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Four More Suspended From Los Alamos Lab

As security and safety problems at the nuclear facility are probed, 19 are put on leave.

August 05, 2004|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

Los Alamos National Laboratory has suspended four more employees while it investigates recent security and safety lapses at the nuclear weapons facility, its director said Wednesday.

The suspensions bring to 19 the number of employees placed on leave as the lab, the Energy Department and the FBI investigate the disappearance of two classified computer disks reported missing from Los Alamos last month. The disks have not been found.

Four other employees were suspended because they were considered culpable in a recent accident involving a laser that damaged the eyes of a student intern, lab officials said.

Speaking from Los Alamos at a telephone news conference Wednesday, lab director Pete Nanos said he expected it would be another two months before all operations resumed at the laboratory, which was effectively shut down July 16 in response to the incidents.

He said some nonclassified office and administrative work had resumed but the lab was still evaluating the risk involved in restarting more sensitive operations, including the handling of classified data.

Nanos said he expected the investigations into the missing disks to conclude this month and that disciplinary action would be taken against any employee, including high-level supervisors, found to be responsible.

University of California President Robert C. Dynes, as he has before, acknowledged Wednesday that the latest incidents could harm the university system's long-held contract to operate Los Alamos. The contract, which is up for renewal next year, will be open to competition for the first time.

Dynes, who visited the facility Wednesday, said he had emphasized in a meeting with employees that an atmosphere of apparent laxity by some lab workers in following procedures needed to change.

"A culture of good science doesn't tolerate sloppiness in safety and security," he said.

Dynes and other UC officials said they continued to talk with potential partners, including defense contractor Lockheed Martin, about the possibility of a joint bid on the Los Alamos contract. The officials said they had not decided on a joint bid or whether to pursue a bid at all on the contract.

They said those decisions would be made later this year, when the Energy Department was expected to release specifics about the contract.

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