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D.C. Schools Get Security Devices Used at Nuclear Plant

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Thanks to the end of the Cold War, several District of Columbia schools have inherited security equipment once used to safeguard the nation's nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. Energy Department, which manufactures nuclear weapons for the United States, last month bequeathed the city's public schools more than $1.5 million worth of excess security equipment from a South Carolina weapons plant.

The federal agency plans to send the school district more than 150 pieces of sophisticated equipment, including metal detectors, X-ray machines, video monitors, cameras, and videocassette recorders.

The devices once guarded the Energy Department's Savannah River Plant in Georgia, which produced plutonium and tritium--materials used in nuclear weapons. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the federal government has scaled back its demand for such materials and closed the facility.

"This equipment has served the nation well in protecting the department's nuclear-weapons plants," U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary said in announcing the equipment transfer. "It will now serve equally well in protecting D.C. schoolchildren by providing a safe environment that promotes learning."

A Loan, Not a Gift

The agency technically is not giving away the equipment, but instead is loaning it to the school district indefinitely, said Sam C. Grizzle, an Energy Department spokesman.

"Certainly, it is very, very useful," Mr. Grizzle said. "It is much more modern than any of the stuff they had on hand."

Two of the metal detectors already have been installed in one of Washington's high schools. Superintendent Franklin L. Smith said the equipment will help the school system implement a comprehensive security plan it had lacked the resources to carry out quickly on its own.

The video equipment will enable security personnel to keep a closer watch on schools, and the X-ray machines and metal detectors will relieve those workers from searching thousands of bags and purses every day, school officials said.

The transfer was the brain child of two local school-security officials who previously worked at the Savannah plant. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's Congressional delegate, has since begun asking other federal agencies to donate excess equipment to the financially beleaguered city.

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