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USA’s nuclear weapons facilities are far from secure

Our Nuclear Insecurity Complex HUFFINGTON POST, 11/14/2012  By Peter Stockton Back in July, an 82-year-old nun and two fellow peace activists breached the security    at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Tennessee. The red-faced federal officials who subsequently promised thorough oversight proclaimed they had “no tolerance ” for that kind of negligence.

Since then, it’s only gotten worse for the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — the semi autonomous agency in charge of securing nuclear materials at our national laboratories and weapons production facilities.

An inspector general’s report    found that a Y-12 security contractor got caught cheating just before a security performance evaluation administered after the break-in. Then last month, Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor and the Albuquerque Journal reported that a new and expensive security system at the Los Alamos National Laboratory  in New Mexico is so botched it may require Congress to rescue it with up to $41 million in emergency funding.
The federal government did go ahead and fire that Y-12 security contractor, Wackenhut Oak Ridge. But that doesn’t address its role in loosening oversight of the contractors who run our nuclear facilities. The hands-off approach to contractors  championed by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is one of the reasons why we’re facing a security crisis in our nuclear weapons complex.

Y-12 houses 300 to 400 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium, enough for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The Energy Department has repeatedly claimed that the security at the Tennessee site is robust enough to defend against more than a dozen heavily armed terrorists with inside knowledge of security procedures.

Really? Then how did an 82-year-old nun and her 63-year-old and 57-year-old accomplices manage to cut through three fences and hang a banner on the most sensitive storage building in the entire complex?

To make a bomb as devastating as the one dropped on Hiroshima, all a terrorist needs is 17 pounds of nuclear material. Think about it.

The situation at Los Alamos is just as troubling. The National Nuclear Security Administration warned the contractor as early as 2010 that a new security project was in danger of being late and over budget. And now, two years later, the agency is demanding that the contractor fully disclose all of the project’s problems and show that the nuclear materials stored at the New Mexico facility are safe.

Good idea. But how did the project get this far and so over budget when the agency with oversight power has an office right in Los Alamos that’s supposed to oversee the contractor?

It really looks like the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration take their orders from contractors and provide little or no oversight……

November 15, 2012 - Posted by | safety, USA

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