Aging security at Pantex plant, warn auditors

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Auditors warn that security in the Pantex nuclear weapon disassembly plant has aged to the point where it may no longer function as intended.

An Energy Department office of inspector general report (.pdf) dated Jan. 29 notes that the Carson County, Texas facility places high-grade radioactive materials from nuclear weapons into two staging areas, Zone 4W and Zone 12. It's security in the former where auditors say they have concerns; the system there dates from the 1990s and had an expected useful lifetime of 20 years.

Until it's updated, "there is a potential security concern that elements of the system may no longer function as intended," auditors say.

National Nuclear Security Administration and Pantex officials say that should the system fail, they will need to add compensatory measures such as dispatching officers to assess areas where sensors no longer give a comprehensive picture. But, auditors say overreliance on compensatory measures were a factor in the July 28 penetration of the Y-12 National Security Complex grounds in Tennessee by three activists.

Auditors make no recommendations in the report, however, since the NNSA production office is aware of the problem and is taking actions to address it.

The report also notes that the facility exceeded in fiscals 2010 and 2011 its goal for nuclear weapon dismantlement by 26 percent and 10 percent, respectively. The NNSA says it will dismantle all nuclear weapons retired prior to fiscal 2009 by the end of fiscal 2022.

For more:
- download the report, OAS-L-13-06 (.pdf)

Related Articles:
Energy OIG: Y-12 contractors negligent at best, cheaters at worst
Podonsky: NNSA security fixes often just temporary
Multiple failures permitted trespassers to penetrate Y-12 complex

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