Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight

Testimony of POGO's Danielle Brian at the Congressional Forum at Marymount, New York regarding nuclear power plant security and safety

Related Content: Nuclear Power, Nuclear Security
Printer Friendly
March 3, 2003 | By: Danielle Brian

I would first like to thank Representative Lowey for convening this important forum, and asking me to speak to the physical security inadequacies at Indian Point, which are legion. POGO is a non - partisan government watchdog group, which takes no position on nuclear power. Both Congresswoman Lowey and Senator Clinton took the important step of agreeing to have POGO facilitate a meeting between their staffs and members of the Indian Point guard force to hear first hand of their poor conditions and how ill-prepared they are for an attack. Policy makers urgently need to understand the vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants, in order to overcome the fog of misinformation promoted by the nuclear power industry, and its weak regulator the NRC.

I wish I could be there with Foster Zeh, a courageous whistleblower who took the dramatic step of deciding to go public with his serious concerns about security. It is very important to point out that he didn't go public first, but reported his concerns through the internal system. Entergy assigned Keith Logan to investigate Foster's concerns, and a remarkable thing happened. They admitted that he was right. Entergy's own investigator found that only 19% of the guards believed they could protect the plant against a terrorist attack. Although this report was completed in January 2002, Mr. Zeh was not even notified of its existence until October 2002. Is it a surprise that he was shortly thereafter put on Administrative Leave?

Entergy has been abusing its workforce of guards at Indian Point 2 by requiring them to work 72 hour weeks - and many of the guards have an hour commute after their 12 hour shift to make it home. It is no surprise that at least two of these guards have fallen asleep at the wheel and run off the road on their way home. When Vincent Giambolvo told his supervisor he was too tired to work his sixth consecutive 12-hour shift, Wackenhut fired him. Currently, as Entergy merges the operations of Indian Point 2 and 3, the guards of IP 2 are only going to be provisional employees for three years - losing their seniority, job security and benefits. These guards need the help of local leaders. Morale was already low, now it is even lower. If the community of Greater New York City expects these men and women to protect them in the event of another terrorist attack, they must be treated better.

Six months ago, POGO released our report "Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices from Inside the Fences," which can be found at pogoarchive.pub30.convio.net. The specific concerns raised by the guards in the Entergy report mirrored those POGO found interviewing guards at nuclear power plants across the country. During our investigation, POGO interviewed not only nuclear power plant security guards, but also NRC security officials, DOE security officials, and Army and Navy Special Operations personnel who test military and DOE nuclear sites and advise the NRC. Our investigation found that the vast majority of guards across the country were under-manned, under-equipped, under-trained and underpaid. In total, POGO has now interviewed over 150 guards at over half the nuclear power plants in the country, and the picture doesn't change. Guards at only one in four plants believe they could protect against a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, the nuclear industry deluged Washington newspapers with full-paged ads touting how well-trained and well-compensated the guards are.

This Forum should not be comforted by the fact that Indian Point passed their last Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) security test, or "OSRE." As POGO discussed in detail in its report, these tests are seriously dumbed-down and unrealistic. In the case of Indian Point, this is confirmed by Mr. Zeh and other guards we have interviewed. For example, the threat that the plants are expected to guard against is seriously unrealistic, particularly after 9/11 - an attack by only three terrorists, coming from one point of attack, no diversionary tactics, and the mock terrorists are not allowed to use weapons against the guards that are available in local gun shops. The major advantage real terrorists have is the element of surprise - Indian Point knew six to eight months ahead of time that they would be tested. In addition, Indian Point is still training and testing with rubber guns and whistles - not with the far more realistic laser equipment that is being used by a number of nuclear power plants across the country.

One of the most shocking things we learned during our investigation was that the utilities have relied on the mistaken belief that outside responders will come to the rescue of the plant as soon as they are called. In fact Entergy's spokesman told ABC News,

"We're asking them [the guard force] to defend certain equipment in that plant from a small, and I mean small, group of dedicated individuals. And if things get out of control and are bigger and more severe than that, we're going to rely on the National Guard, we're going to rely on the State Police and the FBI reaction team and the US Army, if necessary and the US Airforce..."

These response timelines have been tested across the country, and it will take between 1 ½ and 2 hours before a capable FBI or State Police SWAT team can make it to most of these facilities -- yet an attack is likely to be won or lost in between three and eight minutes.

This industry and its regulators have long been in denial regarding the adequacy of security at their power plants, but the rest of the country is catching on. Recently in Washington, former high-ranking government officials assembled, including the former Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and senior officials from the FBI, Department of Energy, CIA and the National Security Council. They were taking part in an energy sector terrorism exercise called "Silent Vector," where the participants were given mock intelligence of an impending terrorist attack on the northeast energy sector. The designers of the exercise intended to steer the participants towards an attack on a chemical facility. Despite that though, the major concern of these former officials based both on the scenario presented to them, as well as from their own extensive knowledge, was an attack on a nuclear power plant, particularly Indian Point.

To its credit, after POGO released its report, the NRC moved quickly to initiate both a fatigue and a training Order to address the obvious and severe deficiencies we uncovered. Congress needs to play a more active role in exercising its oversight of the NRC. In addition, Congress needs to pass the Nuclear Security Act, which has bipartisan support in the Senate. The nuclear industry has been lobbying heavily to prevent the Act from passing. This Act will ensure the nuclear plants will have to protect against a realistic threat, and the security tests conducted will be more frequent, more independent and more professional. The Act will also protect the testing office when the attention dies down, from industry's efforts to dismantle it, as they have tried in the past.

Thank you again for asking our views. We stand ready to help you in your effort to make your community safe.

Related Work