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Fallout from the security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex reached Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations discussed the matter during a hearing titled “DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex: Challenges to Safety, Security and Taxpayer Stewardship.”
“By all accounts, contractor and site managers’ failures at Y-12 allowed one of the most serious security breakdowns in the history of the weapons complex,” Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, said.
On July 28, three protesters, including 82-year-old nun Megan Rice, got through the plant’s vaunted security and gained access to the area surrounding the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
“When an 82-year-old pacifist nun gets to the inner sanctum of our weapons complex, you cannot say job well done,” said Congressman Joe Barton, R-Texas.
Rice was present at Wednesday’s hearing.
“We want to thank you for pointing out some of the problems in our security,” Barton told Rice.
Barton’s communications director Sean Brown said the congressman decided to recognize her for two reasons.
“One, he thought it was interesting that she was in attendance,” Brown said, “and two, he wanted everyone in the hearing room and watching at home to see the person who was able to gain access to this highly secure area.”
“If she had been a terrorist, the Lord only knows what could have happened,” Barton said.
WSI-Oak Ridge provides security at Y-12. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, said its slow response gave the protesters time to hang banners, splash blood and paint messages on the facility that contains more than 100 tons of weapons grade highly enriched uranium.
“We are appalled,” Blackburn said. “WSI’s slow response, lack of regard for security protocols, along with their check-the-box mentality is completely unacceptable. Especially when you take into account the sensitive material they are paid to protect against potential terrorists and nation states capable of using deadly force during a security breach.”
B&W Y-12 is the contractor that operates Y-12 for the government.
It was issued a show cause letter by the National Nuclear Security Administration on Aug. 10.
B&W Y-12 responded this week and asserted that it made a compelling case for the NNSA to continue the contract.
“B&W Y-12 has stepped up and assumed the leadership responsibility necessary to make the warranted and integrated changes to prevent any future occurrences,” the contractor said in a press release. “Such actions included the removal and replacement of key leadership personnel to both B&W Y-12 and WSI-Oak Ridge.”
Prior to the security breach, B&W Y-12 and WSI-Oak Ridge operated under separate government contracts. Now WSI-Oak Ridge is a subcontractor under B&W Y-12.
“NNSA’s decision to appoint B&W Y-12 as the single point of accountability for security gives one contractor sole responsibility for all operations at the Y-12 site,” B&W Y-12 said in its press release. “With overall accountability for the combined security function, B&W Y-12 continues to monitor WSI-Oak Ridge’s performance and to assess whether the subcontractor model provides sufficient integration for successful security operations.”