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Y-12 Security: Time to Give Federalized Guard Force a Shot?

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The protective force at the Y-12 nuclear site continues to struggle with the most basic safety and security operations. On July 28, two security officers were injured in the accidental discharge of a firearm.

Local Y-12 journalist, Frank Munger, reported that the incident happened just after midnight, “when a security police officer was ‘repositioning’ his weapon inside a hardened patrol vehicle, which he shared with another security officer.” A single round was discharged, hitting the wall of the patrol vehicle, fragmenting it and injuring the two officers. They were transferred to Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, though reportedly their injuries were minor. This accident raises questions about the safety policies and training at the site. Was a round chambered, and what is the policy on this? Was the safety on, and what is the policy?  Will safety training be adjusted to prevent these kinds of accidents in the future?

Steven Wyatt, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, confirmed that the incident is under investigation and a site-wide “safety configuration check” was performed at the Y-12 site.

This incident occurred on the one-year anniversary of the worst nuclear security breach in recent history. On July 28, 2012, an 82-year-old nun and two other nuclear protestors broke into Y-12 and made it all the way to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility before they were discovered by the protective force, a full 20 minutes later.

Despite countless efforts to review and improve security at Y-12 since then, including multiple independent assessments, congressional hearings, security tests, and the firing of security contractor, WSI Oak Ridge, the protective force is still struggling to prevent unwanted visits. While this may in part be due to WSI Oak Ridge’s history of cheating on security tests, security remains far from impregnable even with a new protective force in place. Just a month and a half ago, a confused woman looking for affordable housing drove right into the Y-12 complex with morning commuters without being required to show any kind of badge or credentials. She drove the length of the complex, directly past buildings containing uranium operations, before being stopped at the West gate.

These are the kinds of incidents that must not be allowed to happen at a facility that houses most of our country’s highly enriched uranium. The protective force officers are required to be able to defend against very real and serious threats to national security, but these repeated mistakes do nothing to inspire confidence in their ability to do so. How many more chances are we expected to give them before going to a federalized guard force?

Image from 1914 film "In the Clutches of the Gang."

By: Lydia Dennett
Investigator, POGO

lydia dennett Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia handles whistleblower intake and works on nuclear safety and security at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Y-12 /Oak Ridge National Lab

Authors: Lydia Dennett

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