Livermore Lab security leaves nuclear material vulnerable to attack
Photo of Lawrence Livermore National Lab from www.lasg.org/images/llnl.jpg
For the seven million people like myself living in the Bay Area, the news that a mock terrorist team was able to reach mock nuclear material at Lawrence Livermore National Lab is not comforting.
Livermore Lab houses enough fissile material (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) to build an estimated 300 nuclear weapons, making it an attractive target for would-be terrorists. Experts told Time magazine that the security exercise’s outcome is an “embarrassment” and has highlighted the “most dangerous security weaknesses ever found at the lab.”
The security flaws exposed in the recent test could exacerbate public opposition to nuclear weapons material being stored at Livermore, which is located near a major highway interchange, atop a vital agricultural irrigation canal and within a mile of two elementary schools, a preschool, a middle school and a senior center. In 2005 the Energy Department approved the doubling of the amount of plutonium stored at Livermore, less than five months after a scientific panel recommended, for security reasons, that nearly all of it be moved to a safer, more remote site.
The alleged failure of Livermore’s truck-mounted Gatling guns could also draw heavy criticism. Those weapons have long been controversial because they can fire 4000 rounds a minute and kill a person more than a mile away, raising fears among local residents about what might happen if the guns were ever discharged. The weapons are also supposed to be tested on a regular basis, and the reason for their reported failure remains unclear.
The Project on Government Oversight cited security concerns when they released a new report two months ago recommending that plutonium and highly enriched uranium be removed from Livermore Lab within the next year. Security lapses are all the more concerning because a terrorist group could simply detonate the material once it was reached without worrying about how to smuggle it out.