More than four months after three protesters broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex, a hole that the trio cut in a perimeter fence still hasn’t been repaired, an Oak Ridge group said Wednesday.
In a statement, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, which has supported the Y-12 protesters, said two OREPA members went to the nuclear weapons plant on Monday and, after 15 minutes of walking, found the spot where the protesters had cut through an outer fence. It was open from the ground up to a spot about four feet high—a hole large enough for a person to squeeze through, the group said.
But in a statement Thursday afternoon, federal officials said the fence has been repaired.
OREPA Coordinator Ralph Hutchison said Y-12 “should not have large holes in the fence that establishes the first line of defense for our nuclear weapons facilities.” He said the breach was visible from at least 20 yards away.
“It says to me that with all the post July 28 security activity, and despite the assurances given to Congress and others, no one had taken the simple step of walking the entire perimeter fence to verify its integrity,” Hutchison said.
He said the failure to fix the fence shows “managerial incompetence” by the National Nuclear Security Administration and B&W Y-12, its managing and operating contractor.
“Since July 28, the public has heard assurances from the Secretary of Energy on down that the Plowshares action was a wake-up call, that security lapses were intolerable, that attention to detail was paramount, that all steps were being taken to address the lessons learned—and yet the hole in the fence had not been discovered, nor had it been repaired,” Hutchison said. “There is no excuse.”
Federal spokesman Steven Wyatt said the perimeter fence on the north side of Y-12, which runs next to the Scarboro neighborhood, is a boundary marker, and it has no-trespassing signs.
“It is not designed to prevent individuals from crossing it, and it is not considered a security measure,” Wyatt said.
He said the barrier is a six-foot chain link fence in some spots and a four-foot barbed wire cattle fence in others.
“Fences of this type along site boundaries are common at U.S. Department of Energy/NNSA facilities across the country and are in place as a method for notifying the public of a site boundary,” Wyatt said. “The cut in the fence has been repaired.”
Wyatt is public affairs manager for the NNSA Production Office, or NPO.
OREPA said a white plastic cable tie hung conspicuously from the fence on Monday. The tie had been placed there by the protesters, who tried to close the hole behind them as they sneaked into the plant before dawn on Saturday, July 28, the group said.
Wyatt said he couldn’t comment on the facts related to the federal criminal case against the three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli.
On Thursday morning, he said the fence is not in a high-security area, and security officers patrol it regularly.
“Its only purpose is to serve as a demarcation of the federal property line,” Wyatt said.
He said there have been many changes in the Y-12 high-security area, including more wiring and other measures he can’t discuss.
“We’ve made significant improvements in security since July 28,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt said fences at Y-12 are repaired when damaged.
OREPA also questioned whether the entry point identified by the government was, in fact, the one used by the three anti-nuclear weapons activists, who called themselves Transform Now Plowshares.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee, which is prosecuting the case against the trio, said it had no comment because the case is pending in court.
Boertje-Obed, one of the protesters, was not immediately available for comment Thursday morning.
The protesters allegedly crossed the perimeter fence on July 28, hiked over Pine Ridge, cut through more fences at Y-12, evaded guards, and splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on the $549 million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where bomb-grade uranium is stored. They have been charged with injuring national defense premises, property destruction, and property depredation, and they face potential penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
A trial has been scheduled for May 7 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
The unprecedented security breach at Y-12, which has more than 500 guards, trigged a series of staff changes, federal investigations, a temporary halt in nuclear operations, two congressional hearings, and a contract termination for security contractor WSI Oak Ridge.