Y-12 touts improved security after breach

Y-12 touts improved security after breach

December 29th, 2013 by The Knoxville News Sentinel in Local Regional News

Razor wire has been put in place at the site where protesters cut through fences on July 28, 2012, to reach the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. - One of the embarrassing parts of the July 28, 2012, security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was the relative ease with which three protesters were able to cut their way into the high-security Protected Area and reach the plant's storage facility for bomb-grade uranium.

A slew of security improvements have been made since then, including construction of new barriers at the fence line near the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.

In response to a long-standing request from the News Sentinel, the Y-12 contractor recently released a photograph that shows the bales of concertina wire that have been put in place to stall the entry of anyone approaching the sensitive area on the ground.

During the pre-dawn break-in at Y-12, the Plowshares protesters -- Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed -- managed to cut through a perimeter fence and scale Pine Ridge on the plant's north side. Upon crossing the ridge and surveying the plant, the peace activists found themselves directly facing their destination, the uranium storehouse.

After crossing Bear Creek Road, the plant's main entryway, the three used bolt-cutters to cut through a series of three sensor-laden fences, which formed what's known as the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Assessment Systems. Because some of the cameras, sensors and alarms didn't work, Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed were surprised to able to quickly cut through three fences and reach the uranium facility without being touched or even detected.

Multiple investigations criticized the Y-12 security setup, questioning why the Oak Ridge facility had many, many security barriers in place around the plant and wouldn't have a beefier response near one of the high-security facilities.

Construction of new barriers at the site took place within a few months of the incident that attracted national and even international attention. Many more security enhancements have followed.

In a recent statement to the plant's employees, B&W Y-12 general manager Chuck Spencer addressed some of the security changes that took place in fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30.

Spencer said the contractor "dramatically improved" the security infrastructure at Y-12, including the central alarm station. The changes reduced the number of false alarms and reduced the time needed to repair critical security elements when they were found to be deficient or inoperable.

He also cited B&W taking over the protective force operations from WSI (also known as G4S and Wackenhut), the security contractor that was fired following the 2012 security incident.

"And while we had a few missteps as we improved disciplined operations in our new security force, the improvements are obvious," Spencer said.

Among the 2013 security problems were the accidental discharge of a machine gun inside an armored vehicle and an individual who was able to drive through the plant's main entrance without even an identification check.

B&W cited a long list of improvements. Those included:

• Completely reorganized the Safeguards, Security and Emergency Services organization within Y-12, establishing a deputy GM for security operations.

• Improved the security of Y-12's perimeter by installing 2,900 linear feet of concertina wire.

• Installed 27,000 linear feet of new animal fencing around the PIDAS to reduce "nuisance alarms."

• Added a protective force supervisor and operators to improve the plant's command and control center.

• Completed fiscal 2013 within the security budget, following a 47 percent overrun in 2012 in response to the high-profile failure.

• Distributed across the complex a packet of 14 lessons learned from the July 28, 2012, security incident.

• Replaced 75 low-pressure sodium lights with LED lights in "key zones" in the PIDAS that greatly improved "camera assessments during hours of darkness."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, during a recent visit to Oak Ridge, said he thought there had been significant security improvements at Y-12 since the infamous break-in.

"Very much so," the Ooltewah Republican said. "The margin for error is zero. This was an event that obviously had national implications. ... The outpouring of inquiries from Congress and the press clearly showed that there was a mistake made, a vulnerability.

"In this world in which we live, again, the margin for error is zero. They've made a tremendous amount of improvement. But it's something we need to continue to monitor in Congress and (the Department of Energy)."

Contact Frank Munger at 865-342-6329 or mungerf@knoxnews.com.