We hate to say, 'We told you so,' but when POGO released U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Livermore Homes and Plutonium Make Bad Neighbors just two months ago, we recommended that the one ton of weapons-grade and weapons-quantity of plutonium and highly enriched uranium be removed from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore Lab) within the next year because it cannot be adequately protected. Suicidal terrorists would not need to steal the material, DOE's most dangerous and expensive-to-guard special nuclear material (SNM); they simply could detonate it into an Improvised Nuclear Device on the spot. Roughly seven million people live within a 50 mile radius of Livermore Lab, a nuclear weapons facility located in the greater metropolis of San Francisco, CA, which poses the most significant security threat of any such facility in the U.S.
Now, TIME Magazine is reporting that in late April 2008, government mock terrorists tested Livermore Lab's security, and were able to defeat the protective force and gain access to their target-simulated SNM. After speaking with our sources on the ground at Livermore Lab, as well as at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), POGO has heard some of what happened. We are not that surprised by what we learned.
One reason the Lab's protective guard force was not able to defend the bomb-making material is because the hydraulic lift on the vehicles used to deploy the Lab's Dillon Aero M134D guns, popularly known as the Gatling gun, did not work. Faced with pressure to demonstrate that the Lab could fend off a terrorist attack, in 2006 NNSA announced the deployment of this enormously lethal weapon capable of firing 4,000 rounds a minute with a military "kill-range" of one mile, but with an ability to kill up to two miles. Within the one-mile range of the Lab are two elementary schools, a pre-school, a middle school, a senior center, and athletic fields. This risk to the population, combined with analysis from Army Special Operations experts, underlies POGO's position that the Gatling is the wrong weapon for the site.
Another reason that the Lab's security was penetrated is that members of the Lab's SWAT team, known as a Special Response Team (SRT), have not trained together as a "team" for years. This goes against law enforcement best practices--guards need opportunities to see how their teammates actually communicate and respond during an emergency.
POGO is pleased that NNSA Principal Deputy Bill Ostendorff seems to be taking this recent security lapse quite seriously, including raising "a number of areas that require immediate attention," with the Board of Governors of Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS),the private contractor who manages the Lab. However, additional training or gadgetry will not change the fact that the Lab is located in a growing residential community-there are now housing developments that sit only 300 yards from Building 332 (the Superblock), which houses the Lab's plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Livermore Lab can never be a safe place to store SNM for the weapons complex.
We hope that this incident sounds a loud warning bell on Capitol Hill about the need to include language in upcoming appropriations bills that pressures NNSA to remove SNM from Livermore Lab by March 2009, a date that POGO determined after researching whether NNSA has adequate containers, transport, and space at other sites. After releasing our report in March, POGO has been disappointed to learn during meetings with congressional staffers that they are comfortable with NNSA's commitment to remove the material by the end of 2012. Now is the time to secure this large homeland security vulnerability.
Be sure to check out our press alert and YouTube video (see below) on the security weaknesses at Livermore.
-- Ingrid Drake and Peter Stockton