Tape lit fuse for nuclear changes
Video of guards asleep at Peach Bottom could force NRC overhaul

Of The Patriot-News
Sunday, January 13, 2008

Videotapes of sleeping guards shot by a freshly hired security worker at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in York County are sending ever-widening shock waves through the commercial nuclear community.

The tapes, which cost Lancaster County resident Kerry Beal his job, have focused national attention on the state of security at the nation's 64 nuclear power plant sites.

Since the tapes were made public last year, Exelon Corp., the nation's largest nuclear energy company with 10 plants, including Peach Bottom, Three Mile Island and Limerick in Pennsylvania, announced it would end its contracts with Wackenhut Corp., which employed the guards.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency responsible for overseeing commercial nuclear plants, launched a review of its procedures and ordered the industry to do the same.

The NRC, which has full-time inspectors at each plant, failed to catch the sleepers despite a detailed letter from a former Wackenhut security manager at TMI that detailed it could be done. Instead, the agency asked Exelon to investigate. The company said it found no evidence to support the allegation.

It was a "stunning failure," according to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, who announced Monday his committee would investigate the NRC's performance.

The fallout continued on Thursday when the CEO of Wackenhut, Gary A. Sanders, announced his resignation from the Florida-based company.

"Clearly, the videotape was the match to the fuse on a bombshell issue -- the NRC's lack of oversight and enforcement on a host of issues ranging from public health and safety to security," said Paul Gunter, of Beyond Nuclear, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-nuclear group.

Dingell's hearings could lay the groundwork for an overhaul of the NRC's structure and mission, he said.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the Peach Bottom matter already has the wheels of change turning at the NRC.

NRC Commissioner Gregory B. Jaczko told the Washington Post this month that "we have to change the way the NRC responds to these allegations."

The industry is responding, too, creating a task force to examine ways to ensure that staff are fit for duty, said Doug Walters, senior director of operations support for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

"We're seeing that there is not a consistent approach to this across the fleet," he said.

Eric Epstein, chairman of the Harrisburg-based watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, said the problems affecting the industry can be traced to deregulation of the power industry. TMI Alert has for years said that staffing cuts by companies such as Exelon have helped the bottom line but undermined security.

"Nobody wants to live by a nuclear plant guarded by Rip Van Winkle," Epstein said.


Since Wackenhut Corp. security officers were videotaped sleeping on the job at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station:
Exelon Corp. announced it was severing its relationship with the firm at all of its plants.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission began an internal review of how it handles whistleblower complaints.
Wackenhut's CEO quit.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced plans to conduct a review of the NRC.

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

Source: The Patriot-News