Exelon could escape fine over guards, NRC says

Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Of The Patriot-News

Security workers at a nuclear power plant in York County feared discipline, even being fired, if they reported procedural violations to their superiors, federal regulators reported Monday.

The finding is the latest issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as it investigates why guards employed by the Wackenhut Corp. were able to routinely sleep on the job for at least six months at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.

The NRC, reporting on the results of the second phase of its investigation at the plant, concluded that Exelon did a poor job of overseeing workers.

The agency will likely issue a "white" violation to the company, which is considered of low to moderate significance, said the NRC's Marsha Gamberoni. The agency uses a color-coded system to describe violations -- green, white, yellow and red, with red the most serious. But the company is not likely to be fined.

The guards were videotaped by a colleague, who, having failed to convince Wackenhut and plant owner Exelon Corp. to investigate, turned the tape over to a CBS news affiliate in New York city.

Wackenhut was under contract to Exelon to provide security at the plant. Since the videotape was made public in September, Exelon fired Wackenhut from the site and took the security operation in house.

The same company also protects Three Mile Island and Limerick nuclear plants. What federal investigators found was a work-place culture that accepted inattentive behavior, said Dana Caron, senior NRC inspector.

The problems were limited to one team of guards at the facility, he said.

Members of the team had been together for a long time and considered each other friends. Some were even related, Caron said.

Exelon officials accepted the NRC's findings.

Daniel DeBoer, the new security manager for Peach Bottom, called the situation "very significant" and said the company was taking aggressive action to correct it. A priority, he said, was ensuring that employees felt comfortable reporting concerns to their bosses.

The NRC's response drew criticism from a former Wackenhut employee who served as chief of security at TMI.

John Jasinski accused the agency of "watering down" its findings. Though the agency identified only about 10 workers as being inattentive, dozens more had to be aware of it, he said.

Eric Epstein, chairman of the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, said he was disappointed by the NRC's decision not to take punitive action against Exelon.

"If you want to get the company's attention, fine them," he said.

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