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Championing Responsible National Security Policy

Mission Impossible? Not for 82-year-old Anti-Nuclear Weapons Activist

[Update: The federal contractor who runs the Y-12 facility has put the complex under a "security stand-down," the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Click here to read more.]

When a nuclear weapons facility can’t stop infiltration by an octogenarian nun, it’s time to reassess its security standards.

The 82-year-old nun, accompanied by two other anti-nuclear activists, broke into Tennessee’s Y-12 National Security Complex early Saturday morning, the Knoxville News Sentinel first reported.

“The Department of Energy has repeatedly claimed that security at the site, which houses 300 to 400 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium, is robust enough to defend against more than a dozen heavily-armed terrorists with inside knowledge of security procedures” Peter Stockton, a nuclear security expert at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), ironically observed.

It looks like the Boy Scouts could have done a better job” securing the site, he added.

After cutting through three fences surrounding the facility, the activists “posted a banner on one of the buildings and poured human blood on the premises,” the News Sentinel reported. The activists were arrested under federal trespassing charges and will remain in jail until a hearing this Thursday, according to the newspaper.

The Department of Energy’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration told the News Sentinel that the department’s inspector general is leading an investigation of the incident.

Stockton recommended that the department’s independent Office of Health, Safety, and Security also investigate “what went so terribly wrong” at Y-12.

The nuclear facility describes itself as “a premier manufacturing facility dedicated to making our nation and the world a safer place.” However, POGO has long warned the Department of Energy that its Y-12 facility is at a high risk for security breaches.

When the department increased security standards at its facilities in the years following 9/11, it granted exemptions to Y-12, effectively “lowering a hurdle to allow a sprinter to easily jump over it,” as POGO noted. Several years later, department security exercises revealed that intruders inside the facility’s fences could enter one of the uranium storage building in about 45 seconds, POGO reported.

What’s more, security guards at Y-12 have a history of literally sleeping on the job, as the News Sentinel reported in 2008 and 2012.

The guard force is provided by G4S Secure Solutions (formerly known as the Wackenhut Corp.), the self-proclaimed largest security contractor in the world. As the security provider of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, G4S made headlines earlier this summer when it failed to provide the promised number of security guards for the event, something the company agreed was "a humiliating shambles," the BBC reported.