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WASHINGTON — Security at an Energy Department plant storing
classified nuclear weapons parts has been so lax that workers have used
components as “candy dishes and paperweights,” a recently released audit
reveals.

At least one worker at the government’s Rocky Flats Environmental
Technology Site had even taken a weapons part home.

The alarming findings were reported to Energy Secretary Bill
Richardson in a June 29 memo from Energy Inspector General Gregory H.
Friedman.

Officials at the Boulder, Colo., plant maintain they were unaware of
the security breaches until inspectors discovered them in a recent visit
to the plant.

“Prior to the audit, management did not know that the parts were
missing or that the employees had taken some parts as souvenirs,”
Friedman said.

The audit blamed the breaches on a 1996 move to discontinue a system
used to account for the weapons inventory. The plant stores about
200,000 completed
weapons parts.

“Rocky Flats could not account for its weapons parts,” Friedman
concluded.

The weapons inventory includes both classified and unclassified parts
such as intricate “3T-reservoirs” and hemi-shells of bonded materials
including stainless steel, beryllium, uranium and aluminum.

The parts were once used to make and test nuclear bombs. From 1952 to
1989, the Rocky Flats site made parts for the nation’s nuclear bomb
arsenal. Non-nuclear production continued through 1995.

Since then, the plant’s main role is storing the parts and shipping
them to other sites within Energy’s weapons complex, including Los
Alamos National Laboratory.

In another example of slipshod inventory practices, the auditors
found classified weapons parts in a Rocky Flats building long thought to
be cleared of such parts.

“Since officials believed that all classified parts had been removed,
security controls
(at the building) had been downgraded,” Friedman said.

Officials also didn’t know what parts the plant still had on site or
what parts it had shipped off site.

“In fact, we found that employees were using weapons parts as candy
dishes and paperweights,” Friedman said. “Further, one employee had even
taken a weapons part home.”

About 30 parts found in the possession of employees have been
recovered and secured. One was classified.

“A subsequent inquiry, however, concluded that classified information
was not compromised,” Friedman reported.

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