Responding to morning traffic delays at its entrances, the Y-12 National Security Complex has asked some employees to volunteer to come into work later in the day starting July 8.
Significant traffic delays have been an issue since a lost driver who did not have a badge or permission to be at Y-12 said she was waved into the nuclear weapons plant on June 6.
Since then, Y-12 officials have said the plant has changed its approach to checking badges at the east and west gates. The more rigorous security checks are “here to stay,” B&W Y-12 General Manager Chuck Spencer said in a June 27 message to employees.
But the new procedures have led to traffic delays, particularly at the east entrance between 5:15 and 6:15 a.m., when vehicles can back up as far as the former Dean Stallings Ford on South Illinois Avenue.
Spencer said he has asked plant managers to determine how many of their employees can volunteer to move to a later shift beginning July 8, starting work at 7 a.m. or later, when delays are minimal.
“While we’re concentrating on people working in New Hope Center and Jack Case Center, this also applies to other organizations whose work doesn’t require them to be here so early,” Spencer said. “The intent is to ease the traffic situation for those who have to be here early in order to meet their work obligations, primarily in support of operations, maintenance, and other functions that must start at 6 a.m.”
After the July 4 holiday weekend, Y-12 will have the results of traffic studies at the east and west entrances on Bear Creek Road and will know who has volunteered to arrive at the plant at some time other than during the most hectic period between 5:15 and 6:15 a.m., Spencer said.
“We will use this input to give us more insight into other changes we can make to alleviate the traffic delays,” he said.
Spencer said he recognizes the impact that schedule changes can have on workers’ personal lives, so he would prefer to keep them voluntary.
“That said, if we aren’t able to get enough folks to volunteer, we will have to consider mandatory schedule changes as a next step,” he said.
On Monday and Tuesday last week, three Oak Ridge Police Department cars were observed on Scarboro Road near the plant, which, among other things, stores highly enriched uranium and works on nuclear weapons parts.
Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi said Y-12 hasn’t asked for help, but the police department is assisting.
“We’re helping when we need to, and we’re monitoring and making sure traffic is flowing smoothly and motorists are driving safely,” Akgai said. “We try to be as proactive as we can.”
About 7,000 people enter and leave the plant each day, including subcontractors and service workers, said Ellen Boatner, B&W Y-12 spokeswoman. She said B&W Y-12 itself has about 5,000 employees, and there also about 100 federal workers at the site.
After the lost driver was waved in June 6, the National Nuclear Security Administration said security police officers at Y-12 did not follow established procedures that include physically inspecting badges and confirming the identity of each individual entering the site.
In a June 21 e-mail, NNSA Production Office spokesman Steven Wyatt said five employees were suspended after that incident, including three security police officers and two supervisors.
“The contractor has concluded their investigation, assigned initial disciplinary action, and is retraining the individuals,” Wyatt said. “Any pending disciplinary actions will be in accordance with the company human resources procedures and the collective bargaining agreement between the company and the union representing the security police officers.”
Wyatt said B&W Y-12 and the NNSA Production Office had concluded a causal analysis.
“A number of adjustments have been and continue to be implemented to fulfill security requirements and efficiently get the Y-12 workforce into the site each day,” Wyatt said. “Delays in entry times have been acknowledged, and efforts to alleviate these backups are under way.”
He declined to respond to a press release from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, a longtime critic of the nuclear weapons work at Y-12. That nonprofit organization said the NNSA is “culturally incapable of establishing true security or requiring its contractors to do it” and recommended that future facilities, including the proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility, be put under ground.
Citing several recent trespassing incidents, including the July 28 security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists cut through fences and vandalized a uranium storage building, OREPA said Y-12 security “cannot continue to depend on everyone who gets through being an errant traveler or a peace messenger.
“We live here,” OREPA Coordinator Ralph Hutchison said. “The time to fix security at Y-12 is now, not when the plant lies in smoke and ruin and everyone around here has highly enriched uranium in their lungs.”
The NNSA has said sensitive materials were not at risk during the July 28 and June 6 incidents.
In a June 19 message to employees, Spencer said Y-12 was continuing to refine its security “without sacrificing the requisite focus.
“Some employees have suggested changes such as the addition of incoming lanes or opening other portals,” Spencer said. “These and other suggestions are being evaluated, but any modifications must be balanced against security and safety concerns as well as operational and budgetary constraints.”
In the meantime, Spencer said, he regrets the delays and will not be satisfied until they are reduced to as low a level as possible.
“I ask for your continued patience and flexibility as we resolve this problem,” Spencer said. “We will solve this, but I need your patience and support as we do it together.”
Spencer’s most recent message included tips for workers. Among them were to have badges ready at the security gate, roll down tinted windows, consider carpooling, use the west gate if possible, and leave motorcycles at home for now because it takes longer for them to go through security.