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Project on Government Oversight

POGO letter to NRC Chairman Diaz regarding ongoing nuclear security officer fatigue

Related Content: Nuclear Power, Nuclear Security
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June 10, 2005


Chairman Nils J. Diaz
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
11555 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Via facsimile: (301) 415-1757

Dear Chairman Diaz,

POGO has interviewed over 200 security officers at more than 40 nuclear power plants When we issued our report in 2002, Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices from Inside the Fences, one of our findings was that guards were working 60-72 hours a week or more. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) responded quickly with an order that limited guards to 48 hours per week - except in extraordinary circumstances where some guards could work up to 72 hours (but the group of armed responders included in the security plan could only work an average of 48 hours).

In the last three to four months, POGO has again been hearing from guards at a number of facilities complaining about excessive overtime and resultant fatigue. POGO has interviewed a number of guards who have just worked 60-72 hours; they do not appear to be in any condition to face the withering fire from the lethal weapons that terrorists would use to attack nuclear power plants - including bangalore torpedoes, .50 caliber sniper rifles, platter charges and rocket propelled grenades, to name a few. We do not question the courage of the officers, however the fatigue and the level of violence of action don’t mix.

Beaver Valley Plant is a good case study - guards started coming to POGO about five to six months ago. At first, we dealt with Region 1.

They told us they reviewed time records on two occasions in 2004, finding no violation of the fatigue order, despite the outrageous overtime. Were guards working 60-72 per week? Yes. But the group hours were averaging 48 hours. In the Spring of 2005, we were told that the licensee, First Energy, found themselves in violation of the fatigue order. A month later, Region 1 told us that First Energy had hired a consultant who found that First Energy had miscalculated and there was no violation. We asked for copies of these reports, to no avail. We met with officials at NRC Headquarters who agreed to send some of their people on the next review. Although the NRC found some individual security officers in violation of the 72 hour limit, they claimed the group was still not in violation. NRC admits that a number of people in the group are not armed responders in the security plan - instead they are unarmed badge checkers, watch people, and alarm station personnel.

As one armed guard put it - “these unarmed people who work less than 48 hours can’t sleep for me.” Again, POGO requested a description of each person included in the group at Beaver Valley. Again we were rebuffed.

It is clear the group is padded with people who are not armed responders. That was not the spirit of this order. Again NRC is sliding backwards into simply checking whether a licensee is in compliance with regulations, rather than ensuring that fatigued guards are not on duty.

For example, POGO has the calendar of one guard who worked over 100 hours in an eight day period, with one day off. Later he fell asleep on the job. Now we are shocked to learn that this guard is under criminal investigation by the NRC’s Office of Investigations. We fully expected the target to be the licensee. You have received a very detailed letter dated May 11, 2005, from Steve Whitely, head of the security officer’s union at Beaver Valley, which lays out his perspective on the fatigue order in some detail.

Self-declaration of fatigue is also not working. Security officers have been fired, sent to psychiatrists, assigned to the worst work schedules when they try to tell their supervisors they are too tired to work.

Of course, POGO finds sleeping on the job unacceptable- but the system tolerated by the NRC is the real problem. It creates a nearly impossible situation for the security officers. We would like to meet with you to discuss our suggestions for closing this loopholes that are allowing this compromise of homeland security. I will call your office next week to schedule a meeting.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director

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