- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Worries about missing keys and other security lapses at some of the nation’s top-secret nuclear weapons labs have prompted the federal agency that maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile to review locks, keys and procedures at facilities nationwide.

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees nuclear weapons programs within the department, is sending a team of inspectors to start the security review in February. The action follows NNSA initiatives last summer, after some in Congress complained about specific security breaches at several facilities.

“We’re doing a complexwide inventory of lock and keys … @ anything that’s under NNSA,” Bryan Wilkes, an agency spokesman, said yesterday.

“The idea is not to go over every lock and key, but to sit down and review with folks the controls that were put in place last summer,” he said. “We want to make sure stupid little things, whether they’re large or small, don’t happen again.”

In July, the NNSA announced plans to reinforce safeguards with added security specialists, more frequent surveillance, a review of past studies and investigations and creation of a commission and separate panel for more long-range planning.

The NNSA is responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, for promoting international nuclear nonproliferation and for providing nuclear propulsion systems for the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers.

Mr. Wilkes said the most recent case of missing keys involves NNSA’s plant for processing weapons-grade uranium in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Last summer, he said, the facility reported missing “a little under 250” keys, but that “none of them were for any sensitive areas.”

“Most of that were to janitorial areas or to file cabinets; simple things that people lose keys to every day. A small portion of that — under 40 — went to people’s offices or to a conference room where you can have classified information for up to an hour,” Mr. Wilkes said.

A set of master keys went missing for several days at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., and an electronic key card was gone for six weeks before top managers were informed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. A set of keys to perimeter gates and office doors also was lost at Livermore and went unreported for three weeks.

Sandia is expecting a review. Chris Miller, a spokesman for Sandia, said yesterday that the lab was advised several weeks ago “that DOE probably was going to be visiting early in the new year just to look at security again. There are always ongoing looks at security.”

The inventory also is being conducted at other NNSA offices, plants and nuclear research labs in Missouri, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.


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