oversight

An Unclassified Digest of a Classified Report Entitled 'Commercial Nuclear Fuel Facilities Need Better Security'

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-05-02.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          DOCUMENT RESUME

02162 - [A1332322]

 An Unclassified Digest of a Classified Report Entitled
 "Commercial Nuclear Fuel Facilities Need Better Security".
,EMDi_-77-40a. May 2, 1977.

Report by Elmer B. Staats, Comptroller General.
Issue Area: Energy: Federal Role as a Proprietor of Eniergy
    Resources (1603).
Contact: Energy and Minerals Di.v.
Budget Function: Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy:
    Energy (305); National Defense: Atomic Energy Defense
    Activities (053).
organization Concerned: auclear Regulatory Commission; Enrrgy
    Research and Development administration.
                              1
Authority: Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.
         The Energy Research and Development Administration
(ERDA) is responsible for safeguarding nuclear materials at its
facilities, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NSC) is
charged with guarding such materials at commercial facilities.
Security systems are based on material accountability and
physical security, Findings/Conclusions: Problems in
accountability systems resulted from technical limitations in
measurements and time lags in accounting for missing materials.
The NRC could achieve more effecti-v monitoring of materials if
it changed procedures to apply to the individual material
balance areas rather than to an entire plant. Weaknesses in
physical security included testing of alarms, placing of guards,
personnel search and access control, and emergency lighAing.
ERDA has more effective physical security regulations than does
NRC, but NPC has more detailed accountability regulations.
Security systems should be upgraded to protect against an
increased threat level, using the best features of each system.
Recaomendations: Congress should amen& the Energy Reorganization
Act of 1974 to provide independent assessments of ERDA nuclear
facilities. Three alternatives for achieving this cbjective are
to give authority to NRC, to retain responsibility within ERDA,
or to authorize NRC to assess ERDA prograas periodically. Under
all alternatives, agencies should work together to achieve
optimum procedures. EPDA's oversight activities should be
insulated from developmental functions by the appointing of the
heal of oversight activities for a specified term of office with
clear-cut responsibilities. (HTW)
BY THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL
OF THE UNITED STATES




An Unclassified Digest Of
A Classified Report Entitled
"COMMERCIAL NUCLEAR
 FUEL FACILITIES NEED
 BETTER SECURITY"
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Energy Research and Development Administration




 EMD-7740a
                                 MAY 2, 1977
REPORT OF THE COMPTROLLER        COMMERCIAL NUCLEAR FUEL
GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES     FACILITIES NEED BETTER SECURITY
                                 Nuclear Regulatory Commission
                                 Energy Research and Develop-
                                   ment Administration

D I G E S T

The development and expanded use of nuclear energy in the
United States has res..lted in increasingly large amounts of
highly dangerous "special nuclear material" being processed
by the Government and private industry. Tne most dangerous
of these materials are plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

In addition to being used in the fabrication of bombs,
plutonium is an extremely toxic substance, with the potential
of causing cancer if inhaled, or exposed to an open wound.
Sucth materials, therefore, are potential targets of terrorist
groups, criminals, or agents of foreign countries. The
potentially catastrophic consequences of even a single theft
of significant quantities of such material and the possible
impact such an occurrence could have on the development of
nuclear-generated energy makes it essential that special
nuclear material be adequately protected.

Two Federal agencies are responsible for properly safeguarding
nuclear materials:

  -- The Energy Research and Development Administration
     for nuclear materials held by its research and
     development facilities; and

  -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission for establishing
     and enforcing nuclear materials safeguard require-
     ments at commercial facilities.
This report deals with weaknesses in the nuclear material
accountability and physical security systems at commercial
fuel fabrication and processing facilities. Unlike commer-
cial nuclear power reactors which use low enriched uranium
in the production of electricity, the fabrication and
processing facilities employ large quantities of plutonium
and highly enriched uranium, consequently these facilities
are attractive targets.

