NRC considering action for Peach Bottom security violation found during inspection

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering remedial actions against Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station after observing a security violation during an inspection the NRC conducted in May.

NRC official correspondence to Exelon Nuclear, the company that owns the Peach Bottom plant in southeastern York County, stated that the violation concerns a piece of electronic security equipment at the power plant’s dry cask storage facility, where the plant’s used nuclear fuel is stored.

With no current federal repository for used nuclear fuel, U.S. nuclear power plants keep spent fuel on their own properties, according to the NRC website. After spent fuel is removed from a reactor, it is put in a spent fuel pool for three to 10 years.

From there the spent fuel, which is still highly radioactive, is put in a cask and moved to a concrete vault. This is known as dry cask storage, and this is where the violation occurred.

Neil Sheehan, NRC public affairs officer, said that the NRC and the nuclear industry have a policy of not revealing specific security-related information to the public because that information could be used by terrorists or others with malicious intent. But he said this violation was due to a flaw in the plant’s security program.

Lacey Dean, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station Communications Manager, said a piece of electronic security equipment wasn’t working properly. Dean didn’t specify which security system, but she cited electronic surveillance, motion detectors and perimeter breach systems as examples of electronic security present at atomic power plants such as Peach Bottom. Sheehan said that, after the inspector discovered the security flaw, Exelon corrected the problem.

“The public shouldn’t be concerned that the plant is now vulnerable to a security breach,” Sheehan said. “But this is an issue that warrants additional attention, and we’re in the process of understanding how we’re going to handle this in regard to enforcement actions.”

Dean said that redundancies and multiple layers of defense kept the facility secure during the time the equipment was down. In addition to electronic security, the facility employs an undisclosed number of armed guards.

Sheehan said that NRC does not pursue “escalated enforcement” against power plants very often. He said those types of incidents are above those of “very low safety or security significance.” Sheehan cited September, 2007, when security guards were caught sleeping on duty, as one recent instance where the NRC pursued escalated enforcement against the plant.

The NRC has not yet issued the escalated action and is awaiting a reply from Exelon. The NRC can issue fines, but Sheehan said tends to only do so with incidents of “deliberate misconduct.”

First Published July 31, 2014 8:00 PM

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