Fouth quarter of 2001


US Department of Energy Nuclear Materials Unaccounted For

WISE-Paris, 17 December 2001

[Posted 17/12/2001]

In a recent audit report, the Inspector General of the US Department of Energy recognizes, that the ministry "could not fully account for nuclear materials loaned or leased to domestic licensees." This is bad news, especially at times of growing fear of terrorist attacks.

The report entitled "Accounting for Government-Owned Nuclear Materials Provided to Non-Department Domestic Facilities" (http://www.ig.doe.gov/pdf/ig-0529.pdf), the Office of the Inspector General was issued on 26 October 2001. It states that the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System (NMMSS), an electronic database, reported 180 negative balance inventories concerning 12 different government-owned nuclear materials at 119 domestic licensee locations. In other terms, some significant amounts of diverse nuclear materials provided by loan or lease to other government agencies, academic institutions, and commercial facilities, under the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, are unaccounted for and might have been lost or stolen.

Of these lost nuclear materials:

- "Substantial amounts of nuclear materials [of which plutonium] were reported to be at two licensed facilities that no longer existed;"

- "Several licensee facilities carried balances that were not logical and could not be adequately explained or reconciled; and,"

- "Records were incomplete in that they did not contain information on all Government-owned nuclear materials provided to licensees."

The DOE "[in]adequate oversight of the system" now raises great concerns as some of the ‘unaccounted for’ materials are enriched uranium (1,300 kg), "normal" uranium (108 t, probably natural uranium) and plutonium (2.5 kg) in proportions that cannot be ruled out as negligible (see table below).

NMMSS Negative Balances
Government-Owned
Nuclear Materials Held by Domestic Licensees


Material Type
Negative Records
Negative Balances
Department Reportable Quantity*
Depleted Uranium
47
4,219,961 kg
1 kilogram
Enriched Uranium
35
1,304,245 g
1 gram
Plutonium
35
2,500 g
1 gram
Normal Uranium
23
108,184 kg
1 kilogram
Californium
17
106,549 g
1 microgram

Plutonium-238

8
42.80 g
1 tenth of a gm

Thorium

6
63,869 kg
1 kilogram

Uranium-233

3
2,217 g
1 gram

Americium

2
7 g
1 gram

Tritium

2
.11 g
1 hundreth of a gram

Deuterium**

1
.8 kg
1 tenth of a kg

Neptunium

1
8 g
1 gram

TOTAL

180
 
* Quantity required for reporting in NMMSS
** Isotope weight

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