U.S. to probe allegation of nuclear plant inattentiveness


BY GARRY LENTON / Of The Patriot-News, 09/20/07 5:50 PM EDT
UPDATED: 09/20/07 9:46 PM EDT

Inspectors from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will arrive at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant today to inspect security there.


The move comes two days after owner Exelon Corp. said it was looking into allegations that at least one of its security officers was inattentive to duty, a term used by the NRC that often means sleeping.


The NRC, the agency that regulates commercial nuclear plants, said it is sending a team to conduct its own investigation of the alleged security violation at the York County plant.


The announcement is an indication that the allegations, if true, are serious. A statement released by the federal agency Thursday said the inspection teams are used to review circumstances surrounding significant issues at NRC-licensed facilities.


The five-member team includes specialists from the agency’s regional office in King of Prussia and from its headquarters in Rockville, Md. They are expected to be at the site for at least a week.


"The inspection team will comprehensively assess the Peach Bottom security issues to confirm that the security program is being effectively implemented,’’ said Samuel J. Collins, the agency’s regional administrator. "It will also assess Exelon’s actions in response to this information."


NRC officials have been monitoring the situation at Peach Bottom since company officials disclosed their investigation. Collins said the agency believes the site is secure.


A report will be issued within 30 days of the close of the inspection.


On Tuesday, Exelon announced it was looking into allegations that one or more security staff were inattentive to duty.


The company could not provide specifics such as the date and time the alleged incident occurred. Doing so could violate the confidentiality of the individual who presented the accusation, spokeswoman April Schilpp said.


Security at the plant is provided by Wackenhut Corp., which also provides security at Three Mile Island and Limerick, near Philadelphia.


The company is cooperating in the investigation, Exelon officials said.


Security at nuclear plants has been heightened since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


Exelon has spent more than $100 million on upgrades, including the installation of high-tech fencing and guard towers at its plants.


The company has also increased the size of its guard forces.

A series of attentiveness issues were identified at TMI in 2006, including an incident in which a control room manager was found sleeping.


"The core problem is too few people working too many hours,’’ said Eric Epstein, chairman of the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert.


He called for an independent investigation by an outside agency, and urged Gov. Ed Rendell to reconsider deploying the National -Guard or the state police to guard Exelon’s three plants in Pennsylvania. The cost should be borne by Exelon, he said.

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