NOVEMBER 05, 2012
Here’s a scary story: Guards responsible for securing the nation’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory cheat on security knowledge tests with the help of the U.S. government agency that operates the facility.
Even scarier is how this widespread cheating was discovered at a facility— the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee—the feds claim has the “most stringent security in the world.” In fact, the compound is often referred to as the “Fort Knox of Uranium.”
A few months ago an 82-year-old Catholic nun along with two other seniors managed to penetrate the facility and go undetected by security for two hours. The nun, a renowned antinuclear activist, and her pals—one 63 and the other 57—were armed with flashlights and bolt cutters. Once inside, the trio of protesters splashed blood around the nuclear complex and hung banners outside its walls.
The shameful breach fueled calls for an internal investigation. After all, the Y-12 National Security Complex is the country’s main storage facility for bomb-grade uranium and it makes uranium parts for every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Old weapons are also dismantled at the compound, which claims to “maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.”
The Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for managing the Y-12 lab’s operations and for keeping it secure. Besides having a sophisticated $500 million security system that includes high-tech cameras and sensors, the compound has a substantial staff of guards and the property is surrounded by huge security towers and special fences.
A few days ago the DOE Inspector General revealed in a report that the guard force at the Tennessee lab is compromised because officers and supervisors share advance copies of test materials. That means the guards aren’t necessarily qualified to do this delicate job of protecting the compound. Even worse is that the advance test copies came from a DOE official, the report says, and that the cheating has been going on for years and isn’t necessarily limited to the Oak Ridge facility.
Circulating copies of key tests in advance to the contractor and employees responsible for ensuring that such a vital site is adequately protected against terrorism was “inexplicable and inexcusable,” the DOE’s inspector general found. “Security of the Nation’s most sensitive nuclear material storage and processing facilities must not be left to chance.”
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