Los Angeles Times
October 16, 2006
The U.S. Energy Department cannot meet its own post-Sept. 11 security standards to repel a terrorist force at the Ft. Knox of uranium, a Tennessee facility that stores an estimated 189 metric tons of bomb-grade material, agency officials acknowledged.
The material is stored in five masonry and wood frame buildings at the Y-12 facility, a key part of the nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure at the Oak Ridge site near Knoxville.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Energy Department, is building a secure facility to warehouse the material that is due to be completed in 2009. Until then, the Energy Department has given itself an “extension,” or waiver, on meeting security requirements at the site.
At risk in an attack is terrorists gaining access to highly enriched uranium and then within minutes improvising a crude but powerful nuclear device.
The problems at Y-12 were disclosed in a report by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington group that has pushed the Energy Department to strengthen security at all U.S. nuclear weapons sites.
Officials at the Y-12 facility acknowledged that they are not meeting the current security requirements, but they rejected the concerns raised by the organization.
Y-12 spokesman Steven Wyatt said the security force could effectively defend the site and prevent terrorists from constructing a weapon.
“There are better odds that an asteroid would hit Oak Ridge than the likelihood that terrorists would have the access and time to build and detonate” an improvised device, Wyatt said.
At the site, the department has 527 guards.
To meet the federal security standard would have required a force of 800 guards, said Peter Stockton, one of the key authors of the report.