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82-Year-Old Nun Breaks Into Nuclear Facility, Contractors Blamed 223

Lasrick writes "Private security contractors strike again, this time at the Y-12 National Security Complex. A nun, a gardener, and a housepainter cut through three security fences to find themselves 20 feet away from highly dangerous nuclear material. And of course, only one guard has been fired (the one who arguably acted the bravest and did the right thing). A Department of Energy report (PDF) on the incident found 'troubling displays of ineptitude in responding to alarms, failures to maintain critical 2 security equipment, over reliance on compensatory measures, misunderstanding of security protocols, poor communications, and weaknesses in contract and resource management.' The contractors have been put on notice, (PDF), but they still have the contracts."
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82-Year-Old Nun Breaks Into Nuclear Facility, Contractors Blamed

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  • Re:OK, seriously ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Urban Garlic ( 447282 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:33PM (#41530399)

    According to the linked-to DOE report, the guy who was fired wasn't quite as brave as the Bulletin article implies -- the DOE says he drove up to the site, stayed in his car and spoke on his cell phone with a supervisor, then got out of the car and just chatted with the protesters, failing to detain them or protect his weapon. When the supervisor arrived, the guard was instructed to provide cover for the supervisor while the supervisor made the actual arrests, but the guard did not do so, allegedly turning his back on the process at one point.

    DOE report here [] (warning, PDF).

    It's obviously a contested point, but the pictures painted by the Bulletin article and the DOE report of the guard's conduct are rather different.

    Also, yes, I read both articles, new here, etc.etc.

  • Re:OK, seriously ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:45PM (#41530589) Homepage Journal
    According to the nun, if you read the article, he did not turn his back. It is a contested point and I wonder where they're getting that information. I tend to believe the nun over the government contractor.
  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:54PM (#41530735)

    It doesn't sound as sensational after reading TFA.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:02PM (#41530871) Journal

    Private security contractors strike again

    Are you implying that if the security were nationalized (ala TSA) that such ineptitude would not exist?

    Why the explicit blame on "private security contractors"? Why not fire any private company who is not doing their job and find one that can/will?

    Probably has to do with this quote and link from the article:

    The obvious problems that result from so much contractor freedom are made clear by the recent inspector general report, which determined that this lack of federal oversight at least partially contributed to the success of the break-in [] PDF: "When questioned as to why action was not taken to address growing maintenance backlogs, Federal officials told us that with the advent of NNSA's contractor governance system (Contractor Assurance System), they could no longer intervene." In light of these findings, the inspector general had serious questions about the Energy Department's overall approach and determined that "current initiatives to reduce Federal oversight of the nuclear weapons complex, especially as they relate to security functions, need to be carefully considered."

    There are many forms of nationalized security: some very bad (TSA) and some very good (National Guard). Private industry will save you money and, when pitted against each other in true capitalism form, they will cut corners to win contracts. Somethings should have security independent of how the economy is doing or how low some no talent ass clown is willing to bid on a contract.

  • Re:OK, seriously ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:04PM (#41530903)

    Why in the name of Oppenheimer did they fire the one guy who actually did his job, when everyone above and around him appeared to fail pretty seriously at theirs?

    Young grasshopper, when you have learned why managers punish people for bringing mistakes to the attention of their supervisors, it will be time for you to join the workforce. I've been fired several times for bringing security faults through appropriate channels -- in truth, management doesn't want to know about security problems and punish those who point them out, because once pointed out, plausible deniability goes out the window. You're making it their problem, and if there's no budget for said problem your paycheck becomes the budget for solving it. It makes them look bad and holds back their promotion opportunities -- and so while you may do the right thing, it's almost always a bad career move.

    Politics. It'll fuck you every time.

    True - I one time took over minding the evening batchwork at a client site. Problems most nights, which I slowly ironed out. Management asked why all these problems since [kittenman] took over the batch. Turns out the previous guy had been fixing them on the fly and not reporting the issues.

    My contract wasn't renewed.

  • Re:I'm confused... (Score:4, Informative)

    by daem0n1x ( 748565 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:06PM (#41531603)

    I don't know how things happen in the USA, but in my country top managers swing from public to private jobs as they see fit. It's not unusual that they seat at some public position, decide to privatise some public service and then sell it to a company they'll be managing after some time. And the said service always becomes worse and more expensive, even when it already sucked before. And the said managers can fuck up as much as they want that they'll never be made accountable for anything, whether they did it in a public office or private one. You just have to reach a particular level in the hierarchy and you're basically inimputable. As far as I know, it happens in the US, too.

    half-deranged government bureau is a hell of a lot more dangerous to individual rights and freedoms than a completely apeshit company.

