Nuclear plant manager fires security company

(Tue, Sep/25/2007)

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Exelon Corp. said Monday it will end its contract with a company that provides security at Peach Bottom nuclear power plant following an investigation of reports that security officers were caught on videotape nodding off or sleeping on the job.

Video footage taken two to six months ago showed the Wackenhut Corp. guards napping while sitting on chairs in a "ready room," which is used as a break room, Exelon Generation Chief Operating Officer Chris Crane said in a statement.

"This is not acceptable and we will not tolerate it," Crane said, though he said the actions did not affect plant safety or security. Guards are allowed to read, study, eat or relax in the room but are required to remain alert and ready to respond throughout their shifts, company officials said.

Exelon is in the process of switching to an in-house security staff, Crane said.

The footage, which was taped by another security guard, appeared to show fewer than 10 guards, Exelon spokesman Craig Nesbit said. Company officials believe the guards were recorded on the overnight shift, he said.

Wackenhut, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., provides security for Chicago-based Exelon's 10 nuclear power plants, and Exelon is undertaking a broader review of security at those sites, Crane said.

Wackenhut's senior vice president, Marc Shapiro, said officials considered the apparent lapses in attentiveness at Peach Bottom "an anomaly."

"At this point, it's a small number of security personnel that were not performing as they should have," Shapiro said.

Nesbit would not disclose how many Wackenhut guards work at the facility, saying the information was classified. He said the investigation of the videos is continuing.

Reports of inattentiveness on the part of guards at Peach Bottom, which is on the Susquehanna River in south-central Pennsylvania, first surfaced last week. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said last week the agency was increasing inspections at the plant, including unannounced visits at off-hours to check on guards.

Exelon is the country's biggest producer of nuclear energy. In addition to Peach Bottom, Exelon owns the Three Mile Island and Limerick nuclear plants in Pennsylvania, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, and six plants in Illinois.

Eric Epstein of Three Mile Island Alert, a group that monitors Three Mile Island's operations, said the Peach Bottom incident presents an opportunity for the industry to rethink its approach to security.

"This is an opportunity to review the practice of outsourcing security, and examine the potential for a uniform, federal nuclear police force," he said.


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