Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Well, This is Disturbing

Remember hearing, years ago now, that Los Alamos was suffering from "accounting problems" with its plutonium? Well, evidently those problems still lack a solution.

From the SFGate:

Enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear bombs hasn't been accounted for at the UC-run Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and may be missing, an activist group says in a new report.

There is no evidence that the weapons-grade plutonium has been stolen or diverted for illegal purposes, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said. However, the amount of unaccounted-for plutonium -- more than 600 pounds, and possibly several times that -- is so great that it raises "a vast security issue," the group said in a report to be made public today.


UC spokesman Chris Harrington said Los Alamos "does an annual inventory of special nuclear materials which is overseen by (the Energy Department). These inventories have been occurring for 20-plus years. Special nuclear materials are carefully tracked to a minute quantity."

The report concludes that at least 661 pounds of plutonium generated at the lab over the last half-century is not accounted for. The atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 contained about 13 pounds of plutonium.

"The security implications . . . are extremely serious, since less than 2 percent of the lowest unaccounted-for plutonium is enough to make one nuclear bomb," the report said.

How comforting to know that such progress has been made. If this stuff is tracked "to a minute quantity", one has to wonder how 661 pounds is defined, exactly. Does this not fall well OUTSIDE "minute"?!? When I think of such small quantities, typically decimals are involved. I mean, that's a little more than a bookkeeping error, don't you think? It's not like rounding 0.6 to 1.00 because some bean counter forgot to format his spreadsheet properly. Now that I'd be willing to call "minute".

Even still, I'm no chemist, but I'm working on the assumption that even tiny amounts of plutonium (for fucksake!) are dangerous, and that it would be sloppy, at best, to "lose" say, just an ounce or so. But 661 POUNDS?!?!

I expect the story (should it actually gain any real traction in the press) will eventually be explained away by some Los Alamos rep saying, effectively, "Heh. Found it. Sorry... Never mind", but even if such a benign tale were true, that's a rather cold comfort, don't you think?

Abhorrent moral implications of nuclear weaponry aside, you'd think the very LEAST these guys could do is keep track of their materials.

Many years ago, while working for Wells Fargo, I spent the better part of a day tracking down $.06.

Yep, six measly cents.

Since the pennies involved were the net result of several million dollars representing several dozen transactions, it had the potential to be quite a pain in the ass. When I was ready to climb the walls after nearly 5 hours into the process, two other people got involved. We did finally find it, but we sure as hell weren't going to leave for the day until we did. And that was just $.06. Easy to write off with relative impunity, but it was the principle of the thing. When you balance out at closing, your totals should be zero. Everything accounted for. Every last penny. To miss such a basic benchmark would be shoddy work, and simply beneath us, to say nothing of required.

Are we now to believe that NUCLEAR WEAPONS MANUFACTURERS don't hold themselves to the same standards? One could reasonably argue that the accounting protocol for plutonium be just a tad stricter than the mundane rules of municipal bond processing. Then again, maybe I'm being a hard ass.

Maybe the staff at Wells Fargo should trade jobs with the boys at Los Alamos. I can at least vouch for the unyielding regulations of the former.


les said...

Hey, I've done bond deals, and nobody's rules can be stricter. Be nice if UC at least aimed that way, tho. Give 'em this much--the accounting is good enough to know how much is missing. I've seen situations where even that wouldn't be true.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Yeah, that's a fair point. Just another spoonful of cold comfort, though. Yikes.

Meteor Blades said...

You are such a worry wart. I'm sure SOMEbody knows where that plutonium is.

Lily said...

Recently read a book about the efforts years ago to 'recycle' the plutonium from the nuclear plants, by transporting by truck in vats to facilities that could re-enrich it (I'm stating this in non-technical language) and Ralph Nader's statements about what ONE little container of this stuff could do-in the wrong hands- to millions of people- made me shiver. Many do not realize that Nader and others, through their efforts, prevented or at least delayed potentially catastrophic practices in the nuclear energy industry. We know there are enough practices to be wary of- missing shit and all that- Knowing people personally from such firms as Babcock and Wilcox (Three Mile Island) I wonder about the public apathy on these matters. But then again, you should hear what they tell the workers! It does not surprise me that we turn a blind eye to foreign policy because I recognize that we are spoon fed spin and propaganda. I realize that we, as collective citizens, are clueless about a spectrum of stupidity. But the nuclear matters, the severity of these failings- garner little more than whimpers from those of us on the lunatic left.... sigh.
(goes back to fetal position, rocking and thumb sucking)
Meteor Blades, whats the URL for your corner at Kos? You've got fans over here since your amazing work on the energy plan. Please- plug thyself.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

In case MB doesn't have a chance to sidle by here again for a little bit, here's the link to his energy policy piece, his user page at Kos and his user page at The Next Hurrah. Hope this helps.

I recall the "trucking" discussions, as well as how quickly they dropped out of the national press. Not that we need another reason to be pissed at the MSM, but in light of their total neglect of the issue, it's easy to understand what breeds the apathy you speak of.
Did you catch "Last Best Chance"? I was pleased to see that some actual funding was being put into the subject and it's airing on HBO, but again, saddened by what appears to be little national attention, still.

