Guest column: B&W Y-12 improved Y-12, made a big difference in the community

David Bradshaw

David Bradshaw

By David Bradshaw

It has been almost 14 years since B&W Y-12 LLC took over operation of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.

Soon a new contractor will be in charge. Thanks to the work of the B&W Y-12 team and many others, they will inherit a very different and much improved facility.

One only needs to approach Y-12 to see the changes. The first thing you will see is the New Hope Center, built as a public-private partnership and located just outside the secure gates of Y-12 to make sure public access is easy. It has conference space, an outstanding auditorium, and a museum that highlights everything from Y-12’s critical role in the Manhattan Project, to the NASA “moon box” built by Y-12, to Y-12’s role in winning the Cold War. Y-12 had always been a secret place and this space built with the public in mind was a major change.

The modernization process is even more obvious inside the gate. Y-12 completed and opened the new Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. It’s a state of the art building. The new Uranium Processing Facility will be just as impressive with design work well underway. Both facilities allow the U.S. Department of Energy to close down old buildings that date back to the Manhattan Project. With the HEUMF and UPF in place, Y-12 will be far more efficient with operations not only more secure, but centralized in one place instead of being spread out over several locations. [Read more...]

U.S. attorney: Y-12 security compromises will be vigorously prosecuted

Bill Killian

William C. “Bill” Killian

U.S. Attorney William C. “Bill” Killian commended the sentences given to the three Y-12 protesters on Tuesday, and he said he hoped it would send a strong message.

“The Y-12 National Security Complex plays a critical role in our country’s national defense,” Killian said in a Wednesday statement. “People cannot take the law into their own hands and unlawfully intrude upon sensitive government facilities. Those who violate the law and compromise the security of the Y-12 National Security Complex will be vigorously prosecuted.”

The three anti-nuclear weapons activists were convicted of sabotage in May 2013 for breaking into Y-12 on July 28, 2012, cutting through high-security fences, and splashing blood and spray-painting slogans on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. The fortress-like HEUMF stores most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium. [Read more...]

Judge says Y-12 protesters not contrite as snow delays sentencing

Y-12 Plowshares Protesters

Pictured above are the three anti-nuclear weapons protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, 2012, and vandalized a uranium storage building. From left, they are Michael Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

KNOXVILLE—The three protesters who cut through fences and vandalized a uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012 have not shown contrition or accepted responsibility for what they’ve done, a federal judge said during a Tuesday sentencing hearing.

The three anti-nuclear weapons activists—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walli—have acknowledged that they splashed human blood, hung crime scene tape, and hammered on the side of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility on July 28, 2012. They have freely given interviews to reporters and admitted that they spray-painted slogans—they called them “Biblical graffiti”—on the side of the HEUMF, which stores most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium.

But acknowledging their actions is not the same as contrition, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar suggested during a Tuesday sentencing hearing at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Courthouse in Knoxville. To accept responsibility, the trio would have to show contrition and remorse, and acknowledge that what they did was wrong, Thapar said.

However, the defendants have fought the government at every step in the 18-month-old case, the judge said. [Read more...]

Y-12 repairs roll-up door that failed to close during fire alarm at HEUMF

Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility

Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (Photo courtesy of NNSA/B&W Y-12)

Workers have repaired a roll-up door that failed to close when a fire alarm system was activated at a high-security uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in May.

“The fire alarms were activated due to smoke from a belt of a fan with a failed bearing, but there was no fire,” the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said in a May 24 report. “The signal to the door closure device should cause a cable to release, allowing the door to close, but this did not occur because permanent deformation (kinks) in the cable caused it to knot when tension was released.” [Read more...]

B&W Y-12 names Bill Tindal vice president for production

Bill Tindal has been named B&W Y-12 vice president for production, effective July 26. He is replacing Joel Duling, who has accepted a position at Nuclear Fuel Services, a subsidiary of Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Operations Group Inc., in Erwin, Tenn.

“Bill is uniquely suited for this role given his production expertise and years of experience,” said B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Chuck Spencer. “Joel has done a great job for Y-12, and we are excited for him and wish him well in his new opportunity.” [Read more...]

Y-12 security update outlines improvements since July 28 intrusion

Y-12 Security Repairs Chart

Since three protesters broke in last summer, security cameras and sensors have been repaired and replaced. There are more security patrols at the Y-12 National Security Complex and more staff in the Central Alarm Station. And officials and workers are trying to reduce the false and nuisance alarm rate.

Those are among the improvements highlighted in a Y-12 security update published in May. It said Y-12 quickly began making changes after the July 28 security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists broke into the plant before dawn, cut through three fences in the high-security Protected Area, and splashed human blood, spray-painted slogans, and hammered on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored.

“Y-12 has carefully examined the circumstances that led to the event, developed actions to fix the problems that were discovered, and is applying the lessons learned to our security posture and operations,” the security update said. “These actions included adding key leadership personnel, restoring to service critical security elements, and refining alarm system components to enhance reliability.” [Read more...]

Energy Secretary Moniz visits Y-12 National Security Complex

Energy Secretary Visits Y-12

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, right, tours the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility during his visit Monday to the Y-12 National Security Complex. Joining him are, from left, B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Chuck Spencer, Julie Huff of B&W Y-12′s Materials Management Organization, B&W Y-12 Senior Vice President of Security Rod Johnson, and NNSA Production Office Manager Steve Erhart.

New U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the Y-12 National Security Complex this week.

Before touring production and storage facilities at the site, Moniz held an all-hands meeting with Y-12, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and federal employees at Y-12′s New Hope Center. Joining him at the meeting was U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge. [Read more...]

Y-12 camera didn’t work, hammering trespassers mistaken for maintenance

Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility

Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (Photo courtesy of NNSA/B&W Y-12)

Note: This story was last updated at 10:40 p.m.

A special federal report published Wednesday documents alleged failures that allowed three anti-nuclear weapons activists to sneak into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, penetrate a high-security area, and spray-paint slogans and splash human blood on a building that stores bomb-grade uranium.

Among the findings: A critical security camera in an area penetrated by the protesters hadn’t worked for about six months, and guards assumed the trespassers were maintenance workers when they used hammers to beat on the walls of the uranium storage building, officially known as the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.

The failures in the $150 million security system at Y-12, which has “long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most secure facilities in the United States,” raised serious questions, said the 18-page report by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General.

“We identified troubling displays of ineptitude in responding to alarms, failures to maintain critical security equipment, over-reliance on compensatory measures, misunderstanding of security protocols, poor communications, and weaknesses in contract and resource management,” said the report, signed by Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman.

[Read more...]

Y-12 cameras weren’t working, guards failed to react, federal letter says

Transform Now Plowshares

The three anti-nuclear weapons activists pictured above sneaked into a high-security area at the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28 and triggered a security crisis that has led to personnel changes, a temporary halt in nuclear operations, and a potential termination of a federal contract with B&W Y-12. From left to right, the three protesters are Michael R. Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed. (Submitted photo)

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.

[Read more...]