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National lab in California scolded for free Lusitania research for National Geographic

SAN FRANCISCO - A U.S. watchdog agency reprimanded a national lab in California for spending more than $80,000 in American taxpayer money to help National Geographic with a documentary film about the sinking of the ship Lusitania during World War I.

Nearly 2,000 people died when a German torpedo sunk the ocean liner in 1915. The incident helped spur the United States to declare war.

National Geographic's production team wanted to recreate the explosives that might have gone off aboard the Lusitania, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said no other facility could do that modeling work.

"NatGeo approached this Lab because of its expertise," she said in an email. "There's no other facility that can do the modeling and simulation we do."

The Energy Department's inspector general said in a report issued last week that improperly used its licensing and royalty fees to perform tests for the documentary and should not have done the work.

Seaver said lab officials believe they followed correct procedures in the explosives-related work it performed for "The Dark Secrets of the Lusitania." The Energy Department has until early May to determine any sanctions.

The Office of Inspector General has recommended that the lab make changes to improve transparency and management of similar outside contracts going forward.

"Federal officials responsible for oversight of contractor activities in this area told us that they knew of the documentary and were concerned that it was an inappropriate use of LLNL's resources," the report said. "Those officials, however, took no action."

National Geographic did not immediately respond to an email and message seeking comment Thursday.

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