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NUKE MATERIAL STAYS AT LOS ALAMOS HOT SPOT

It sure seemed like a good idea at the time. So maybe it was destined never to get off the ground at the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory.Technical Area 18, or the "Critical Experiments Facility," is one of the lab's most sensitive and worst defended -- facilities. Several tons of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and plutonium are there. But, because it's at the bottom of a canyon, it's almost impossible to keep safe from a terrorist attack. In a 1997 exercise, Army special forces were able to walk out of TA-18 with a wheelbarrow load of nuclear materials.After years of warnings from watchdog groups like the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham finally agreed earlier this year to move TA-18's nuclear supply to safer locations.When the lab was shut down for a security and safety review, Los Alamos' managers at the University of California proposed to use quiet period to hurry up the transfer of that radioactive material. It meant all the uranium and plutonium could be out by the end of the year without holding up important research.But Energy Department officials have blocked the move, POGO notes in a letter to Abraham. It's the latest in a series of bureaucratic maneuvers that have undermined the Energy Secretary's orders, the group alleges.

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