Nuclear Industry Slammed for Security Test Plans

WASHINGTON — A U.S. government watchdog organization this week criticized the nuclear energy industry’s plans to have a security company that provides guard forces for about half of the country’s nuclear power plants prepare permanent teams to test plant security (see GSN, Aug. 5).

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s main trade association, announced plans in June to have Wackenhut Corp. train and manage two permanent adversarial teams that would be used to evaluate plant security forces through force-on-force exercises simulating terrorist attacks. The adversarial teams are expected to conduct about 24 exercises per year, beginning in November, so that all 64 civilian nuclear reactor sites are tested over a three-year period, according to the institute.

Project on Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian has criticized the move, however, saying it posed a “blatant conflict of interest.” In her late July letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which POGO released this week, Brian said that having the same company provide both nuclear plant security personnel and the adversarial teams used to evaluate them would reduce public confidence in the force-on-force exercises. She also criticized the commission for turning over to the nuclear industry an “inherently governmental” function — the operation of permanent security evaluation teams.

“The NRC should not abdicate its responsibility to run security preparedness tests to the nuclear industry, much less hand over authority to the very entity being tested,” she wrote.

POGO Senior Investigator Peter Stockton said today that the commission should instead contract with the military to conduct the force-on-force exercises, or develop its own adversarial teams. 

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said today that it has always been nuclear plant operators’ responsibility to develop the adversarial teams used in the force-on-force exercises, adding that the commission does not believe that such a task should solely be a government function. The commission plans to “scrutinize” the tests conducted with the new adversarial teams, McIntyre said yesterday, and if any incidents of “gaming” or “skewing the results” are detected the commission will act accordingly.

“If we see anything untoward, we will work to fix it,” McIntyre said 

POGO’s complaints are “hollow,” NEI spokesman Steve Kerekes said today. He said that it was “ridiculous” to suggest that instances of Wackenhut-managed adversarial teams intentionally performing poorly against Wackenhut-managed plant security guards would go undetected, either by plant operators or the commission. In addition, Wackenhut personnel that had previously served as plant security guards would be ineligible to serve on the adversarial teams that conducted exercises where they previously worked, Kerekes said.

He also stressed that the commission would play a large role in the force-on-force exercises involving the new teams, by setting exercise standards and conducting final evaluations of the tests. 

Stockton said, however, that there were still “many subtle ways of cheating” that could occur. “There’s just no way of putting a pretty face on this,” he said.

Kerekes also criticized the media attention that POGO’s criticisms have received this week, noting that the Nuclear Energy Institute announced its selection of Wackenhut in June. Stockton said that the delay was caused by the fact that a number of POGO staff were abroad when the announcement was made. The issue was also raised during a public security meeting held by the commission this week — the first public NRC session on nuclear plant security held since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In her letter to the commission, Brian also criticized the Nuclear Energy Institute’s choice of Wackenhut to manage the adversarial teams because of concerns over the company’s past performance in providing security at nuclear sites. She cited a January Energy Department Inspector General’s report that found that Wackenhut personnel had cheated by obtaining advanced knowledge of an adversary team’s assault plan during a June 2003 force-on-force exercise at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. (see GSN, Jan. 27).

A spokesman for Wackenhut said today that “nothing inappropriate” occurred during the Y-12 security exercise, adding that the defending force during that test needed to know certain information in order to carry out the training.

NRC spokesman McIntyre said yesterday that the commission supported the choice of Wackenhut, noting that there were few security companies with experience in providing nuclear site security. Kerekes said the trade group would select the “cream of the crop” of Wackenhut personnel for the adversarial teams. He cited as an example one planned team supervisor who is a 20-year U.S. Army veteran and who has urban assault and antiterrorism training.

Kerekes also said that the force-on-force exercises are just “one element” of nuclear industry security efforts, noting increases in security personnel and equipment at plants since the Sept. 11 attacks. By the end of this year, he said, the nuclear energy industry was set to spend an additional $1 billion on security over pre-Sept. 11 levels.

“Our facilities are incredibly well defended,” Kerekes said.

August 6, 2004

WASHINGTON — A U.S. government watchdog organization this week criticized the nuclear energy industry’s plans to have a security company that provides guard forces for about half of the country’s nuclear power plants prepare permanent teams to test plant security (see GSN, Aug. 5).