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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Letter to DOE Secretary Bodman concerning inadequate security at the Y-12 facility and Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Honorable Samuel W. Bodman
Secretary
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, DC 20585


Dear Secretary Bodman:

Attached is a copy of the most recent Project On Government Oversight (POGO) report on nuclear weapons security, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory at High Risk.

This report is the result of a year-long investigation following our methodology, including a site visit by POGO investigators in the fall of 2005 at the invitation of the Department of Energy. In the report, POGO highlights a number of security concerns.

Primary among those concerns is the inability of Y-12 National Security Complex to protect its 400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU). As you know, the facility cannot meet the DOE's "denial strategy" requirement, which prevents terrorists from gaining access to the nuclear materials. Yet, we were surprised and extremely concerned to learn that you granted a waiver to Y-12 specifically because it cannot meet either the 2003 or 2005 Design Basis Threat. What is the point of having a standard if it is waived when it cannot be met? We wonder whether you have been fully informed of the implications of your personally accepting this level of risk.

If there is one facility in the nuclear weapons complex that should meet the DBT, it is Y-12 because of the vast amount of HEU stored there. Several nuclear weapons experts have pointed out the danger posed by the vulnerability of the HEU stored at Y-12, as well as that of the uranium-233 stored at ORNL, and how quickly terrorists could create an improvised nuclear device using these materials. Furthermore, the DOE and intelligence experts, including the Central Intelligence Agency, have repeatedly warned that this threat is one of the crucial holes in the nation's post-9/11 security layer.

Unfortunately, our investigation has found that DOE simply does not want to spend the funds necessary to hire the additional 300 guards that executives at Y-12 told POGO are required to meet the denial strategy.

Another concern is with the design of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). The above-ground design of HEUMF will require DOE to protect four exposed walls and a roof, all of which present numerous attack points. A bermed or underground facility only has one exposed surface to defend. Furthermore, establishing fighting positions in four towers, necessary to protect the five exposed surfaces, will require twice the manpower needed to defend a bermed facility. As Ronald Timm revealed in his report, Design Analysis of Security for the Y-12 Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in Oak Ridge, TN (also attached for your review), in addition to the significant security vulnerabilities created by this design, the defense of this above-ground structure will cost the government $250 million more over 30 years than the defense of a bermed facility would cost.

The current plan for the UPF is to duplicate the costly security and financial mistakes made in the HEUMF design. It is POGO's hope that, now DOE is aware of the significant flaws in the above-ground design, the UPF will be either underground or bermed, and will not suffer from the same vulnerabilities of the HEUMF.

We also draw your attention to the portions of the report that chronicle the continued poor oversight of the Wackenhut and BWXT contracts, the continued abysmal performance of Wackenhut in force-on-force tests. In addition, the excess HEU and uranium-233 that have no national security mission, should be downblended immediately to greatly reduce or even eliminate the risk these facilities pose to the American public.

Finally, POGO was unimpressed with DOE's response to our report. DOE's Steven Wyatt told the Los Angeles Times that, "There are better odds that an asteroid would hit Oak Ridge than the terrorists would have the access and time to build and detonate an IND." If this were true, why would the nuclear weapons complex have moved to a denial strategy and spent an additional half billion dollars annually to protect against INDs? In addition, DOE spokesman John Shewairy at ORNL stated, "We believe we're in full compliance" because a DOE team assessed ORNL earlier this year and the lab fared very well. However, DOE had not run a security performance test or force-on-force at the lab because they knew the lab couldn't handle even the less-than-robust 2003 Design Basis Threat (DBT). The last time a force-on-force was conducted at ORNL, the entire ORNL guard force was "killed" in 90 seconds.

Thank you for considering our comments. We would like to meet with you to discuss the recommendations for moving forward contained in this report.

Sincerely,


Danielle Brian
Executive Director


Enclosures: Three sets of reports, one each for Secretary Bodman, Ambassador Linton Brooks, and Associate Administrator William Desmond
 

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