For sale: low mileage bomb factory
Without much effort, a used-car and scrap dealer in Pocatello, Idaho, got his hands on $10 million worth of equipment needed to build nuclear bombs. In June 1993, a Department of Energy lab sold dealer Tom Johansen most of the major components to make bomb-grade uranium from spent nuclear fuel. Johansen, who paid only $154,000 for the equipment, then looked for buyers. They surfaced quickly, including an $8.2 million bid from someone in India, reports the Idaho Falls Post Register. Washington officials did not know about the story until the British government tipped off the U.S. State Department, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission then told Johansen that the equipment, which came from the Idaho National Engineering Lab, cannot be exported. The ease with which he acquired it, however, raises the possibility that bomb-building could spread as the defense establishment downsizes. The DOE determined that employees and contractors involved in the Johansen transaction were not informed about export controls or nonproliferation guidelines. A newly formed committee will recommend how to patch up the DOE's security. Johansen, meanwhile, wants the DOE to reimburse him $1.5 million him for lost marketing opportunities.