The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has slammed a contractor for compromising the country’s nuclear secrets by dumping loads of classified documents into unprotected trash cans.
The security blunder was first discovered in June 2014, when a worker at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee found highly sensitive documents inside a trash bag marked for disposal along with other junk materials, the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday.
A more thorough inspection found 19 more documents in the bag that were either classified or contained sensitive details.
Further investigation by the NNSA revealed that nuclear secrets had been thrown away with lax security at the plant for more than 20 years.
The documents detailed how the department’s employees and contractors worked with nuclear explosive materials, such as highly enriched uranium, stored at the facility.
That bag and many others were awaiting burial in an open landfill where Y-12 workers routinely dump garbage that poses no risk on national security.
“(They) then decided not to search any additional containers because they were, given the prior results, presumed likely to contain additional classified information,” said the Energy Department’s enforcement in a preliminary notice of violation issued Tuesday.
Earlier this week, Frank Klotz, head of the NNSA, wrote a letter to the contractor named Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, citing the company for three violations, although it was replaced by another contractor in July 2014.
“Actual or high potential for adverse impact on the national security,” and “a significant lack of attention or carelessness” with the potential to harm national security were some of the mishaps outlined in the notice.
“Some workers indicated that this process for discarding work-related paper had always been in place (i.e., for over 20 years) until discovery of the security event,” the notice added.
Klotz initially threatened to fine the company nearly a quarter-million dollars. But after negotiations Klotz forgave the $240,000 in proposed fines, arguing that the company had suffered enough.
He noted in his letter that the NNSA withheld bonus money from Babcock & Wilcox in fiscal year 2014 for “numerous safeguards and security issues, including deficiencies in B&W Y-12’s information security program.”
Protection of nuclear secrets and materials kept at Y-12 has closely been investigated since July 28, 2012, when an 82-year-old nun and two other peace protesters penetrated the facility and drew graffiti on a storage vault full of weapons-grade nuclear materials.
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