Controversy over nuclear material tracking system

2019-03-06 08:04:01

By Will Knight The US Department of Energy is to deny reports that the computer system it uses to track the international movement of nuclear materials had a major flaw. A Washington Post article suggests that Russian scientists discovered the flaw. They were given the computer system as part of the program to assist with tracking materials that could be used to construct nuclear weapons. Experts at the Kurchatov Institute nuclear research centre in Moscow are reported to have discovered the flaw in early 2000. It is alleged that the flaw would make some files invisible to those using the system. This could potentially have allowed materials to be diverted from their intended destination without being detected. The Russian experts who discovered the hole are said to have alerted their US counterparts to the problem and supplied a fix. However, the institute that overseas the implementation of Department of Energy technology, Los Alamos National Laboratory, denies these claims. A spokesman for the laboratory told New Scientist that no fault ever existed with the US system. The Department of Energy is to release a statement on Thursday. The Materials Tracking Information System (MTIS) is a customised computer system built to work on top of Microsoft’s Windows NT 4.0 operating system with its SQL Server 6.5 database management system. It is built using Microsoft’s programming tools. Some experts say that, even if the problem was genuine, it is unlikely that it could have been exploited to steal any materials. “I would not think so because even if there were a flaw with the accounting system, this would not impact on the physical security that protect the materials,” says Anita Nilsson, head of the Office of Material Security at the International Atomic Energy Agency. She says that any attempt to steal nuclear materials would normally be detected because security is very high. However, another source at the Agency said that the incident could prompt a rethink of the tracking technology. “If it is a valid problem, then the system may be improved,