Energy Watchdog Questions Management of High Explosives at Lawrence Livermore Lab

DOE Inspector General reports vermin, inspection irregularities in high explosives storage facility
September 17, 2020 Updated: September 17, 2020

After audits in July and August at storage facilities for high explosives at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, a report (pdf) published recently by the Department of Energy’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) revealed management issues at the institution tasked with taking care of America’s nuclear weapons.

The audit report mentioned the lab’s lack of a standardized inventory management system, noncompliance with federal regulations codes, and rodent and insect infestation at one storage facility.

In addition, some minor weight discrepancies were evident between explosives labels and actual inventories, though these were found to have arisen primarily from administrative errors.

According to its website, the task of the LLNL is to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the United States’ nuclear arsenal, including stockpile stewardship.

The report from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) IG states that the LLNL manages highly explosive materials in many of its National Laboratories and a range of other facilities, which it uses to conduct non-nuclear explosives testing for research into nuclear weapons detonation systems.

The DOE watchdog says it inspected the site to ensure the LLNL was managing and storing its stockpile of explosives in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Government and the DOE, and in particular the storage, inventory, and management of same between 2016 and 2019. The inspections took place at LLNL at Livermore in northern California, and at the Nevada National Security Site near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Findings

The IG audit found that while managers did track and store their explosives correctly, they did not comply fully with federal or DOE requirements. For example, procedures for conducting physical inventories of explosive materials had not been defined clearly, and the facilities did not require persons other than the normal custodians of the explosives to carry out annual inventories.

In addition, it was found that the LLNL may soon experience storage space difficulties if management methods do not improve.

One site audited also exhibited some physical deterioration. Part of the storage facility was found to be infested with mice, such that an inspection could not be carried out until the facility had been decontaminated. According to the report, “The mice-infested magazine also had wide gaps around the doorway, which may have been a contributing factor to rodent infestation.”

The report states that DOE regulations stipulate the condition and nature of containers for storing explosive materials, i.e., that “explosives containers should not leak and closures should protect the contents from spilling; open containers shall not be stored in magazines; and damaged containers shall be repaired or transferred to an undamaged container.” However, the auditing team found 2 damaged containers (which were replaced immediately), and one infested with insects.

The IG made a number of suggestions for management at the LLNL, including the creation of guidelines and written procedures for conducting inventories, the development of a standardized inventory system, the maintenance of the storage facility to prevent future issues with vermin, and management of the amount of explosives stored to address potential future storage space challenges—including the disposition of old and legacy explosive materials.