By Jim Kouri
An 82-year-old nun successfully breached a high-tech security complex’s protective fences using garden-variety, low-tech bolt cutters. And even more disturbing to the facility’s security director, she remained undetected in a highly secure area on the nuclear complex’s grounds for more than two hours, according to a security report dated Aug. 22, 2012.
The octogenarian Sister Megan Rice and two accomplices, activists Michael Walli,57, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 63, were able to compromise three security fences belonging to Y-12 National Security Complex located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, according to a security report.
While the trio’s July 28 intrusion did initiate an alarm condition, they managed to evade capture by supposedly well-trained security officers for more than two hours. During that time the Catholic nun and her two accomplices threw blood on the walls of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) located inside the complex. They also spray painted anti-nuclear and anti-war graffiti.
Y-12 manufactures uranium components for warheads for the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal. Y-12 is the U.S.government’s primary source for bomb-grade uranium, according to an Examiner news story.
Built in the early 1950s, the Y-12 National Security Complex is the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) primary site for enriched uranium activities.
Because Y-12 facilities are outdated and deteriorating, NNSA is building a more modern facility — known as the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). NNSA estimates that the UPF will cost up to $3.5 billion and save over $200 million annually in operations, security, and maintenance costs. NNSA also plans to include more advanced technologies in the UPF to make uranium processing and component production safer, according to an Examiner news story.
The U.S. Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to assess NNSA’s estimated cost and schedule for constructing the UPF; determine the extent to which UPF will use new, experimental technologies, and identify resultant risks, if any. They were also instructed to determine the extent to which emerging changes in the nuclear weapons stockpile could affect the UPF project.
To conduct this work, GAO analysts reviewed NNSA technology development and planning documents and met with officials from NNSA and the Y-12 plant.
The UPF project costs have increased since NNSA’s initial estimates in 2004 and construction were delayed due to funding shortfalls. NNSA’s estimate prepared in 2007 indicates that the UPF cost between $1.4 and $3.5 billion to construct — more than double NNSA’s 2004 estimate of between $600 million and $1.1 billion.
In addition, costs for project engineering and design, which are not yet completed, have increased by about 42 percent — from $297 to $421 million — due in part to changes in engineering and design pricing rates. With regard to the project’s schedule, NNSA currently estimates that UPF construction will be completed as early as 2018 and as late as 2022.
However, because of a funding shortfall of nearly $200 million in fiscal year 2011, NNSA officials expect that the UPF will not be completed before 2020, which could also result in additional costs. NNSA is developing 10 new technologies for use in the UPF and is using a systematic approach — Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) — to gauge the extent to which technologies have been demonstrated to work as intended.
Changes in the composition and size of the nuclear weapons stockpile could occur as a result of changes in the nation’s nuclear strategy, but NNSA officials and a key study said that the impact of these changes on the project should be minor.
For example, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in April 2010 by the leaders of the United States and Russia could reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads from about 2,200 to 1,550.
“And yet, after hundreds of millions of dollars spent on upgrades, an 82-year-old Catholic nun and her two proteges were able to penetrate one of the world’s most protected facilities” said Joseph Krenskis, a corporate security consultant.
“Until human error is considered normal and redundancies integrated into security systems, 82-year-old nuns will continue to breach our most secure facilities like Y-12 regardless of the resources expended. We can and must do better,” stated Robert Lee Maril, a professor of sociology at East Carolina University, in his own Aug. 22, 2012, report.
The nun and her accomplices, after being held by civilian federal police, were charged with criminal trespassing by the federal government.