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Los Alamos to remove lab's nuclear materials

ALBUQUERQUE -- Los Alamos National Laboratory plans within a year to remove all weapons-grade nuclear material from a part of the lab that has raised security concerns, according to an internal federal document.

The National Nuclear Security Administration document said the highly enriched uranium and plutonium in Technical Area 18 would be moved to a facility at the Nevada Test Site starting this month.

The Aug. 20 document was obtained by the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has said he is committed to moving the nuclear materials out of the research center because the area is difficult to defend and is vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the nuclear security administration, said the agency does not comment on draft documents, but added the agency has maintained that it is on schedule to move the material.

''My comment is the same thing I've been saying -- that we're going to move the material and that we're on track," he said.

The lab, operated by the University of California under contract with the Energy Department, has recently suffered a string of embarrassing management failures.

In June, the keys to Technical Area 18 were missing for 16 hours before a security guard noticed. An investigation determined that no security breach occurred before the keys to the area were found in a security vehicle, a lab spokesman has said.

Other problems include reports of financial abuse by employees, two misplaced computer hard drives with secret nuclear-related material, and the firing of two lab investigators who raised concerns about management.

Pete Stockton, a senior investigator for Project on Government Oversight, said this is the first time that the agency has committed to moving all weapons-grade material from Technical Area 18 by a certain date.

The document said the move would be complete by next September.

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