After three trespassing incidents involving five people in the past year, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced plans on Thursday to extend the boundary fence at the Y-12 National Security Complex along Scarboro Road.
The new fence will be relatively close to the road, an NNSA spokesman said. A field traditionally used for protests near the Y-12 sign at the entrance on Bear Creek Road would be behind the fence. The new fence would run along Scarboro Road from Bear Creek Road to New Hope Road, and it would also enclose New Hope Center, which is often used for public events.
The new fence, which would run along the U.S. government property line, is expected to be in place by April 4, the NNSA said.
“Events of the past several months have shown that there is a greater threat of trespassing on the site, and the costs for responding to this threat are increasing,” the NNSA said in a Thursday afternoon press release. ”Y-12 is taking conservative and appropriate measures to make such illegal actions more difficult.”
Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said he thinks the fence is designed to prevent the organization from having its peace vigils and demonstrations at the main entrance to the 811-acre plant, which is involved in nuclear weapons work and processes and stores uranium. Hutchison said OREPA is exploring legal options to challenge construction of the fence.
“I consider it a direct assault on our right to free assembly and free speech,” he said. “The government’s claim that it is for security are specious.”
Focused on stopping nuclear weapons production at Y-12, OREPA has had Sunday vigils at the plant for more than 13 years, as well as annual demonstrations, including one scheduled for April 6, two days after the temporary fence could be completed. If NNSA officials were concerned about security, Hutchison said, they could have replaced the barbed wire at the front of the plant with a taller fence years ago.
NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt declined to comment on any potential OREPA legal actions.
But he said the nonprofit organization could apply to use the New Hope Center. There are restrictions on the groups that use the facility, and details, including terms and conditions, are available online.
Wyatt said federal officials have a responsibility to fulfill their security mission.
“We’re having more trespassing,” he said. “We believe this action will improve Y-12′s overall security posture.”
He said the new fence will be located in a highly visible area. It will not be designed to keep people from crossing it, but it will let them know they should not go any farther. Those who cross it will be subject to state and federal charges, Wyatt said.
The NNSA said public access at New Hope Center will continue during normal working hours, even though it will now be behind the fence.
“The NNSA recognizes that these changes will create some inconveniences for the public,” it said. “However, NNSA and B&W Y-12 are responsible for maintaining the most secure environment possible to ensure the continued protection of Y-12. The additional fencing being installed is in addition to other measures completed in recent months to improve security at Y-12.”
B&W Y-12 operates Y-12 for NNSA.
The fence that will be erected by April 4 will be a temporary fence; a permanent fence is planned for a later date. Wyatt said the temporary fence will cost about $95,000, although some of that expense will be recouped later when the fence is re-used. The permanent fence will cost about $150,000.
Wyatt didn’t have details on the type of fencing or the total number of feet.
The most high-profile trespassing incident in the past year was the July 28 security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists cut through three fences in the high-security Protected Area, and splashed blood and spray-painted slogans on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where bomb-grade uranium is stored. But there have also been two other recent incidents, including a bicyclist cited for trespassing after he was found riding on the North Patrol Road earlier this month.
Note: This story was last updated at 5:22 p.m.