    I guess that one you just completely made up.

  • Re:I'm confused... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:20PM (#41532263) Journal

    Ah, but thats the US. You people can't seem to get government even halfway right, for some weird reason. I'm not even going to mention gun control.

    May not want to get too smug there, sport... [] [] [] []

    You are more likely to win a suit against the government than against a corporation. Even in the US.

    ...meanwhile you stay hamstrung by whatever binding and/or regulation they say you've broken. After all, no corporation can freeze your bank accounts, remove your right to drive a car, take your children, shut off your home's power/water supply, force you to remain in certain areas (and be barred from others) or lock you in jail while you pursue said lawsuits.

    Government can do all of that and then some, depending on the nature and severity of the incompetent/deranged action. Hell, the government can even assault your property with armed squads and shoot at your family. [] Sure, Randy Weaver won the eventual lawsuit, but his wife and daughter are still rather dead...

  • Re:I'm confused... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:15PM (#41533167)
    (posting anonymously as I work for B&W)

    Correct. B&W and Bechtel manage the site. The security contract was given to a different company. B&W Y12 was ultimately responsible for the contractor, and as a result the President and Deputy General Manager of B&W Y12 have both "retired" []. They aren't the only ones. B&W manages a number of nuclear/radioactive sites for the government and owns facilities that build and fuel reactors for the Navy. This incident hasn't gone over well inside the company, especially considering the security inside B&W's facilities is extremely robust compared to the Y12 contractor.

    B&W Y12 has now terminated the contract with WSI (the security contractor) and has started the process of taking over the security.
  • Re:Within 20 feet (Score:5, Informative)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:31PM (#41534171)

    The minimum method used is for handling machining wastes. There, supposedly, enriched materials capable of even moderate reaction are normally stored in containers no larger than 1 gallon paint cans, which are filled to very low capacities measured by weight (typically meaning they are each less than 5% full by volume), and then placed on a marked grid on a reinforced concrete floor, in such a way that there is a reliable safe minimum distance between them. People will supposedly be fired for letting cans get too close, as measured at ranges that are still way above actual risk. Materials that can oxidize spontaniously may be stored under oil or in inert atmospheres or both, as seems most prudent. Various barriers then further subdivide the marked grid, etc. All that's from public documentaries and similar sources.
    For actual nuclear reactions, we're generally talking about densities where you couldn't even pour all the material in all the cans in a single building together to get a reaction that could even just possibly generate enough neutron flux to generate enough heat that the materials could even just possibly melt and become concentrated enough to produce a level of neutron emission that would actually be dangerous to the immediate area adjacent to the building, or tighter standards.
    Chemical reactions, alas, are another story. Opening a single can of some of these substances, particularly if you could get it into an area with moist air or bring it into contact with something such as burning gasoline at the time, might be very lethal to the person opening it - there'd be a flash (chemical rapid oxidation, not nuclear) and the person would likely breathe in a lethal dose of a radioactive heavy metal oxide vapor - even there, persons who approached a few moments after the can was opened, say to render assistance to the idiot, would be in only moderate danger of a radiation dose health risk and if they suited up properly before cleaning up would be at very low risk. Again, that's theory - the basic procedues were worked out soon after the Daghlian and Slotin criticality accidents at Los Alamos in the 40's, they were refined after two non-lethal and mostly not even very injurious accidents in the 1958-59 period at Y-12, and they've been followed enough that there haven't been any more like those.
    In 2003, Y-12 had an accident involving depleted Uranium buring chemically in a hotbox experiment after Calcium reacted with water triggering enough heat to touch off the DU. That resulted in three employees getting heavy metal exposures considered unsafe, but not likely to cause serious long term health consequences. (That's a mixed reliability claim - there's some argument about just how much of a health hazard breathing or ingesting Depleted uranium is, and it's quite possible the safety guidelines for it will be toughened up further) This was the only nuclear related accident at Y-12 reported under the current management. Note that it's not technically a radiation accident, as DU just basically is emitting less than naturally occuring Uranium, and bringing more of it together, heating it, and so on doesn't cause it to emit more. If it makes a difference, it happened as part of an experimental lab setup, not the process plant.
    For Plutonium wastes, the amounts are supposed to be kept low enough that the potential heat can't trigger any sort of phase change, not just melting to an actually more ductile or semi-liquid state. It's the stuff actually 'stored' inside an H-bomb being refurbished that has real potential (although supposedly, the rest of the bomb and the Plutonium pit don't EVER enter the continental US still assembled - so if that's true, we are talking about parts of bombs, not complete bombs). So the question is just what was in the buildings the nun and her chums approached? Was it trimmed off milling wast

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