Government contractors left plutonium and radioactive cesium in the back seat of a car overnight — only to return the next morning to find someone had swiped the nuclear bomb-making materials, according to a new report.
A year later, the feds still have no idea where the deadly loot is, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
The embarrassing theft happened while two guards working for the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory were on their way to San Antonio, Texas, to pick up nuclear material from a lab there, according to the newspaper.
They’d brought small samples of the plutonium and cesium with them to help calibrate radiation detectors needed for the job — but left all of the materials in their rented Ford Expedition while they stopped for the night at a Marriott hotel in a dangerous neighborhood.
The next morning, they found the car’s window smashed in and all their equipment gone, the Express-News reports.
It only takes 7 pounds of plutonium — a highly valuable and carcinogenic material — to produce a working nuclear warhead, but a lab spokeswoman told the paper that the amount stolen wasn’t enough to make a weapon.
In a report to the Energy Department, the Idaho lab claimed the Marriott parking lot was a secure location, because it had walls on two sides and security guards.
But the San Antonio Police Department had recorded 87 thefts at the hotel and its parking lot in 2016 and 2017, according to the paper.
The cops closed their investigation after finding no useful surveillance footage, fingerprints or witnesses, but were shocked at the lazy handling of such sensitive materials, spokesman Carlos Ortiz told the paper
The paper says the case exemplifies the lack of transparency in how the government handles its nuclear materials, compared with civilian institutions, which face far stricter oversight and penalties.
The lab wouldn’t say if the workers responsible for the bungle were punished, but the Energy Department gave the contractor, Battelle Energy Alliance LLC, an “A” grade at the end of the year and extended its contract, while one of the people responsible for safeguarding the stolen equipment won an award, the Express-News reports.