Friday, April 11, 2008

NRC fines FPL over sleeping guards

Six of them were out like lights

Reuters reports that the NRC will fine Florida Power & Light for allowing plant security guards at its Turkey Point plant to sleep on the job. In a press release the NRC said its staff has proposed a $130,000 civil penalty against the utility.

NRC officials said the fine was being proposed because a 2006 investigation found that security officers employed by Wackenhut Nuclear Services were willfully inattentive to duty (sleeping) from 2004 through 2006.

A dog did not eat the duty roster

This term "willful" is a big deal with the regulators because it means the incidents can't be explained by human error, acts of God, natural causes, or the dog eating the duty roster. It means people went out and deliberately violated work rules that say no sleeping on the job. NRC said there was "collusion" among the sleeping guards who acted as lookouts for each other.

NRC investigators determined that, on multiple occasions during that time, security officers at Turkey Point were willfully inattentive to duty [emphasis added] or served as lookouts so other officers could sleep on duty. Included in these multiple examples is an incident that occurred on April 6, 2006, in which a security officer was observed by an NRC inspector to be sleeping while on duty.

In a letter to the company dated April 9, 2008, Victor McCree, acting administrator of the NRC’s Region II office in Atlanta, said the NRC “considers this matter to be a significant security concern” and that “the complicity and facilitation by other security personnel of inattentive behavior on the part of fellow security personnel “is of particular concern to the NRC and “cannot be tolerated.”

Guards weren't the only ones caught napping

In part this is a case of the offended bureaucrats because the NRC was caught napping, metaphorically speaking, by not following up on the original complaint about the sleeping guards at another nuclear plant. Congress predictably raked the agency over the coals about its lapse here. To his credit NRC chairman Dale Klein told Congress the agency had indeed dropped the ball and wouldn't let it happen again. "We were not as rigorous as we should have been," said Klein, adding that the NRC is taking action to prevent similar problems at all nuclear plants.

Dick Winn, FPL's nuclear spokesman, said in a statement the six security officers accused of sleeping are no longer at the plant and their actions don't reflect the professionalism of the other workers. Winn said the company has improved the screening and testing of its security force. "We take this seriously," he said.

Last March the Florida Public Service Commission approved two additional reactors at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point site. FPL already operates two reactors at Turkey Point in south Florida. In terms of the financial heft of the utility, $130,000 isn't much more than a flea bite, but in terms of its impact on the industry it is a major splash in the pond with waves that will rock other security forces at other nuclear plants. Let's hope this is the last instance of sleeping guards at nuclear facilities.

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