* Security contractor owned by firm involved in Olympics
* Anti-nuclear activists cut through perimeter fences
* Nun, 82, was among the activists arrested
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Aug 2 The U.S. government's only
facility for handling, processing and storing weapons-grade
uranium was temporarily shut this week after anti-nuclear
activists, including an 82-year-old nun, breached security
fences, government officials said on Thursday.
WSI Oak Ridge, the contractor responsible for protecting the
facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is owned by the international
security firm G4S, which was at the center of a dispute over
security at the London Olympic Games.
Officials said that the facility was shut down on Wednesday
at least until next week after three activists cut through
perimeter fences to reach the outer wall of a building where
highly-enriched uranium, a key nuclear bomb component, is
The activists painted slogans and threw what they said was
human blood on the wall of the facility, one of numerous
buildings in the facility known by the code name Y-12 that it
was given during World War II, officials said.
While moving between the perimeter fences, the activists
triggered sensors which alerted security personnel. However,
officials conceded that the intruders still were able to reach
the building's walls before security personnel got to them.
Ellen Barfield, a spokeswoman for the activists who called
themselves "Transform Now Plowshares", were arrested and charged
by federal authorities with vandalism and criminal trespass.
She said the three, identified as Megan Rice, 82, Michael R.
Walli, 63 and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, were being held in custody.
They are scheduled to appear in court in the next few days.
Barfield forwarded a statement from the group in which they
said they had passed through four fences and walked for "over
two hours" before reaching the uranium storage building, upon
which they hung banners and strung crime-scene tape.
NUCLEAR MATERIALS "NOT COMPROMISED"
Officials said that the storage building itself, which was
built after the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and
Washington, was designed with extra and modern security features
and that its contents were not compromised.
WSI Oak Ridge, the private firm employed by the U.S.
Department of Energy to provide security at Y-12, is a
subsidiary of the giant international security firm G4S.
G4S drew sharp criticism for failing to provide the number
of security personnel it promised to protect the London Olympic
Games, forcing the British government to deploy extra army
A spokeswoman for G4S declined to comment and referred
inquiries to government spokespeople.
The security failure was an embarrassment both for the
security firm and for the National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA), the Energy Department branch which
operates U.S. nuclear weapons plants. "It was obviously a pretty
serious incident," NNSA spokesman Joshua McConaha told Reuters.
"We're taking this very, very seriously," added Steve Wyatt,
a spokesman for the NNSA office in Oak Ridge which supervises
the activities of Y-12 contractors.
The NNSA officials said that the activists cut through two
chain link fences surrounding the sprawling facility and a third
fence surrounding the ultra-secure enriched uranium stockpile
building, known as the "Highly Enriched Uranium Materials
Wyatt said that the building serves as the U.S. government's
only "warehouse" for storing highly enriched uranium used in
Highly enriched uranium is a radioactive material used in
the core of bombs to produce a nuclear detonation. The Oak Ridge
plant is one of the most important government installations
involved in the maintenance and production of the U.S. nuclear
INCIDENT REVEALED NUCLEAR RISKS
Although the security breach occurred overnight last Friday,
officials confirmed that the shutdown - which applies to "all
nuclear operations" at the Y-12 site - did not begin until
Wednesday. Officials said that it was expected to continue into
In the meantime personnel at the facility would be given
additional security training.
Peter Stockton, a former Congressional investigator and
security consultant to the Energy Department, expressed
skepticism at government claims that the nuclear material was
not at risk.
"It is unbelievable this could happen," Stockton said. "The
significance is outrageous. If they were terrorists, they could
have blown open the door and got inside."
Stockton said that the security breach was the "worst we've
ever seen". He said it was more serious than the case of Wen Ho
Lee, a Taiwan-born scientist who was suspected of espionage at
the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to
a less severe charge when the case against him collapsed.