Monitoring Systems Inactive During Y-12 Plant Break-In, Nuclear Agency Says

A security officer receives machine-gun training in 2004 at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. The site reportedly was not operating a "high number" of monitoring cameras when peace activists infiltrated its highest-security section late last month (AP Photo/Wade Payne).
A security officer receives machine-gun training in 2004 at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. The site reportedly was not operating a "high number" of monitoring cameras when peace activists infiltrated its highest-security section late last month (AP Photo/Wade Payne).

The Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28 was not running a key video monitoring system close to where antiwar activists breached a metal barrier around the Tennessee nuclear arms facility's most heavily guarded section, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Tuesday (see GSN, Aug. 14).

The system was one of a "high number" of monitoring cameras not in use when intruders made their way into Y-12, the newspaper quoted the National Nuclear Security Administration as saying last week. The intruders reportedly passed into the "Protected Area" -- which houses atomic arms activities and bomb-grade uranium storage -- and dumped blood, put up placards and added painted wording to the sides of structures prior to their apprehension.

Security personnel initially did not respond to multiple alerts from monitoring systems as trespassers clipped open three sets of barriers, the semiautonomous Energy Department agency added, quoting early findings in a Friday call for a private contractor to formally defend within 30 days its continued role as the site's operator.

Responders made their way to the break-in site over an unacceptably long period, according to the NNSA document. Then, they did not succeed in asserting authority prior to a manager's intervention, the agency indicated.

"Because our preliminary fact-findings reveal that contributing and direct causes of the security event include an inappropriate Y-12 cultural mindset, as well as a severe lapse of discipline and performance in meeting conduct of operations expectations, I am concerned that such issues may exist in other areas of Y-12 operations -- and not just in the security program," NNSA official Jill Albaugh stated in a written message to Darrel Kohlhorst, who last week resigned from his role as president and general manager of contractor B&W Y-12.

A comprehensive suspension of atomic activities implemented at the site on Aug. 1 would remain in place "for the indefinite future," the communication notes.

"Other events occurring since the July 28, 2012, security event ... have demonstrated a serious breakdown in the security operations at Y-12, including a lack of leadership and significant tactical, procedural, training and communication deficiencies," it adds (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel l, Aug. 14).

Personnel are acting quickly in response to issues revealed by the incident, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said after receiving details on Tuesday during a trip to the plant.

"At this point, I'm satisfied that they understand this was a very serious matter, and that they're making multiple changes to ensure, to the best of their ability, that this never happens again," he told the News Sentinel by telephone.

The activists were at no point "anywhere close to the materials that are so sensitive," he added.

Protective shortcomings during the intrusion appeared to be "more about protocol and ... just having alignment standards," according to the lawmaker. "What happened out there feels more to me like human error, not technology."

Corker's information session included sensitive details he could not reveal, he said.

"While these individuals did make it through some chain-link fences, there was no possible way, in any kind of situation, where they could have breached the additional security measures that get you to a place where the sensitive material (is stored)," he said. "There are multiple levels of security at Y-12. These individuals made it through the most elementary elements of it. But it shouldn't have happened ... They should not have made it through any element."

The "wake-up call" at the Tennessee facility appeared likely to prompt improvements in protective measures at other U.S. nuclear arms sites, Corker suggested (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel II, Aug. 14).

August 15, 2012
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The Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28 was not running a key video monitoring system close to where antiwar activists breached a metal barrier around the Tennessee nuclear arms facility's most heavily guarded section, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Tuesday.

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