February 12, 2000
FBI tightens security at DOE site
By Joe Walker
The federal government has stopped routine shredding and disposing of documents and has placed guards at classified storage areas at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
That action took place Friday as word circulated in Washington about an employee memorandum that expressed profound fear about the radiation threat from old nuclear weapons components stored at the plant.
Sources said FBI agents sought tighter security at as many as five facilities at the plant where classified materials are stored. Some are controlled by the Department of Energy, which owns the plant. Others are overseen by plant operator USEC Inc., and some are shared by DOE and USEC.
At the FBI's request, plant security guards, who have higher security clearances than most other plant personnel, were stationed at the classified materials areas.
Also, DOE sent a two-page fact sheet to employees about weapons components stored at the plant and ordered that the shredding of all paper - including draft and final documents, e-mail papers and even paper jammed in office equipment - cease until further notice, sources said. USEC, which has about 1,600 workers at the plant, agreed to comply.
The action followed publicity about a Feb. 3 memo from Raymond G. Carroll, a health physicist who said he helped develop the radiation protection section of the application for the plant's certificate of compliance with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Besides expressing serious concerns for worker safety, the memo said Plant Security Manager Pat Jenny told Radiation Protection Manager Orville Cypret that a special vault had been established for classified weapons-related items that were found. She told Cypret the vault held records that were being delivered nightly from Paducah to Oak Ridge, Tenn. (where a DOE operations office exists), the memo says.
"Ms. Jenny told Mr. Cypret that the decision had already been made that national security took precedence over personnel safety," the Carroll memo says. "It is inconceivable to me that personnel safety cannot coexist with national security."
Reacting to the memo, Sen. Jim Bunning sharply criticized the Energy Department.
"This is just one more example of why, last year, I commissioned a General Accounting Office investigation to specifically identify all the contaminated material at Paducah," he said. "It is obvious that DOE is utterly incapable of conducting its own investigation into the matter."
John Driskill, president of the plant guard workers' union, said "a far-reaching and unbiased investigation" should be done by an independent organization because there is a perception that DOE cannot police itself. He said the memo upholds a "long-held position" by guards that the systematic downgrading of the security force in recent years "has been a potentially tragic mistake."
Word of the memo broke Thursday, the same day DOE released an oversight team's 76-page investigative report on environmental, safety and health at the Paducah plant from its opening in 1952 through 1989. The report mentioned nothing about highly contaminated weapons parts.
During a telephone press conference about the report, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of environmental, safety and health programs for DOE, did not mention the weapons materials memo.
Former Paducah DOE Site Manager Dale Jackson, who participated in the conference, acknowledged that Department of Defense personnel were at the plant, but he said they had not told him much about their purpose for being there. Jackson told Cypret about the weapons materials, and Cypret told Carroll, the memo said.
The Sun reported Feb. 2 that Department of Defense personnel were at the plant, although it was unclear why. Some sources said Friday that defense workers were at the plant not in relation to the weapons components, but to help the Department of Justice in its investigation of past plant health and safety practices. Neither department has acknowledged the relationship.
DOE spokesman Steve Wyatt said DOE and the departments of Defense and Justice "are looking at classified national security programs conducted in the past at Paducah, reviewing materials of potential worker exposures, and any safety, health and environmental issues associated with national security programs."
Richard Miller, Washington-based policy analyst for the plant's atomic workers' union, said he understood Michaels was surprised by Carroll's memo.
"It raises the profound question, what is going on that DOE and its folks at the site and at the Oak Ridge Operations level (in Tennessee, which oversees the plant) were withholding this information from the oversight team and its investigators?" Miller said. "How is that possible?"
Officials of the atomic workers' union were "clueless" about
the problem, Miller said. "None of our people even knows what areas
this involves, and we're traversing the plant all day, every day."