There’s been some fuss at the National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories in Boulder, US. Three of the laboratories have been closed after a safety audit was conducted.

NIST is a federal agency that conducts ‘research that advances the nation's technology infrastructure and is needed by U.S. industry to continually improve products and services’. A spokesman for NIST said of the laboratory closures they were nothing to do with the plutonium spill at the facility on June 9 this year. Rather, the closures were to do with other safety issues.

Now as reassurances go, how reassured would you feel? ‘It’s ok, everybody, we’re closing the labs not because we dropped some plutonium the other week but because we’ve found some other problems. Don’t panic!’

And what other problems! Plutonium was acquired without adequate safety procedures or management approval. Untrained and inexperienced staff were allowed to work on projects. Staff removed plutonium in a glass bottle from their secondary protection with ungloved hands – the glass bottle broke causing the spill.

The research at NIST is to improve the detection of so-called dirty bombs. Who knew NIST would become a great big one itself?