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Yankee cited for security violations

BRATTLEBORO The owners of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant have been cited for security violations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The nature of the violations is not disclosed to the public because of security concerns, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC. But Sheehan said the violation was serious enough to warrant increased inspections of Entergy Nuclear’s security at the Vernon reactor. The security breach was termed “an escalated enforcement action,” in a letter sent to Entergy Nuclear site vice president Theodore Sullivan.

Sheehan said the security violation occurred in February, and he would only say that it did not involve “an inattentive security officer.” “We don’t talk about the findings,” Sheehan said. “Whenever it’s related to security it’s serious.” “As always, our inspectors will not leave the site until a security issue has either been fully addressed or compensatory measures put in place pending the completion of corrective actions,” he added.

The NRC, which was in Brattleboro on Monday to hold a public meeting about the plant’s performance in 2007, made no mention of the security breech. “We take the NRC findings seriously. We agreed with the NRC and did not contest.

We have appropriately addressed the issue,” said Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams, declining to address any other questions about the security violation. Williams said Wackenhut Nuclear Services still provided security services at Vermont Yankee. Sheehan said Entergy Nuclear had reported the violation to the NRC.

Wackenhut Nuclear Services, which provides security services to half of the country’s commercial nuclear reactors, has had its share of problems with security breaches in the past year. Florida Power and Light and Wackenhut Nuclear Services were fined $208,000 earlier this year for security violations at Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida. Wackenhut guards had intentionally disabled their weapons and six Turkey Point guards were found sleeping on the job.

And in another instance, a dozen Wackenhut security guards were found to be sleeping on the job at Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. In that case, which gained national attention, a guard videotaped a dozen other guards sleeping on the job. As a result, Wackenhut was fired by Exelon Corp., the owner of Peach Bottom, and the company formed its own security force.

Security issues are graded on a color scale, with “green” being acceptable. The NRC said the February violation was “greater than green.” Vermont Yankee, before Entergy purchased the reactor in 2002, had the lowest security grade of any commercial reactor in the country.

It was given a “yellow” rating in August 2001, two weeks before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, because the plant had failed an NRC security exercise, where fake attackers tried to breach the plant’s security and damage the plant. At the time, the NRC said Yankee “had the most and the largest weaknesses” in security of any plant in the country. The 2001 failure of the mock terrorist drill followed a security lapse in 1998, when an NRC inspector was able to smuggle a fake gun into the plant past security and was able to scale a fence without setting off any alarms.

After the 2001 rating, then-Gov. Howard Dean asked for a special review of Yankee’s security by the NRC, since the federal government pre-empts the state on security issues. Then-U.S.

Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., held a congressional hearing in Brattleboro about security issues at the plant. The next year, a consortium of New England utilities, led by Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power Corp., sold the plant to Louisiana-based Entergy Corp.

“We work closely with the NRC on integrity issues. When it comes to safety, we can’t comment on that. We’re aware of the violations,” said Stephen Wark, spokesman for the Department of Public Service.

Jason Gibbs, Gov.

James Douglas’ spokesman, didn’t return a call for comment about the security breach.

Contact Susan Smallheer at

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