U.S. Nuclear Sites Lack Security, GAO Confirms

The Government Accountability Office just confirmed the Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) 2005 investigative finding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has allowed two nuclear sites with weapons-grade highly enriched uranium to operate under substandard security requirements.

The two sites are Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee and the Nuclear Products Division of BWXT in Lynchburg, Virginia. Both facilities fabricate fuel for the nuclear Navy. These two sites combined are authorized to store 50 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, enough for thousands of nuclear weapons. It is unbelievable that these two sites have exactly the same extremely sensitive special nuclear material as Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons sites, but are protecting against approximately half as many attackers and far less lethal weapons. This should have changed long ago.

The GAO report was commissioned by then-House National Security Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who conducted a series of ground-breaking oversight hearings on security of nuclear facilities in the last session of Congress.

GAO confirms that the NRC has a much less robust security standard used to protect such facilities than the Department of Energy would for these sites, in part because the NRC appeared to establish security standards based on what “the nuclear industry considered feasible to defend against rather than on an assessment of the terrorist threat itself.