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Break-in at nuclear complex spurs security review

Sep. 25, 2012 - 11:58AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is reviewing security at all of its facilities following a break-in at its Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Three protesters — including an 82-year-old nun — tripped alarms when they entered the facility July 2. A contractor security guard did not immediately respond to the break-in, and when he did, he did not draw a weapon and permitted the intruders to roam the area and retrieve items from their backpacks, according to an inspector general report released in early September.

One security camera covering the area had not been working for six months, and contractor employees at the site said security patrols had been cut because of budget pressure, according to the report.

Douglas Fremont, chief of defense nuclear security at NNSA, has been temporarily reassigned pending the outcome of the review, according to Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman in written testimony at a Sept. 13 hearing before the House subcommittee that oversees Energy Department national security programs.

NNSA also has removed six contractor executive employees responsible for security at the Y-12 site, and it is taking steps to terminate its management and security contracts for the site, according to Poneman. B&W Y-12 manages the facility, and WSI Oak Ridge provides security.

The Energy Department has also directed managers at all of its facilities with nuclear materials to provide written assurance that the facilities are in full compliance with agency security policies.

“The incident at Y-12 was unacceptable, and it served as an important wake-up call for our entire complex,” Poneman said.

“We will leave no stone unturned to find out what went wrong and will take the steps necessary to provide effective security at this site and across our enterprise,” he said.

But some lawmakers say that is not enough.

Reps. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said in a Sept. 13 letter that the security breach is an “unprecedented failure” and that the lapse may not be limited to the uranium processing facility.

Turner said in a statement that the security lapse is an example of how NNSA is “grossly mismanaged from the top down” and in need of reform.

NNSA has struggled for years to develop safety and security procedures, according to a Sept. 12 Government Accountability Office report.

Even though NNSA has taken steps to improve oversight, it still needs to devote sufficient personnel and funding to resolve its poor handling of contracts, including large-scale building projects, according to the report.

Projected cost overruns on two projects also showcase the need for an agency overhaul, Turner said.

The Uranium Processing Facility NNSA began building this year at the Y-12 complex is slated to cost between $4.2 billion and $6.5 billion — up from no more than $1.1 billion in 2004.

The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico also saw its potential price tag soar from a maximum of $975 million to more than $3.7 billion. The administration has delayed funding the Los Alamos project for five years to begin construction in 2018, according to the administration’s 2012 budget request.

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