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NRC Teams With Nuclear Industry Executives to Protect Profits, Not People

Jan. 17, 2002

NRC Teams With Nuclear Industry Executives to Protect Profits, Not People

Nuclear Industry?s Security Solution: Give Security Guards More Power, Liability Protection

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A compliant U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in tow, the nuclear power industry continues to put corporate profits ahead of public safety by fighting efforts to increase security at nuclear power plants, Public Citizen said today.

This month, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry?s lobbying organization, issued a report denouncing legislation that would federalize security forces at nuclear power plants. The latest blast against efforts to enhance security follows assurances from NRC Chairman Richard Meserve and NEI President Joe Colvin late last year that legislation to federalize forces at nuclear plants was unnecessary.

Instead, the NRC/NEI alliance says, Congress should address pressing questions about security at nuclear power plants by giving more authority to private plant security guards and shielding them from liability.

“While the public is increasingly and rightfully alarmed about whether their loved ones will be harmed and their towns turned into dead zones if somebody attacks a nuclear power plant, nuclear power officials are wringing their hands over rent-a-cop liability,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

Legislation to federalize security at nuclear power plants has been sponsored by Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). The bill, S. 1746, also would require plant operators and federal regulators to plan for more and broader types of threats than provided for under current law. The bill would mandate more secure storage of deadly nuclear waste, rigorous and frequent tests of plant security forces, and other measures aimed at strengthening security at nuclear power plants.

Plant operators would be charged fees to pay for enhanced security measures ? a key reason the legislation is opposed by nuclear power corporations, which merely pay lip service to protecting the public but are deadly serious about safeguarding shareholder value, Hauter said.

Shortly after the bill was introduced, Meserve and Colvin blasted the legislation. In a prepared statement, Colvin dismissed the issue of nuclear power plant security as “a problem that does not exist.” In a letter to Reid, Meserve parroted the views of the industry he is charged with regulating and asserted that the bill “addresses a non-existent problem.”

In fact, evidence indicates that real problems do exist. In tests conducted by the NRC during the 1990s, private security officers at plants failed to repel mock assailants and protect reactors from potential core damage and radiological release nearly half the time. Yet the NRC and the nuclear industry have long resisted calls for strengthened security measures at nuclear power plants. Prior to Sept. 11, Meserve and his colleagues on the commission were planning to adopt a self-policing program that would allow plant operators to conduct their own security tests and tell the NRC how the tests turned out.

Public Citizen cautioned that language in the Reid bill may need to be strengthened to fully assure that taxpayers and ratepayers are not beset by yet another add-on cost of nuclear power, this time by paying for increased security at nuclear power plants. Public Citizen also warned that even if S. 1746 becomes law, it can?t guarantee the public will be safe from nuclear reactors and the deadly waste they generate.

“The only way to remove the security threat posed by nuclear power is to phase out nuclear power and embrace conservation as well as safe, clean and renewable energy alternatives,” Hauter said. “Sadly, the Bush administration?s energy plan would do the opposite by promoting the construction of additional nuclear targets right here on the homefront.”

Meanwhile, the industry?s minimalist alternative to S. 1746, as described in an NEI report unveiled this month, dusts off an inadequate legislative proposal previously supported by the NRC. It would merely standardize laws across states to allow private security guards to carry weapons and authorize the guards to use deadly force.

Industry executives have acknowledged that the industry wants to be protected from lawsuits stemming from actions of private security forces. The Jan. 9 issue of The Energy Daily paraphrased NEI spokesman Doug Walters as saying that the industry’s proposal was “interlaced with liability concerns” and that “clarifying the liability issue and providing guards some sort of indemnity would be a major step forward.”

“The industry and its apologists in the NRC are pretending to offer an alternative to genuine security upgrades,” said Hugh Jackson, a nuclear policy analyst with Public Citizen. “But what they?ve offered is not only ineffective, but alarming. If the industry is so worried about the legal ramifications of having private security guards, nuclear executives should support a federalized security force, which would relieve them of their rent-a-cop liability concerns.”