It was a “major wake-up call,” but last month’s security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex should not hurt employment or work in Oak Ridge, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday.
He said the intrusion by three anti-nuclear weapons activists into a high-security area at Y-12 actually demonstrates the need for a newer, more secure uranium processing facility, or UPF. There has been some concern in Oak Ridge about how the unprecedented security breach at Y-12 might affect funding or planning for the UPF, which could cost up to $6.5 billion and be the largest construction project in Tennessee history.
But Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said some Congressional representatives might actually want to act quicker now to build the UPF, which would consolidate enriched uranium operations at Y-12, including assembly and dismantlement work.
He said funding for the 350,000-square-foot building is a presidential priority, and work there would help a range of national efforts, including isotope production and the naval nuclear submarine program. The nation needs a facility that is operational, modern, and secure, Corker said.
However, it was one of the projects opposed by the three activists, Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walli. They allegedly sneaked into Y-12 early in the morning on Saturday, July 28, and cut through three fences before spray-painting slogans and splashing human blood on a relatively new uranium storage building at Y-12, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Corker had a classified briefing at Y-12 on Tuesday, and he said the activists should not have gotten as far as they did. They penetrated the Protected Area on the west end of Y-12, a place where deadly force is authorized.
After a business luncheon in Knoxville on Thursday, Corker blamed human error and problems with protocols and standards that “weren’t aligned” between operational and security forces.
“The intruders were never near anything sensitive, but they should never have been on the premise,” Corker said.
“The officials at Y-12 are taking this very, very seriously,” he continued. “They’re taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”
Corker said the Y-12 security breach will affect security procedures at other National Nuclear Security Administration sites. He said the NNSA and its contractors are acting swiftly to resolve problems.
“The security breach is not an issue that is going to affect us moving ahead,” Corker said.
Still, the mood at the plant has been very sober, he said. Some staff members who have worked at Y-12 for years are no longer employed there.
“I don’t think anyone likes to see that kind of thing occur,” Corker said.