The National Nuclear Security Administration this week cited B&W Y-12 — the former contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant — for repeated mishandling and improper disposal of classified documents. The preliminary notice of violations, based on the government’s investigation of events uncovered in 2014, was published on the Department of Energy’s Office of Enterprise Assessments website.
The letter cited three violations — one Severity Level I and two Severity Level II — and proposed a fine of $240,000, but the NNSA waived the fine because of B&W’s response to the problems and because the contractor had already been penalized with loss of fee in its annual performance evaluation. Security Level I is defined as violations of classified information security requirements with “actual or high potential for adverse impact on the national security.” Level II violations “represent lack of attention or carelessness” in protection of classified information.
In June 2014, a contractor worker at Y-12 reportedly identified a “work-related paper” that contained classified markings for secret/restricted data in an unclassified waste bag that had already been processed out of the plant’s high-security “material access area.” The waste bag contained about 19 additional papers that were either marked as classified or appeared to contain classified information.
That led to an examination of other waste containers, and more problems — in which unclassified containers potentially included classified information — were found.
“B&W Y-12 then decided not to search any additional containers because they were, given the prior results, presumed likely to contain additional classified information and further searches would have added to the cost and potential safety concerns associated with low-level waste,” the investigation report stated.
The report indicates that the problem with improper disposal of potentially classified information at unclassified burial sites had been going on for years. That was based on talks with workers at the Oak Ridge site. The report noted that the shipping containers, some of which may have included classified documents, went to an “off-site burial location,” although the location of the burial site wasn’t specified.
The Department of Energy confirmed the investigation in 2014, and aspects of the missteps on classified info and other problems were contained in correspondence obtained by the News Sentinel. But Consolidated Nuclear Security — the contractor that replaced B&W Y-12 on July 1, 2014 — emphasized that an internal investigation had determined that no classified information had been “compromised” and told employees that news reports had exaggerated the concerns.
According to the notice of violations, B&W Y-12 — during an enforcement conference held in April 2015 — disagreed with the “conclusions and representations” in the DOE investigation report. If it chooses, B&W may submit a written reply to the notice of violations within 30 calendar days.
NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz, in a letter to B&W executive David Richardson, wrote, “Based on the evaluation of the evidence in this matter, including information collected during DOE’s onsite investigation and presented at the enforcement conference, NNSA concludes that B&W Y-12 violated multiple requirements” that were enforceable under federal rules and regulations for handling classified information.
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