Security for Savannah River Site's tritium program could be turned over to the U.S. military under legislation proposed this week as a result of a July 28 security breach at another federal nuclear weapons site – the Y-12 complex in Tennessee.
The proposal from U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and six co-sponsors would make the Pentagon responsible for protecting facilities that make, maintain or transport warheads, highly enriched uranium and other nuclear bomb components – a task currently handled by the National Nuclear Security Administration and private security contractors.
Security programs at all nuclear weapons sites came under heightened scrutiny after the July incident in which three protesters, including an 82-year-old nun, managed to get past highly trained and equipped guards to vandalize a high-security uranium facility at NNSA's Y-12 complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
The protesters used bolt cutters to open fences and made their way to the plant’s most secure area, where warheads are serviced and where the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored, according to The Associated Press. They were eventually arrested.
Although no security issues have arisen at Savannah River Site, which houses the NNSA's tritium program, Turner's House Resolution 6555 could assign military protection to all eight nuclear weapons facilities in the U.S.
Savannah River Site plays a small but critical role in the nation's defense program.
All nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal have one thing in common: the reservoir of tritium – the hydrogen gas that increases its explosive power, is maintained and recharged at SRS, which is the nation's sole source of the material.
Tritium, with a half-life of 121/2 years, must periodically be replenished, or "recharged," at the site's secure facility.
Typically, the Department of Defense removes expiring reservoirs from warheads and ships them to SRS, where they are recharged and returned. Surplus tritium from dismantled reservoirs remains at SRS as inventory.
SRS, Y-12 and several other nuclear weapons sites use the same security contractor, WSI – formerly Wackenhut Services Inc. – whose parent company is now called G4S Government Solutions.
Turner is the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. His bill has six co-sponsors.