Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Two Recent Incidents of Insecurity

| July 21, 2015

Are nuclear sites secure?  There are some who might assume the answer is yes and that we should not worry about the possibility of nuclear bomb material being stolen. Yet, recent history has repeatedly demonstrated that high security facilities thought to be secure were actually vulnerable. Two such incidents last month illustrated this idea.

The first was a  prison break at the “maximum-security” Clinton Correctional Facility in the United States that occurred sometime around June 5th (when the inmates were last seen in their cells). Two convicted murderers, aided by two prison employees, escaped by cutting a hole in the back of their prison cell and crawling through a series of tunnels underneath the prison. According to current and retired officers, “a sense of complacency had taken hold” among the 1,400 correction officers at the facility, leading to numerous lapses in security. Until this incident, nobody had ever escaped from the prison’s maximum-security area.

The second incident took place in southern France at the Miramas military base. Very well informed thieves—who couldn’t have possibly been in that much of a hurry—cut through a fence and raided nine storehouses without being detected. In total, they got away with at least 40 grenades, 150 detonators, and an unknown quantity of explosives.  What is particularly concerning about this event is that, unlike the Clinton Correctional Facility, security personnel at Miramas had every reason to be vigilant against a potential threat. The base, which was surrounded by two electric fences and under 24-hour camera surveillance, was also in a heightened state of alert because of attacks throughout France over the past several months.

Much like facilities that store nuclear bomb material, one might think that a maximum-security prison and a military base where explosives are stored would be secure. Yet, the 1,400 employees of the Clinton Correction Facility—whose sole mission was to prevent nearly 3,000 inmates from escaping—were unable to prevent two murderers from breaking out. Moreover, a French military base was unable to prevent the theft of explosives from nine different storehouses. These examples of complacency and insider assistance demonstrate that even places thought to be well-protected can turn out to be vulnerable. If security can be defeated at these facilities, there is every reason to believe that a terrorist might attempt to defeat security systems at a nuclear facility. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Roth, Nickolas.Two Recent Incidents of Insecurity.” Nuclear Security Matters, July 21, 2015, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/two-recent-incidents-insecurity.