Report doesn't urge guards at nuclear plants' entrances

Friday, July 18, 2008
Of The Patriot-News

Federal regulators, who have done much to beef up security at commercial nuclear power plants in the last seven years, are stopping short of requiring armed guards at the front door.

That decision should be left to plant owners, according to a 548-page U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission document that recommends several new security enhancements and would make permanent policies implemented in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Among the new requirements are policies intended to protect against cyber, or computer, assaults, and aircraft attacks.

Those recommendations await the approval of the commissioners of the NRC.

The refusal to require guards at plant entrances disappointed the Harrisburg-area watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, which filed the petition asking for the requirement nearly seven years ago.

"This regulator doesn't have the courage to stand up to the industry and issue a directive," said Scott Portzline, a security consultant to TMI-Alert, and main author of the petition.

The group argued that an unguarded entrance could encourage an attack by giving the impression that the plants are not protected, he said. Entrance guards could also provide an early warning of suspicious activity, Portzline said.

TMI-Alert's petition had the support of local officials, including Cumberland County commissioners, former Lancaster Mayor Charles Smithgall and former state Rep. Bruce Smith, R-Dillsburg.

It was opposed by industry-related groups, including the Nuclear Energy Institute, which argued the requirement wasn't needed.

NRC staff agreed.

"A prescriptive requirement for armed security personnel ... may not always be the most effective approach for every licensee," the report said.

If approved by the commissioners, companies such as TMI-owner Exelon Corp. will continue to decide whether to post guards at an entrance.

Exelon pulled two guards from TMI's north gate in January 2006 and moved the officers to a more fortified position closer to the protected area of the plant.

Officials said the move would improve security. They also said the front-gate position left the officers vulnerable to attack.

Portzline said the plant operator's decision to pull the guards left two bridges to the island unprotected. If the bridges were destroyed, emergency vehicles would be unable to get onto the island.

TMI spokesman Ralph DeSantis said having a guard at the gate would not guarantee the protection of the bridge. The company does have a contingency plan if the bridge is destroyed, he said.

The NRC took seven years to answer TMI-Alert's petition, which even agency officials conceded was a long time.

The delay was attributed to the agency's decision to include the issue in its larger review of security requirements, NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci said.

GARRY LENTON: 255-8264 or

Source: The Patriot-News