USA: nuclear security lapses
These news items draw heavily on resources produced by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. You can subscribe to the NTI's daily Global Security Newswire at www.nti.org/get-involved/subscribe
A number of nuclear security problems in the US were discussed in Nuclear Monitor #769, including:
- an Air Force unit that oversees one-third of the US land-based nuclear missiles failed a safety and security inspection;
- in March, the deputy commander of the 91st Missile Wing complained of "rot" in the group after an inspection gave its missile crews the equivalent of a "D" grade on Minuteman 3 launch operations, resulting in the suspension and retraining for 19 officers;
- a B-52 bomber flight over several US states during which the crew was unaware that actual weapons were onboard;
- a US Air Force crew ejected from a B-1 bomber that ran violently aground during a training flight;
- Energy Department personnel pretending to be terrorists reached a substance representing nuclear-weapon fuel after they fought through defenses in an exercise at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina;
- an Inspector General audit found over two dozen files with evidence of incidents involving Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff that should have been reported to NRC security officials, but weren't; and
- foreign visitors allowed "unaccompanied access to numerous buildings" at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Here we summarise some further lapses.
Los Alamos accused of disregarding security during VIP visits. A Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, employee with responsibility for site security is charging that the facility suspended some safety procedures during VIP visits in 2011, and then retaliated against him after he complained. The employee, Michael Irving, filed a lawsuit in the federal court in October 2013, asserting that he has the right to criticise breaches of security that impact safety around nuclear weapon materials.
Two plead guilty to communication of classified nuclear weapons data. The US Justice Department announced on June 21 that a scientist and his wife, who both previously worked as contractors at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, have pleaded guilty to charges relating to their communication of classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official. Physicist Leonardo Mascheroni and his wife Marjorie Mascheroni face prison terms. Later reports indicate that Leonardo Mascheroni may withdraw his guilty plea.
Security personnel cheating on tests. More than a year after three peace activists broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, security continues to pose a "significant management challenge" for the Energy Department, the Inspector General said in a report issued on November 26. The report refers to a number of unspecified "policy issues" that have not been resolved since the July 2012 break-in at the nuclear weapons facility. Responses to the break-in have included employee retraining and follow-up investigations that uncovered other security concerns such as security personnel cheating on tests.
Guard dogs accused of cheating on tests. The Y-12 National Security Complex could be working its guard dogs to exhaustion and skipping steps in their training, raising the risk that intruders or explosives could slip into the facility unnoticed, the Energy Department Inspector General said in a report released in April. "We found that half of the canine teams we observed failed explosive detection tests, many canines failed to respond to at least one of the handler's commands, and that canines did not receive all required training," the report says. Auditors were unable to confirm claims that the guard dog company had cheated on canine proficiency tests, possibly by ordering animals to sit when they failed to do so on their own to signal detection of contraband.
Lost driver enters nuclear weapons complex. An apparently lost driver entered the Y-12 National Security Complex on June 6 and proceeded roughly 3 kms across its restricted grounds before protective forces blocked her progress. The Complex allowed the driver onto the grounds during an early morning surge in employee traffic. Questioning of the driver revealed "there were mental issues involved," an Oak Ridge police officer said, adding that the dirver "thought that there must have been a crash because there were nice officers waving her through with illuminated flashlight cones." Seven protection workers and a manager were removed from duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
Air Force to more closely examine candidates for top nuclear posts. The US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said on November 13 that candidates for senior nuclear positions in the service would be subjected to a more rigorous screening process. The decision comes after the Air Force general in charge of intercontinental ballistic missiles was discharged from his position in October due to concerns about his alcohol consumption.
Former Dresden nuclear plant workers banned by NRC. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued orders on October 28 prohibiting two former employees of the Dresden Nuclear Power Station in Illinois from participating in nuclear work under its jurisdiction. The incident involved two senior reactor operators who worked at the Dresden plant. One of the men, Michael J. Buhrman, planned to rob an armoured car and recruited the assistance of a colleague, Landon Brittain. The plan was foiled when Buhrman was apprehended following a car-jacking on 9 May 2012. The pair fled the country while free on bail but were recaptured in Venezuela. Dresden personnel who knew about Buhrman's plan to commit an offsite crime failed to report the situation to plant management.[9,10]
US missile officers leave blast doors open while napping. US Air Force officers responsible for launching land-based nuclear missiles twice violated security policy by leaving blast doors open while napping. The incidents took place in April and May at the Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and the Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. Two launch crew commanders and two deputies received administrative punishment for the breaches. Officials with personal knowledge of the incidents say that similar transgressions have likely taken place and not been discovered. The Associated Press was alerted to the blast-door violations at Malmstrom by an official who wanted the incidents publicised out of a belief they show just how problematic discipline among ICBM crews has become.
Analysis finds 'burnout' plaguing US nuclear-missile crews. A draft US Air Force-commissioned study found a significant number of personnel who oversee the service's ground-based, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles suffering from "burnout" over what they described as a high-pressure job environment offering few opportunities for advancement. RAND Corp. gathered the findings over three months earlier this year in a bid to explain why the nation's ICBM crews show a high rate of on- and off-duty misconduct relative to other Air Force personnel.
 10 Oct 2013, 'US reactors vulnerable to terrorist attack', Nuclear Monitor #769, www.wiseinternational.org/node/4030
 16 Oct 2013, Los Alamos Accused of Disregarding Security During VIP Visits, www.nti.org/gsn/article/los-alamos-accused-disregarding-security-during-...
 US Department of Justice, 21 June 2013, 'Former Workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory Plead Guilty to Atomic Energy Act Violations', www.fbi.gov/albuquerque/press-releases/2013/former-workers-at-los-alamos...
 5 Dec 2013, 'Ex-Lab Scientist May Reverse Plea in Nuclear-Secrets Case', www.nti.org/gsn/article/ex-los-alamos-scientist-may-reverse-his-guilty-p...
 Diane Barnes, 3 Dec 2013, 'Nuclear-Arms Security Concerns Persist After Y-12 Break-In', www.nti.org/gsn/article/nuclear-arms-security-concerns-persist-after-y-1...
 Diane Barnes, 29 April 2013, 'Tired, Poorly Trained Guard Dogs Could Endanger Y-12 Nuclear Arms Site', www.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/article/y-12-guard-dogs-exhausted/
 10 June 2013, 'Unauthorized Driver Gets Past Y-12 Nuke Site Security', www.nti.org/gsn/article/guards-wave-unauthorized-driver-y-12-nuke-facility/
 14 Nov 2013, 'Air Force to More Closely Examine Candidates for Top Nuclear Posts', www.nti.org/gsn/article/air-force-subject-candidates-top-nuke-command-jo...
 Aaron Larson, 30 Oct 2013, 'Former Dresden Nuclear Plant Workers Banned by NRC', www.powermag.com/former-dresden-nuclear-plant-workers-banned-by-nrc
 18 Nov 2013, 'Bungling nuclear worker-turned-armed-robber jailed', www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2509317/Michael-J-Buhrman-sentenced-40-...
 23 Oct 2013, 'U.S. Missileers Left Blast Doors Open in Security Breach', www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-missileers-found-leaving-blast-doors-open-bre...
 21 Nov 2013, 'Analysis Finds 'Burnout' Plaguing U.S. Nuclear-Missile Crews', www.nti.org/gsn/article/air-force-backed-study-finds-burnout-among-icbm-...