Exelon axes Wackenhut security

Saturday, December 15, 2007
Of The Patriot-News

The global security firm that protects the Three Mile Island nuclear power station and 29 others nationwide has been fired by the largest nuclear plant owner in the nation.

Exelon Corp., stung by a videotape released in September that showed Wackenhut security officers sleeping at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in York County, announced it was ending its relationship with the company as its contracts expire next year.

The move affects TMI and the Limerick plant in Montgomery County. Exelon ended its contract with the security firm at Peach Bottom in November.

As with Peach Bottom, security will be taken over by Exelon, and Wackenhut employees can apply to keep their jobs, said Craig Nesbit, a spokesman for the Chicago-based energy company.

"We have decided to directly manage our own security force to ensure the highest standards of excellence," said Exelon's Chief Nuclear Officer Charles Pardee.

Eric Wilson, president of Wackenhut's Regulated Security Solutions Division, said the company regretted the loss of Exelon as a customer, but was not surprised.

Wilson said he was proud of Wackenhut's employees and noted there have been no security breaches or penetrations by terrorists at any of the facilities it protects.

Wackenhut protects 30 nuclear plants in 16 states. The loss of the Exelon contracts cuts that number by a third.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the work environment at the plant contributed to the problem and called on Exelon to make changes.

It is expected to cite the company with a violation of NRC rules; no fine is likely.

This week, the agency required plant operators to file reports detailing how they detect and correct behavioral problems that affect the alertness of security officers.

The NRC will review the information to determine if more regulatory actions are needed, officials said.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency had no role in Exelon's decision but would monitor the changeover.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., sent a letter Friday to Wackenhut's chairman and CEO, Gary Sanders, demanding information about the incident at Peach Bottom.

Casey said he was concerned how Wackenhut handled complaints. Kerry Beal, a Wackenhut employee at Peach Bottom, warned his supervisors that co-workers were routinely sleeping in a break room. Beal, in an interview with The Patriot-News, said he was scolded by the supervisor for not being a "team player."

Beal tried to get the NRC to investigate, but the agency told Exelon to conduct the probe. No problem was found. When those efforts failed, Beal made the videotape and gave it to WCBS-TV in New York City.

"Today's event spells the end of Wackenhut as a private contractor in the nuclear industry," said Eric Epstein, chairman of the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert.

Exelon officials will not disclose the number of security workers, but those familiar with the operations say the decision will affect more than 1,000 Wackenhut employees.

TMI will be the first plant to change from Wackenhut to Exelon control, said Craig Nesbit, spokesman for Exelon. The change will occur in February, he said. Limerick will make the change in April and security at all plants Exelon plants will be completed by July, he said.

GARRY LENTON: 255-8264 or glenton@patriot-news.com

Source: The Patriot-News