Security Breached at HEU Facility

Lauren Weiss

Three anti-nuclear weapons protesters broke into the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee on July 28, hanging banners, spray-painting slogans, and splattering what they said was human blood before security guards apprehended them after more than two hours.

The group included Megan Rice, an 82-year-old nun, as well as Michael Walli, 63, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57.

In an Aug. 3 statement published by the Knoxville News Sentinel, Energy Secretary Steven Chu called the incident “an unacceptable and deeply troubling breach.” The Energy Department, through its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), oversees Y-12 and the rest of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Press releases from the NNSA and B&W Y-12, the private contractor that manages the plant, announced a series of changes. The facility shut down all nuclear operations on Aug. 1, and the stored enriched uranium was moved to secure vaults. Many top managers have been replaced, including Darrel Kohlhorst, who served as president and general manager of B&W Y-12 for more than four years. The guards on duty the night of the incident were suspended, and all employees must take a refresher course on security. As a result of these security improvements, the NNSA on Aug. 15 authorized Y-12 to resume nuclear operations, according to a press release on the facility’s website.

On Aug. 10, NNSA contract officer Jill Albaugh sent a letter to B&W Y-12, outlining the NNSA’s preliminary findings of security failures. These included inoperable cameras at the time of the breach, the guards’ slow response to the alarms, and “a lack of leadership and significant tactical, procedural, training, and communication deficiencies.” The letter said B&W Y-12 had 30 days to prove why its contract should not be terminated.

The three activists pleaded not guilty to a federal indictment handed down on Aug. 9, according to The New York Times. They were charged with destruction and depredation of government property, as well as trespassing. The trial is set for Oct. 10 in federal district court in Knoxville. Walli and Rice have been arrested previously for similar acts of protest.