Stolen plutonium still missing after more than a year: report
An unknown amount of radioactive nuclear material that was stolen from the rental car of two Department of Energy security experts in San Antonio more than a year ago is still missing, according to a new report.
A new report from the Center for Public Integrity details how the materials were stolen from the back of a rental car while parked overnight at a hotel last year. The theft was previously unannounced by the FBI or the San Antonio police.
According to the Center for Public Integrity report, two Department of Energy specialists drove to San Antonio to pick up nuclear material from a research lab and transport it to an Idaho lab.
But before they were able to complete the mission, radioactive material that they brought with them to calibrate radiation detectors was stolen from their vehicle while they stayed at a hotel in a high-crime area on their trip to Idaho.
More than a year later, the Center for Public Integrity found that the materials, a small amount of plutonium and cesium, have not been located, and are now among an unknown amount of military-grade nuclear materials that have gone missing over the years.
The Center for Public Integrity found that the government has been lax about tracking military-owned nuclear materials and opaque about when it goes missing. The publication unearthed the details of the San Antonio incident after it was briefly described in an internal Department of Energy report.
Idaho National Laboratory spokeswoman Sarah Neumann told CPI that the amount of material stolen was not enough to create a nuclear bomb, and that there is “little or no danger” from the materials being lost.
The Department of Energy declined to comment for CPI’s investigation.
The investigation found “gaps” in the amount of plutonium produced by weapons companies and the amount that the government can account for. There is an entire distinction for the missing material: “MUF,” or “material unaccounted for.”
According to CPI, the personnel from Idaho whose gear was stolen were part of the Off-Site Radioactive Source Recovery Program based at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. That group has an annual budget of $17 million and is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The program has reportedly gathered as much as 38,000 bits of radioactive material loaned to research centers, hospitals and academic institutions since 1999.
The Obama administration touted its prioritization of overseeing military-grade nuclear materials with the same vigor as civilian nuclear materials.
The Trump administration has also said that keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists is a “significant” priority.
The Nuclear Regulatory commission has imposed fines on six civilian institutions in recent months for mishandling or losing nuclear materials, including against Idaho State University.