Originally created 11/08/97

Report praises SRS for security efforts



WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Department of Energy report released Friday found "no significant weaknesses" in the safeguarding of nuclear materials at Savannah River Site.

The report, compiled by the department's Office of Security Affairs, found fault with the level of security at three of the nation's defense nuclear complexes: the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site in Colorado, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

But the report praised SRS for beefing up security efforts, singling out two projects, one already complete and the other in progress.

The Energy Department report, and a second independent study of security at the defense nuclear sites also released on Friday, coincided with a series of security initiatives announced by Energy Secretary Federico Pena.

The slice of the pie for SRS will be $5.7 million this year to upgrade security at the site's storage facility for foreign-spent fuel rods and to upgrade computer systems used for security.

"There is no immediate danger at any of our sites," Mr. Pena said during a news conference. "But we do need to make improvements, and we're making them."

The internal report was particularly critical of the department's "fragmented and dysfunctional" security management system. To get at that nationwide shortcoming, Mr. Pena named a new director of the department's Office of Nonproliferation and National Security and announced creation of a three-member security board, with representation from the Defense Department, FBI and CIA.

Other steps the department will take to improve security include using Navy SEALs to help train Energy Department security officers, a $19 million plan to upgrade and replace aging security systems at Rocky Flats, and a $5 million commitment to protect classified information and prevent industrial espionage.

The report noted that SRS' ability to protect nuclear materials against theft was greatly enhanced after 1993 by moving materials out of an inadequately secure Building 321-M.

SRS managers also have helped prepare to bring new missions to the site by planning a highly secure underground storage project, the Actinide Storage Facility, which now is under design. Brian Costner of the Energy Research Foundation, an SRS watchdog group, said security at Savannah River Site compares favorably with other defense nuclear complexes because SRS has cut back in that area less than other sites.

"Savannah River is looking to build new storage vaults because they would like to bring in lots of plutonium from across the country," Mr. Costner said. "Politically, that may or may not be acceptable."

Friday marked the first time the Energy Department ever has released unclassified reports on security at all of the nation's defense nuclear plants.

"I believe we have a responsibility to the American people to address these challenges as openly as possible," Mr. Pena said.