KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Seven guards have been caught sleeping at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge since 2000, a federal spokesman said Wednesday.
Three were fired and the rest were disciplined, said Steven Wyatt, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a Department of Energy unit that oversees the Y-12 complex.
The administration reported Monday only two guards had fallen asleep at their posts in four years at the high-security plant, about 20 miles west of Knoxville.
But Wyatt said Wednesday that did not cover the full extent of Wackenhut Services Inc.'s Oak Ridge security contract, which began in January 2000. Six cases of guard-napping involving seven officers were found during the seven-year period.
Y-12, a potential terrorist target containing the key ingredients for a "dirty bomb," makes uranium parts for every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It also dismantles old weapons and is the nation's primary storehouse for bomb-grade uranium.
Wackenhut Services' napping-guard record in Oak Ridge came up for questioning after its parent company, The Wackenhut Corp., recently lost a security contract for 10 nuclear power plants after sleeping guards were found at a Pennsylvania station.
However, Florida-based Wackenhut Services Inc. is considered an independent subsidiary of The Wackenhut Corp., and has its own board of directors.
"Given how serious NNSA considers our responsibility of safeguarding our nuclear facilities, we feel it is important to provide you with a complete accounting of inattention incidents involving security police officers found sleeping on the job at Y-12," Wyatt explained.
Three officers were found "intentionally sleeping on duty" and were terminated — two guards in 2000 and one in 2002. The other cases were less blatant, with discipline ranging up to three weeks' suspension without pay and 12-month probation for all of them.
The worst cases occurred at the start of Wackenhut's contract, when long hours and overtime were more common for security officers.
However, Wyatt said that "overtime was not a factor in any of these incidents" and Wackenhut Services has policies in place to "aggressively watch for indications of security police officers being too tired to perform their duties."
Supervisors are required to check the fitness of guards when they begin their shifts, check on them in the field, rotate their posts and patrols, and encourage them to tell supervisors if they are too tired.
Meanwhile, Wackenhut-Oak Ridge spokeswoman Courtney Henry said reducing overtime "has been a goal here for sometime." And Wyatt noted overtime "has been reduced dramatically."
Overall, guard-napping has been a relatively small problem at Y-12 considering the hundreds of guards working around the clock, and Wackenhut has "taken aggressive actions in each case" when it has been discovered, Wyatt said.
"There have been a few isolated incidents for us, which we took very seriously," the Wackenhut spokeswoman said. "For the number of security officers that we have working at Y-12, it is a very small number."