HOUSTON, Jan 23 — Making security workers at commercial nuclear power plants federal employees would create more problems than it would solve and would do nothing to increase security, said Richard Meserve, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
“Physical security is very high,” he said. “Nuclear power plants are not soft targets.”
Meserve said legislation introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not help the NRC perform its duty. The bill would require the NRC to hire a nuclear plant security force and develop a security plan for US nuclear power plants. Markey and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, also asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate security at NRC-licensed facilities.
Hiring security workers would cause significant problems in the strategy and deployment of security and turn the NRC into an administrator of security rather than an independent regulatory agency, Merserve said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Commenting on the backgrounds of the current members of the protective forces, Meserve pointed out more than two-thirds have either military or law enforcement backgrounds. Don Walker, president of Pinkertons, said private security organizations appreciated Meserve’s support.
“We oppose the Reid-Markey legislation and offer instead to support proposals from Congress or the administration that will increase standards and funding where appropriate,” Walker said.
In a Jan. 10 letter to the GAO, Dingell and Markey called for a review of the adequacy of the NRC’s public response and interim security measures taken in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “Historically, there has been a reluctance on the part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry to establish and maintain adequate security measures,” they said in the letter.
The congressmen criticized the NRC for failing to raise the bar and establish realistic security rules after terrorists commandeered three commercial aircraft and slammed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. They also complained security requirements for spent nuclear fuel facilities are inadequate.
The NRC has “inexplicably” reduced insurance, emergency preparedness, and safeguard requirements at these facilities, which are not hardened to the same extent as reactor cores, Markey and Dingell said. Moreover, the congressmen said the agency has done a poor job of tracking nuclear fuel, including missing spent fuel rods and reports of thefts and losses from industrial and medical sites.
Markey and Dingell asked the GAO to evaluate the NRC’s personnel security program which requires a background check of new employees at nuclear plants and to make recommendations for any further action by the agency, nuclear plant owners, or Congress.