A fascinating article on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists website describes the gross deficiency of security at nuclear facilities as a result of government outsourcing (privatizing the security). An attack occurred on July 28 by three activists at the Y-12 National Security Complex, where the government stores 300-400 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium. The activists had little trouble penetrating the perimeter of the facility, and soon were hammering on the walls with tools, hanging up protest banners, splashing around fake blood, and painting graffiti on the building. Fortunately, this group's intentions were fairly peaceful; it is disturbing to think that more sinister intruders could so easily get into a facility with tons of weapons-grade nuclear material.
This is highly recommended reading - here is an excerpt focused on the private companies' role:
Still, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said, "The department has no tolerance for security breaches at any of our sites, and I am committed to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable." Those responsible are the security contractors -- Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12 and Wackenhut Services, Inc. in Oak Ridge -- who knowingly allowed the security at Y-12 to fall far below acceptable levels. Yet it took over two months for either company to be held accountable in any discernable way. On September 28, Babcock & Wilcox announced its plans to terminate its contract with Wackenhut Services. The NNSA issued a "show cause letter" to Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12 PDF, but has granted them an additional 30 days to demonstrate why they shouldn't also be fired. These are good first steps, but the contractors are not the only parties responsible. Of course, someone else is equally at fault: Secretary Chu himself.Chu has developed a federal hands-off-the-contractor culture at the Energy Department. This mentality was first demonstrated by Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman in a memo that put forth a safety and security plan for the Energy Department PDF: "Contractors are provided the flexibility to tailor and implement security programs in light of their situation and to develop corresponding risk-and performance-based protection strategies without excessive Federal oversight or overly-prescriptive Departmental requirements."The obvious problems that result from so much contractor freedom are made clear by the recent inspector general report, which determined that this lack of federal oversight at least partially contributed to the success of the break-in PDF: "When questioned as to why action was not taken to address growing maintenance backlogs, Federal officials told us that with the advent of NNSA's contractor governance system (Contractor Assurance System), they could no longer intervene." In light of these findings, the inspector general had serious questions about the Energy Department's overall approach and determined that "current initiatives to reduce Federal oversight of the nuclear weapons complex, especially as they relate to security functions, need to be carefully considered."
- Dru Stevenson