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Energy ups their DBT, NRC still making excuses

The Department of Energy (DOE) has recently taken steps to markedly improve its "design basis threat" or DBT for its facilities. The DBT sets the standard which defensive security forces are supposed to be prepared to face. Insiders tell POGO that the new DOE DBT follows POGO's recommendations to prepare for attacks of around 12-14 attackers with 9/11-style coordination and sophistication. This is a significant increase in the initial post-9/11 plan of last year. POGO and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been critical of the DOE and the semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees security at DOE nuclear weapons sites, for having a DBT that underestimates possible terrorist threats. However, now that DOE is upping its DBT, more attention is being paid to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is responsible for oversight at the 65 nuclear power plant sites across the country, and the nuclear industry. According to a Greenwire (9/27/04) article, Larry Halloran, counsel to the House National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations Subcommittee, said that there's a growing disparity between DOE and NRC security estimates. He said the subcommittee "continues to press NRC to make sure its DBT reflects the threat and not just the cost." But NRC and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a nuclear industry-funded group, continue to stubbornly refuse calls for an increase in the DBT even while critics, including POGO, have repeatedly criticized the industry for lax security. Marvin Fertel, NEI senior vice president, wrote an op-ed, yesterday (9/27) published in The Energy Daily, calling (also entitled) "Criticism of Nuclear Plant Security Unwarranted".(Download Fertel's op-edPdf_icon) His piece attempts to address two of the main criticisms of the nuclear industry. Besides the issue of a DBT that doesn't foresee a sophisticated, dozen-plus attacker terrorist force, another criticism is that the the industry chose Wackenhut, which provides the defense at nearly half of the nation's nuclear power plant sites, to test the defense. As POGO has said before, "This is more than a case of the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. It is not an apparent conflict of interest, but a blatant conflict of interest." Fertel's rebuttal to this charge is the NRC oversees the "force-on-force" security exercises. However NRC is in many ways captured by the industry, and thus not serving and protecting the public with diligence. A recent example is a letter from NEI to NRC where the industry is telling NRC what to say to critics, inside Congress and out.(Download NEI Talking PointsPdf_icon) The NRC-NEI relationship is not one of aggressive oversight by a government agency over an industry where accidents and security breaches can be catastrophic, but of the reverse - a cowed federal agency using the industry's talking points. Another question not being asked, and indicative of the relationship, is why NEI was allowed to choose the "force-on-force" adversary team, Wackenhut, in the first place? Why didn't NRC choose?

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