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Monday, August 16, 2004

Maintaining the Illusion of Security 

From a letter by the Project on Governmental Oversight to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham:
As you know, the Department of Energy has halted research for the next several months at the Los Alamos National Laboratory because of security fiascos including missing disks containing classified information. We understand that, in the last two weeks, the University of California, which manages Los Alamos, has proposed accelerating the plan to move weapons grade nuclear materials (known as Special Nuclear Materials) from Technical Area-18 (TA-18) by making it an immediate priority. The University, normally the target of complaints from NNSA about security at the Lab, should be congratulated for its wisdom in making this proposal. Unfortunately, the Department of Energy's NNSA has refused the proposal to fast-track the plan to de-inventory TA-18 . . . .

Situated at the bottom of an indefensible canyon, TA-18 contains tons of nuclear materials and has failed numerous security tests, including tests conducted since 9/11. This past March, you ordered the removal of all the weapons grade nuclear materials from TA-18 within 18 months. In May you reaffirmed your decision.

However, officials in NNSA have been dragging their feet on the TA-18 move. In response to the University's plan, NNSA is still using the tired excuses that they do not have enough certified containers, adequate transportation assets, or containers for outsized pieces of Special Nuclear Materials. Those same excuses were used in 2000 to derail the TA-18 move - and they are simply not true. As you know, in 2000, then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson ordered the removal all Category I and II Special Nuclear Materials out of TA-18 by 2004. Turf battles and bureaucratic protectionism undermined the plan.

Those same forces are at work today. One of NNSA's top officials, Everet Beckner, wrote to us in May, after your speech, informing us that only 50 percent of the Special Nuclear Materials would be removed over 18 months beginning in September. In addition, Beckner wrote that the final 50 percent would not be removed for "several years." Given the troubled history of agency stonewalling and the skillful bureaucratic interests working to thwart the plan, I strongly suspect the move will never be completed under this scenario. Indeed, the NNSA point person on this issue since 2000, Tracy Bishop, wrote in an email six months ago that the plan to de-inventory TA-18 might be dragged out until 2015.
And, from the Gloucester County (NJ) Times, we learn that the answer to the age-old question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is, in fact, ipsos custodes:
Federal regulators plan to use the same contractor that supplies security to the nuclear power plant in Lower Alloways Creek Township to run terrorism drills at the plant.

In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Washington-based watchdog organization Project on Government Oversight raised concern that the Nuclear Energy Institute --a lobbying arm of the nuclear industry --was allowed to choose the contractor that will supply and manage adversary teams to test security at the nation's privately operated plants.

The contractor that the institute has hired, Wackenhut Corporation, supplies guard forces for 30 of the country's 64 nuclear power plants, including the Salem County location.

"This is one of the most outrageous conflicts of interest I've ever seen," said Peter Stockton, the senior investigator for the Project on Government Oversight . . . .

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the commission does not consider the contract with Wackenhut a conflict. As a large corporation, Wackenhut has a wide pool of talented employees to pull together a trained team of people to carry out the drills, Burnell said.

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