The basic systems used at facilities licensed by the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission to prevent special nuclear material from
being lost or stolen are (1) material control and accountability
for detecting and deterring thefts and (2) physical security
to prevent or re       to thefts.
                   -nr.d
ACCOUNTING FOR SPECIAL
NUCLEAR MATERIaL

Accounting for special nuclear materials is extremely complex
and is based on physical, chemical, and radiometric measure-
ments. Current statc-of-the-art limitations in measurement
instruments and the difficulties in measuring nuclear materials
held up in pipes, machinery, and filters preclude accurate
measurements. The accuracy ranges from as high as plus or
minus 0.1 percent to as low as plus or minus 80 percent.
The former Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agencies
have recognized the uncertainties and limitations of the
accountability systems. Since 1968, the Energy Research and
Development Administration has had an ongoing research and
development program aimed at improving the state of the art of
the instruments used to measure and record nuclear materials.
Also both agencies are developing a computerized measurement
and accountability system that may permit continuous control
of such material through automated recording and measurement
techniques resulting in more timely special nuclear material
data.
Discrepancies normally occur between physical and book
inventories. Discrepancies which cannot be reconciled have
been termed "raterial unaccounted for" (MUF), which is a
prime indicator of the effectiveness of nuclear materials
accountability and control systems.
Since licensed facilities began operating in 1955, the MUF
at major commercial facilities has amounted to thousands of
kilograms of special nuclear materials. Although these
quantities do not necessarily denote lost or stolen material,
the fact that it is missing greatly detracts from the
integrity of the safeguards system.
In addition, the accountability systemns do not provide timely
information on possible thefts so that prompt response and
recovery actions can be undertaken. Frequently, quantities
of material large enough to make a weapon go unaccounted for
from 1 to 2 months. At one of the commercial nuclear fuel
fabricators GAO visited, significant quantities of plutonium
had gone unaccounted for for about 1-1/2 months. Although
physical security procedures such as access and exit controls
helped assure that material was not removed from the plant,
the licensee and the Commission could not be certain whether
the loss was due to clerical error, to measurement inaccu-
racies or to actual theft. The Commission ultimately
attributed the incident to plutonium within the plant piping
and machinery that was previously unmeasured.


                             ii
Because of the inaccuracies and other limitations associated
with the accountability and material control systems for
nuclear material, the physical security systems must become
increasingly responsible for making sure that nuclear material
cannot be stolen.

Accountability on plant basis

The Commission imposes accountability constraints upon
licensees on a total plant basis to assess the significance
of total plant inventory discrepancies. Material unaccounted
for within these constraints is attributed to measurement
inaccuracies and accepted as normal Processing occurrences.
The facilities, however, coi.prise '.-ividual process
operations, referred to as material balance areas. The
material balance areas are intended tc localize nuclear
material losses or thefts.  Because accountability constraints
are imposed on an entire plant basis, a problem associated
with an individual material balance area may riot be isolated
since nuclear material losses and gains experienced else-
where in the plant may cancel it oct.

The Commission should change its procedures and monitor the
accounting of special nuclear material by individual material
balance area.

PROTECTING SPECIAL NUCLEAR MATERIAL

Physical security controls and procedures that the Commission
requires its licensees to adopt include such measures as

  -- armed guards;

  -- alarmed fences and vaults;

  -- electronic detection devices;

  -- liaison with local law enforcement authorities; and

  -- access and exit controls.
Physical security requirements were significantly upgraded
in November 1973 and even since that time, many additional
improvements have been implemented.

GAO found specific shortcomings in the physical security
systems used at the three licensees visited, these included
some items of noncompliance that the Commission inspectors
also identified. Weaknesses included:




                                 iii
  -- security alarms that were improperly tested;
  -- unciqar requirements as to where armed guards
     should be placed;
  -- poor personnel search and access control practices;
     and

  -- a lack of emergency lighting at certain key security
     areas.
In commenting on this report, Commission officials informed
GAO that all noncompliance items have been corrected.

Increasinr   threat of terrorism
While threats of terrorism are not uncommon to any industry
or institution, the nuclear industry is particularly vul-
nerable. It is difficult to predict tne exact dimensions,
nature, and level of sophistication of the terrorist threat
to nuclear facilities, however, recent Commission studies
suggest that the probable threat has increased and that
security systems at commercial fuel processing facilities
should be upgraded. The Commission is considering increasing
the minimum threat level that security systems are designed
to protect against.

The Commission should require security systems be upgraded
to protect against an increased threat level.

