Fifteen employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were placed on leave amid an investigation into the disappearance of two computer disks containing classified information, the director of the nuclear weapons lab said Thursday.
Four other employees also were placed on leave by Director Pete Nanos in a separate investigation involving an intern at the lab who suffered a serious eye injury from a laser.
Nanos said the workers were stripped of their badges and will not be allowed back in until their cases are resolved. They can show up at the lab only for purposes of the investigation.
"We've essentially moved them aside," Nanos said.
He did not identify the workers or say what they may have done wrong. Of the jobs they perform, he said: "Suffice to say it's all levels."
The move comes days after Nanos ordered a halt to nearly all work at the lab to conduct an inventory of computer disks and other data-storage devices and to retrain lab personnel in the handling of sensitive material. The move was prompted by the disappearance of the two disks.
Officials have not said what was on the disks. Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow said Wednesday that he wants the FBI's help in the investigation, but added there was nothing to indicate espionage was behind the disappearance.
The other investigation involves a July 14 experiment during which an intern was injured by a laser that researchers had thought was not producing a light at the time, lab officials said.
Nanos said he had an "all-hands" meeting with workers Thursday to stress the seriousness of the situation. He said some workers are still in "denial" about problems at the lab.
The missing disks and the eye injury are among several embarrassing problems to hit Los Alamos recently, including a number of other security lapses and a scandal over fraudulent use of credit cards.
The Energy Department has responded by putting the contract to manage Los Alamos up for bid for the first time in Los Alamos' 61-year history. The University of California has operated the lab for the government ever since it was created during World War II to build the atomic bomb.