Geo_Chick said...

I don't think we can only blame the MSM though, we should also look towards the generation for whom 30 seconds in front of the microwave is way to long to wait for that warm food. We have developed a 'right now' society with the attention span of a gnat. Can't you just hear them now, "that news is so yesterday, what is happening today?". I think the MSM has a resposibility to do more, but they are also businesses and must entertain. Beating a story into the ground (according the above mentioned attention span) by running it more than a couple of days, well most people would tune out, "I already saw that one." I am not condoning them, but I can see a part of that perpective.

Lily said...

Well, people also have a poor appetite for what is unpleasant and what they feel helpless to do anything about. Some people mean well but find futility in knowledge. Its all a racket anyway, its all corrupt, its all the same bullshit, they all do the same things... why care? The truth hurts.
We are cut off from many realities, the nuclear threat being one. Famine. Genocide..(Check out Helen Caldicott's interviews if you ever feel the urge to sit speechless and sick)
The media is a business to 'entertain',yes, but journalists also have professional roles. A doctor might make money but we would not like to know that to be his/her bottom line. Journalistic integrity is gone, but so are 'real' journalists. Sorry but Geraldo is not real reporting.
Also, once I commented that we have a near-state run media. Near, meaning that we have media monopolies and radio monopolies that leave little room for dissent and there is little doubt that they serve W and his ilk. Ever see O'Reilly's talking points? Its like a comedy. Check out Amy Goodman's documentary on media reporting on war- great stuff. She asks the question about what would be different if we DID have state run media?

Geo_Chick said...

And I just want to mention, doesn't anyone else watch PBS, or listen to NPR? They cover this sort of stuff. Even despite the attempts by Bush to politicize it away from reporting anything off their 'mesg'. I get some of my news from the MSM, but most of it from our local free paper, NPR, PBS, and the web. Those thinking people who want real news can find it. The MSM is for the rest of the population. It makes me think of the Einstein quote, "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Sure, people watch PBS & listen to NPR -- the same people that typically seek out this kind of news to begin with. The folks that most need to know (for instance, Republicans) often do not. And that's pretty much the problem in a nutshell, wouldn't you say?

Geo_Chick said...

I think many of those folks that need to know wouldn't listen even if it was out there all the time. Can't you hear it, "Dang liberal media distorting the facts again, wish they would just move on." When I hear what some of my republican friends take away from the news...Well I get the LA Times (left leaning) and the OC Register (right leaning) and read stories about the same event and it is insane how different they will be. Same facts, but totally different spin. It is often hard to believe they are about the same event.

So I guess my point is year, those that need it most likely won't get it no matter what happens in the MSM because they already "know what they know". As long as there is any sources out there with the spin they want to see, that is what they will take away.

Geo_Chick said...

Just wanted to share this list I got of an MSM site....

The catalogue of disasters that are happening right now

Across the planet, rising temperatures are taking their toll


New research has found that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the main cause of global warming - are higher than at any time in the past 625,000 years.


This year is expected to be the warmest ever recorded; 1998 was the hottest so far, but the past three years currently occupy the next three places.


The giant Kalahari desert, already four times the size of Britain, threatens to become larger still, covering farmland in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.


The level of the world's seas and oceans is rising twice as fast as in the past, as their waters expand in rising temperatures and glaciers melt.


The people of the Carteret Islands, a scattering of atolls off Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, have started to leave as their homes succumb to rising seas.


Hurricane Epsilon - the 14th of the year - is forming in the Atlantic, even though the worst recorded hurricane season by far formally ended on Wednesday.


Greenland glaciers have suddenly started racing towards the sea and melting. Much the same is beginning to happen to glaciers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.


Areas such as the western USA, which depend on mountain snows for their water supplies, are running short as less snow falls - and what does fall melts earlier.


Sealife and birdlife have declined catastrophically this year along America's north-west Pacific coast, after a similar meltdown in the North Sea.


Corals on the Great Barrier Reef are bleaching out and dying as sea temperatures rise and scientists fear that the whole reef may perish by 2050.

So speaking of things that need more news coverage, how can people still believe Global Warming is just a crackpot theory. Those people are out there and no matter what is happening they will say it is just a phase, or a shift that happens all the time. They want their SUV to drive in alone all around their paved streets, and won't believe anything that goes against it.

Sigh, see I learned along time ago, and just have to repeat it to myself, "People are stupid". Present company excepted of course. I should say "Waaaaay too many people are stupid" or something like that.

Geo_Chick said...

Tonight's ABC News had a story that 400lbs of powerful explosives (over 100 lbs of it was C4) were stolen from a serious bunker at a research place in NM. They had to cut thru steel walls with a torch to get to the stuff, but they did it. The really scary part though was when the reporter added, "thousands of pounds of explosives disappear every year and they didn't end up in the hands of terrorists". And he thought that would make me feel better?!?