Note: This story was last updated at 9:32 a.m. Aug. 15.
Many security cameras weren’t working when three anti-nuclear weapons activists sneaked into the Y-12 National Security Complex early in the morning on Saturday, July 28, a federal official said in a critical letter released Tuesday evening.
One of those cameras was near a fence penetrated by the protesters, who allegedly used bolt-cutters to slice through three fences before they walked to a high-security building known as the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where bomb-grade uranium is stored.
The intruders, who allegedly spray-painted slogans and splashed human blood on the HEUMF, set off many alarms in a “multi-layered sensor system” in a fence line, but the Y-12 protective force failed to react, the official said.
When guards alerted by the alarms responded with a vehicle patrol, it took them too long to arrive at the scene, and once there, they “failed to take appropriate steps to take control of the situation,” said the official, National Nuclear Security Administration Contracting Officer Jill Y. Albaugh. She said a responding supervisor finally took control and removed the protesters.
Written Friday, Albaugh’s letter gives Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, the plant’s managing and operating contractor, 30 days to show why the federal government should not proceed to terminate its contract.
The letter is called a show cause notice, and it was sent to Darrel P. Kohlhorst, former B&W Y-12 president and general manager. His surprise retirement was announced Friday, one in a series of stunning moves since the unprecedented security breach.
“Our preliminary fact-findings reveal that contributing and direct causes of the security event include an inappropriate Y-12 cultural mindset, as well as a severe lapse of discipline and performance in meeting conduct of operations expectations,” Albaugh wrote to Kohlhorst, who has been replaced by Charles “Chuck” G. Spencer. “I am concerned that such issues may exist in other areas of Y-12 operations—and not just in the security program.”
Her letter assigns preliminary blame to both B&W Y-12 and G4S Government Solutions Inc., the plant’s security contractor that operates as WSI Oak Ridge. She said the plans and procedures for responding to multiple alarms at Y-12 were inadequate, proper measures were not in place to cover the cameras that weren’t working, and there was an unnecessary delay in repairing and replacing cameras.
An NNSA official said late Thursday evening that the cameras have been repaired.
Motivated by their religious beliefs, the protesters allegedly entered Y-12 from a ridge on the north side of the plant on July 28, and they were able to cross the Perimeter Intrusion Detection Assessment System, or PIDAS, that surrounds the 150-acre Protected Area on the west end of Y-12. They traversed an area where deadly force is authorized.
Their ability to get to the fortress-like HEUMF has raised questions about the plant’s highly touted security system and led to a string of personnel changes, including at B&W Y-12 and WSI Oak Ridge. There has also been a temporary halt in nuclear operations, and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has called the security breach “unacceptable and deeply troubling.”
Albaugh said B&W Y-12 and WSI-Oak Ridge failed to “properly coordinate and integrate” to ensure adequate security at the 811-acre site, which was built during World War II to enrich uranium for the world’s first atomic bombs and is now the nation’s main production facility for many nuclear weapons components.
Other events since the July 28 intrusion, including procedural noncompliance, have demonstrated “a serious breakdown in the security operations at Y-12, including a lack of leadership and significant tactical, procedural, training, and communication deficiencies,” Albaugh wrote.
G4S Government Solutions Inc. was responsible for some of the issues while it was a prime contractor to NNSA, but that doesn’t alleviate B&W Y-12′s contractual obligations, Albaugh said. NNSA’s preliminary findings “indicate that both B&W Y-12 and WSI-OR are in substantial violation of certain subject contract clauses, as well as certain DOE orders, and its own internal procedures and processes.”
In its response to the show cause notice, B&W Y-12 is expected to say what steps it will take to comply and fix problems. Since B&W Y-12 now oversees the protective force part of the WSI-OR contract, B&W Y-12 is also expected to outline the corrective actions for WSI-OR, Albaugh’s letter said.
Investigations of the intrusion by the three protesters—57-year-old house painter Greg Boertje-Obed, 82-year-old nun Megan Rice, and 63-year-old Catholic worker Michael R. Walli—are under way, including one by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General.
There’s been talk of a possible furlough for some Y-12 workers, but officials at the site wouldn’t comment except to say no employees had been furloughed as of Monday.
Meanwhile, the activists, who called their intrusion Transform Now Plowshares, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts each of federal property destruction, property depredation, and trespassing. They face an Oct. 10 trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
Walli has said they were at the plant at least two hours, but an NNSA official has declined to comment on the length of time the intruders were at Y-12, where they also reportedly hung banners on the HEUMF, offered bread to guards, and read a statement.
Read a copy of Albaugh’s letter here.