Feds identify weaknesses with nuclear safety team

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - U.S. Department of Energy inspectors have found a handful of weaknesses in the Idaho National Laboratory team responsible for protecting special nuclear material at the eastern Idaho research facility.

Agency officials identified the shortcomings in a Nov. 30 report that looked at INL's Tactical Response Force, singling out problems with equipment, coordination and communication. The report suggested those weaknesses could contribute to confusion or even public injury if nuclear material used in research was ever stolen from the site.

Tom Middleton, INL Director of Security, said the response force will do everything required by DOE to bolster security.

"We are not weak in the protection of special nuclear material or our training," Middleton told the Post Register in a story published Friday.

The inspection occurred between October 2011 and September.

Problems spelled out in the report includes Tactical Response Force vehicles lacking sirens or public address systems, security markings and lights that are visible in a 360-degree arc. INL officials cited budgetary concerns, but DOE responded that it was not expected to have all vehicles equipped with those tools.

Inspectors cited a lack of coordination with other law enforcement agencies and assigning specific roles and responsibilities should a chase cross jurisdictional lines. INL was also dinged for not inviting those agencies to take part in training exercises, which the DOE requires at least every 12 months.

The report also cited INL for not formalizing or documenting emergency notification procedures. INL officials said TRF staff already knew what to do when communicating with its law enforcement partners in the region during a pursuit.

DOE spokesman Tim Jackson said INL will not face any financial penalties for the weaknesses.

"We are not going to fine them," Jackson said.

Battelle Energy Alliance, which contracts with DOE to operate INL, has a June 30 deadline to make fixes.

"These are just little things we need to fix," INL spokeswoman Misty Benjamin said. "It's not that we're out of compliance, these are just best practices we need to adhere to."