Lawrence Livermore Lab Adds New Weaponry to Protect Plutonium

Security at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has a new weapon capable of firing more than 50 shots per second.

Multiple six-barreled Gatling guns, some of them mounted on vehicles, will be added to the lab's defenses. Their primary mission: protecting Superblock, the lab's plutonium research and storage facility.

The addition of the machine guns is part of an ongoing process of upgrading security in the nuclear weapons complex since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Firepower is an important part of a protective strategy against people who are willing to die," said Linton Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, in Livermore on Thursday. "What we want to do is equip the protective force with the capability that will leave no doubt about the outcome."

In November, Brooks signed off on a 10-year environmental plan for the lab that would allow a doubling of the amount of plutonium, to 3,080 pounds, allowed in Superblock. Brooks said the new guns were not a response to the increase, however, because even without increasing the plutonium, there is already enough on hand to pose a problem should it end up in the wrong hands.

"What I'm trying to guard against is someone actually getting special nuclear materials," he said. "The goal doesn't change very much once you get above a certain quantity."

Brooks also said there are good arguments in favor of keeping the amount of plutonium down, and he may not increase the quantity at Livermore. He also acknowledged that Livermore requires a unique protective strategy because "you don't have to go too far before you're in someone's back yard."

The guns likely will be deployed at other sites within the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons complex around the country. Livermore is first to receive the weapons, which cost about $60,000 each.

Currently, the same type of guns are being used for convoy escort, border patrol and VIP protection, as well as for force protection onboard U.S. and British naval fleets. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps uses the guns on helicopters and armored vehicles.

Although managers at the lab already considered the lab secure, security chief Russ Miller said the new weapons are a definite improvement.

"This is much more effective," Miller said.

Lab spokesman David Schwoegler said the best protection the guns will offer is that of a deterrent.

"These are much like a nuclear weapon - they are best when not used," Schwoegler said. "We want people to reconsider targeting Livermore."

Brooks said he doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about Livermore's security because he is confident it is safe.

"The plutonium here is protected sufficiently well that anyone who decides they want to come here and steal it won't be happy with the outcome."


Some facts about this electric-powered (AC or DC) six-barrel Gatling gun:

Fires 3,000 or 4,000 7.62mm NATO rounds per minute

Can be mounted on any stationary or mobile surface

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