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Project on Government Oversight

Nuke Weapons Site Deploys Grenade Launcher

Related Content: Pantex
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July 19, 2007

According to a draft Department of Energy Inspector General (DOE IG) report released today, the contractor managing Pantex nuclear weapons plant has required security officers to use a powerful military grenade launcher at night without proper training or “reduced visibility sighting systems.”  The report was made publicly available by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

“At our most sensitive facility in the nuclear weapons complex, the security officers wouldn’t know what the heck they were shooting at if there was an attack at night,” said POGO’s investigator Peter Stockton.

This is the third DOE IG report made public in the past week about security troubles involving the contractor, BWXT Pantex LLC. A report from last week found “unacceptable” delays in fielding M-4 carbine rifles needed to protect the facility and high false alarm rates for the Aircraft Detection System. A second report from last week found cheating on security tests by contingency forces brought in to protect Pantex during a strike of BWXT’s security officers. DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security is conducting a more in-depth investigation of the cheating which should be out shortly.

POGO has previously raised concerns about security and safety at Pantex in letters to Secretary of Energy Bodman, including a May 2007 letter which revealed that the number of security officers protecting the site had plummeted during the union strike from 537 to roughly 200. Pantex was among those sites described in POGO’s 2005 report U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Homeland Security Opportunities.

Pantex plant which is located 17 miles from Amarillo , TX , is the U.S. government’s assembly/disassembly facility for nuclear weapons. It stores thousands of plutonium pits, some from 40-50 year old weapons, in World War II era bunkers.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, “The MK19 firing rate is over 350 grenades per minute and it is effective to ranges of over 2200 meters.”

Among the key findings from the report released today:

MK-19 Grenade Launcher was deployed without ability to target at night: “it was deployed without a reduced-visibility sighting system that would effectively direct the weapon’s fire under such conditions…protective force officers were expected to use the weapon on a ‘24/7’ basis including hours of darkness…Several protective force personnel assigned to use the MK-19 told us they could not effectively engage a target in darkness with the unaided eye.” (pg. 3)

Contractor admits stop gap measure on reduced-visibility fails to meet security requirements: “When questioned about this situation, one contractor official said that this manner of target acquisition did not allow the facility to meet site protection requirements.” (pg. 3)

Contractor was canceling order for reduced-visibility sights: “The official also said that the order for this equipment ‘was in the process of being cancelled and the need for such equipment was not a factor at this time.’” (pg. 4)

BWXT official admits training is faulty: “a knowledgeable BWXT official said that the training and qualification program was not appropriate.” (pg. 4)

Training happened on the least likely and easiest scenarios for an attack: “the weapon training program only provided for basic operator training at a firing range under favorable daylight and limited distance conditions. The training course did not address engaging an adversary under reduced visibility conditions or provide training at extended distances or against a maneuvering adversary.” (pg 4) “Our review revealed that protective force personnel were rated as qualified on the MK-19 after firing during daylight hours at a stationary target positioned at approximately 10 percent of the distance that an adversary was expected to be engaged and neutralized.” (pp. 5-6)

For more information, see the DOE’s IG reports:

Draft Inspection Report: Protective Force MK-19 Grenade Launcher Use at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Pantex Facility, May 2007.

Letter Report on “Alleged Unnecessary Protective Force Equipment Purchases at Pantex,” July 11, 2007.

Memo on SUMMARY: Investigation of Alleged False Certifications Relating to Testing of the Contingency Protective Force at the Pantex Plant, July 12, 2007.

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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