Y-12 not the fortress some had hoped for

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By Damon Lawrence

Perception that the Y-12 National Security Complex was impenetrable turned out to be just that — perception.
Three protesters, one of whom was an 82-year-old woman, debunked the notion on July 28 when they made their way through the plant’s vaunted security and gained access to the area surrounding the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
“It’s always been thought to be pretty much impenetrable,” Oak Ridge City Councilwoman Ellen Smith said. “This reduces people’s confidence in the security situation out there.”
A subsequent inquiry into the July 28 incident found numerous security problems, including troubling displays of ineptitude, failure to maintain critical security equipment, misunderstanding of security protocols and poor communication.
“Contractor governance and federal oversight failed to identify and correct early indicators of these multiple system breakdowns,” a special report from the U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General said. “When combined, these issues directly contributed to an atmosphere in which the trespassers could gain access to the protected security area directly adjacent to one of the nation’s most critically important and highly secured weapons-related facilities.”

According to the report, a security officer said he didn’t notice the trespassers until they approached his vehicle and surrendered.
“Even when the officer exited the patrol vehicle, the officer did not move to secure the area, did not draw a weapon and permitted the trespassers to roam about and retrieve various items from backpacks they had apparently brought into the area adjacent to the HEUMF (Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility),” the report said.  Inoperable equipment was also a problem, the report found.
“One critical fixed camera that provided coverage of the penetration area had been out of service for approximately six months,” the report said. “We found this to be troubling.”
Communication deficiencies were also discovered.
“Security police officers on the night of the incident incorrectly assumed that trespassers who were beating on the external wall of the HEUMF with a hammer were plant maintenance workers,” the report said.
The first and second responders to the July 28 incident were dispatched via cellphone when directives mandated that the digital, encrypted radio system for the Oak Ridge Reservation was to be used.
“Cellphone communication channels are not encrypted and are subject to eavesdropping,” the report said. 
B&W Y-12, the contractor that operates Y-12, said it is addressing the security issues.
“We’ve taken dramatic actions and are making major security improvements at the site,” B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Charles G. Spencer was quoted in a contractor press release. 
The National Nuclear Security Administration issued B&W Y-12 a show-cause notice on Aug. 10. That requires the contractor to explain why termination proceedings should not be instituted for the contract at Y-12. B&W responded by issuing a show-cause notice to WSI-Oak Ridge, which provides security at Y-12.
“The notice requires WSI-Oak Ridge to explain its actions during the security incursion,” the B&W Y-12 release said. “On Aug. 31, B&W Y-12 notified WSI that its contract would be terminated for default if actions are not taken to address all of the issues to date.”
Smith, the Oak Ridge city councilwoman, said the continued fallout is a concern in the community.  
“A lot of what I’ve heard people concerned about is the effect on the contracts because there may be new companies coming in to manage the facilities because DOE is not pleased with the current contractors,” she said.

Heads have rolled since the security breach, according to the NNSA.  
“To ensure the highest level of security, the general manager of the plant, his senior security managers, and the leadership of the guard force were removed, and the department has taken initial steps to hold the management and operating contractor at Y-12 accountable,” NNSA Public Affairs Manager Steven Wyatt said. “To manage this transition, we have brought some of the best security experts from our enterprise to Y-12 to quickly enhance security at the site.”
Y-12 is one of four production facilities in the NNSA’s nuclear security enterprise.
“Secretary (of Energy Steven) Chu has made clear that the security of our nation’s nuclear material is the department’s most important responsibility, and he has no tolerance for federal or contractor personnel who cannot or will not do their jobs,” Wyatt said. “As the secretary 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.”