Plutonium Stolen From the Parking Lot of the Marriott San Antonio Northwest

On a mission to recover radioactive materials, two Department of Energy employees from the Idaho National Laboratory drove to San Antonio. Materials had been loaned to a private research lab, and their job was to get it back and transport it security to a government facility.

They brought with them specialized radiation detectors. And to calibrate the detectors they have to bring along some plutonium, too, and also cesium. These are the materials used in nuclear weapons or dirty bombs.

These security specialists stopped for the night at the San Antonio Marriott Northwest.


    Credit: Marriott

They left the materials in the back seat of their rented Ford Expedition and went to bed. The plutonium and cesium were stolen out of the Marriott parking lot.

When they awoke the next morning, the window had been smashed and the special valises holding these sensors and nuclear materials had vanished.

…the San Antonio police were dumbfounded that the experts from Idaho did not take more precautions. They “should have never left a sensitive instrument like this unattended in a vehicle,” said Carlos Ortiz, spokesman for the San Antonio Police Department.

The group that lost the nuclear material is the Off-Site Radioactive Source Recovery Program which is based at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory — is the team charged with recovering plutonium and enriched uranium that has been loaned out by the military. Let that sink in for a moment.

Odds on the team wasn’t being followed and this wasn’t a terrorist group stealing the materials, statistics from the San Antonio police department indicate that this Marriott had 87 thefts between 2016 and 2017.

One of the employees who lost the materials was given an award the very next month. There was no trail to following for the missing plutonium, “no useable prints, no worthwhile surveillance video of the crime, and no witnesses.” The Idaho National Laboratory says “it wasn’t an important or dangerous amount” of plutonium though of course combined with other plutonium that’s gone missing it would be.

The Department of Energy gave the “the lab contractor that employed the guards assigned to pick up the nuclear material… an “A” grade,” awarded them 97% of possible bonuses, and extended their contract through 2024.

(HT: Joe H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Plutonium Stolen From the Parking Lot of the Marriott San Antonio Northwest On a mission to recover radioactive materials, two Department of Energy employees from the Idaho National Laboratory drove to San Antonio. Materials had been loaned to a private research lab, and their job was to get it back and transport it security to a government facility. […]

Comments

  1. The real story here is it seems like about once a week a car is being broken into, and marriot nor the police are doing anything about it? They aren’t warning customers?

  2. San Antonio was a hotspot for home and vehicle theft in the quarter century I lived there. As an auditor who traveled around the state, many times I was advised not to leave anything in my vehicle at hotels. That advice also applied to vehicles parked in driveways or on the street outside residences. I wonder what the Idaho National Laboratory means by the plutonium loss not being an important or dangerous amount. Are they referring to the theft being under a gram?

  3. Welcome to the world of government contracting. We had a contract that apparently was under bid and they could only staff 2 of 5 positions. When it came time to give them a score I tried to protest. I said hey while one of the 2 is an excellent employee, the other one is ok but still we are only staffed 40% and thus they should be given a poor score, nope. It magically came out to a score that enabled the company to receive a bonus.

    Also welcome to the world of incompetence. We had someone take equipment home but left it in the car, unlocked, and…..yup someone wanted a couple of Apple products and took them.

  4. @toomanybooks that was the second site ever to link to me back in 2002, too 🙂 In fact Glenn Reynolds paid to take the ads down off my blog back when it was hosted at blogspot

  5. The amount of materials involved in these ‘calibration samples’ is on the order of micrograms… so yes, a ‘statistically insignficant’ or ‘unimportant’ amount. The most they could do is crack open the case (which is very nearly impossible) and possibly poison -one- person.

    (I’m a nuclear engineer, and have worked at a DoE nuclear facility in the past.)

  6. The only people to have stolen nuclear materials in the United States are the Israelis and they were nudge nudge wink wink ALLOWED to steal it. What do you want to bet this was an allowed “theft”

  7. Does the employee of the month award now incentivize other employees to leave company valuables in the rental vehicle at the hotels, even in good parts of town? About the only thing I leave overnight in a rental car is a water bottle, partially consumed, not the cargo I am hired specifically to transport.
    And why isn’t the FBI investigating this? Next time, park the car outside the door of your Motel 6 room and you won’t be surprised when you go to your car after a long breakfast and a late checkout from your cushy hotel room, because the car alarm will have woken everyone on that block and the 50 hidden Motel 6 security cameras will capture more details than a $40,000 ATM camera ever could hope to capture.

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