I appreciated the invitation to participate in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Regulatory Information Conference (RIC) seminar on March 11, 2009, and to share the security officer community's perspectives on the NRC and industry reactions to managing guard fatigue issues at Peach Bottom in 2007.
I want to start by giving credit where credit is due. From contacts with several security officers at different power plants, it appears that the licensees are taking the fatigue rule seriously. The licensees, at least those for whom our contacts work, seem to be hiring and training more guards, and overtime is no longer a significant problem. That's the good news.
However, the fatigue rule is not a silver bullet.
Peach Bottom was not so much a fatigue issue as a management issue. When Exelon received the March 2007 letter from one of the whistleblowers saying that sleeping guards were a problem, it should have been easy enough to figure out where officers could be sleeping—the Ready Room (there was a file cabinet in front of an inside window and the door was locked), as well as in the BREs. There had been concerns about this issue prior to the allegations of sleeping and the video. For example, just a year before in 2006, Exelon turned down a request from Wackenhut to invest $150,000 in upgrades to the Ready Room to address guard alertness.
Likewise, there was not a culture of accountability at Peach Bottom: sleeping guards were protected from discovery because of complicity among the guard force and were not worried about discipline, so why not sleep if you can get away with it?
Aside from management problems, there continues to be a problem with the allegation process. POGO's Ingrid Drake participated in a recent NRC panel discussion and has submitted comments on recommended changes to the Allegations Coordinator and the Commissioners.
Unfortunately, in some cases, there continues to be a fear of self-reporting. POGO recently received complaints from Exelon guards regarding their fears of retaliation, including firing, for raising concerns. What actions have Exelon taken to address these issues?
Last, but certainly not least, is the matter of deterrence. There has to be a deterrent in the system, both financial and publicity, for licensee violations. The NRC’s $65,000 penalty to Exelon for the Peach Bottom debacle is no deterrent at all, and should be an embarrassment to the NRC—especially when measured against Exelon’s annual profit of $2.7 billion in 2008. The NRC did not choose to fine Exelon the maximum penalty of $130,000 per violation per day, which could have added up to $23 million if calculated from March 2007, when the NRC was notified of sleeping guards, until September 2007, when the videotape of sleeping guards was released and the NRC’s Region 1 began inspections.
Of course, a far more important issue to bolstering security at the power plants is the NRC staff's attempt early this year to make the DBT more realistic. Unfortunately, their recommendations were turned down by the Commission with a 2-2 vote. That issue should be re-addressed soon.
We appreciate the NRC reaching out to involve POGO in this important process.