'I have no idea why they have a gun like this,' watchdog investigator says

Researchers at the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico accidentally blew up a building with a "Civil-war-like" cannon earlier this month, raising further fears about the safety of the facility that has seen more than its share of security breaches in recent years.

According to an "occurrence report" (PDF) filed by the lab and obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, the accident took place on December 16 as researchers tested a gun that "acts like a Civil War cannon," according to a POGO press release. Though no one was injured in the incident, it did cause $3 million in damage.

The watchdog group reported:

The explosion blew the doors off the building -- which is described in the report as, "two doors were propelled off the facility."

The Facility Operations Director "declared a management concern due to the significant facility structural damage incurred resultant of the shot." Parts of the cannon were found outside the building.

"I must say that this is a new twist in the long history of screw-ups by Los Alamos," said POGO’s Senior Investigator, Peter Stockton, in a statement. “I have no idea in the world why they have a gun like this, let alone [are] testing it.”

As Rachel Morris notes at Mother Jones, "This is not the first time that Los Alamos has fallen short when it comes to safety and security matter." POGO's "long history of screw-ups" at Los Alamos is documented here. One recent case of note involved the theft of three computers from the laboratory where nuclear technologies are developed and tested.

A recent Inspector-General's report says that the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which oversees Los Alamos, has been delinquent in enhancing its cyber-security.

Despite the various security concerns, the private contracting team managing the facility recently had its contract extended by the government for another year. Among the companies managing Los Alamos is Bechtel, the engineering firm that landed lucrative contracts in Iraq following the US invasion.