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Y-12 Audit Found Security Weaknesses in 2010

U.S. Energy Department auditors in 2010 documented a number of security vulnerabilities at the Y-12 nuclear weapons site in Tennessee, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The facility's protection issues seemingly were not resolved, allowing three activists to sneak deep into the complex in late July.

Autonomous department inspectors in secret assessments delivered in October and November 2010 noted slipshod repair work of technology at the Y-12 National Security Complex, broken monitoring cameras, and security personnel lacking proper training. 

The three members of the antinuclear group Transform Now Plowshares infiltrated the Oak Ridge site's "Protected Area," where a facility holding large quantities of weapon-grade uranium is located. The interlopers had enough time to allegedly pour out blood, put up signs and paint on the sides of buildings before they were discovered and apprehended.

Guards missed multiple opportunities to prevent the protesters' infiltration by failing to look at security cameras, not checking outside, and ignoring the noise created by the activists putting up signs, according to the DOE inspector general's recent assessment of the incident. A broken video camera also failed to record the three entering Y-12.

Energy Department auditors in 2010 found that the 700 alarm systems that encircle Y-12's elevated-security area typically emitted 200 erroneous intruder alerts per day, largely as a result of the movements of deer, squirrels, and other wild creatures that traverse the area. The high number of mistaken alerts caused security personnel to become inured to the alarm system, according to auditors.

Following the break-in, Y-12 officials put in place a barrier to prevent animals from entering the zone; the quantity of erroneous alerts right away decreased by half, one U.S. official said.

The Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Agency has oversight of the Y-12 complex. Security is provided by contractor WSI Oak Ridge.

Nuclear agency spokesman Joshua McConaha said Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu "has made clear, the recent incident at Y-12 was a completely unacceptable breach of security, and an important wake up call for our entire complex. The severity of the failure of leadership at Y-12 demands swift, strong and decisive action by the department."

The nuclear site's managing contractor, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, has filed an answer  to the Energy Department's August communication that it was considering canceling the firm's work agreement following the break-in. The document has not been made available to the public, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

The security breach has raised fresh doubts about a House legislative move to give the nuclear agency greater autonomy from its parent department, Reuters reported.

"If there's ever a time for more aggressive oversight, this is it," Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) said during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

One of the suspects in the break-in, 82-year-old nun Megan Rice, attended the session. "If she had been a terrorist, the Lord only knows what could have happened," Barton said.

The nuclear agency's lead security staffer has been moved to another job, Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman said to lawmakers. He noted a number of other personnel shifts following the incident, including the retirements of Y-12's top two private managers.

"This incursion and the poor response to it demonstrated a deeply flawed execution of security procedures at Y-12," Poneman said.




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