Guards' authority limited

The Commission has not clearly defined the authority of
private guards to use firearms in protecting special nuclear
material, due in part to individual State laws which restrict
the use of such weapons by private guard forces. For the
most part, State laws allow the use of deadly force only in
cases involving an imminent threat to life. The rights of
guards are no greater than those of private citizens.

Commission regulations require that guards responding to a
possible special nuclear material threat determine if a
threat really exists, assess its extent, and act to neutralize
the threat, either by themselves or by calling for assistance
from the local law enforcement authorities.  The regulations,
however, do not specifically address the issue of when a guard
can legally use a firearm to protect special nuclear material.
By interposing themselves between special nuclear material
and an adversary, actual circumstances may justify the guards
using firearms in self-defense. However, circumstances may
also be encountered where the use of firearms is necessary


                               iv
to protect the material but because personal danger is not
evident, guards may not be explicity authorized to use fire-
arms.

The Energy Research and Development Administration rules
governing the use of firearms contrast sharply with the
Commission's regulations. Agency guards are authorized to
discharge their firearms if needed, killing the person or
persons being fired upon if such action is necessary to pre-
vent special nuclear material from being stolen.

The Commission believes that its regulations provide for effec-
tive guard response within the limits of the law. The text of
the Commission's comments and GAO's evaluation are contained
in appendix II.

GAO believes that restrictions on the use of firearms by
guards at commercial licensed facilities diminishes their
ability to protect special nuclear material.

The Commission should seek Federal and/or State legislative
authority, as appropriate, to allow guards at licensed facili-
ties to use firearms to prevent the theft of special nuclear
material if such action is the minimum amount of force
necessary.
Security clearances needed

The keystone to a good security system is reliable and trust-
worthy employees. The Energy Research and Development Admini-
stration and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy
Commission, have for many years required personnel background
investigations and security clearances of its employees and
those of its contractors.  The Commission, on the other hand,
does not require employees of commercial fuel.processers to
undergo security clearances even though many have access to
special nuclear material or have critical safeguard responsi-
bilities. At one of the licensees GAO visited, a security
clearance screening program would have prevented a guard from
being employed who had a criminal record under another name,
including a 20-year sentence for bank robbery. While employed
at the licensee, the guard was arrested for alleged involvement
in a bank robbery and shooting incident. The Commission has
adopted a security clearance program for its employees and
has published, for public comment, a proposal to require
employees of its licensees to be cleared.

The Commission, should require a personnel security clearance
program for licensees processing significant quantities of
special nuclear material.



                             v
NEED TO CONSIDER RESTRUCTURING
FEDEiRALSAFEGUARDS
                                    Research and Development
While the Commission and the Energy     systems of physical
Administration both rely on interacting            to achieve
security and material control and accountability    procedures
nuclear safeguards, they sometimes have different     Commis-
and different requirements. The Nuclear Regulatory
                                            formal  and detailed
sion's accountability regulations are more Administration's
while the Energy Research and Development
physical security requirements are stronger.
                                              agency's require-
There is no clear cut indication of which             Nuclear
ments in total are stronger or more effective.may   have  different
facilities having similar safeguard   needs
                                        correspondingly present
levels of control and protection and There      are highly desir-
different degrees of vulnerability.
                                             in  both systems
able elements of both systems. The bestset of national safe-
should be incorporated into an optimum              protection.
guards regulations for consistent and uniform
                                               in the Systems Used
A prior GAO report entitled 'Shortcomings             Material"
 to Control and Protect Highly Dangerous Nuclearproblems with
 (Classified Secret/Restricted Data) discussed    Development Admin-
 the systems used by the Energy Research and nuclear material
 istration to account for and protect special
                                       Energy Research and Develop-
 at the facilities it sponsors. The improvements       needed in the
 ment Administration had identified               including the
 physical security systems of its facilities detectors, ngi'ht
 need for additional guards, alarms, doorway equipment.         In view
 vision devices and improved communications
                                               associated with
 of the inaccuracies and otherforlimitations
                                   special  nuclear    material,
 the systems used to account                                     resdon-
                                          made   increasingly
 the physical security systems must bematerial    cannot   be stolen.
 sible for making sure that nuclear                      to the
 GAO recommended that the Administrator emphasize
                                                 funds   to correct
 Congress the need for providing additional and, in the interim,
  identified physical security deficiencies         funds to make the
 give top priority to reprogramming available
  needed physical security improvements.
                                              on safeguarding
 Although this and the prior GAO report focus
                                           an optimum safe-
 special nulcear materials, the concept of     organization
 guards program administered by an independent
                                         assuring that the
 applies equally to the broader issue of
                                               protected from
 health and safety of the public is adequately
 the hazards of nuclear power.
                                             agency responsible
 The appropriateness of a single Government of nuclear power has
 for both promoting and regulating the use



