Hiring for Construction at Oak Ridge Nuclear Facility Raises Security Issues

Construction of two privately financed buildings at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant is set to begin later this month, and it will be an "open shop" project, which means it will be open for union and nonunion workers.

Union workers historically have done most of the work on the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge reservation under an existing labor agreement. Because these facilities will be privately owned and built, those rules do not apply.

"There will lots of opportunity for the unions to work on this project," said Wayne Roquemore, president of Lawler-Wood, the developer. But he said subcontractors would not be required to hire union-only workers.

Wages will be based on the union wage rate in Oak Ridge, Roquemore said. "There is no reason for the unions to not want to participate," he said.

Meanwhile, Roquemore clarified a bid notice that went out from Turner Universal, the construction chief on the Oak Ridge project. The Oct. 25 notice indicated that workers on Site B -- a visitor center, etc., at the Y-12 entrance on Scarboro Road -- would not be required to have a contractor badge or proof of U.S. citizenship.

This notice raised eyebrows because DOE's inspector general raised heck earlier this year when another construction project used foreign workers at a site associated with Y-12 activities. Those workers may have had access to sensitive information, the report said.

Roquemore said Turner misunderstood the requirements and, after talking with BWXT, changed the notice to require proof of U.S. citizenship for workers.

However, he said the project team is trying to get those requirements loosened so more subcontractors can participate. Roquemore said officials would like permission to use legally qualified foreign workers at Site B, which is outside Y-12's high-security zone.

Steven Wyatt, a federal spokesman at Y-12, said security is not an issue at the publicly accessible building at the plant's entrance. "It's really just not a concern," he said.

Another much larger office facility is to be built inside Y-12's fences and will house many of the plant's engineering and technical staff members, as well as the top administrators. Security requirements presumably will be much stiffer there.