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Watchdog group says security at nuclear site has ‘egregious’ gaps

An independent government watchdog group alleges nuclear material at Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be at high risk because of lax security at the facility.

A report by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) said news reports of slumbering private security guards at the Tennessee facility is only one item on a laundry list of security issues the organization has been asking the Department of Energy to address at the site for seven years. Photos of a sleeping security guard were broadcast by a local Knoxville, TN, television news program on Jan. 25. POGO said the guard had also been using an unauthorized cell phone while guarding a sensitive nuclear facility with bomb-grade material. The non-profit, non-partisan group made similar allegations of lax security at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in a 2006 report.

A spokeswoman for the private security contractor at the site  --  WSI-Oakridge  --  told local news outlets on Jan. 25 the company has initiated an investigation into the allegations.

POGO is currently chaired by David Hunter, an assistant professor at American University's Washington College of Law, where he directs the Program on International and Comparative Environmental Law. The group’s current Treasurer Dina Rasor, has investigated government excesses in the past primarily in defense spending and contracts.

Oak Ridge is the DOE's largest science and energy laboratory and stores weapons-grade nuclear material.

POGO’s Senior Investigator, Peter Stockton said in a Jan. 25 statement that the investigation showed the Oak Ridge Lab is at high risk, and can’t meet the government’s security standards.  The site houses half a ton of Uranium 233—enough for roughly 250 improvised nuclear detonations—stored in an impossible-to-secure building, according to Stockton.

“Perhaps, the most egregious part of all this is that DOE is allowing Wackenhut, the security contractor, to investigate itself,” said Stockton.” It was Wackenhut that in 2007 initially denied that several of its guards at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania were sleeping on the job—that is until the company was confronted with a video of the guards that was leaked to the media,” he said.


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