Originally created 05/18/99

SRS to tighten security

U.S. Department of Energy officials are padlocking Savannah River Site.

Security is tightening at the federal nuclear site after Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced plans to reform security at all Energy Department facilities, an SRS official said Monday.

Mr. Richardson announced numerous security reforms May 11. The changes come after a scientist was accused of providing China with U.S. nuclear secrets from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

At SRS, workers refine materials for the nation's nuclear weapons and treat nuclear waste created while the weapons are produced. Tons of weapons-grade radioactive material are stored at the site.

As part of the secretary's initiative, SRS officials already have tightened security requirements for foreign visitors, said Kevin Hall, director of the site's Office of Safeguards and Security.

FBI and CIA background checks will be performed on all foreign visitors who enter areas where classified material is handled, Mr. Hall said. Previously, checks were performed only for visitors from "sensitive" countries such as India and Pakistan, he said.

Besides increasing security checks for foreign visitors, Mr. Richardson also created an office that will be responsible for security throughout the Energy Department complex. Previously, each division within the department had its own security programs and procedures.

Although the new division, the Office of Security and Emergency Operations, will oversee SRS security, it probably will not increase funding for the site's security efforts, Mr. Hall said. The site will spend about $100 million on security during the current fiscal year, said Rick Ford, an Energy Department spokesman at SRS.

Energy Department officials might send the site more counterintelligence agents, who work to prevent and detect spying, Mr. Hall said. The site also might receive agents for its "cyber-security" program, which ensures that information on SRS computers is secure, Mr. Hall said.

No changes are likely in the site's 750-person security force, Mr. Hall said. The paramilitary force, which secures site facilities and boundaries, is operated by Wackenhut Services Inc. under contract with the Energy Department.

"I'm expecting that to be relatively static," Mr. Hall said. "We found what we have meets the requirements, and we're going to keep that in place."

Brandon Haddock covers energy issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.


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