Faults Nuclear Facility Security Policies
washingtonpost.com, Monday, March 25, 2002
By Cheryl W. Thompson, Washington Post Staff Writer
Report: Background Checks Of Employees Are Inadequate.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not know
how many foreign nationals are employed at nuclear reactors and does
not require adequate background checks of employees that would determine
whether a worker was a member of a terrorist organization, according
to a report released today.
The report, "Security Gap: A Hard Look at the Soft Spots in Our
Civilian Nuclear Reactor Security," by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.),
a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, analyzed more than
100 pages of NRC correspondence Markey had requested from the agency.
The report found that although the NRC requires criminal background
checks of "prospective employees seeking unescorted access to protected
and vital areas of a nuclear power plant," the search is limited
to crimes committed in the United States.
"It is unacceptable that the NRC [does not have] a policy on screening
of foreign nationals," the report said. "Terrorists may now
be employed at nuclear reactors in the U.S. just as terrorists enrolled
at flight schools in the U.S."
The report found that security exercises at nuclear reactor sites are
inadequate and sites that conduct the exercises fail them half of the
time. The report also found that the NRC waited six months after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington before beefing
up security at nuclear reactors and that the agency has "historically
failed" to alter security regulations and has "yet to begin
a permanent revision of security regulations."
"Black hole after black hole is described and left unaddressed,"
Markey said. "Post 9-11, a nuclear safety agency that does not
know -- and seems little interested in finding out -- the nationality
of nuclear reactor workers or the level of resources being spent on
security at these sensitive facilities, is not doing its job."
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC, said yesterday that his agency
has worked diligently to make sure the 103 operating nuclear reactors
"We think we've been very proactive in trying to identify any
threats against nuclear power plants," Sheehan said.
The NRC has issued 30 advisories to the companies that operate the
power plants, advising them of steps to take to better protect the plants,
such as checking vehicles for bombs before they get too close to the
plant, Sheehan said. The agency also has kept the companies abreast
of alerts from law enforcement officials. And NRC Chairman Richard Meserve
recently ordered a "top-to-bottom" review of all aspects of
power plant security.
"There are a number of things that have been
done and will continue to be done," Sheehan said. "We're not
taking any threats against nuclear power plants lightly."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company