Federal Officials: Nevada Test Site Security Better Since Report

LAS VEGAS -- Security has improved at the Nevada Test Site and other national nuclear weapons sites since inspections and a report faulting security at the nation's nuclear weapons sites, a federal official said Friday.

"We've continued to make upgrades modifications to security at the Test Site," said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration in North Las Vegas.

He referred to a May report by retired U.S. Navy Adm. Richard Mies that identified a lack of accountability, a bias against training, a lack of trust in the security organization and absence of a team approach, among other problems.

NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks said in a Sept. 1 statement that the agency had addressed 70 percent of the security concerns identified by Mies and a team of inspectors from October 2003 to April 2004. Brooks said plans called for addressing most of the remaining issues by the end of the year.

The 121-page report identifies an absence of accountability, a bias against training, a lack of trust in the security organization and absence of a team approach to security among other problems.

It said security guards rated poorly in a mock attack at the Test Site in August 2004. In another instance, an Energy Department audit noted that a guard brought unauthorized handguns to the Test Site during a 2003 training event.

The study also backed a proposal to consolidate nuclear weapons and materials at fewer, better-protected sites and identifies the Nevada Test Site and the Idaho National Laboratory as two logical locations.

The Test Site already accepts some weapons-grade nuclear materials at its high-security Device Assembly Facility from the Technical Area 18 site at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

A Test Site contract with security firm Wackenhut Services Inc. expires Dec. 31, Morgan said. Wackenhut is among bidders to continue work.

The NNSA is a semiautonomous Energy Department agency that runs the Test Site, a vast federal reservation nearly the size of Rhode Island.

The site some 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas hosted above- and below-ground nuclear detonations from 1951 to 1992. Parts of the site have used in recent years for underground "subcritical" experiments designed to test the nuclear stockpile without reaching critical mass for full-scale nuclear reactions.

Other sections of the site are used for hazardous materials spill training and Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism exercises.

(c) 2005 Associated Press