Losing Nuclear Materials

Nuclear material left on the floor, tossed out with the trash

This would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

Sandia shipped an ionizer containing radioactive material to a DOD site for use on a project. Sandia left it there, unguarded, for possible future use. Okay, who needs to safeguard nuclear material? It should be safe enough, right?

DOD personnel later decided they wouldn’t need the ionizer. They shipped it back to Sandia.

Apparently, this was a fairly small device. When the package arrived back at Sandia, someone opened it but couldn’t be bothered to put it away properly. The opened package and its contents – an ionizer containing radioactive material – were simply left on the office floor overnight.

You might guess the rest of the story. A custodian, seeing the box on the floor, cleaned it up at night and put it all in the trash. We can assume that the radioactive material was later moved to the Albuquerque landfill.

According to the DOE enforcement letter, the ionizer and its nuclear material have never been recovered. What’s a little Polonium 210 in the landfill? By the way, this is the same isotope that was used to murder former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 before he could testify against Putin. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvinenko).

Details are at http://energy.gov/ea/downloads/enforcement-letter-sandia-corporation

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