 billion-plus annual operating contract beyond 2018 and has started work to rebid the contract. The lab has been under increased scrutiny after a series of recent news articles by the Center for Public Integrity on federal regulators’ concerns about safety lapses at LANL over the years.