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Project on Government Oversight

Oak Ridge Y-12 Facility Fails to Protect Nuclear Materials During Mock Test

As part of the Secretary of Energy's special review of the protective security forces throughout the nuclear weapons complex, the DOE Office of Security and Safety Performance Assurance inspection team tested the effectiveness of the guard force at Oak Ridge's Y-12 facility in Tennessee last month. Y-12 fabricates the HEU components of U.S. nuclear weapons. According to government sources, the security forces could not adequately protect the enormous stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from a terrorist attack. Witnesses described the Oak Ridge test results as "pretty ugly." The Y-12 facility is of particular concern, as it houses the most materials in the nuclear complex that could be used for the creation of an Improvised Nuclear Device (IND), or an actual nuclear detonation on site.

One major security problem at Y-12 is that they have six MAAs (Material Access Areas) that store large inventories of HEU. Most of these buildings are at least 50 years old, and were not designed to store large quantities of weapons-grade nuclear materials. Again, Y-12 is required to have a "denial" strategy of denying a terrorist access inside an MAA. If the terrorist gains access to the HEU, he could create an IND in minutes.

For two decades, DOE has recognized the need to construct a hardened storage facility underground. After a number of false starts, the material remains in these vulnerable buildings. Hundreds of tons of HEU are excess to the nuclear weapons program. However, plans to blend-down, or "immobilize", these excess materials to make them unattractive to terrorists have been derailed. Currently, therefore, there are no plans to address the existence of these vulnerable materials.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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