February 1, 2006
Security Doors Faulty 6 Years Ago; New Trespass Incident Raises More Questions
DURHAM, NC – Two newly discovered federal documents were submitted to investigators today that appear to support security guards’ charges that managers of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant let essential security equipment go unrepaired for years in order to contain costs. Meanwhile, a Monday night incident involving gunshots and trespassers at the Harris site is under investigation by law enforcement.
David Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, found court documents from a legal case between Orange County and Harris owner CP&L (now known as Progress Energy), in which Lochbaum served as a technical expert. The October 21, 1999 deposition related to a tour of Harris taken the previous day by another county expert, Dr. Gordon Thompson, along with county attorney Diane Curran and officials of CP&L and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The transcript shows Thompson describing to CP&L’s attorney his concern that approximately one-third of the security doors they encountered did not function properly.
The second document, also discovered by Lochbaum, is a July 2003 NRC inspection report stating, “During the last completion of the fire door surveillance procedure, relatively many fire doors were identified with deficiencies.” The next line states,“Excessive work is required to maintain 9-foot-tall fire doors.” More details are contained in two other NRC reports unavailable to the public. Fire doors are sometimes also classified as security doors, and their operability is essential to plant safety.
Lochbaum said that while it is not clear that the same doors from 1999 were the same ones guards said had remained broken for months or longer in December 2005, the documents suggest a pattern consistent with guards’ claims that cost-cutting is more important to Progress than security. “It’s odd that a company who can’t even seem to figure out doors would think about building a new nuclear plant,” he said. Despite the ongoing security investigation, Progress announced last week that it wants to build more reactors at Harris.
Numerous allegations by plant guards of lax security led Union of Concerned Scientists and NC WARN to file a December 13thcomplaint with federal and state investigators. A number of the guards’ charges, which included violations at checkpoints, inoperable detection equipment, and guards being punished for reporting injuries and other security problems, have been confirmed. Progress also confirmed guards’ reports that an intruder hung a flag atop a vital communications tower in November, and that a guard reported being fired on from off-site in August.
Guards reported that Progress was still trying to repair security doors when NRC investigators arrived in January, apparently because parts for the 20 year-old doors were hard for Progress to obtain.
Lochbaum and NC WARN submitted the two documents to NRC officials investigating the charges against Progress, and to the NRC’s Office of Inspector General, which is looking into the question of potential NRC misconduct. The letter stated: “It would seem that ASLB’s knowledge of failed security doors in 1999 should be subject to inquiry by the OIG.”
The Orange County case ran from 1999 through 2002 and involved Harris’ pools storing highly radioactivewaste fuel. Both Thompson and Lochbaum cited intentional acts as the leading risk factor for a catastrophic radiation release from the nation’s largest waste pools. But an NRC Licensing Board refused to allow technical debate over security issues.
NC WARN Director Jim Warren noted that in December, Progress declared there had never been any faulty security doors. After anonymous guards repeatedly sent information to UCS and NC WARN challenging that claim, Progress admitted “some doors” had problems but downplayed their significance.
Warren today said, “NRC regulations require that an armed guard must immediately be stationed at any security door reported as faulty, the door must remain guarded until it is repaired, and the failure must be reported to NRC within one hour.” He added that guards say at least a third of the guard force confirmed to NRC investigators most or all of the list of December allegations.
Warren said that guards are pointing out that doors and gates and have locking mechanisms, alarms and other equipment for a reason, and that some of the doors lead to vital areas of the plant. “We stand with these security professionals who insist that defending a nuclear power plant is a tough job, and they demand all elements of the defensive strategy be fully operational at all times. It’s not enough just to show a strong presence when Progress brings public officials and the media for tours.”
NC WARN is a grassroots non-profit using science and activism to tackle climate change and reduce hazards to public health and the environment from nuclear power and other polluting electricity production, and working for a transition to safe, economical energy in North Carolina.