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Nuclear weapons lab security – like a fish, it rots from the head down

Where’s the Oversight at Nuclear Labs? Hands-Off Approach Is Recipe for Disaster HUFFINGTON POST,  Project on Government Oversight (POGO)  08/10/2012 By Peter Stockton and Lydia Dennett As the saying goes, “The fish rots from the head down.” This is certainly the case at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where an 82-year-old nun and two accomplices recently broke in, raising serious questions about the Department of Energy’s (DOE) security strategy.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement provided to the Knoxville News Sentinel  on Monday: “The department has no tolerance for security breaches at any of our sites, and I am committed to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable.” But there is no denying that Y-12 was a giant failure of federal oversight. Now the people being axed are lower-level employees rather than those who have allowed the security standards to fall far below acceptable levels, such as Secretary Chu, himself.

Secretary Chu should be the first on the chopping block. He has been preaching for years  that government overseers should get off the back of the contractors and everything will be fine. Then, of course, he is shocked when Y-12 is successfully attacked by an 82-year-old nun. After only one year in the position, Secretary Chu’s deputy secretary, Daniel B Poneman, sent a memorandum  (PDF) to the department with a safety and security reform plan aimed at curtailing pesky government oversight. “Contractors are provided the flexibility to tailor and implement safety programs in light of their situation without excessive Federal oversight or overly prescriptive Departmental requirements,” the memo said.

It should be clear by now that the current culture at DOE and its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is to take their orders from contractors and provide little or no oversight. As the previous head of contractor-operated laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Secretary Chu made clear his disdain for federal oversight, DOE insiders told the Project ON Government Oversight (POGO). In fact, he’s been successful in creating a culture of federal hands off the contractors in the weapons complex.

Some in Congress also were persuaded by the nuclear laboratories to weaken oversight. The House of Representives passed, H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 , which includes provisions that would make NNSA a more autonomous agency, taking important authority away from DOE, and severely undermining nuclear security and safety.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative , if this legislation becomes laws, DOE will only be able to “object to an NNSA policy or rule if the Energy secretary submits justification to the congressional Armed Services committees ‘and a period of 15 days has elapsed since such justification was submitted.'” This complete hands-off approach clearly isn’t working and should certainly not be encouraged by Congress.

One can’t help but wonder why it took the Secretary a week to issue a statement on the Y-12 break-in and send his oversight team to the facility. It’s also curious why security was determined “excellent” and “good” in Y-12’s performance appraisal  last year……

After POGO questioned security  at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2008, POGO was assured that the security at the lab was excellent–but that simply wasn’t true . Livermore also grossly failed all three scenarios of a force on force and the decision was made to de-inventory the site; it is currently about 98 percent completed. Why hasn’t there been an Independent Oversight force on force at Y-12 since 2009? Down the road from Y-12 is Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has more than a ton of bomb-grade uranium (233). It is pathetically guarded. There was recently a sleeping guard incident  at Building 3019, a repository for uranium (233). Independent Oversight has been told not to test security at Building 3019 because it would surely fail. Of course, Secretary Chu would be shocked if something happened at Building 3019 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  …


August 11, 2012 - Posted by | safety, USA

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