                                  vi
 been questioned for almost two decades. The Energy Reorgani-
 zation Act of 1974 realigned these responsibilities by
                                                        sepa-
 rating the Atomic Energy Commission into the Energy Research
 and Development Administratior and the Nuclear Regulatory
 Commission. The first to promote nuclear development and
                                                           the
 second to regulate the industry.

The act, was only partially successful.  It was designed,
part, to eliminate the conflict of interest inherent withinin
the former Atomic Energy Commission and to provide the public
with a higher degree of confidence that special nulcear
materials were protected and that there would be no undue
to the public health or safety. However, the act did not risk
                                                            give
the Commission responsibility to regulate the Energy Research
and Development Administration's nuclear facilities. As
                                                          a
result, this agency is responsible for building an adequate
level of safeguards into its programs as they are developed
and operated.
To minimize the risk to the public of subordinating regu-
latory to promotional functions, to maximize objectivity
and impartiality, and to increase public confidence in
                                                       the
safe operation of nuclear facilities, GAO believes it is
necessary to assure an independent determination is made
                                                          that
Federal and commercial nuclear facilities are being operated
in the best interests of the security, health, and safety
of the Nation.
In GAO's view there are three alternative methods to achieve
this objective. One alternative is to give the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission the authority and responsibility
                                                        for
establishing policies, standards, and requirements with
                                                         over-
sight responsibility for all Energy Research and Development
Administration nuclear facilities.

A drawback to giving the Commission oversight over
Research and Development Administration facilities Energy
                                                   engaged
the nuclear weapons program is that the number of persons in
                                                           with
knowledge of plant layouts, nuclear stockpiles, and,
how nuclear weapons are made may increase. However, perhaps,
                                                      the
increase could be minimized by (1) transferring the agency
personnel currently inspecting the weapon facilities
Commission and (2) establishing within the Commission to the
                                                       a
group responsible for review of the weapons facilities small
                                                        with
access to national security information on a "need to know"
basis.
If the Commission is given oversight responsibility, GAO
envisions it would start at the point special nuclear
material is first produced and continue through the weapon



                             vii
fabrication, assembly, and storage processes up to the point
the completed weapons are turned over to the military.

The second alternative is to place the responsibility and
authority within the Energy Research and Development Admini-
stration. GAO strongly believes, however, that if the
Congress chooses this alternative, it also must enact clear
statutory provisions to properly insulate their oversight
activities from the developmental aspects of the Administra-
tion. A listing of the types of provisions that GAO believes
could effectively insulate these oversight activities is on
pages x and xi of this digest.

The third alternative is to authorize the Commission to
periodically assess the Energy Research and Development
Administration's nuclear programs and facilities, including
its weapons activities. This alternative should
the Commission annually report the results of its provide that
                                                   assessments,
as well as its plans for future assessments, to both the Energy
Research and Development Administration and the Congress. We
envision that assessments of the Energy Research and Develop-
me-t Administration's weapons programs would co'er special
nuclear material from the point it is first produced and
continue through the weapons fabrication program until :he
completed weapon is turned over :o the military.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO-THE CONGR2SS

GAO recommends that the Congress amend the Energy Reorgani-
zation Act of 1974 to provide independent assessments of
all Energy Research and Development Administration nuclear
facilities.  Such assessments should cover both the adequacy
of safeguarding nuclear material, and assuring the health and
safety of the public from nuclear operations.

