D’Agostino, companies celebrate contract award, key step in NNSA transition

Y-12 National Security Complex

Y-12 National Security Complex (Submitted photo)

Less than two weeks before his retirement, a federal official celebrated the consolidated contract award announced Tuesday, calling it a key element in a long list of decisions and actions designed to reduce redundancies in national nuclear security work and make operations more efficient.

It reflects a change in how the National Nuclear Security Administration does business, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said during a Tuesday teleconference. The transition began several years ago.

“We embarked on a journey from an old Cold War nuclear enterprise to a 21st Century nuclear enterprise,” D’Agostino said. “I’m immensely proud of the team.”

The NNSA announced Tuesday that, after months of anticipation and three to four years’ worth of work, Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC, or CNS, had won a five-year contract to manage the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge and the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. The company will also manage construction of the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 and, after the first year, could manage tritium operations at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C.

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Y-12 security breach ‘obvious dereliction of duty’

Lawmakers criticized federal officials and contractors during congressional hearings this week on the July 28 security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex, demanding to know who had been fired and who had been responsible for repairing critical cameras that didn’t work.

“This level of intrusion into the perimeter of a highly secure nuclear weapons facility is unprecedented—and it is completely unacceptable,” said Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the U.S. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee. “It is outrageous to think that the greatest threat to the American public from weapons of mass destruction may be the incompetence of Department of Energy security.”

Legislators took aim at federal officials and the “mind-boggling incompetence” of contractors. They wanted to know how an 82-year-old nun was able to reach the “Fort Knox” of uranium, a building inside a high-security area at Y-12 surrounded by fences and protected by alarms and cameras—and where deadly force is authorized.

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U.S. House subcommittee grills federal officials on Y-12 security breach

Transform Now Plowshares

During a Wednesday hearing, a House subcommittee questioned federal officials about a July 28 intrusion into a high-security area at the Y-12 National Security Complex by the three anti-nuclear weapons activists pictured above. From left to right, the three are Michael R. Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed. (Submitted photo)

Members of a U.S. House subcommittee grilled federal officials during a Wednesday morning hearing on the July 28 security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex, calling it “appalling” and an “all-out failure,” and asking who had been fired and who was responsible for various problems—such as security cameras that didn’t work.

Some of the harshest criticism came from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican who represents the 7th District in middle and west Tennessee.

She cited a Washington Post report published online on Tuesday that said government investigators had warned of lax security at the site in classified reports nearly two years ago. Among the issues identified then were security cameras that didn’t operate, sloppy equipment maintenance, and poorly trained guards, the Post reported.

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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.

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