Bechtel at the Y-12 Security Breach

After Sister Megan Rice, age 82, and two confederates, both senior citizens, too — the three were armed with nothing but wire cutters and flashlights — broke into the Y-12 Nuclear Complex at Oakridge, Tennessee, in the predawn hours of 28 July 2012,  full blame was immediately placed upon a lone security guard.  The guard was fired.

By its eventual actions in terminating WSI-Oakridge and B&W Y-12, the NNSA demonstrated that a lone security guard was not responsible for the security breach.  The long history of problems between NNSA and its contractors at nuclear facilities throughout the country suggests that firing individuals like the lone guard or even contractors is not necessarily a successful tactic, but rather one designed to temporarily silence critics.

At fault is the systemic relationship between the NNSA and its contractors that continually has given rise to a wide variety of safety and security issues at various nuclear facilities, including Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.  A consultant report two months before the security breach at Y-12 pinpoints the “nuclear safety culture” among NNSA and its contractors as the locus of this problem, an agency and contractor culture which presumes that contractors are meeting all security and safety concerns while, in fact, contractors are much more concerned with meeting production deadlines, their bottom line, and leave security and safety standards to the NNSA.

At the same time, Bechtel has dodged the corporate bullet.  In fact, Bechtel is the major partner with B&W Y-12, the management and operations contractor fired by NNSA for its part in the security breach at Y-12.  But while B&W took the brunt of the blame when terminated, its partner Bechtel mysteriously dodged any responsibility for the monumental breach at Y-12.

Now Bechtel emerges unscathed from this monumental scandal as a major partner with Lockheed in the ten-year $22.8 billion UPF-Pantex projects.

Ultimately, Sister Megan Rice’s three-hour jaunt past the highly touted security system at Y-12 highlights the decade-long problematic relationships between NNSA and its contractors.  While Sister Rice and her co-conspirators face trial in May, Bechtel, a major contractor sharing responsibility for the documented security lapses at Y-12 that permitted facile access by an 82-year-old nun, just received a federal contract worth more than $22 billion.

It is simply incredible that Congress has ignored a closer examination of these events.

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