NRC finds problems with Pa. plant attack drill

Federal regulators cite western Pa. nuclear plant for problems with drill simulating attack

Associated Press

SHIPPINGPORT, Pa. (AP) -- The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found problems with a safety drill earlier this year meant to simulate a terrorist attack against a western Pennsylvania nuclear power plant.

Officials with the NRC and FirstEnergy Corp., which owns the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station, have acknowledged the problems without specifying what happened or saying how severe the potential violations might have been.

The problems occurred in April when NRC inspectors visited the plant about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh during the drill. According to a letter the NRC sent to FirstEnergy on Aug. 8, inspectors found six violations at the "green" level of a color-coded violations scale and one violation above the "green" level. The color-coded scale has four levels of violations, with green being the least serious.

FirstEnergy is appealing any findings that the violations were more serious than "green" and is scheduled to meet with NRC officials behind closed doors on Sept. 5 before the agency issues a final ruling on the violations.

"The good news for people living nearby is that the NRC came in and identified these security problems during an intensive test," said Dave Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The poor showing is embarrassing to the company. Had these vulnerabilities been found by real bad guys, the poor showing would have grave implications."

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said the company believes the violations didn't result from a security failure but from the way the company conducted the drill.

"We believe the issue involves how the conduct of the drill was managed by our personnel rather than representing a deficiency in our protective strategy," she said.

An NRC spokesman declined to specify the problems, citing security concerns.

"We cannot discuss details of security-related issues at U.S. nuclear power plants so as to not disseminate information that might be of potential valued to plant adversaries," spokesman Neil Sheehan said. However, the NRC has said the problems were corrected before its inspectors left the plant.

The attack drills are mandatory every three years. Before Sept. 11, such drills were required every eight years.

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