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Y-12 Plant Infiltration Bore Little Resemblance to Drills: Report

Situations routinely considered in defensive drills at the Y-12 National Security Complex appeared to have little in common with details from Saturday's infiltration of the Tennessee nuclear arms site by three antiwar advocates, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Tuesday (see GSN, July 30).

The facility's perimeter intrusion detection and assessment system at about 4:30 a.m. indicated a breach of the nuclear-weapon handling area, prompting a reaction by security personnel.

Upon arrival, a weapon-carrying security officer encountered the three activists -- 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, 82-year-old Megan Rice and 63-year-old Michael Walli -- alongside a structure that contains large amounts of nuclear weapon-usable uranium.

The three had been posting placards, pouring blood and adding painted wording to the uranium storage facility. They subsequently started reciting a written declaration of their positions and stance against nuclear armaments. The advocates were also said to present response personnel with items they were carrying: candles, flowers and a copy of the Bible.

The incident was unprecedented for Y-12''s "Protected Area," a site previously described as invulnerable and potentially lethal to any individual who might attempt to intrude. Weaponry and other measures in place at the Y-12 plant for fending off attackers have been the subject of routine boasting by Wackenhut Services, which has provided protection at the site for the last 10 years.

"The protesters put themselves at a high risk of losing their life in performing this act. We are thankful that did not occur," National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Steven Wyatt said. "There will be lessons learned from this incident that we will use to further refine and improve our security posture at Y-12."

The development did not prompt any rapid statement on reversing existing plans by the Energy Department office and Wackenhut Services to eliminate 34 protection officer positions at the Oak Ridge facility.

It remains unclear how the trespassers infiltrated the plant's most highly guarded area. The group apparently cut through a number of metal cord barriers and purportedly traversed a raised area to reach the facility, according to Ellen Barfield, a Maryland resident who has spoken on behalf of the political efforts (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel, July 31).

Project on Government Oversight atomic protection specialist Peter Stockton on Monday voiced concern over the incident.

"The Department of Energy has repeatedly claimed that security at the site, which houses 300 to 400 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium, is robust enough to defend against more than a dozen heavily armed terrorists with inside knowledge of security procedures," Stockton said in prepared remarks.

"In fact, it didn’t stop an 82-year-old nun. Were Wackenhut guards caught napping again? The fences are supposed to be armed with sensors and cameras. I just could never imagine this happening. It looks like the Boy Scouts could have done a better job," he said.

"The first thing that needs to happen is the Department of Energy’s independent Office of Health, Safety, and Security needs to send a team to find out what went so terribly wrong. This episode should be a death knell for efforts in Congress to turn oversight of security and safety at nuclear facilities over to contractors for self-policing," he added (Project on Government Oversight release, July 30).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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