Nuclear plants called vulnerable

Toronto Star
March 26, 2002

Workers not screened for terrorist links, congressman says
BOSTON (AP) — Security at the nation’s civilian nuclear power plants is so poor that terrorists could already be secretly working at reactors, says a congressman.

In a new report on homeland security, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey said the nation’s 86 most sensitive nuclear power plants fail to screen workers for terrorist ties and don’t know how many foreign nationals they employ.

“Terrorists may now be employed at nuclear reactors in the United States just as terrorists enrolled in flight schools in the U.S.,” Markey said.

In the report, “Security Gap: A Hard Look at Soft Spots in Our Civilian Nuclear Reactor Security,” Markey, a proponent of federalizing nuclear power plant safety, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not sufficiently improved security since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The NRC is in the dark about what nuclear reactor licensees are doing to ensure the reactors are safe from attack,” Markey said.

NRC spokesperson Diane Screnci declined to discuss the report’s details, saying: “We don’t normally comment on press releases from members of Congress.”

While she maintained security employees at nuclear plants are fingerprinted, Markey said the NRC doesn’t check workers for possible terrorist ties.

“As long as they have no criminal record in this country, Al Qaeda operatives are not required to pass any security check intended to find and expose terrorist links,” he said.

Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said NRC background checks are “somewhat limited.”

“I’ve worked in over 20 plants in the 17 years I was in the industry. Had I wanted to sabotage the plant, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to do,” he said.

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