The hammering on the wall of America’s premier storage vault for nuclear-weapons grade uranium in pitch-darkness six weeks ago was loud enough to be heard by security guards. But they assumed incorrectly that workmen were making an after-hours repair, and blithely ignored it.
Minutes earlier, a perimeter camera had caught an image of intruders—not workmen—breaching an eight-foot high security fence around the sensitive facility outside Knoxville, Tenn. But the guard operating the camera had missed it. A different camera stationed over another fence—also breached by the intruders—was out of service, a defect the protective force had ignored for 6 months.
In theory, the pounding might have been the work of a squad of terrorists preparing to plant a powerful explosive in the wall of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a half-billion dollar vault that stores the makings of more than 10,000 nuclear bombs. Instead, it was a group of three peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, a Bible, and several hammers.
The casual and relatively swift penetration of the site’s defenses on July 28 by the activists has provoked their felony indictment on federal charges. But it has also provoked new troubles for nuclear weapons contractors that have until recently had large influence in Washington, and for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the increasingly embattled steward of America’s dwindling but still fearsome arsenal of nuclear weaponry.
“This incident raises important questions about the security of Category I nuclear materials across the complex,” NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino, a Bush administration holdover, said on Aug. 28. He promised to hold “our team” accountable for making the reforms necessary to assure such materials are adequately protected. Since the break-in, five senior officials at security contractor WSI-Oak Ridge and the main contractor responsible for HEUMF operations—Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, LLC—have been reassigned by the contractors or have retired.
[VIA MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones]