* Activists broke through fences in July; included nun aged
* Should be one of the best-protected buildings in
* Security firm owned by company at center of Olympics storm
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 Guards at a U.S. government
plant for storing weapons-grade uranium failed to spot
activists, including an 82-year-old nun, who cut through its
fences until they walked up to an officer's car and surrendered,
an official report said on Friday.
The report from the Energy Department's inspector general,
Gregory Friedman, criticized multiple failures of sophisticated
security systems and "troubling displays of ineptitude" at the
Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July.
Three anti-nuclear activists, including an 82-year-old nun,
were not initially spotted or detained as they cut through three
perimeter fences on July 28.
They painted slogans and threw what they said was human
blood on the outer wall of a building where highly enriched
uranium, a key component of nuclear bombs, is stored.
The building they vandalized was built after the Sept. 11,
2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington and had been
previously touted as "the Fort Knox of uranium" by a senior
government official because of its security features.
The facility holds the largest inventories of nuclear
material in the world, said Robert Alvarez of the Institute for
Policy studies, who was a senior Energy Department official in
the 1990s and is an expert on the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
"It should be one of the most well-protected facilities in
the United States for that reason," said Alvarez, who said the
breach in security was unprecedented.
"This is the kind of lapse that one would expect heads to
roll," he said, noting that more rigorous government oversight
of contractors is needed.
The United States has been at the forefront of international
efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons to
countries like Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama has called
nuclear terrorism the "single biggest threat" to U.S. security,
given al Qaeda's stated desire to obtain such weapons.
Top nuclear officials from the Energy Department will face
scrutiny over the security breach from lawmakers on the House of
Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee on Sept. 12.
TRESPASSERS ALLOWED TO "ROAM ABOUT"
The Y-12 facility is run by Babcock & Wilcox Co
which is responsible for security provided by contractor WSI Oak
Ridge, owned by international security firm G4S.
G4S was at the center of a political and media storm in
Britain over outsourcing of security after it failed to provide
enough guards for this year's London Olympics.
Friedman's report said the U.S. government had budgeted
about $150 million in taxpayer funds for security at the Y-12
plant for fiscal 2012, yet the officer responding to the alarm
did not notice the trespassers until they walked up to his car
The officer did not draw his weapon nor secure the area,
instead letting the trespassers "roam about and retrieve various
items from backpacks," the report said.
Another officer hearing alarms did not look outside the
building as he was supposed to, and also missed an image of the
trespassers on a camera. A third officer turned off the alarm.
Others heard the activists hammering on the building's
outside wall, but assumed the sound was from maintenance
"The actions of these officers were inconsistent with the
gravity of the situation and existing protocols," Friedman said
in the report.
One camera that would have shown the break-in had been
broken for about six months, and there was a backlog of repairs
needed for security systems at the facility, the report said.
"We found this to be troubling," Friedman said.
A spokesperson for Babcock & Wilcox said the contractors
were not commenting on the Inspector General's report, and were
deferring to a written response included in the report from the
top Energy Department official in charge of the National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA).
Thomas D'Agostino, the administrator of the NNSA, said
changes were underway after the incident.
D'Agostino said staff involved with the incident had been
removed, cameras have been fixed, and patrols and training
"These steps are just the beginning of the structural and
cultural changes that we intend to make," D'Agostino said in his
The NNSA was also assessing security at all of its
facilities, he said, and notified Babcock & Wilcox earlier this
month that its contract could be terminated. The company has 30
days to respond to the "show cause" letter.