Y-12 Plant Suspends Nuclear Arms Activities Over Feared Vulnerabilities

A security officer participates in a training exercise at the Y-12 National Security Complex. The Tennessee nuclear materials facility suspended all atomic operations after three antiwar advocates late last week infiltrated its highest security area (B&W Y-12 photo).
A security officer participates in a training exercise at the Y-12 National Security Complex. The Tennessee nuclear materials facility suspended all atomic operations after three antiwar advocates late last week infiltrated its highest security area (B&W Y-12 photo).

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee has suspended all atomic activities, locked away stores of refined uranium and mandated personnel retraining in response to mounting fears over defensive shortcomings after three antiwar advocates infiltrated the Tennessee nuclear arms site on Saturday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Thursday (see GSN, July 31).

The National Nuclear Security Administration voiced complete backing for the "security stand-down" instituted by B&W Y-12, which operates the site. The action is "necessary to ensure continued confidence in safe and secure operations at Y-12," the semiautonomous Energy Department agency said in a statement.

The halt's duration was still undecided, according to government personnel. It could remain in effect for around seven days, the News Sentinel reported.

The three activists entered Y-12's "Protected Area" -- the plant's most heavily guarded section and its site for atomic arms activities and bomb-grade uranium storage -- and reportedly dumped blood, put up placards and added painted wording to the sides of structures prior to their apprehension early on Saturday (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel l , Aug. 2). NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt on Tuesday said the trespassers had employed wire clippers to pass through Protected Area barriers, but rejected allegations that they had been present nearby for 120 minutes prior to gaining entry (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel II, Aug. 1).

After the Saturday development, NNSA and B&W Y-12 officials heightened their scrutiny of site practices and discovered additional breaches of protection protocols. The findings had no relation to a probe linked to last week's unauthorized entry, Wyatt said.

The official would not elaborate on the breaches or specify whether they would result in any terminations in employment or other punitive measures. "It would be inappropriate for us to discuss disciplinary or employment-related information," he wrote in an e-mail statement.

Facility managers on Wednesday entered training programs for site protection procedures, and additional site personnel are set within days to start participating in similar initiatives. Wyatt said the education effort would extend to the facility's entire workforce, which numbers in the thousands.

"This is being done to address additional security training and execution deficiencies identified by the contractor after Saturday's incident," the spokesman stated.

The National Nuclear Security Administration "remains entirely confident in the security of Y-12's facilities," the agency stated. The facility's atomic assets are now under guard and protected against hazards, it added.

One expert, though, said the activities suspension indicates officials might have uncovered additional "drastic flaws in security" at the site.

"At this point we can only guess what those flaws might be," Project on Government Oversight atomic protection specialist Peter Stockton wrote in an e-mail (Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel I).

NNSA personnel would "look very hard" into Saturday's incident, Wyatt said on Tuesday.

"We are taking this matter very seriously," he said, adding government workers would be "looking at all aspects of what occurred Saturday" (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel III, Aug. 1).

August 2, 2012
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The Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee has suspended all atomic activities, locked away stores of refined uranium and mandated personnel retraining in response to mounting fears over defensive shortcomings after three antiwar advocates infiltrated the Tennessee nuclear arms site on Saturday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Thursday.

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