Take Aim at Oak Ridge Nuclear Plant
August 18, 2004
The sound of a machine
gun rips through the woods near the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, a warhead
parts factory and uranium storehouse that has been criticized for lax
A security patrol officer is running through a firing range exercise with
tow instructors deep within the Department of Energy's 33,000 acre Oak
Wearing black fatigues, flak vest and gas mask, he hits the ground and
unleashes a blast from an M249 assault weapon at distant targets.
'"Yeah, we had
some issues," said Jean "John" Burleson, whose 400-plus
contractor guard force at Y-12 as accused of cheating on performance drills
in an inspector general's report in January.
"But make no
mistake about it. If you attack us, we are still capable of kicking your
a--," the Wackenhut Services Inc. executive said.
Peter Stockton, a consultant for Project on Government Oversight, a Washington
based public watchdog group, is not convinced.
"We have a bunch
of sources down there, from guards to management, and nobody is happy
with what is going on," Stockton said. "They don't believe the
improvements are really adequate."
Bill Brumley, the Y-12 site manager for DOE's semiautonomous National
Nuclear Security Administration, knows the criticism. Congress grilled
him and others about it behind closed doors earlier this year.
The Y-12 National Security Complex is a 4,700-employee, 811-acre compound
of 700 mostly aging brick and concrete block buildings 20 miles west of
Knoxville. It's been described as the last full-scale nuclear weapons
production facility in the United States, though DOE says it doesn't make
nuclear weapons, just refurbishes old ones.
The plant was created in the 1940's enrich uranium for the first atomic
bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in World War II. Today, it makes parts
for every warhead in the nuclear arsenal and is the country's primary
repository for bomb-grade uranium.
Y-12's ability to defeat terrorists wanting to steal its bomb-making materials,
set-off "dirty bomb" to spread radioactivity, or create an "improvised
nuclear device" in it's uranium vaults is a sensitive subject.
Over the past year, Y-12 officials say the plant has stiffened its defenses
and extended its guarded perimeter.
Front-gate barriers were beefed up and low-level radioactive waste boxes
as large as commercial trash bins, topped with razor-wire, were chained
together to form a 1,500 foot barricade outside the uranium processing
Guards are getting
new firepower, such as the M249, and training on a remote-controlled machine
gun system that operates with a videogame-like joystick. Officials won't
say when the remote-controlled system will be deployed. Y-12 would be
Doe's first site.