The chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces has introduced legislation that would put the military in charge of security of nuclear weapons and special nuclear materials at certain federal sites, including the Y-12 National Security Complex.
The legislation is in response to the unprecedented July 28 security breach at Y-12, according to a press release from U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican.
Security at Y-12, including security systems and personnel, has been provided by contractors B&W Y-12 and WSI Oak Ridge.
Turnerâ€™s legislation would transfer responsibility for providing security at certain National Nuclear Safety Administration nuclear weapons facilities to the U.S. Department of Defense. Y-12 is an NNSA site.
Under the bill, the military would provide security for nuclear weapons and special nuclear material at NNSA sites â€œin the same manner as it does for nuclear weapons in military custody,â€ the press release said.
â€œShifting security to the military provides a number of advantages over the current system,â€ Turner said. â€œOur military has the capabilities, training, and cultural mindset needed to secure the nationâ€™s most powerful weapons.â€
Under his bill, the military would also provide security for transporting nuclear weapons.
Turnerâ€™s subcommittee was one of two that heard from U.S. Department of Energy and NNSA officials during hearings on Sept. 12 and 13. The other was the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
Lawmakers criticized federal officials and contractors during those hearings, demanding to know, among other things, who had been fired and who had been responsible for repairing critical cameras that didnâ€™t work.
They asked know how an 82-year-old nun and two other anti-nuclear weapons activists were able to reach the â€œFort Knoxâ€ of uranium. That building, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, is the nationâ€™s primary storehouse for enriched uranium, and it is inside a high-security area at Y-12 surrounded by fences and protected by alarms and cameras. The three protestersâ€”Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walliâ€”allegedly cut through three fences and splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on the HEUMF.
â€œLast week, my subcommittee heard directly from NNSA officials and experts on the Y-12 incident and the alarming lapse of security,â€ Turner said. â€œOn a bipartisan basis, we were stunned by the series of failures, at all levels, that enabled this incident to occur. We were also dismayed by the lack of accountability in responsible federal officials. It is clear that the NNSA is broken and we must take immediate action to ensure the security of the nationâ€™s nuclear materials.â€
Y-12 makes parts for every weapon in the nationâ€™s nuclear arsenal.
During the hearings, lawmakers and federal officials also briefly discussed whether security forces at sites like Y-12 should be federalized.
Turnerâ€™s legislation, titled the Securing Our Nuclear Weapons and Facilities Act, is co-sponsored by representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Austin Scott of Georgia, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Mike Rogers of Alabama, and Jon Fleming of Louisiana.
Turner said the NNSA was originally created by Congress because of major security and mismanagement problems at DOE.
â€œFor 12 years, DOE and NNSA have been saying they will get things rightâ€”this latest incident proves once again that they havenâ€™t,â€ Turner said. â€œI am not willing to risk having security for our nuclear weapons continue to reside inside this broken system.â€
The security breach at Y-12 has led to a series of investigations, personnel changes, and a temporary halt in nuclear operations. B&W Y-12 and WSI Oak Ridge could both lose their contracts. (See previous coverage here.)
Meanwhile, the three protesters have been charged with property destruction, property depredation, and trespassing. They face a Feb. 26, 2013, trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.