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Project on Government Oversight




POGO Fact Sheet: Background on Security Failures

January 1, 2002 


  • The Department of Energy (DOE) stores and transports weapons-grade plutonium and highly-enriched uranium nationwide. DOE possesses enough material to make as many as 100,000 nuclear weapons.

  • DOE hires private entities such as Wackenhut Corporation and University of California to protect nuclear weapons facilities. Since 1992, the number of protective forces has decreased by 40%.

  • DOE conducts mock terrorist attacks to test security, often employing U.S. military forces to take on the role of "terrorists." DOE identifies three terrorist threat scenarios to physical security:

  • Theft of weapons-grade nuclear materials;
  • Radiological sabotage by a suicidal terrorist -- most likely by a truck bomb or conventional explosives inside a facility -- dispersing tons of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium into the atmosphere; and
  • Creation and explosion of a "home made" nuclear device.
  • Even though notified in advance when and where tests will occur, protective forces fail tests more than 50% of the time.

  • DOE managers have dumbed-down tests to make a passing grade, preventing "attackers" from using such commercially-available items as armor-piercing bullets and grenades. Navy SEALs refused to participate in exercises any longer because the tests were so unrealistic.

  • The following examples of security failures, by necessity, are not recent which allows them to be discussed in an unclassified forum:

  • In a 1998 test at the Rocky Flats nuclear production facility, Navy SEALs successfully "stole" enough material to make multiple nuclear weapons.
  • In an October 2000 test at a Los Alamos facility, the "terrorists" had enough time to construct and "detonate" a nuclear device.
  • Several key solutions could improve security problems at DOE:

  • Under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, close unneeded facilities and consolidate weapons-grade nuclear materials into fewer, more easily-defended underground locations;
  • Immobilize excess nuclear materials so that they can no longer be used by terrorists;
  • Take security oversight out of DOE so that an independent and more rigorous analysis can take place;
  • Improve the effectiveness of DOE's protective forces by increasing the size of the force and upgrading outdated training, weaponry, and security tactics; and
  • In the short term, assign military units with SWAT capability to guard special nuclear materials inventories.

      Click on the link to view a copy of POGO's recently released report, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security At Risk." 

      Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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