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Markey says security funds stinted

Seeks to protect big nuclear sites from terrorism

By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 4/22/2002

WASHINGTON - Representative Edward J. Markey complained yesterday that the Bush administration is providing insufficient money to improve security at Energy Department sites where nuclear material is stored, citing concern within the Bush administration itself.

The Malden Democrat made public a letter to Bush written in response to a decision by the Office of Management and Budget to refuse the Energy Department's $26.4 million request to boost its emergency security response efforts after Sept. 11.

Markey said 10 facilities in locations such as Denver and the San Francisco Bay area have large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium that are vulnerable to attack. Terrorists could spread radiation by attaching conventional explosives to the radioactive material or by assembling a crude nuclear device there.

''I am concerned that a group of suicidal terrorists would not bother to attempt to steal nuclear weapons materials from these sites,'' Markey wrote to Bush. ''Instead, they would gain access to the nuclear materials located within them by killing the security guard forces, and, once inside the facility, would construct and detonate dirty bombs or homemade nuclear bombs.''

While the Energy Department has previously said publicly its sites are secure, the congressman attached a March 28 letter from the agency's chief financial officer, Bruce M. Carnes, who complained to the OMB about its initial decision not to give the Energy Department additional security money. The letter was provided to Markey's office by two apparent whistleblowers.

''The department's remaining safeguards and security budgets are not sufficient to implement the security posture requirements that appropriately respond to the Sept. 11th attacks,'' said a letter from Carnes to an OMB official. ''We are disconcerted that OMB refused our security supplemental request.''

Carnes also complained about the abrupt treatment the department received from the OMB and Marcus Peacock, an official in the Natural Resources, Energy, and Science Division.

''I would have much preferred to have heard this from you personally, and been given an opportunity to discuss, not to mention, appeal your decision,'' Carnes wrote to Peacock.

An OMB Spokeswoman, Amy Call, said the office is still considering the department's request. She also said the Energy Department is in the middle of a security review, and that OMB wants to wait until it is completed.

''Once they are done with that, we will know what the vulnerabilities are and the priorities for funding,'' Call said.

Lisa Cutler, an Energy Department spokeswoman, minimized any controversy and said the agency would shift around money, if necessary, to provide added security.

''There's always a lot of give and take within any administration about the way to meet any challenges,'' said Cutler, who represents the agency's National Nuclear Security Administration. ''We will do what we need to do to make the funding available.''

Markey has long criticized the nuclear industry. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, he also has expressed grave concern about the safety of nuclear power plants and the security around nuclear materials. Authorities suspect that terrorist groups have tried to gain access to nuclear devices that could be smuggled in a suitcase. Officials say they are concerned about so-called dirty bombs, in which a blast from explosives such as dynamite spreads radiation by the wind.

In October 1997, Markey complained to Federico Pena, then secretary of energy, about security at Energy Department sites, including Rocky Flats near Denver, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

On Jan. 23, he wrote to the current secretary, Spencer Abraham, questioning the adequacy of security at department locations. He cited a study in September by the Project on Government Oversight, a defense and energy monitoring group.

Retired General John Gordon, the top department official responsible for overseeing nuclear security, issued a statement March 28 saying the report used outdated data. He added: ''Allegations that the Department of Energy has lax security at its nuclear weapons facilities are false and misleading.''

On March 14, the Energy Department requested additional money from the OMB for security and emergency response efforts in response to Sept. 11.

In his letter, Carnes, the Energy official, wrote to OMB: ''We appreciate your support for our $26.4 million supplemental request to increase emergency response efforts, however, we are very disappointed that we did not get your support for supplemental security funding.''

Markey called it an ''inexplicable decision'' and wrote to Bush: ''I am stunned by the apparent failure of the White House Office of Management and Budget to provide sufficient resources to adequately protect this country's nuclear weapons facilities from terrorist attacks.''

A Markey aide said the other sites include Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, Savannah River in Georgia, and Sandia in Alabama.

Glen Johnson can be reached at

This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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