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In the Midst of Nuclear Weapons Site Security Test Failures, DOE Adopts New Test and Security Requirements

The Department of Energy (DOE) is again changing its policy on the protection of nuclear weapons facilities that house weapons-grade and weapons-quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, this time even changing the name of the policy. Formerly known as the Design Basis Threat (DBT), the security policy will now be called the Graded Security Protection (GSP) plan.

While details of the GSP are classified, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has learned from its sources that there will be some variations of security requirements from site to site and that some sites’ security requirements will decrease. We understand that Pantex and the Office of Secure Transport, which produce and transport nuclear weapons, will still be complying with the highest security level, which is comparable to the 2004 DBT. We have also learned there will be a committee of experts who will analyze the security requirements needed at each site.

“One thing we don’t understand is why different sites need different requirements if they are guarding the same thing: highly enriched uranium and plutonium,” stated Danielle Brian, Executive Director, POGO.

“We are concerned that DOE will be weakening security requirements at several sites. One thing that is consistent: When DOE can’t meet its own rules, it changes the rules. But whatever name you call it, the fact remains that DOE still cannot protect its Cold War-legacy nuclear materials at sites across the U.S.,” added Peter Stockton, Senior Investigator, POGO.

DOE’s policy change comes after years of criticism from Congress, the Government Accountability Office, POGO, and the media on the ever-changing level of security requirements—the 2003 DBT, the 2004 DBT, and the 2005 DBT. After upgrading security standards in 2004, it became clear that it was exceedingly expensive to protect nuclear materials spread out at sites across the country. Rather than quickly shrinking the footprint of the nuclear complex, the DOE watered down the 2004 DBT and created the 2005 DBT—or as some called it, the “Dollar-Based Threat.” Now it appears DOE is yet again further weakening security requirements for some nuclear weapons sites.

The decision to restructure security requirements comes on the heels of an embarrassing security test failure at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in April 2008. Because Livermore Lab cannot meet current security standards, DOE has exempted the site from those standards, calling it a “non-enduring site.”

“In the end, DOE should stop playing games with words and make the hard decisions: Get the materials out of the sites you can’t protect.” Stockton concluded.