Senate Democrats will propose federalizing nuclear plant guards

US Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), assistant majority leader, and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) said they will introduce legislation to make nuclear plant guards federal employees.

“The Senate has done a good job of passing legislation to improve safety at the nation’s airports,” Reid said.

It’s time we focus the same energy to improve safety at nuclear power plants. If professional law enforcement agents are the right answer for America’s airports than surely they are also the answer for guarding America’s nuclear reactors.”

House Republicans initially fought making airport security workers federal employees. The senators said the nuclear legislation, to be introduced after the Thanksgiving recess, will deal with vulnerabilities in the security forces, the physical layout of the plants, and the emergency response capabilities of the nation’s nuclear facilities.

Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents nuclear plant owners, said the industry is willing to listen but is puzzled because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is already doing a top to bottom study of nuclear safety and other measures dealing with safety issues are pending in the House.

“I don’t know why they did this,” he said. The industry is particularly interested in clearing up what is considered the responsibility of the plant owners and what is considered an act of war, which would require the military to step in. He said that line has not been clearly defined before but is spelled out in an amendment to a pending House bill.

Private guards hired by plant operators now handle security at the 103 nuclear reactors in 31 states. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the private security forces at many of the plants have been augmented by local or state police and in at least seven states by National Guard troops.

Sens. Reid and Clinton serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the commercial nuclear power industry.

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