A rapid response was required after the unprecedented security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex last month, a federal official said this week.
And the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration have both taken aggressive steps to restore and enhance security at the plant, the nation’s main production facility for many nuclear weapons components, the official said.
“Secretary Chu has made clear that the security of our nation’s nuclear material is the department’s most important responsibility, and he has no tolerance for federal or contractor personnel who cannot or will not do their jobs,” DOE spokesman Damien LaVera said. “As the secretary has made clear, the recent incident at Y-12 was a completely unacceptable breach of security and an important wake-up call for our entire complex. The severity of the failure of leadership at Y-12 demands swift, strong, and decisive action by the department.”
LaVera said top executives, including B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Darrel P. Kohlhorst, have been removed, and top security experts have been brought to Y-12 to enhance site security and make structural and cultural changes to appropriately secure the facility.
“The department is confident that these aggressive actions will restore and enhance security at Y-12, but we will leave no stone unturned to find out what went wrong and will take any step necessary to ensure security at this site and across our enterprise,” he said.
A show cause notice has been issued to B&W Y-12 that gives that company, the plant’s managing and operating contractor, 30 days to explain why the NNSA should not proceed to terminate its contract.
Chuck Spencer, B&W Y-12’s new president and general manager, issued a brief statement this week responding to the show cause notice.
“For more than a decade, B&W Y-12 has a maintained a strong record at the Y-12 National Security Complex, both in meeting mission deliverables and in operating safely and securely,” Spencer said. “Since the event occurred, we have implemented a number of corrective actions, including additional security training for more than 4,500 employees and integration of the protective force scope of work into the management and operations contract. We will continue to work to ensure the highest level of security is attained at the site and respond to any and all concerns expressed by NNSA.”
The company’s contract ends Sept. 30, but the NNSA has told B&W Y-12 it plans to exercise an option to extend it for up to two three-month periods, federal spokesman Steven Wyatt said Thursday.
Federal officials outlined other steps taken since the unprecedented July 28 security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists allegedly sneaked into a high-security area, cutting through fences before spraying paint and splashing blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where bomb-grade uranium is stored.
Those other steps include removing B&W Y-12’s chief operating officer and deploying an extra senior-level federal official to ensure oversight over contractor security operations. The official will oversee the work being done by B&W Y-12 and led by retired Gen. Rodney Johnson, the deputy general manager for B&W Pantex in Texas who has been assigned to B&W Y‑12 as the deputy general manager for security.
The July 28 intrusion is under investigation by the DOE Inspector General, and Secretary Chu has also ordered an independent review by the DOE Office of Health, Safety, and Security. In addition, the NNSA has asked Brig. Gen. Sandra Finan to conduct an assessment of the oversight model and security organizational structure at NNSA headquarters.
Here are other steps taken earlier, as outlined by federal officials:
- Increase the number of protective force patrols that review alarm assessments, and add more security patrols at Y-12;
- Suspend the guards involved in the incident;
- Remove Lee Brooks, the general manager of the protective force, and two members of his leadership team from their positions;
- Re-assign a federal official responsible for oversight of security at the site, pending the outcome of the investigation;
- Direct site managers at all DOE facilities with nuclear material to give written assurances that all nuclear facilities are in full compliance with security policies and directives, as well as internal policies established at the site level.
Nuclear operations were temporarily suspended at Y-12 starting Aug. 1, but those operations resumed Wednesday.
Spencer called that “great news for Y-12 and a major step in a positive direction.
“Everyone at Y-12 knows their job is important to our nation, and I applaud our employees for their efforts in returning us to operations,” Spencer said.
B&W Y-12 is a partnership of The Babcock and Wilcox Co. and Bechtel National Inc. that has operated the 811-acre Y-12 plant for the NNSA since 2000. Y-12 was built during World War II to enrich uranium for the world’s first atomic weapons.