Multiple failures permitted trespassers to penetrate Y-12 complex

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The early morning July 28 penetration of Y-12 National Security Complex grounds in Tennessee by three activists was made possible by multiple failures, says the Energy Department office of inspector general.

In a special report (.pdf) dated Aug. 29, auditors cite "troubling displays of ineptitude" by contractor staff in responding to alarms, a failure to maintain critical security equipment and poor communications, among other weaknesses.

Security officers who heard the activists beating with a hammer the external wall of the highly enriched uranium processing and storage plant on complex grounds assumed the noise came from maintenance workers, the report says.

Michael Walli, 63, Megan Rice, 82, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, who dubbed themselves members of "Transform Now Plowshares," face charges (.pdf) of felony property destruction, felony property depredation and misdemeanor trespassing in connection with the incident. Rice is a Catholic nun (.pdf). According to the criminal complaint (.pdf), the trio cut through four fences with bolt cutters to reach the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility exterior within the Y-12 complex and spray-painted phrases including "Woe to the empire of blood" on the outside wall, also throwing blood onto it. The three pled not guilty during an Aug. 9 court appearance.

Walli, Rice and Boertje-Obed triggered numerous alarms in traversing complex grounds, but a security guard "was not promptly dispatched," auditors say. When one finally did arrive onto the scene, he did not immediately secure it nor neutralize the trespassers. In fact, the guard later told auditors that he did not notice the trespassers until they approached him in his vehicle "and 'surrendered.'"

Another officer had silenced a local alarm "without looking out of a gun port or available viewing glass" to assess the situation, auditors also say.

At the time, the National Nuclear Security Administration divided site security into two contracts, with maintenance and operations contractor B&W Y-12 (a partnership of Babcock and Wilcox and Bechtel) responsible for physical security systems, but security guards supplied by another contractor. NNSA has since made B&W Y-12 responsible for both security systems and personnel--and on Aug. 10 delivered a show cause notice (.pdf) to the partnership, giving it 30 days to make an argument why it shouldn't be fired. The notice was obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The facility halted operations about 2 weeks following the penetration while undergoing a security reorganization that included the suspension of some guards, the firing of some contractors and reassignment of some federal officials.

Among other mistakes cited by auditors were broken security cameras and insufficient priority given to their repair. One "critical fixed camera" focused on the area the trespassers penetrated had been out of service for about 6 months, auditors say.

They also say that security devices underwent perfunctory testing that only detected whether a feed came from the device rather than checking to see if all of the features were working. Auditors say it's likely that had one particular feature on a security device been operational, the trespassers would have been immediately detected after entering the security zone surrounding the uranium processing facility.

For more:
- download the special report, DOE/IG-0868 (.pdf)
- download the criminal complaint against Walli, Rice and Boertje-Obed (.pdf)
- download the grand jury indictment against the trespassers (.pdf)

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