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Y-12 'meshes' security communications with new technology

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Y-12 National Security Complex is adopting state-of-the-art security technology originally developed for the military to provide real-time secure communications during an emergency.

One of the challenges facing NNSA labs and production sites is the need to balance constantly evolving communications options with a highly secure working environment. Y-12’s new Motomesh networking helps to meet that need.

“The critical nature of our mission demands our protective forces have the tools they require to maintain a high level of effectiveness,” said Brad Peterson, NNSA’s Associate Administrator for Defense Nuclear Security. “We don't want a balanced playing field with potential adversaries. Modern technologies can tip the scale in our favor and provide an advantage to the dedicated security professionals who guard our facilities. NNSA will continue to employ technologies that enhance security in an effective and efficient manner. Y-12's efforts will pay dividends across the nuclear security enterprise as more sites stand up wireless systems.”

Motomesh networks use wireless technology to communicate between fixed and mobile devices, such as command centers and soldiers in the field. For instance, during an event, all radio traffic and any other pertinent data, such as maps and floor plans, could be fed into a Motomesh network and sent to responders, who can access the data on laptops and other communications devices.

Information moves along nodes or connection points that act as independent routers. If the communications path is blocked or broken, information hops to other nodes to reach its destination. Even if there is a problem in one communications location, the information flow won’t stop.

Y-12’s security organization is implementing mesh networking to make information from many sources available whenever and wherever people need it, including in moving vehicles. The technology gives anyone with an approved and encrypted communications device a more complete assessment of the event through a more comprehensive set of data.

“The new wireless systems we are deploying are enhancements to existing communications systems, but what they will do is allow us to get better quality information faster, greatly improving tactical control for the good guys and helping make sure that our guys have the best technology available,” said Rick Glass, B&W Y-12 Safeguards and Security Risk Management Director.

“The technologies are the kind of things that have recently been utilized in-theater by the Department of Defense. We’ll be fully operational with these enhancements over the course of the next year.”

The new communications system is expected to dramatically lower costs by doing away with the need to run fiber optic cables to locations throughout the site.

Although other NNSA sites have tested mesh-enabled wireless networks, Y-12 was the first to complete the steps for the information system security plan that the National Nuclear Security Administration requires for system certification. Y-12 has shared the approved proposal and lessons learned with other NNSA sites, which should save time and money when they deploy their own wireless, mesh-enabled infrastructure.

For more information, video and photos of Y-12’s secure Motomesh communications network, please visit the new and improved NNSA website at  

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.