There are tnree alternatives, in GAO's view, to accomplish the
above assessments. One alternative is to give the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission the authority and responsibility for
establishing policies, standards, and requirements in cooper-
ation with the Energy Research and Development Administration
for carrying out these assessments. The second alternative is
to retain this responsibility and authority within the Energy
Research and Development Administration. GAO strongly empha-
sizes, however, that if the Congress chooses this latter
alternative, that it also enact clear statutory provisions to
properly insulate these oversight activities from the develop-
mental aspects of the Administration's activities. GAO
included as an appendix to the report a listing of the types
of statutory provisions that it believes could effectively
insulate these oversight activities. The third alternative is
to authorize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to periodically


                           viii
assess the Energy Research and Development Administration's
nuclear programs and facilities and annually report the
results to the agency and the Congress.

GAO intends that under all alternatives, both agencies work
together in assuring that the best available procedures,
techniques, and criteria are used to safeguard special
nuclear material from theft and to protect the health and
safety of the public from the potential hazards of nuclear
operations.

In commenting on the first alternative the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission stated that they did not disagree with it. They
did, however, point out several complex issues that would have
to be resolved before the recommendation could be implemented.
The Commission's detailed comments are contained in appendix
II of the report.

The Energy Research and Development Administration considers
that the concept of independent assessment has considerable
merit from the standpoint of assuring the Administrator and
the public as to the adequacy of its nuclear operations.
However, .it does not consider that the first alternative of
placing this responsibility with the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission is viable since it would, in its view, impose extra-
ordinary burdens on both organizations without commensurate
benefit. They believe such a recommendation would be tanta-
mount to requiring its facilities to he licensed by the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Further, the Energy Research
and Development Administration contends that added Nuclear
Regulatory Commission activities at the Administration's
facilities could result in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
having to acquire expertise they do not now have and which
would, to a large extent, be duplicative of the Administra-
tion's. The Energy Research and Development Administration
has undertaken a review to determine how an independent
assessment activity could best be structured. The Administra-
tion's detailed comments are contained in appendix III to the
report.

The Administration's review is a step in the right direction.
GAO doubts, however, that ERDA can in fact, structure an
organization to independently assess its nuclear operations
without Congress enacting amending legislation, as suggested
above.
Nuclear development will continue to play an important role
in any national energy policy. Because, in GAO's view, the
future of nuclear energy depends heavily on the credibility
of Federal regulation of this energy source, GAO hopes its
recommendation will provide the impetus for dialogue among


                             ix
the appropriate congressional committees, the Energy Research
and Development Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission on the nature and extent of the Commission's and
the Administration's role in independently assuring the public
and the Congress that all nuclear facilities are properly
protected and that the public is adequately protected from
the hazards of nuclear operations. However, while dialogue
is important, timely action on this recommendation is crucial
and should be expedited.

In view of the Administration's proposed energy reorganization,
this may be an especially propitious time to consider
restructuring Federal nuclear oversight responsibilities.



ACTIONS THAT WOULD BE NEEDED TO
INSULATE ERDA OVERSIGHT ACTIVITIES
FROM DEVELOPMENTAL FUNCTIONS

  -- Give the head of the oversight activities (who would be
     appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate)
     a specified term of office. The term of office should
     exceed that of the Administrator of the Energy Research
     and Development Administration.

  -- Require that the head of the oversight activities report
     directly to the Administrator of the Energy Research and
     Development Administration.

  -- Stipulate by specific legislative provisions the responsi-
     bilities of the oversight organization emphasizing its
     independence from energy policy formulation and development.
     In this regard, provide through legislative history the
     intent of the Congress that the head of the oversight
     activities be able to speak independently on matters rela-
     tive to the oversight activities, including testimony
     before the Congress.

  -- Provide for close congressional monitoring of the over-
     sight organization's activities.

  -- Vest the oversight responsibilities directly in the head
     of the oversight organization.
  -- Require that any rtquest for Energy Research and Develop-
     ment Administration appropriations identify the portion
     of the request intended for the support of the oversight
     activities and a statement of the differences, if any,
     between the amounts requested and the head of the


                              x
  oversight activities assessment of the budgetary needs
  of the organization.

-- Provide that neither the head of the oversight activities
   nor the deputy head could be removed from office fcr pur-
   poses other than being permanently incapacitated, guilty
   of neglect of duty, malfeasance in office, guilty of a
   felony, or conduct of moral turpitude.

-- Establish the oversight activity as a professional
   organization by requiring its head to be a person who,
   by reason of professional background and experience,
   is specially qualified to handle a nuclear oversight
   activity and be chosen on a merit basis.




                          xi